Who’s your favourite photographer? they ask

It’s a question students often ask: who’s your favourite photographer? I don’t have one, nor do I have a favourite director, a favourite musician, a favourite writer and so on. It varies. Having said that, what students usually want when posing that question is to understand what kind of photographs I like, so I usually show them the work of a couple of authors I particularly respond to. For the past couple of years, Robert Zhao Renhui‘s work has been on the top of that list.

Sanne de Wilde, born in Antwerp in 1987, is an author’s who’s work I’ve also been following and her latest project is what brings me to this post. The Island of the Colorblind is a project that brings together the author’s style with the content’s uniqueness. As a result, we get an original aesthetic approach to this universe, being that “this universe” is both the dimension of the achromats as well as the dimension of the photographic language. They are both potentiated through de Wilde’s way of making: her choices regarding color, first and foremost, but mainly the way the “idea of color” contaminates the entire project.

Here’s an excerpt of de Wilde’s statement about The Island of the Colorblind:

In the late eighteenth century a catastrophic typhoon swept over Pingelap, a tiny atoll in the Pacific Ocean. One of the sole survivors, the king, carried the rare achromatopsia-gen that causes complete colorblindness. The king went on to have many children and as time passed by, the hereditary condition affected the isolated community and most islanders started seeing the world in black and white.

[…]

I tried to see the island through their eyes. Daylight is too bright to bear, moonlight turns night into day, colors dance around in shades we cannot imagine. Imagine flames lighting up in black and white, trees turning pink, waves of grey. A rainbow revisited. The islanders often refer to green as their favourite color, growing up in a lush environment, living in the jungle. But green is also the color that the most common kind of colorblindness (deutaranomaly, five out of 100 males) can’t distinguish. I learned that the color the islanders say to ‘see’ most is red. I photographed with a camera converted to infrared, programmed to read the light and the colors different. Nowadays a lot of the Pingelapese have migrated to Pohnpei, the nearest , bigger of the Micronesians island.

In a few months, The Island of the Colorblind will be published and we’ll be able to see it, contemplate it and discuss it properly. I’ll be back with more on the subject once it’s out. For now, a teaser:

© Sanne de Wilde, from the project 'The Island of the Colorblind'.
© Sanne de Wilde, from the project ‘The Island of the Colorblind’.
© Sanne de Wilde, from the project 'The Island of the Colorblind'.
© Sanne de Wilde, from the project ‘The Island of the Colorblind’.

Everything she touches turns to…

Annie Leibovitz is responsible for creating such an iconography, that her authority (meaning legitimacy as an author) is unquestionable. Having said that, and although her work is always in trend (or so my students’ tell me), for the past decade or so I’ve been failing to find any originality in her photographic work. Seeing her recent portraits of Michelle Obama is what brought me to this post. My first reaction was, literally, that she turns everything and everyone into the same: an object, with no soul. We’ve seen the compositions, the poses, the air, the latent content, the only thing that keeps being new is the people who enter her shot. I guess, this could be another example of how style can be interpreted as the exact opposite of a high level of originality and, instead, describe a bundle of strategies that serve to legitimate repetition.

But let’s look at the images (or maybe leave now, this might be a waste of your time): Haven’t we seen this from her before? Why is Leivobitz suggesting that Michelle Obama is about to be abducted by some higher power? And, just as we’re at it, why is she cutting this woman’s foot? If the point was to make Michelle look sexy (maybe suggesting something about the woman who’s about to take her place at the White House?), I think we can all agree this is a failure.

Annie Leibovits, Michelle Obama© Annie Leibovitz, Michelle Obama, 2016.

15078872_1361345967232327_5540863511965742689_n© Annie Leibovitz, Michelle Obama, 2016.

There’s a story about Sontag and Leibovitz that I’m reminded here. Their close friendship is well know, as is the fact that Sontag pushed her to go out of her comfort zone. I can’t exactly point out where I read or heard this, but it was Sontag who, in the 90’s, convinced Leibovitz to go out to the Balkans and see the war through her lens. As expected, that changed her approach to life and art and for some time her photographs reflected that change, that density and maturity. But, as years went on and she kept on photographing big fashion productions, she sort of started to disappear, her voice getting ever more conventional and unoriginal. Sometimes a friend is what it takes to open our mind and I keep thinking that this wouldn’t happen if Sontag was alive (but, I know, this is extremely naif on my part).

