A recent article in the Daily Mail drew my attention to a small group of professional colorists who have been using digital media to colorize photographs of the American Civil War — some iconic, and some quite pedestrian. Much of the online chatter about the pixel-pushers celebrates their ingenuity, patience, and skill in bringing history to life. Some of the images are truly remarkable in the way that the simulated color adds texture and depth and a sense of reality to scenes we’ve only experienced in grey-scale, but many of them look much like any well-hand-tinted photos of the past century. Some, to my eyes, are too cleaned-up to convey the historicity that they are meant to salvage, and that the faded, scratched, and worn paper or tin or glass originals embody. Is color the only means by which we are meant to connect to these timely things? Does removing the photographs themselves (as objects, not only as images) from their own time and technologies of production and reception damage them in other ways, not to mention our ability to relate to them, or to their subject-matter through them?
By Aaron Glass (Bard Graduate Center)
Armed with his camera, Randy Hage explores urban landscapes threatened with eradication through development, gentrification, or other civic improvement schemes. Yet unlike the many other salvage-oriented artists who photographically document such streetscapes lest they vanish, Hage translates his photos into meticulously crafted scale models. Rather than just imaging these places, he materializes them; in some cases, he re-materializes buildings that may have been destroyed since he photographed them. Through the laborious process of simulating structures along with their contents and immediate environs, Hage must develop a particular tactile as well as visual intimacy with the sites and buildings in question. For him–and presumably for many of his viewers, patrons, curators, and collectors–the physical presence of his dioramas makes palpable a nostalgia for the corner stores and “mom-and-pop” businesses being rapidly replaced by big box stores and multinational chains (even if the commodities Hage lovingly miniaturizes are the same in both kinds of outlet). Semiotically, the hand-crafted nature of his art lends itself to memorializing small-scale economies of place rather than the corporate behemoths that he bemoans (and that are treated with equal, if contrastingly large-scale, attention to detail by photographers such as Andreas Gursky). In their affection for vanishing places rendered containable, collectible and preserved, the models evoke miniature ethnographic villages in natural history museums.
Despite the impressive materiality of Hage’s dioramas, most viewers likely enjoy them only through photographic mediation (and the additional miniaturization that photography allows). On his personal website, the artist invites people to evaluate the “sculptures vs. the real structures,” although what we see are only photographs of both (moreover, the specific photographs on which the models are based). This medium and mode of comparison flatten the scale and physical reality of both building and model while enhancing the illusion of their absolute likeness. In some cases, the carefully lit models appear more richly dimensional than the actual structures shot under overcast skies. What at least this viewer yearns to do is stand before the remaining storefronts, models in hand. Yet such an exercise risks additional fetishization of the “original place.” Moreover, despite–or rather, due to–being enchanted (in Gell’s sense) by Hage’s considerable fabrication skills, one might miss his intended level of political-economic critique. What the remarkable models-as-art don’t show, which photography or film or ethnography might, is the presence of neighborhood denizens with a stake in the continued existence (or disappearance) of these colorful, dilapidated, vernacular vistas.
For those in the Los Angeles area, there is a chance to stand in the presence of the dioramas at the Flower Pepper Gallery until November 15, 2013.
The Royal Anthropological Institute will host an international conference on Anthropology and Photography at the British Museum, 29-31 May, 2014.
The aim of the Conference is to stimulate an international discussion on the place, role and future of photography. Panel proposals are therefore welcome from any branch of anthropology. We welcome contributions from researchers and practitioners working in museums, academia, media, the arts and anyone who is engaged with historical or contemporary production and use of images.
Panels can draw upon (but are not limited to) the following themes:
- The use of photography across anthropological disciplines
- The changing place of photography in museums and exhibitions
- Photography and globalisation
- Photography, film and fine art
- Revisiting and re-contextualising archival images
- Photography and public engagement
- Ethics, copyright, access and distribution of images
- Technological innovation and its impact
- Regional photography practices
- Visual method and photo theory
The call for panels opens on 1 August 2013 and closes on 31 October 2013
Christopher Pinney, UCL Anthropology
National Highway One spans the 287km between Dhaka and Teknaf Upazila, connecting the Bangladeshi capital with Chittagong, the second largest city. These photographs, taken over two days in late January 2013, document 26 of the more interesting gas stations on the south bound highway, en-route Chittagong. There are around 9,000 petrol stations and 584 Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) stations in Bangladesh. Most stations on N1 have CNG which is produced in Bangladesh and used by all autorickshaws and many buses and trucks.
These photographs pay homage to Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations published in 1963 which recorded 26 gas stations between Los Angeles and Oklahoma City. Ruscha’s images were shot and printed in black and white although some of them formed the basis for a colour screen-print series.
