It could be argued that contemporary artists using analogue photography are reacting in principle to the slew of mass-consumed digital images. It may well be, but not only does the slow and contemplative processes of using film cameras and darkrooms go against the digital tide, by not adhering to it, it also sets it apart from uncontemplated and disrespected social digital photos and announces itself as a photograph. Furthermore, it could be seen as a timely reminder of how we actually read photographs. Vilém Flusser asserted that photographs are 'symptoms of the world' and consequently, through what he terms as 'the program of the camera', the audience reads the 'photographed world' as opposed to 'the photographed image' (Flusser, 2000).
Flusser believes all photography is conceptual because photography is defined by concepts. He argued 'the program of the camera’ as if by magic, hides and 'discourages' awareness of the concepts - 'one can smuggle human intentions into its program'. Flusser's point is that Photographs are not transparent because they are entirely symbolic, therefore photographs are not a real translation of the world. The concepts, or as Flussers call 'categories', need detangling in order to read a photograph correctly. Photography should be more objective and attempt the strategy of 'playing against the camera' as a photographic device to 'one can outwit the camera‘s rigidity'. Let something photograph itself without a predetermined outcome informed by human cultural representation intellect: 'one can show contempt for the camera by turning away from it as a thing and focusing instead, on information' (Flusser,2000).
In ‘Death of the Author’, Roland Barthes wrote: “It is necessary to overthrow the myth, the birth of the Reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author.” (Barthes 1977:146). Barthes talks about ‘anti-theological activity’ – an act that moves us away from some form of truth and towards something more like endless different voices and interpretations. By photographing objectively and being transparent with an audience, photographs be more honestly interpreted.
It is hard to imagine Nathan Jurgenson isn't reacting to Barthes and Flusser in The Social Photo: On Photography and Social Media when he states that 'The centre of conceptual gravity for describing how people communicate with images today should be less art historical and more social theoretical’ (Jurgenson, 2019:9). It is difficult not to think about the proliferation of social media when reflecting on these concepts. Jurgenson refers to 'social photos' as an 'essence' or 'gesture' based language within the proliferation of social media, but moreover, he argues that as social photos become quicker and easier to make and consume, the value of each image is lessened with such proliferation – ‘in their scarcity, photographs can age like wine, in their abundance they can spoil, curdle and rot’ (Jurgenson 2019:50). Jurgensen argues the proliferation of 'social photos' lessens the importance of what he refers to as 'exceptional' photos (non-socially intended photos) and the distinction between the two is vital: “In an age of digital abundance, photography desperately needs this introduction of intentional and assured mortality, so that some photos can become immortal again” (Jurgenson, 2019:52).
In photographing nature objectively or 'straight', as opposed to photographing 'La nature du spectacle' (I will elaborate on this in a separate post), and through photographing 'eventless' photographs (see my post here) in slow and contemplative processes, I believe my approaches and strategies resist Flusser's programs of the camera.
Barthes, Roland. 1977. Image, Music, Text. Harper Collins
Flusser, Vilém. 2000. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. Translated by A. Mathews. London: Reaktion Books
Jurgenson, Nathan (2019) The Social Photo: On Photography and other Social Media. Verso