It wasn’t my initial intention to be too harsh, but what her photographs now lack in originality they seam to make up in absurdity and eccentricity. In fact, I find them undignified, both of her and some of the individuals she photographs. The play, which, one can say, plays a very important role in the dynamics of an artwork, doesn’t mean that the work lacks gravity; instead, it should mean that the work is experimenting within its boundaries, playing with its internal and external dynamics.

I’m not even going to bring the subject of the Disney-themed photos of celebrities, for it is just too bad, but what happened to the subtlety of her earlier portraits? Did someone whispered to her that she had to keep up with LaChapelle?

L’enfer, c’est les autres

L’enfer, cést les autres, Sartre’s famous exclamation in Huis Clos, it’s one of those sentences that in itself encloses a wide reflection about how human beings think about themselves. I am often reminded of the dictum when someone or something really gets one my nerves. I’m aware that when someone messes with my well-being the problem is as much theirs as it is mine, for external dynamics always reflect internal dynamics, something that is implied in Sartre’s famous sentence. Because one wouldn’t want to stay confined to a mirror-less place, meaning, one wouldn’t want to avoid the natural anguish that comes with recognition, ideally, one would just get to the point of not being bothered by others’ stupidity? Or, in its extreme, might that space of impenetrable well-being actually indicate an alienation from the collective agency of the I?

This is not going to turn into a reflection about the ideal measure of contamination one should or should not allow into one’s life. Having four dogs, I’m pretty much bothered every single day by people who jump to the conclusion that we’re all brainless idiots. What really bothers me in such approaches is how predictable they are, how devoid of character. So, what I want to mention is the importance of originality, meaning: the importance of being original albeit the influence others’ have on us. It’s easier said than done, of course, and it’s something that gets clearer with the passing of time and artistic maturity.

I often mention to colleagues how bored I am by most photographers’ work, but it shouldn’t be any different, should it? High art or, one could say, art that makes a difference, that has the mark of authenticity, is the expression of a way of living and doing that most of us are not interested or cannot explore. So, instead of originality, we get copies, reproductions of ideas once legitimated; instead of autonomous works of art, we get works that serve as means to an end, having no ethos; instead of a sensible and insightful use of technique, we get fireworks, displays of technicalities.

Since I’m trying to clean three years of unsorted bookmarks, mostly of artworks I came across and couldn’t pay enough attention, I’ll leave you with a bundle of photographic imagery that may (or may not) illustrate the difference between the value of originality and the poor feel we’re left with when no originality is at play.

2010-046-lighter-orange-ii_900px© Wolfgang Tillmans, Lighter Orange II.

2000-008-i-don-t-want-to-get-over-you_900px© Wolfgang Tillmans, I don’t want to get over you.

117_bernhard-fuchs-autos-100-0506edtd© Bernhard Fuchs, Autos.

117_bernhard-fuchs-autos-100-0508edtd_v2© Bernhard Fuchs, Autos.

001© Lieko Shiga, Lilly, 2002-2005.

005© Lieko Shiga, Lilly, 2002-2005.

10245© Guia Besana, Condition #7, 2013.

1024© Guia Besana, Condition #6, 2013.

cactus-dressing-w900_900© Ting Chen, Cactus Dressing.

sexy-willy-flower-watering-gun-900px_o© Ting Chen, Sexy willy flower watering gun.

444© Petra Rautenstrauch, The Empress, 2006.

999© Petra Rautenstrauch, The dark side of the heart, 2007.

a_fusion_2_1© Michael Schmelling, A fusion, from the project Atlanta.

Untitled (dancer_1), 2013© Michael Schmelling, Your blues dancer, from the project Atlanta.

10245678© Emily Peacock, Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C, 2012.

1024987© Emily Peacock, Identical Twins, Roselle, N.J, 2012.

robert-mapplethorpe3© Robert Mapplethorpe.

robert-mapplethorpe6© Robert Mapplethorpe.

What is style?

