"Photography is not going away. On the contrary, it's just getting going," writes artist Trevor Paglen in this issue's special project "The Anxiety of Images": considerations by twenty-six writers, photographers, and cultural thinkers, invited by Aperture to comment on the state of the image since 2001.
ELLEN CAREY is a lens-based photographic artist, independent curator, and Associate Professor of photography at Hartford Art School, University of Hartford. Carey's Photography Degree Zero (1996-2011) and Struck by Light (1992-2011) are twin projects that investigate minimalism and abstraction using the Polaroid 20-by-24 camera/photogram process.
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To see the photographs of a convulsive world you were once deeply immersed in—fifty years later—is a revelatory discovery. Like contemplating the image of an unforgettable face from a disastrous love affair. The meaning of the "decisive moment" changes with time.
What could be better than a very smart artist with a cunning sense of humor? How about two such artists working together in gleeful lifelong complicity? Swiss duo Peter Fischli and David Weiss have been a collaborative team since 1979, and their work is often marked by a penetrative but droll wit, a good-natured Mitteleuropa ironic shrug that finds subtle comedy (often accompanied by its close companion, wistful melancholy) a good way of unmasking life’s absurdities.
In the mid-1830s, William Henry Fox Talbot fixed the world onto paper—or rather, he captured a skewed interpretation of the world by letting light shine around and through items such as spruce needles and scraps of lace. For Talbot, drawing with light was only possible without a camera, and contemporary photographers, increasingly drawn to abstraction, have returned to Talbot’s camera-less methods.
Takashi Homma is a top-order Japanese photographer who first came to wider notice with his 1998 project Tokyo Suburbia, featuring suburban developments and impassive young adults. The series was exalted for its reserve toward subject matter, won Japan’s prestigious Kimura Ihei Contemporary Photography Award in 1999, and launched Homma’s international career.
Tod Papageorge began photographing in 1962, while a student of English literature at the University of New Hampshire. Since 1979 he has been the Walker Evans Professor of Photography at the Yale University School of Art, where he is the Director of Graduate Studies.
Cyprien Gaillard is a connoisseur of ruins, a romantic conceptualist whose tireless excursions in search of resonant decrepitude have taken him to an impressive variety of dismally compelling sites. Contemporary art has been marked for some time by a fascination with decay, but Gaillard, it seems, is among its most assiduous and vagrant enthusiasts—even a brief perusal of his photographic installation Geographical Analogies (2006-10) reveals an atlas of iconic rot.
What was the Photo League? A place to make photographs, see photographs, take classes, make friends. It began in the early 1930s in New York during the Depression, when the United States was looking for a New Deal. As League member Lou Stettner noted years later (in a 1978 interview with Colin Osman), the historical context is crucial to understanding what the Photo League was: "There was a huge progressive movement of hundreds and thousands of people, and the Photo League was part of this movement."
Rimaldas Vikšraitis: Grimaces of the Weary Village
Rimaldas Vikšraitis meets me at the crossroads of his village, Kudirkos Naumiestis, some sixty-five kilometers from Kaunas, the second-largest city in Lithuania. I am finally making a pilgrimage to visit this remarkable photographer, who has documented the farming life, domestic scenarios, and wild parties that take place here in deepest rural Lithuania, very near the Russian border.
Whenever I travel somewhere new, I research the history of the art and culture of the place, both ancient and modern. I spent a month last year at the sun-imbued home of Carol and Sol LeWitt in Praiano, on Italy’s Amalfi coast, in the region of Campania—a house filled with the artist’s paintings and drawings—and before I left New York, I looked at a lot of LeWitt’s work.
This past March, looking toward the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, Aperture’s editors emailed a large group of photographers, artists, writers, curators, critics, and other cultural thinkers and asked them to consider the image’s evolution, roole, and presence since that day.
As I write this, in April 2011, peaceful protestors in Cairo’s Tahrir Square are again being beaten and shot, this time by the Egyptian military. The political future of Egypt is very much in doubt, with the Muslim Brotherhood organizing for the upcoming elections, attacks on Copts rising, and calls for stability at any cost increasing.
The people—young and old, men and women, veiled and not—held hands and formed human shields, around Muslims and then Copts, as they prayed on Friday in Tahrir Square. The young men linked arms to make a moving barricade around the women marching for their rights, chanting for equality.
The inevitable commemorations of the ten-year anniversary of September 11, 2001, will soon be upon us. Other than an anticipated run on American flags (manufactured overseas), it’s hard to predict how the anniversary will be observed, for, like many of the new millennium’s catastrophes, nothing about this one can be said to be “over.”
Chapter 5: The Conclusion = To Help Me Understand This
Sources of citations:
It was the most photographed and videotaped day in history. Two of the world’s tallest buildings destroyed by hijacked planes. The next day newspapers published photos of the horror, but there were some images so awful they provoked rage across the world.
The “photo-opportunity” refers to the moment when something happens in the world in order that a picture can be taken of it. The traditional epistemology of photography presumes that first of all there’s something in the world, and then, in an independent or neutral way, it’s represented somewhere else.
In the decade since September 11, 2001, anxious narratives of violence have come to determine essential aspects of our global interaction; borders are closing down even as the technology to connect us to each other is opening up. Three years ago, I investigated this course of change through my film Adoration.
On Tuesday, September 11, 1973, I was seventeen years old. It was the day I lost my political innocence. I was living in Santiago de Chile when General Augusto Pinochet and his troops staged a brutal military coup that lasted seventeen years.
