An interview I did with Katrina Sluis from the Digital Programme of the Photographers Gallery, London, is now up at Daniel Palmer and myself’s Photocurating site. Check it out. There’s one there Daniel did with Ian North too. While you’re there have a look at our Timeline and see if you can spot anything we’ve left out. Then let us know. We still need more installation shots.
Hard to know where to begin with the clash of temporalities that is evoked when you stumble across a click bait link that uses one of museum photography’s most canonical projects. As has been celebrated for decades, Nicholas Nixon’s Brown Sisters project — shot on 8 x 10 film and contacted printed into luminous prints once a year, every year, over 40 years or so — proceeds at the same pace as time itself. It records memory and mortality for a lifetime’s worth of unfolding on museum walls and in art house photobooks. The click bait version, with it’s breathless drive to click through to the next spectacle of temporal ravagement, is certainly compelling, but the noble contemplation of flesh growing into time is replaced with impatience for the next shot to load. In the click bait version authorship is wrested from Nixon and invested in the sisters. But the downside for them is that are unwittingly cast in a soap opera of aging.
When I was a teenager in the mid seventies and just getting interested in photography David Hamilton was everywhere, on every magazine rack and in every bookstore, even in Brisbane. Barely out of puberty myself I admit I was attracted to the impossibility of his adolescent art-house eroticism. Later, at art schooI in Sydney in the late seventies , I learnt to disdain his cloying kitsch and forgot about him. It wasn’t till I was clearing out my childhood room a few years ago that I found some glossy pages again, wrinkled with decades of humidity, and gasped at the now-obvious pedophilia. Today I hear that after being accused of rape by his child models of long ago he has been found dead in his Paris apartment, a pill bottle by his side. The apotheosis of kitsch. But I sort of don’t want him to disappear altogether, his ‘sunlight filtered through corn onto downy skin’ look burrowed its way into our culture. And remains there.
I’m saddened by the prospect that the fatal algorithms of this app might actually being used by some hapless people on their snapshots. Photographic contingency, the precious flame worshiped by generations of photographic theorists, is extinguished by the cold blast of these automatic operations. Time, memory, and place are all sucked into their frigid black hole. In the future the image will no longer prick or prod us with the unexpected, it must lie supine. Under the tyranny of these ‘healing’ tools photography no longer records but projects pale antiseptic fantasies. Yes, fantasy has always been a part of the snapshot, but at least they were constructive fictions, what is proposed here is solipsistic fantasy through erasure and exclusion.
Some images taken by Alex Hobba of the magic lantern performance ‘Tragic Drowning Fatality’ performed by Martyn Jolly and Alexander Hunter at Siteworks 2016, Bundanon, with: thirty original magic lantern slides from the 1880s to the 1920s; two JW Steward magic lanterns from the 1880s dissolving one slide projection into another; members of the ANU Experimental Music Ensemble (Ben Harb, Andrew Ryan, Jack Livingston and Chloe Hobbs) on double bass, guitar and percussion; and actors from the region (Kez and Libby Thompson, Peter Lavelle and Clare Jolly) reading verbatim coronial testimony of an actual double drowning that happened in the Shoalhaven River in 1922.
“We understand that these limitations will sometimes affect content shared for legitimate reasons, including awareness campaigns or artistic projects, and we apologise for the inconvenience.” Facebook on the removal of the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph The Terror of War by Nick Ut.