I miss the sort of stable relationship I used to have with nihilsentimentalgia. I love it here, but doing a doctorate has managed to mess with everything that’s dear to me. My closest family is still tolerating the commitment-turned-obsession, but I myself am close to reaching the point of not being able to hear me thinking about authenticity. In the near future, I may develop a sort of repulsion strategy towards everyone who speaks about authenticity. I know this aversion is necessary, at first, for then I’m sure I will remember why doing this doctorate was important and how it helped put me on the right track towards authentic being (or so I like to believe).

Because the thesis proposes an aesthetic register for an authentic doing of art, there’s a lot of thinking about the aesthetic values, qualities or elements, whatever one might call it. The other day, I ended up discussing the meaning of style with my tutor. Because I resist seeing style in a positive way, my tutor tried to explain why it is a sign of artistic maturity and technical achievement, but bad examples of style-as-value keep coming to mind.

If we understand style as the creation of an original and singular strategic approach to all that goes into an art work – matter, content, materials, gesture, etc. – we will see it in a positive way. Image-makers aim at creating a language that they’ll be recognized for and that is, I guess, their style. But it often happens that authors get fooled in that process. Sometimes they think they reached their style to soon and they fall back on what’s easy and comfortable to them, ceasing to potentiate what is essencial about the making of art. Sometimes they think style is the highest value of a work of art (as many aesthetes do), and then the works fail to potentiate the new. Of course this is complex, but here I am simplifying it after having seen another bad example of style.

I see it happen with directors a lot. In one movie they excel at the strategies applied to visual story telling and then they keep repeating it, failing to let each movie have its own inner dynamics, its own life, its own matter. For the purpose of this post, I’ll just choose the last work that left me with such an impression about the meaning of style: The Neon Demon, by Nicolas Winding Refn. The reason for having watched this work is quite clear, its name is Drive, NWR hypnotic movie that brings the 80’s aesthetics into contemporary storytelling. So I admit there were expectations, even if I couldn’t bare 10 minutes of the movie that followed Drive: Only God Forgives. I figured that he had made bad choices, trying to ride the successful wave of Drive, but that by now he had found “his voice”.

neon-demon-main

81nloinacwl-_sl1413_

15425757469_27542453ea_o

Well I guess there’s no clear answer. His voice may be in Drive as in The Neon Demon, and he clearly has a style, but some other elements that make Drive a good work fail to be present in his latest attempt at art. The neon, the vibrancy of the colors, the obsessive focus on auratic characters, the costumes that match the walls,  the seductive nature of the timid gestures of the bodily creatures depicted, the dynamics that arise from the silent tone of the seductiveness played by the characters and the cool vibe of the music that accompanies them, the pauses – the constant pauses – reminiscent of some 80’s music videos (the Modern Talking vibe),* the eulogy of the grotesque, the promotion of a sort of virginal beauty and more. This is, as far as I see it, part of NWR style and if this is style, then this strategic approach is the mark of an inauthentic doing, meaning: the mark of an approach to art that is not truthful and sincere, that puts the work at the service of some external purpose, and not their inner dynamics.

The Neon Demon is a gratuitous work, made with poor taste. It lacks originality, in the sense that is misses the mark of the authors singularity, that which is his own. The movie is the sum of clichés about the gluttonous hunger that surrounds the beauty industry, but then (as if that wasn’t bad enough), NWR tried to put a kitsch spin on it, make it a parody, with girls eating girls and regurgitating  eyeballs, making a symbolic turn with the repetition of mirrors and geometric figures that just hasn’t got the place. Can any work of art be supported by the numerous circular metaphors it is supposed to entail? What is the meaning of those regurgitated eyes, I wonder? Are they the mark of a parody? Are they the sign of guilt? Or are they just difficult to digest ?

*

≡ No room à l’hasard ≡

Excerpts of Brendan Cormiers’s essay No Interest in Reality, written for The New Institute’s exhibition, 1:1 Sets for Erwin Olaf and Bekleidung, Nov 11th 2013 – March 30th 2014. Full text here.

In the documentary, On Beauty and Fall, celebrated Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf states that he has no interest in reality. He laments the art world’s exaltation of the documentary photographer, who moves the viewer with earnest depictions of the ‘real world’, which in the end are often conceits of their own. Instead Olaf’s real world is his interior world, the world of his own fantasies. Loaded with ambiguous meaning, it’s a world where wallpaper drips with pathos, and curtains veil an exterior we’ll never encounter. Models reveal ambivalent expressions and all objects sit complicit in the montage: a carefully positioned phone is charged with anticipation of a call that never takes place.