The images here appropriate the seriality of Ruscha’s book and something of the aesthetics of his screen-prints. Whereas Ruscha’s 1960s documentation of the US automonster might be read as evidence of an increasing homogenization and corporatisation, these Bangladeshi edifices seem to betray a much greater variability. There are also subtle traces of the political conflicts that are driving Bangladesh’s current simmering revolution. In some images there is evidence of the impact of a Jamaat-i-Islami hartal: the systematic breaking of windscreens on trucks and buses that remained on the road led to many seeking refuge on the forecourts of gas stations.
Is this Orientalism, the imposition of an experimental aesthetic protocol from the Imperial heartland? Or does repetition with difference help to transform a landscape of ‘belatedness’?
From the Jewish Museum Blog:
Marc Adelman’s Stelen (Columns) (2007–11) was included in The Jewish Museum exhibitionComposed: Identity, Politics, Sex (Dec. 23, 2011–June 30, 2012). The work comprises a set of photographs Adelman found on a gay dating website. Following a published review of the exhibition, the Museum received complaints from several people whose profile pictures were featured in Stelen. Their comments focused on privacy issues—the inclusion of their images in the artwork without their consent—and the possibility that as a result of being depicted publicly in the work they might be subject to significant anti-gay backlash. (See statement.) We have invited Marc Adelman and a range of experts to address some of the complex issues raised by the artwork
Clark’s first project, Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out, explored the domestic architecture and environment of the Guantanamo Bay Military Base and tracked this “domesticity” back into the homes of British detainees, particularly following the case of Omar Deghayes who was imprisoned in GTMO from 2002-2007 when he was released without charges. This photographic project explores three ideas of home: the idea that GTMO is home to an American community of military personnel and their families, that it is home to prisoners arrested as terrorists, and the homes where former detainees are now trying to rebuild their lives.
“Control Order House continues my exploration of the use and representation of control and incarceration in the ‘War on Terror’. Following on from ‘Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out’ I use the prism of the ‘home’ to question representations of ‘them’ and ‘us’ and to evoke the impact on the individuals concerned. I see my work as visual histories which bring new perspectives to the wider social, political and legal aspects of these issues, and explores the material and evidentiary nature of images and documents”
In his latest project, Control Order House, Clark lived for several days in the home of someone in the UK living under a control order. Control Order House engages with ideas of control in photography by foregoing the normal process of editing and mediation to reproduce the images, unedited, in the order in which Clark took them, exploring the monotony and claustrophobia of a controlled person’s life. The inclusion of official documents and correspondence also illustrates the weight of state actors against the individual. Control Orders were introduced under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. Between 2005 and 2011, 52 men suspected of involvement in terrorism were under Control Orders and subject to various constraints. These included the power to relocate them to a house anywhere in the country,
Control Order House engages with ideas of control in photography by foregoing the normal process of editing and mediation to reproduce the images, unedited, in the order in which Clark took them, exploring the monotony and claustrophobia of a controlled person’s life. The inclusion of official documents and correspondence also illustrates the weight of state actors against the individual.
Control Orders were introduced under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. Between 2005 and 2011, 52 men suspected of involvement in terrorism were under Control Orders and subject to various constraints. These included the power to relocate them to a house anywhere in the country, to restrict communication electronically and in person, and to impose a curfew. ‘Controlled persons’ were not prosecuted for terrorist-related activity and the evidence against them remained secret. One man was subject to these controls for more than four years. Control Orders were replaced by Terrorist Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs) in 2012. Nine men are currently subject to a TPIM.
(Images reproduced thanks to Edmund Clark and Here Press).
One Day Meeting, Leicester
Saturday March 2nd, 2013
Museums and Galleries History Group/Photographic History Research Centre, De Montfort University
The status of photographs in the history of museum collections is a complex one. From the inception of the medium its double capacity as an aesthetic form and as a recording medium created tensions about its place in the hierarchy of museum objects. While museums had been amassing photographs since about 1850, it was, for instance, only in the 1970s that the first senior curators of photographs were appointed in UK museums. On the one hand major collections of ‘art’ photography have grown in status and visibility, while photographs not designated ‘art’ are often invisible in museums. On the other hand almost every museum has photographs as part of its ecosystem, gathered as information, corroboration or documentation, shaping the understanding of other classes of objects. Many of these collections remain uncatalogued and their significance unrecognised. However recent years have seen an increasing interest in the histories of these humble objects, both their role in collections histories and their histories in their own right.
Director: Photographic History Research Centre
De Montfort University
Portland Building 2.4.
