week 12: The digital

Jeff Wall, “Photography’s Liquid Intelligence”

In photography, the liquids study us even from a great distance.


Jeff Wall. Milk. 1984. Silver dye bleach transparency (Cibachrome); aluminum light box. 

Jeff Wall splits photography into two sides, wet and dry. ‘Wet’ photography or described by Jell Wall as liquid intelligence. It is linked to water and that connects photography to the past. Wall also uses liquid intelligence to talk about natural forms in photographs. Wet or liquid is represented in photographs through natural forms. ‘Dry’ relates to the optic and mechanical side (lens, shutter) or technological intelligence. There is technological intelligence and liquid intelligence. The change from wet to dry is neither good nor bad necessarily, but it alters the “historical consciousness of the medium.” When wet is removed:

The symbolic meaning of natural forms, made visible in things like turbulent patterns or compound curvatures, is to me, one of the primary means by which the dry intelligence of optics and mechanics achieves a historical self-reflection, a memory of the path it has traversed to its present and future separation from the fragile phenomena it reproduces so generously.


Jorge Ribalta, “Molecular Photography…”

Ribatta finds it problematic because the same issues may still be posed in the post-photographic era. “Post-photography means that a cultural transformation is involved in the technological decline of chemical photography.” This decline of analog photography signals the death of photography disjointed from traditional medium. Photography is dead and the “photographic” or to use Ribalta’s phrase, photography become “molecular.” Digital photography changes the relationship between photographer and the photograph. The indexicality of the analog photograph has been stripped by digital photography. The question is how does digital photography now show the real? Without realism, photography is irrelevant. A photograph loses its power when we no longer believe it. This is connected to the historical discourse on photography’s vital role “truth” as a document, indexical. For Ribalta, it is still possible, however a new set of rules or challenges are set up because of the amount of easy manipulation that can happen to a digital photographic image. It has to redefine realism. Realism is something that we need; it is what gives images relevance. Realism will continue with our notice or without, so he claims that photography will find the happy medium in portraying realism because our culture is based around images.

'I have been certified as mildly insane!' 1992-3 by Gillian Wearing OBE born 1963 'I like to be in the country' 1992-3 by Gillian Wearing OBE born 1963 'Everything is connected in life...' 1992-3 by Gillian Wearing OBE born 1963 'I signed on and they would not give me nothing' 1992-3 by Gillian Wearing OBE born 1963 'I'm desperate' 1992-3 by Gillian Wearing OBE born 1963

Gillian Wearing

Signs That Say What You Want Them to Say and Not Signs That Say What Someone Else Wants You to Say


Nicholas Bourriaud, “Post Production”

Post production is a technical term from the audiovisual vocabulary used in television, film, and video. It refers to the set of processes applied to recorded material: montage, the inclusion of other visual or audio sources, subtitling, voice-overs, and special effects.

Post production in Bourriad’s definition are artworks created from preexisting works, partially as a response to the over-saturation or increase of access and supply to objects, things, ideas. Bourriad uses music creation as a parallel to address to post production and detournement in artworks. Using terms like, crossfader, pitch control, cutting, playlist, to speak about the different ways artworks or forms are mixed to create something new. Bourriad outlines some tactics artists used post production with examples:

  • reprogramming existing works
  • inhabiting historicized styles and forms
  • making use of images
  • using society as a catalog of forms
  • investing in fashion in media

DJ Mark the 45 King uses pre existing products to create his own. “Any elements, no matter where they are taken from, can serve in making new combinations… Anything can be used…One can also alter the meaning of these fragments in any appropriate way.” (Guy Debord)

Each form or material has its own history. When mixed with other forms, a conversation between the elements is created; “objects already informed by other objects.”  The new art is created with the analysis of how they coexist by considering their original histories and their new contexts. The arrangement of these objects matters. For instance, an artist could use a “simple” chair to make a piece; also one could use Rodney McMillian’s Chair and the resulting piece would include the history of that object and the context it was created.