Embedded in these images is a story about design, a story of theatricality and the idea of a constructed interior, for in these interiors representation blurs with reality. Perhaps unwittingly, Olaf resurrects the nineteenth century notion that architectural space should display and amplify the drama of life. In so doing his photographs suggest tools for design – the careful montage of stylistic references, expressive skins, and selective framing – that have been used in the past, and might be resurrected once again.

In Which Style Should We Photograph?

Style is a word inseparable from Olaf’s images. His work is characterized by the variety of historic styles that comprise his sets ¬– from the Norman Rockwell optimism of 1950s America [Rain], to a somber post-JFK 1960s [Grief], to the interbellum years of Germany [Berlin], to the ravages of war in sixteenth century Holland [The Siege and Relief of Leiden]. The ease with which Olaf moves through these styles recalls the practice of the nineteenth century architect, who, driven by the historicism and eclecticism of the time, was expected to recreate any number of styles – from Greek, to Roman, to Gothic, and so on – at the whim of his patron. This seemingly rudderless approach to aesthetics prompted Heinrich Hübsch in 1828 to ask the question: ‘In which style should we build? – a debate that would endure the century, with various architects advocating for one style over another. Gradually architecture would resolve this tension by muting and abstracting historic elements altogether, paving the way for the unadorned facades of twentieth century modernism.

(…)

Similarly, Olaf’s interiors aren’t employed as historical reenactments as such, but employ historic styles to evoke an idea or a feeling. Style is an expression, a mood-setter, and a signifier. For example, in Grief, each element in the set, and each color, acts as a reference that contributes to the melancholy of the title: The vertical lines made by the shadows of the drapes mimic the bars of a jail; juxtaposed with the optimism of the sleek modernist furnishing, referring to the resurgent postwar middle class. Meanwhile the Jackie Onassis haircuts and outfits recall the tragedy of the JFK assassination and the collective feeling of loss that the nation experienced. The montage of contradicting moods triggered by these signifiers creates a tension that forms the drama of each piece.

(…)

Life On Display

To view an Olaf photograph is also to enter into a world of multiple frames that guide our gaze and that of the actors. It is a reminder of how our interior spaces are constructed as such, full of gaze-directing cues. Your gaze falls upon a framed space often so intimate you feel as a voyeur. The actors in the scenario are also aware of the frames – the window looking out on the yard, the spotlighted furniture arrangement, the perfect table setting, or the camera lens staring right back at you. Works like Keyhole, are explicit in this voyeurism; with the actor’s back turned, you are free to stare without shame, but the framing is tight (as if through a keyhole) and the gaze is limited. In wider shots, such as in Hope, you are confronted with the model’s gaze, and made uncomfortable by the muted anticipation in their eyes.

Such notions of framing can also be drawn back to the nineteenth century in the works of Semper and Schinkel. They shared a common view that architecture is a frame that should accommodate human experience. Drawing from Schinkel’s experience with stage design, the frame was intended to catch the eye of the viewer and direct their attention to the drama of life. This was used to great effect in Schinkel’s paintings, especially to highlight the transition between the interior world and the outdoors. In these paintings the colonnade often serves as a frame through which the viewer’s gaze must pass to reach the landscape, moving from a closed space bounded by opaque materiality, into a space of daylight and distance. Unsurprisingly, the colonnade would later be used to great effect in his architecture. For instance in the Altes Museum, he covers the façade with a wide colonnade framing views out to the Lustgarten and the monumental buildings beyond. In the museum’s rotunda multiple frames are at play vying for your attention: the columns frame each statue, while an oculus plays a double role, framing a circular image of the sky, and directing your attention to the center with a casted beam of light.

(…)”

ArtPulse 1-4167© Erwin Olaf, press clip, Art Pulse, 2009.

The Gaurdian312© Erwin Olaf, press clip, The Gaurdian.

British Journal of Photography, March 2010 1-417© Erwin Olaf, press clip, British Journal of Photography, 2012.

Liberation Next 02, May 2010200© Erwin Olaf, press clip, Liberation Next, 2010.