Reporting has become much more personal since 9/11. Photographs and articles appear to be more "I"-centered and experiential. I like the phrase "bearing witness," as numerous photographers—Marc Asnin among them—have gone beyond traditional photoreportage by including images that not only have shock value but have a personal impact on both viewer and the photographer.
The Georgetown law students pictured here are protesting a speech by Alberto Gonzales, in which he sought to defend the Bush administration’s authorization of warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens. Gonzales had intended his speech as part of a concerted White House public relations campaign to justify the illegal spying program (once that program’s existence was revealed by the New York Times).
The firing squad, the electric chair, the gibbet, the scaffold, the guillotine, the gallows, the noose: all of these are well-known “traditional” methods of public execution. Each is a tool that organizes space in a way that makes the execution (in)visible to a certain public.
As the war in Afghanistan enters its tenth year, many in the military have seen and endured injuries, and many have seen fellow soldiers die. Soldiers tend to feel very responsible for one another’s safety—it pains them terribly when another soldier goes down.
We will—I will—remember the beautiful, blue, cavernous skies. The television unreal, surreal. It cannot be. It cannot be. (Can a television set convince?) Over and over again, the impossible—until nightmares took over from our dreams.
French journalist Anne Nivat has written to me on a regular basis about her travels and work in Russia, Chechnya, Iraq, and Afghanistan since 2004, when she was an Artist-in-Residence at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum at my invitation.
It has long been thought that a photograph is unable to change the fortunes of a war or a way of thinking. But today, considering the images online devoted to the Syrian revolution—and the many other photo-documented uprisings that have transpired in past months—we are forced to reconsider that assessment.
Bertolt Brecht’s War Primer is an idiosyncratic collection of newspaper clippings dating from World War II, published in East Germany in 1955. In this book, Brecht attempted to make sense of images of war, which he viewed as a sort of hieroglyphics in need of deciphering.
The twenty-first century has already become a photographic century, even more than the nineteenth or the twentieth centuries. Despite the emergence of new regimes of photography and debates about the politics of imaging, photographers, ironically, have had remarkably little to say about how new forms of imaging shape our political and cultural lives.
The photographer I most admire concerned himself with measurement rather than with appearance. Etienne-Jules Marey was a nineteenth-century physiologist whose motion studies of a man walking or a pelican flying met his scrupulous scientific requirements for precision, and yet are images that are still startling today in both beauty and implication.
In 2010 WikiLeaks released Apache gun-sight video footage featuring the killing of over a dozen civilians in Baghdad, as well as the conversation of the pilots and their controllers. We see here, not for the first time, a state committing murder, not merely the careless manslaughter of "collateral damage,” but the deliberate targeting of people.
In 1940 Sidney Grossman and his wife Marion Hille traveled through Oklahoma and Arkansas, where Grossman photographed local musicians, farmers, and craftsmen. An FBI file was opened on Grossman that summer, by a person (probably a local postmistress) who was “doubtful as to the patriotism of both Grossman and his wife.”
I’m still wrapped up on Libya and will be here till the 25th. I have a picture I want to use as a basis to say something—it’s by Christoph Bangert and is of a man with his head basically cut off dumped on a rubbish dump. It’s a photo I can’t get out of my head and I’m interested why—and I think this goes to something about the capacity for photography to continue to haunt us despite new technology and critics’ desire to say the image is impotent.
To many, to most, in America and no doubt across the world, September 10 became a metaphor for the quiet before the storm, the serenity of unsuspecting. In my short-lived marriage, which came undone a year later, September 10 was a remarkably blissful day.
Every era tends to become identified with a particular kind of technology, and cell-phone imagery has become the default look of the post-9/11 world, even if phone-cameras weren’t used that widely back in September 2001. Or were they? I can’t remember.
On December 27, 2007, photographer John Moore was covering an emotional rally organized by Benazir Bhutto in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi. Bhutto gave a fervent speech to an ecstatic crowd about Pakistan’s need to combat Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
In terms of creating fearlessly independent photographic work, few come close to the standard set by Ernest Cole (1940-1990). That name may strike no chord, for in his short life the black South African photographer published a single book, House of Bondage (Random House, 1967), and that one did not satisfy him.
“Qu’est-ce qu’un album[?]” —“What is an album[?]” asks the title of an anonymous almanac article from 1822. This curious inquiry regarding the meaning of what was, by the 1820s, a ubiquitous product of fashionable material culture speaks to the sheer variety of its forms.
The ideas of the marathon and the non-place converge in Taryn Simon's recent labourintensive work, Contraband, a prolonged investigation of both the inner life of the airport and its passengers—as a betweenspace, a place of transit— and of the global traffic in miscellaneous, forgotten, illegal and counterfeit objects.
Whenever Gerard Fieret spoke about himself, he did so with an air of solemnity: "I, the solitary man." Endowed with a genteel naturalness, he was a true recluse. [...] Fieret's autonomous work remained fairly consistent in his choice of subject matter, although he overcame his initial shyness about taking direct photographs of people.
The Surrealist artists were notoriously fond of activities and games that tap the subconscious. In the well-known Surrealist game Cadavre exquis (Exquisite corpse), one participant initiates a drawing and passes it to another to continue, who passes it to the next, and so on, until the work is deemed finished.
Paul Strand's iconic 1915 photograph Wall Street (originally titled "Pedestrians raked by morning light in a canyon of commerce") perfectly captures the urban contrast of giant architectural monoliths against the city's Lilliputian inhabitants racing toward nine-to-fives.