David Oresick – Soldiers in Their Youth

“I’m not stealing all their music, I’m using your drum track, I’m using this little ‘bip’ from him, I’m using your baseline that you don’t even like no fucking more’.”





Digital technology has become the default equipment choice in photography. I am increasingly having to defend my use of film (image creation) mainly because of cost. Post-production (output) in digital photography is a different consideration.

My criticisms of digital technology:

  • default, after-thought
  • digital aspect ratio
  • reliance on auto features (light meter, focus, white balance)
  • Not utilizing the capabilities of the equipment (software, hardware, glass/lenses
  • immediacy (screen)
  • speed of taking an image (amount of time to set up)

Photography &/as Object Or Thing

Bill Brown’s thing theory focuses on the role of things. Objects are tied to subjects and things can become new objects. An object is “invisible” as we have become unaware of their existence. An object transitions into a thing when it becomes visible and/or one acknowledges the materiality or the function of an object or thingness. This awareness can be physical, for example when an object breaks the thingness is confronted. As Brown states:

We begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us: when the drill breaks, when the car stalls, when the windows get filthy, when their flow within the circuits of production and distribution, consumption and exhibition, has been arrested, however momentarily. The story of objects asserting themselves as things, then, is the story of a changed relation to the human subject and thus the story of how the thing really names less an object than a particular subject-object relation. (4)

There is a subject-object and object-thing relation. Brown speaks about this in terms of the subject/object dialectic and object/thing dialectic. As synopsized by Kim O’Connor of The University of Chicago:

A dialectic is a mode of thought, or a philosophic medium, through which contradiction becomes a starting point (rather than a dead end) for contemplation. Dialectic is the medium that helps us comprehend a world that is racked by paradox…Hegel considered dialectic a medium of truth rather than a means to uncover illusion. Hegel’s dialectic involves the reconciliation of ostensible paradoxes to arrive at absolute truth. The general formulation of Hegel’s dialectic is a three-step process comprising the movement from thesis to antithesis to synthesis. One begins with a static, clearly delineated concept (or thesis), then moves to its opposite (or antithesis), which represents any contradictions derived from a consideration of the rigidly defined thesis. The thesis and antithesis are yoked and resolved to form the embracing resolution, or synthesis. Succinctly put, the dialectic “actualizes itself by alienating itself, and restores its self-unity by recognizing this alienation as nothing other than its own free expression or manifestation” (Bottomore 122). This formula is infinitely renewable; Hegel contended it would only terminate upon the world’s end. (O’Connor).

In short, dialectic creates a relationship between two words. The relationship is complimentary and in contrast in order to create an absolute truth from their opposition, “from thesis to antithesis to synthesis (O’Connor).”

A thing defines an object and an object defines a subject. The thing or objects thingness is employed to clarify, expand, question, or complicate subject-object dialectic. A thing can stand in for and/or mean a multitude of things. Important to Brown is the distinction that things arise from objects. According to Brown, a thing “denotes a massive generality as well as particularities”:

(1)   The word designates the concrete yet ambiguous within the everyday: “Put it by that green thing in the hall.”

(2)   It functions to overcome the loss of other words or as a place holder for some future specifying operation: “I need that thing you use to get at things between your teeth.”

(3)   It designates an amorphous characteristic or a frankly irresolvable

enigma: “There’s a thing about that poem that I’ll never get.” (4)

Another dialectic that Brown introduces is looking through-looking at.