Leicester LE1 9BH
Christopher Pinney, Dept of Anthropology, UCL
The name is Studio Suhag. The location is a small industrial town in central India, exactly half-way between Mumbai and Delhi. The photographer is Suresh Punjabi. The images are scanned from medium-format negatives recently retrieved from Suresh’s monsoon damaged godown. He calls it a godown (warehouse) but actually it is half a floor in a rented house in which a sudden influx of monsoon rain had dislodged tens of thousands of negs, all carefully filed and sequenced, transforming an ordered archive into a mouldering mush on the floor. Several days of careful sifting produced maybe a thousand printable negatives, the rest remain on the floor in an increasingly jumbled mess.
The earliest images date from the late 1970s, the most recent ones from the mid-1980s. Suresh himself presents a historical narrative that focuses on the tiny space of his studio and looks back – with a certain fascination – to an analogue era of genuine artisanal inventiveness. It is a time of buckets, chemicals, cramped spaces, and staying up all night developing and printing work for clients eager to see their pictures the next morning. My own perspective pivots around my first visit to the town in late 1982 and the social history of a rapidly evolving settlement which I have continued to visit ever since. A broader perspective would want to frame all this in terms of the social and political crises of the 1970s which led to Indira Gandhi’s ‘Bonapartist’ Emergency, the reaction against this, the assassination following Operation Bluestar and so on.
But looking at these images one is struck by their claustrophobia and near-immunity to the astonishing events of that broader political history. There are dreams, aspirations, identities, and rhythms which intrude upon these photographs but for the most part one is left with a sense of an endlessly repeated space within which Suresh sculpts his customers. There is a narrative here of villagers and townspeople, poor and rich, devout and cosmopolitan, but these are all made visible in a very particular space in which a relatively fixed repertoire of backdrops, props, lighting and framing techniques gradually become recognizable. What kind of history might be mobilized by, and used to frame, these images?
Nearly all the negatives from which the present images are printed bear evidence of water damage and some of this is evident in the prints too. The other material trace is that of the space of the studio. In the late 1980s Suresh switched to 35mm format. Not only was this much cheaper but its format was also closer to the format of the prints which most clients desired. Many customers demand ‘full-body’ images. Using a medium format camera (Suresh’s was a Yashica) in the small confines of the studio to capture a full-length pose always meant that all the ‘noise’ of the studio was also recorded in the negative. Suresh would step back, framing his subject centrally in the image and at the sides would intrude studio lights, curtains, props and so on. This noise was all cropped out in the printed image since it was mere infrastructure designed to deliver an illuminated and adequately posed central body and was of no interest to the customer or to Suresh. But it was all there in the negative, a kind of silent Brechtian margin awaiting recovery. The effect is frequently reminiscent of Samuel Fosso’s work in the Central African Republic: a standing figure is usually positioned at the centre of the space in front of a painted backdrop and flanked on either side by tall studio lights. Rediscovering those margins, and other secrets of the enchanted claustrophobic space of the studio, is one of the pleasures of working on this archive.
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Deadline for Abstracts: Oct 1, 2012
We invite international submissions to be included in this forthcoming book, The Photograph and the Album, to be published by MuseumsEtc [www.museumsetc.com] in 2013, edited by Rosie Miller, Jonathan Carson and Theresa Wilkie from the School of Art & Design, University of Salford, UK.
The photograph album carries the potential to convey meaning beyond the images contained within it. However, the long history of the photograph and the album is currently changing because of the way in which we are now making and using photographs. This could be seen as a challenge to the album or viewed as an opportunity to take us in new directions and offer alternative interpretations.
We welcome submissions of between 2000-6000 words from writers, academics, curators, photographers, artists and other visual
practitioners. If your submission is of a visual nature it will extend
to 6-8 pages of the published book.
AHRC CDA PhD Studentship
PHOTOGRAPHS, MUSEUMS AND ARCHAEOLOGY
“Alfred Maudslay, Photography and the Mimetic Technologies of Archaeology: A Study in Method, Process and Effect”
Photographic History Research Centre, De Montfort University, Leicester/ British Museum, London
STARTING JANUARY 2013
An AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award studentship covering stipend and tuition fee costs is offered within the Photographic History Research Centre (PHRC) in the Faculty of Art, Design and Humanities in collaboration with the British Museum.
The project addresses the role of photography and its relationship with other mimetic technologies in field archaeology and the subsequent institutional life of the images in the construction of ‘heritage’. The project also explores the methodological implications for a ‘photographic history’ approach to collections and institutions.
The project will focus on the 1513 magnificent late nineteenth century photographs made of Maya archaeology by Alfred Maudslay, their relationship with other kinds of recording and their subsequent ‘life’ in the Museum. The student will have scope, within the project parameters, to develop an emphasis in photographic history, collections history, history of science, or museum practice in archaeological heritage.