1. Photo art – contemporary reflections

Tendential error and the courage of the autonomous perspective

As we have been able to observe up to now, the speed of communication and the introduction of innovations have accelerated in the various sectors of science and technology over the last thirty years, but especially the mass of new information has increased exponentially. It thus seems even more important to simultaneously undertake efforts at reflection. This is proving to be difficult because, among other reasons, phases of reflection also require time and thus can always only chase after the innovative advances. Art historians ask the following with reference to innovations in the field of image media:

“Can a historian observe the present? […] Without the distance that defines the perspective of the historian, the observer may be tempted to draw premature conclusions. However, even the error is significant. This or that assessment, articulated spontaneously at the time, proves a few years later to be characterised by prejudices that were not necessarily recognisable at the time and provides important information for later consideration.”1 (André Gunthert)

Initial tentative attempts to reflect on the present can provide important and helpful information, for example, about the constitution, contextuality and mood of our actions and reflections at a particular time. In this sense, it could be a correct choice to start a critical blog about photo art of the present, in order to trace, point out and experimentally classify tendencies critically. The value of a weblog also lies in its topicality and thus in serving as a forum for carrying out discussions, publishing interviews and enriching these with the comments of third parties. As one of the countless consequences of digitalisation, the weblog provides the opportunity for participation and intervention, with the aim of tracing tendencies in photography, debating them in dialogue and expanding upon these with new perspectives.

A positive, basic characteristic of digital remote communication lies in the potential for dialogue, which the philosopher Vilém Flusser recognised at an early date and already discussed regarding photography. The digital image communication and intervention is today highlighted by art historians like André Gunthert as democratic potential, especially with a view to the possibility of so-called “citizen journalism”.

“Linked with the digital image is the promise of equality, participation, networking, a changed quality of communication and a different distribution of communicative space, and there is no reason to not remember this promise, even when it is always only partially fulfilled.”2 (Stefanie Diekmann)

Gunthert refers to digital photography as “L’image partagée” (Éditions Textuel, Paris 2015). The German translation entitled “Das geteilte Bild” (The shared image) appeared in 2019 and is reminiscent of the title of a joint research collection of media scientists published shortly prior to this: “Bilder Verteilen” (Distributing images)12. In these current publications, the photo-theoretical discourse shifts from being a structural and ontological analysis toward becoming an analysis of digital image practices and the processes of circulation and dissemination, which are dramatically advanced by computer technologies. The digital image is “fluid”, “networked”, and thus primarily a communicative image that is created to be shared. Visual information with the inherent attributes of participation and of virulent and rapid circulation.
The positive connotations of “shared” and “communicative” can, however, not gloss over the fact that offerings of hate and violence also involve messages, sometimes even especially obtrusive and momentous ones. Experience also shows us that the democratic medium can also be used as a demagogic medium.

My own publication, „Fotokunst in Zeiten der Digitalisierung“3 [Photo art in the age of digitalisation.] from 2016, refers to the timespan in which the media cultural revolution and the transition phase from analogue to digital is taking place. In this first phase of digitalisation, the aim was to digitally copy analogue products and to replace analogue devices for the creation of new formats with digital devices. These processes also had to be critically accompanied at the qualitative level. Experiments were commenced with in art theory with the aim of formulating new aesthetic and perceptual theoretical differentiations and to question passed-down definitions of analogue formats regarding their significance for the digital realm.
Looking back, I can see that my research at that time was already permeated by scepticism in many places. This sees the dialogic and democratic potential at risk at the moment in which we are cut off from the liberal use of the Internet and the possible inscription of our own network structures, and instead merely make information available and inscribe it into prefabricated interfaces in a self-exploiting fashion involving a great deal of time, without being able to live from it – entirely in keeping with neoliberal, Post-Fordist market structures. I was guided to this insight by my own experiences in the practice of applied photography, as well as by my dealings with the current critical analyses of digitalisation of the time, such as the contributions of Byung Chul-Han, Maurizio Lazzarato, Jaron Lanier, Allan Douglas Coleman, Bernard Stiegler, Richard Sennett, Eva Illouz, Hans Christian Dany, Geert Lovink, to name a few.

(text/artworkBirgitWudtke©2020)

 

1 Gunthert, André: Das geteilte Bild. Essays zur digitalen Fotografie,
Konstanz University Press 2019, page 13
2 Gunthert, André, 2019, page 11
12 Gerling, Holschbach, Löffler: Bilder verteilen. Fotografische Praktiken in der digitalen Kultur. transcript Verlag Bielefeld, 2018
3 Wudtke, Birgit: Fotokunst in Zeiten der Digitalisierung. Künstlerische Strategien in der Digitalen und Postdigitalen Phase. transcript Verlag, Bielefeld 2016

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