 As they circulate through our lives, we look through objects (to see what they disclose about history, society, nature, or culture-above all, what they disclose about us),but we only catch a glimpse of things.” We look through objects because there are codes by which our interpretive attention makes them meaningful, because there is a discourse of objectivity that allows us to use them as facts. A thing, in contrast, can hardly function as a window. (4)

The window scene in Byatt’s novel should be read in relation to Nabokov’s point about how, things become multiply transparent and read in the context of a dialectic of looking through and looking at: “When we concentrate on a material object, whatever its situation, the very act of attention may lead to our involuntarily sinking into the history of that object” (Vladimir Nabokov, Transparent Things [New York, 19721, p. 1). We don’t apprehend things except partially or obliquely (as what’s beyond our apprehension). In fact, by looking at things we render them objects. (4)

The dialectic, as stated earlier is a three-step process, more concisely from thesis to antithesis to synthesis (O’Connor), I wanted to attempt to synthesis Brown’s definition of look through and look at. Looking at is defined as “the act of directing the eyes toward something and perceiving it visually.”  Looking through is defined as “to examine, esp cursorily.”

By directing the eyes towards things we render them objects by the act of perceiving them visually. We examine these objects cursorily (with excessive or careless speed) (to see what they disclose about history, society, nature, or culture-above all, what they disclose about us), but we only catch a glimpse of things.”


In “Object Lessons” written by Greg Foster Rice, Bill Brown’s thing theory is applied to specific pieces that were apart of the Black is Black Ain’t exhibition. One piece specifically, titled Chair, 2003 by Rodney McMillian.


Rice uses “Robin Bernstein’s scholarship on the role of things in the performance of identity that rely heavily on material cultural artifacts. Rice states, “her point is not to give agency to inanimate objects,” but to give objects agency to become things. A thing in this sense, “it triggers a stylized bodily performance.” The thing invites the viewer to interact and the object is animated into thingness. “As Bernstein elaborates, …Things invite us to dance, and when we sweep them onto the dance floor, they appear to become animate (Rice, 5).” And “elevates the object into thingness”, anthropomorphizing it. “They do something by inviting humans to move (Rice, 6). Things need people to exist.

Big Think Interview With Bill Brown


Question: What is thing theory?

Bill Brown:  Sure.  I think it, I’m willing to define thing theory but only in the broadest terms.  That is, I would say that the work being done that I would constellate under the rubric thing theory is addressing how it is that the inanimate object world helps to form and transform human beings alike.  So part of that is to say, how does our material environment shape us?  Part of that is also to talk about the production of value, economic value, in Marxist terms, but also various kinds of symbolic value.  So that, I think, most generally.  And I think for different scholars working in different fields, and there are lots of different fields in which one might say thing theorists are working, science studies, archeology, anthropology, literary studies, art history, history, now, they each particular concerns and I think particular ways of understanding the presence and power and meaning of objects, but I would say that certainly that the thing theorists I know are ultimately are interested in the subject/object relation or the human/un-human relation.

Question: What separates an ordinary object from a “thing” worthy of critical study?

Bill Brown:  Right.  Well, and I wouldn’t necessarily want to say in literature, and maybe just in the world, right?  But I think it depends on how you or I want to differentiate between an object and a thing.  And I do sort of strongly and adamantly, for me it’s sort of axiomatic in my work, but not everyone does.  But in my work, I understand objects to be, in some sense, what we don’t notice.  You know, you pick up a glass of water, do you notice the glass?  And probably not.  Do you notice the water in the glass?  Probably not, you’re doing this while you’re doing something else.  But I would say that the thing-ness of objects becomes palpable or visible or in some sense knowable, where there’s an interruption within that circuit, the sort of, the circuit whereby we, you know, float, as we do, through objects.

And so it’s when objects become excessive one way or another, and I think one way is certainly that they break, right?  You go to pick up the glass and it breaks in your hand, suddenly you notice it and you notice lots about it.  It’s at that moment, I would say, that that object becomes a thing.  But I would also want to say that if you’re using a glass and you suddenly recognize, oh, this is a glass that your grandmother owned, and so it has a certain kind of value because of its, the genealogy of its use, that also to me would be a kind of thing-ness, right?  So on the one hand, something that’s very physical, on the other hand, something that’s very metaphysical, but in both instances, a real retardation of our interaction with the object.  We’re stopping, right?  We’re stopping because we broke the glass or we’re stopping because the glass has, in some sense, broken our habits of use.