‘We apologise for the inconvenience’ is a curious turn of phrase for Facebook to use. It’s something a big company tells a little person when something inevitable is about to happen and there’s nothing they can do about it – a major road widening, or a server upgrade, say. It’s not something you expect to hear when an entire sphere of public discourse is morally recalibrated. Was it an entirely digital algorithm that sampled the pixels in Ut’s photograph, calculated ‘naked child’, and automatically executed the function ‘delete’. Or was it a lowly paid, poorly educated, Facebook shift worker who saw a naked child and knew that there was only one rule to follow in the Facebook rulebook: ‘delete’. Either way, Zuckerberg’s convenient contention is that Facebook is just a technical ‘platform’, so that such chilling acts of censorship, which are occurring frequently in other cases involving breasts or photographs of family intimacy, are just an inconvenience to be met with a begrudging and hollow apology. The alternative seems to be that Facebook is a publisher, and therefore needs editors with a depth of cultural knowledge and personal agency. The former is toxic for the way we are all forced to rely on Facebook as the only game in town, and the latter obviously doesn’t fit Zuckerberg’s globally rapacious business model.
“O.K. So it’s banal, but ‘The Family of Man’ set me off and I’ve been trying ever since. Trying to become a photographer and not just someone who takes photographs. I became a diarist with a camera. I tried to simply record the things which interested me from day to day. I taught myself enough rough technique and practice continually. Even now I sit in front of the tele and watch junk through an 85mm, move dials, press buttons and go through all the motions. I honestly believe this helps. I became less conscious of the camera and it more a part of me. My prints are rough hard and grainy, which just what Sydney is like. The light is fierce, the summer hot and humid, the bush inhuman and the population complacently cruel enough to accept two decades of flabby self-congratulatory ignorance, cushioned and smothered by the soft folds of the Menzies arse. This is a harsh society with few shades of grey, where paradise is still a Monaro with four on the floor and up you Jack I’m alright.” — John Williams 1974
As John used to say: “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you”
My colleague from the University of Canberra, Louise Curham, and myself are convening a session on reenactment at the conference of the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand, ‘The Work of Art’, to be held in Canberra 1-3 December. Check out the call for papers. Proposals are due to Louise by 26 August. Here is our session abstract:
In the footsteps of others
Louise Curham (University of Canberra) and Martyn Jolly (Australian National University)
This session follows on from the 2015 AAANZ panel on re-enactment and repetition as generative strategies used by contemporary artists. Extending those ideas, this panel explores the broader idea of ‘walking in the footsteps of others’ as an empathic, affective experience. Reenactment has surrounded us in contemporary art and museum practice. At AAANZ 2015, a panel convened by Lucas Ihlein and Louise Curham discussed “Re-enactment / Repetition / Reiteration / Re-performance as embodied research”. Developing from the lively discussion that that panel engendered, we ask again, why re-enact? We know the work re-enactment can do for traditional idea of preservation (Santone, 2008). We know the problems of trying to touch an authentic past, the queasiness of the syncopation of the time of the earlier work and the time of our work (Schneider, 2011). So why do it again? Perhaps it’s different if we ask why walk in the footsteps of others? This session invites reflections on the empathic, affective experience of 2 doing something that’s been done before, a strategy that contemporary curators, historians and artists continue to deploy, as performance studies scholar Rebecca Schneider puts it, we to try to get at a past that is not present and yet, through re-enactment, not not present. Through this lens of we can also again pick over the problems of the authentic original, the work re-enactment can do for preservation, along with what happens when we try to re-stage, re-enact and repeat from within the institution. Contributions are invited for this panel involving (but not limited to): • Walking in the footsteps of others – we think of re-enactment as putting us in a specific material relation to experiences from the past. What happens if this is reframed as an attempt to absorb something of the forces of the past, their affect? • How does re-enactment relate to reproduction? In reproduction the material end-result of the work of art is remanufactured. However in reenactment the process of art work itself is reconstructed. The reenactor becomes a reworker. • The experience of curation, the work of art history and making artworks as re-enactment • The impact of the experience of re-enactment. What might it do to audiences, be they readers, gallery visitors, peers? Why re-enact? • Discussion of ‘contact’ with work from the past – learnings about the original and its preservation and how we do the work of ‘archiving’ • Exploration of specific Australian contributions to this field. We also invite non-traditional and performative presentations which physically enact or re-enact as their creative / scholarly contributions to this panel (pending technical feasibility and approval of the AAANZ conference convenors).