Allan Sekula: Reading an Archive - Photography between Labour and Capital

It was evident early on in Reading an Archive: Photography between Labour and Capital that Allan Sekula was in opposition to Richard Howells assertion in Visual Culture that photography benefits from dualism. Sekula believes that “…dualism haunts photography, lending a certain goofy inconsistency to most commonplace assertions about the medium.” (Sekula, 1999, p.190). Going so far as to say that if photography can be regarded as both art and science, then it can also be said that it is neither. Is this because it is occupying the centre ground of the art/science spectrum? 

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Richard Howells: Visual Culture

Reading Visual Culture created an interesting double challenge at this stage. Unlike the previous essays Howells spends a lot of it going over the history of photography before explaining his point. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it creates a lapses in engagement before its purpose becomes apparent. He illustrates this by saying “With the proliferation of cameras and consumer photography today, it may be difficult to imagine a world without photographs.” (Howells, 2011, p.188). This is undoubtedly true and it is hard to contextualise the reactions to imagery over 100 years ago. 

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Roland Barthes: The Rhetoric of the Image

Similarly to Camera Lucida (1980). Roland Barthes combines methodical analysis in The Rhetoric of the Image that creates a template structure to apply to reading any image. From a personal point of view I enjoy this analytical approach as it resonates with my way of contextualising. What undermines this for me is the illegibility at times of never ending sentences and random digressions. In defence of Barthes, his work is translated into English (which brings is own causalities) but to me that does underline the point. All linguistics, images carry cultural context which is not universally clear. That said, I cannot deny that the text is densely rich, it just lacks fibre to digest it more naturally.

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Douglas Crimp: The Photographic Activity of Postmodernism

So firstly I find Douglas Crimp to be an digestible writer that I can follow. It is not laborious to read his text. The fascinating thing about On The Museum’s Ruins is that it has three contemporary resonances to me and my practice.

  1. As a continuum from Walter Benjamin’s thoughts on ‘aura’.

  2. In the displacement of traditional aura in contemporary performance art and sculpture (an area of declared interest of mine).

  3. The role of the museum.

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Walter Benjamin: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Walter Benjamin states in the first lines of The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction that anything that is man made is reproducible. Therefore the concern in photography is nothing new. For me photography itself is perhaps guilty of misrepresentation and even mis-translation. The word itself photos (light) and graphe (literal meaning representation by means of lines or drawing) is often referred to as ‘painting with light’. Being seen as a replacement to painting, presented as an objective medium, thus deeming it superior, caused perhaps unnecessary resistance to its utility. Benjamin acknowledges that the process of photography came after other reproducible mediums such as wood engraving, etching and the lithograph. And it is perhaps here that photography could be more accurately compared.

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