Recorded on March 4, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

Basetrack revisited: A TED Fellow tells war stories from inside

TED Blog

Teru Kuwayama TEDBlog

Groundbreaking media experiment Basetrack sought to rejig how America’s wars are reported. TED FellowTeru Kuwayama harnessed the communication tools of our time to present embedded reportage in a whole new way. Following the deployment of 1/8 – 1st Battalion, Eighth Marines – to southern Afghanistan, Basetrack’s embedded media team collaborated with soldiers to tell the stories of their daily lives, funnelling photos and updates onto an interactive online map. Enhanced with a live newsfeed, Twitter, and Facebook, dispatches were bidirectional, information-rich, and intimate, connecting Marines and Corpsmen to their families and the public. Basetrack provided an unprecedented platform for those the media typically overlook in war – combatants and their families.

Basetrack promised a real shift in the way soldiers’ experiences are conveyed to the world, but in early February, the Marine Corps pulled the plug on this experiment in layered communication. Though perplexed, Basetrack’s participants and supporters believe…

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Reinhardt/Bending the Frame

“Documentary photography has amassed mountains of evidence. And yet,…the genre has simultaneously contributed much to spectacle, to retinal excitation, to voyeurism, to terror, envy and nostalgia, and only a little to the critical understanding of the social world.”

Beautiful Suffering


“Picturing Violence: Aesthetics and the Anxiety of Critique” is Mark Reinhardt’s introduction to the exhibition, titled, Beautiful Suffering: Photography and the Traffic in Pain and the accompanied it. The questions raised pertain to images of human suffering: who and what is allowed to be photographed, how these images should be considered and shown to an audience, and reasons behind these choices.

“Photographers who take pictures of people in pain of in situation of danger or degradation sometimes aim to arouse concern, to provoke indignation, perhaps even to move viewers to action. The photographs solicitations may fail. Viewers may remain unmoved, un persuaded, or simply uninterested.(Reinhardt, 13).”

“The meaning and effects of the images are at once singular and shared, intimate and public. The issues in the world beyond the image are as large as life and death but also because of the dilemmas involved in the framing of the pictures themselves.(Reinhardt, 14).”

A common term for expressing concern about ways in which photographs can fail in response to human suffering is “aestheticization.”  The reasoning for the exhibition and book is a way to explore this criticism, “aestheticizing suffering is inherently both artistically and politically reactionary, a way of mistreating the subject and inviting passive consumption, narcissistic appropriation, condescension, or even sadism on the the part of the viewers (Reinhardt, 14).

Reinhardt addresses the reluctance of American news outlets to publish photographs that revealed death, violence, and suffering during the invasion of 2003. The only images were aerial shots, further distancing us from what was happening. We cannot protest or act against that which we cannot see.

1979970-3x2-940x627 Unknown Abu-Ghraib-tm

This is why the images from Abu Ghraib had a devastating impact that changed public opinion on the war and of the military. I have only seen the “iconic” images and maybe two videos from Abu Ghraib. I know more exist and one day, I will bring myself to look at them. I liken them to my experience with images of the Holocaust. Holocaust images still have an emotional hold over me, these images operate in a similar way for me, however, the Abu Ghraib images exist differently. I think about the time frame in which it happened, I was a senior in high school, the fact that they are in color, they are not aestheticized, which is critique of concentration camp photographs, that the people who let this happen are still alive and possibly still involved in the military. Also, knowing that some or most of the victims were civilians. Those images also may have damaged what else can be shown to the public. “The camera that were, in this instance, ubiquitous did not merely record what happened: they were instruments used to abuse and humiliate prisoners.” Most did not have anonymity.

