Isn’t it all immaterial anyway?
I’ve become confused and a little concerned about the role of the photographer and this concern stems from how differentiated the practice elements are becoming. Increasingly in this post digital age the technologies available to the practitioner are becoming more and more abstruse, expertise accumulating in ever-deeper silos of technical proficiency resulting in ever more decoupling of capabilities that were once a more common currency.
Joan Fontcuberta says in his introduction to his volume of essays “Pandora’s Camera’ “’… digital photography is the product of an economy that privileges information as a commodity, opaque capital and invisible electronic actions. Its material is language, codes and algorithms: it has the same substance as text or sound and can exist in the same networks of transmission.” Fontcuberta is of course alluding to Neoliberalism, but equally important, it is also a recognition of the divestment of expertise of both craft and practice knowledge that were once vital to the practising photographer. As the ‘industry’ cloaks the capability of ‘craft’ under a veil of complication so dense that no one person understands how a digital camera works, it has become a matter of expediency to foster that landscape and ‘off-load’ those complicated tasks to ‘industry professionals’.
Photographic artists are perhaps being channeled to relieve themselves of the need to get involved with material and focus on the immaterial. Bit density and bandwidth are becoming more important than dynamic range, and the tangibility of the image, whether in the hand, on the wall or in a book is being inexorably prised away from the photographer’s gift and left for others to deal with. It is a truth that some photographers see the image on the screen before dispatching a file to the printer who then delivers to a gallery for hanging by a curator. This process is of course vital in a ‘global business’, but there once was a time that the photographer printed the images, or at least attended their birth, and then got involved with their shipment.
This ‘dematerialisation’ that Fontcuberta speaks of is perhaps why the photo-book is becoming more important. The annual OCA ‘factory week in the sun’ in Arles will again feature considerably more prints in book form than on the walls; even if it is ‘the largest photography festival in the world”. In all likelihood there will be more books to view than prints! What the book does for the artist who uses photography as their preferred medium, is to reclaim some vestige of control in the way the work is presented. We all know that curators have their own interests to serve, festivals their masters to cater for, but the medium of the photobook (self-published or otherwise) allows the artist to at least tell their story in a way that makes sense for them at the moment of publication – a final statement of authorship as they bid it farewell. I see more and more artists wanting to get more involved with the physical aspects of their work, and rallying against the cyphering of their imagery into a digital, immaterial ephemeral stream of data. Don’t you like to touch your work?