One of the points that Reinhardt addresses is that photographs of suffering are damaging and actually promote suffering. “Insofar as photographs of this kind are performative artifacts that help to create or prolong the very suffering they document… endingly extending the moment of violation.” (Reinhardt, 17).  I do not fully agree with Reinhardt position. My understanding of Reinhardt’s use of suffering is negative, but it is not actual suffering. The image is a shadow of what happened, it needed to be documented and shown. “It was seeing the mistreatment that produced the outrage.” (Anthony Lewis).  He also suggests that “when and how to present them requires careful consideration (Reinhardt, 17).” A point that both Azoulay and Sontag addressed: Azoulay -you have to stop watching and start looking and Sontag “If we could do something about what the images show, we might not care as much about these issues.” These images still perform a vital function. The images say: This is what human beings are capable doing… Don’t forget.”

This is where I can interject this photograph and the story behind its use.


Afghanistan Death of a Marine

Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard, 21. Bernard was hit with a rocket propelled grenade in a Taliban ambush Friday, Aug. 14, 2009 in the village of Dahaneh in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. The photograph was taken by an embedded AP (Associated Press) photograph, Julie Jacobson. I encountered this story and this photograph when it was released to the public. The Marine was killed and the photographed was released days after his funeral out of respect, however, prior to the release, AP asked the Bernard’s family if they could publish the photograph. His family declined and the photograph was published anyway. There was public backlash at the time, from his family specifically his father a USMC veteran, John Bernard (Interview with John Bernard) and Defense chief Robert Gates.  Gates wrote to the AP President:

“Out of respect for his family’s wishes, I ask you in the strongest of terms to reconsider your decision. I do not make this request lightly. In one of my first public statements as Secretary of Defense, I stated that the media should not be treated as the enemy, and made it a point to thank journalists for revealing problems that need to be fixed – as was the case with Walter Reed.”

“I cannot imagine the pain and suffering Lance Corporal Bernard’s death has caused his family. Why your organization would purposefully defy the family’s wishes knowing full well that it will lead to yet more anguish is beyond me. Your lack of compassion and common sense in choosing to put this image of their maimed and stricken child on the front page of multiple American newspapers is appalling. The issue here is not law, policy or constitutional right – but judgment and common decency.”

The criticism was aimed at AP and the photographer. Questioning if she could have reacted and helped save Joshua Bernard and because of the praise she received. I did not have an issue with the photograph being published, when I first encountered and even now. My criticism stems from the fact the asked if the photograph could be published and disrespected the wishes of the family.  I posted a couple links about the

Aestheticization in photography is when suffering is transformed into “an object of enjoyment”; the photograph is judged on the “aesthetic attitude” and focused on the formal qualities that make the images beautiful instead of the depicted suffering within the frame. Reinhardt uses the photography of James Nachtwey and Sebastiaão Salgado to illustrate this point. It is a common criticism for the works of Nachtwey and Salgado. For Nachtwey, I never saw his work solely operating as examples of aesthetization or judged his work specifically on that. More importantly because of the example Reinhardt uses. Unknown-1Yes, this picture is aesthetically pleasing, however because the formal qualities, the tonal range, the framing, emphasis is on the figure. It is impossible to ignore their circumstance of suffering. Also, from studying the images of Nachtwey and being introduced to his work through the film, War Photographer, my understanding of his intentions is that on an anti-war photographer that uses his photography as a call for action and his own action.

Excerpt from interview with James Nachtwey:

Have you ever been in a situation where you put down your camera and interceded in what was taking place in front of the lens?

That’s happened several times. But most often, when there’s a soldier wounded, they’re tended to by their own comrades or a combat medic, in which case my getting into it would be superfluous. My job is to record it and communicate it. And I stick to that except in those cases where I’m the only one who can make a difference — if there isn’t someone there to help or there aren’t enough people to carry the wounded to a safe place. Once in Haiti and once in South Africa, I rescued people from lynch mobs, from being beaten to death. I tried to do the same thing in Indonesia but wasn’t able to save him. When it’s clear to me that I’m the one person who can make a difference, I put down my camera.

Is there anything further you want to say about your work?

Yes, there is one thing that is important for people to understand — that’s perhaps a misconception about how the press works in these situations — and that is, especially in the case of famines, when we’re photographing victims of starvation, we’re not just walking away from them and leaving them there without food or help. We’re photographing the famine victims in feeding camps and feeding centers that have already been established by humanitarian organizations. They are already being helped as much as they can be helped at that time.

The events of September 11th, 2001 is among the most photographed event in world history. “It brought questions about the ethics of representing suffering into broad popular circulation.”


The resulting Joel Meyerowitz’ “conveys a sense not only of destruction and lose but also of active, even heroic, recovery.” The fact that these specific are taken after the events these images should be considered differently than those of Nachtwey. They are not fixated on the moment of suffering, but on the rebuilding.

With the comparisons, Joel Meyerowitz and Thomas Ruff and James Nachtwey and Alfredo Jaar, Ruff and Jaar have a conceptual approach to the subject of suffering and it seems that Reinhardt praises this way as being a more valid way to approach these subjects. To “indirectly” address indirectly so to speak, however, the reading of these pieces are dependent on the archive that is already available. These conceptual pieces could not exist or have the same impact without already having visual knowledge. They operate because of the visual language or codex, that has been established. I think the point he is trying to make, hopefully, that images like those of Meyerowitz and Nachtwey, and photojournalist exist in order, to get to this more conceptual place. In a way, this way of working, reactive and ‘pointing the camera’ at something, is valid because it validates the conceptual works, and that is the actual work that points towards action. But even with Jaar’s installation piece, it does not mean that it will have more impact. Reinhardt even states that the published piece in the book fails in comparison to the actual piece in person. The viewer relationship also, to quote Sontag (Reagarding the Pain of Others, pg 125) “We’ — this ‘we’ is everyone who never experience anything like what they went though — don’t understand. We don’t get it.”

The part in the Reinhardt, I find most intriguing is the idea of acknowledgment. Reinhardt uses a quote from Sontag On Photography, “unfortunately photographs do not explain; they merely acknowledge.Sontag’s resistance to beauty in particular, or aesthetic qualities more broadly, flows from that sense the photographs do not or cannot tell us what we need to know.” (Reinhardt, 30.) to begin this conversation. In opposition to Sontag, Reinhardt employs the work of philosopher Stanley Cavell.

“For Cavell, acknowledgement is precisely what it is that we must offer when confronted with human suffering. It is the difficult, often painful, and thus often avoided act of responding appropriately to the pain of others. The acknowledgement of another calls for recognition of the other’s specific relation to oneself… To avoid acknowledgement is, fundamentally, to refuse to grapples with one’s relation to another. In terms that are more or less the inverse of Sontag’s Call suggest that recognition of such relations can come only through acknowledgement: the work can never be undertaken by knowledge alone. In response to problems of suffering, photographs fail when they solicit responses that fall short of acknowledgement in this sense of the word. But photographs fail morally and politically when they invite from a responsive viewer is something less than acknowledgment; this ethical and political failure is tied to the pictures’ strategies and effects. (Reinhardt, 31).

Reinhardt again uses James Nachtwey’s image of the starving man in Sudan to define this failure. “It is not clear how the photograph ask us to access our relationship to – our complicity in – the situation. The image issues no proposal or invitation on this matter. It is a failure of acknowledgment. (Reinhardt, 31). And Jaar as his opposition, “Jarr in opposition offers a kind of indictment (theatricality) “His work is about seeing and the failure to see and about how both implicated his audience in the situation to which the work response. (Reinhardt, 33).

The Grey Line – Jo Metson Scott

To add to Fred Ritchin list of projects:

The Grey Line – Jo Metson Scott

From amazon: A reflection on war told from the perspective of US and UK soldiers who have spoken out against the Iraq War. Through photographs and interviews, the lives of these soldiers are explored to understand more fully what it was that drove them to take an anti-war position—no matter what the consequence.


<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/63736859″>Jo Metson Scott – The Grey Line</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/photobookstore”>PhotoBookStore.co.uk</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>