Los Angeles Times154© Erwin Olaf, press clip, Los Angeles Times, 2007.

The Wall Street Journal. 6 January 2015177© Erwin Olaf, press clip, The Wall Street Journal, 2015.

٠ The edible reality of Alicia Rios ٠

vivero06vivero10© Alicia Rios, from A Temperate Manu (An Edible Garden). Photographs by Jesús Porteros.

excerpt from a conversation between Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and Alicia Rios + Christopher Winks, regarding the work A Temperate Menu firstly showed at the Centre for Performance Research, Cardiff, Wales (UK), in 1994. Published in TDR (1988-), Vol. 41, No. 2 (Summer, 1997), pp. 90-110

KIRSHENBLATT-GIMBLETT: You have to be very creative to work with what’s there. It’s finally not about money. Even with limited means, there are rich possibilities.

RIOS: Sometimes the very combination of limited space and time makes it still harder, because more time, even the same space and the same ingredients will give you more possibilities. Our time was limited to a morning because two assistants went to hear papers. They were volunteers. They had not been paid to help me.

KIRSHENBLATT-GIMBLETT: Did you encounter anybody who did not understand what you had done, that didn’t get it?

RIOS: Oh, no. I was very satisfied because everybody understood it perfectly. It’s wonderful to have good interlocutors, that’s the ideal.

KIRSHENBLATT-GIMBLETT: Please continue.

RIOS: One aspect of cooking that I like is a condition that I believe is common to theatre and cookery. I consider the role of the cook in somewhat philosophical terms as maieutic. The mother of Socrates, the Greek philosopher, was a midwife.

KIRSHENBLATT-GIMBLETT: A midwife?

RIOS: He called his method “maieutic.”

KIRSHENBLATT-GIMBLETT: Oh, midwifery.

RIOS: The philosopher, in his dialogs, acted as a midwife because by asking…

KIRSHENBLATT-GIMBLETT: …he helps deliver.

RIOS: Yes. A cook is engaged in a maieutic process. So are performers. After you have been to the theatre, you aren’t the same. The actors are maieutic in that they’re bringing things out of you. The cook also “delivers” people. Some of them may have felt like gardeners for the first time that day. Perhaps they’ve never used field implements before. Or if you think in terms of an- other kind of menu, Chinese cuisine for example, it may be the first time that some people feel themselves to be Chinese.

KIRSHENBLATT-GIMBLETT: You distributed a “menu” for the garden. It says: So the menu is a portrait in which you read, you translate into edible terms, you choose an aesthetic code-colors, textures, flavors-and you deconstruct it, get it out of its context, manipulate and bring it to realization, empower the idea, and choose the right language. I always look for happiness or integration, I reject association with frustration. Since to me food is looking forward, and forward one feels more free, just grasping the instant and projecting it free from morals, just for enjoyment.

RIOS: One of the cook’s potentials is to produce pleasure.

KIRSHENBLATT-GIMBLETT: That’s very interesting. With one exception, all the food performance pieces at the conference were about pain.

FERNANDEZ: Especially the ones by women…

RIOS: I too was surprised that all the solo performances were by women. No men did solo performances. We didn’t get to know the masculine subconsciousness.

FERNANDEZ: I was saying in our discussion group that the women’s performances were about painful aspects of food-you are overweight, you are underweight, you have cellulite, you have cholesterol, etc. They were all facing pain. All the performances by men were about pleasure, for example, the futurist banquet, Sempronio’s Lunch, presented by Giinter Berghaus, and Franco Taruschio’s demonstration of melanzane in carrozza. Theirs is the pleasure. The women have to face the problems. Alicia also said in that discussion that as a psychologist, she doesn’t feel she has to confront pathology all the time.

KIRSHENBLATT-GIMBLETT: In our discussion group, a woman who’s more into the visual arts said that what she loved about Alicia’s work was how it closed the gap between art and everyday life. I would say that A Temperate Menu operated in the space between them. She said it closed the gap.

RIOS: I believe that there must be intentionality in art. You work on an abstraction. You give this abstraction an aesthetic dimension. You convert it. In the end the outcome has a certain aesthetic value. What I do in Spain, in Madrid, does not have the aesthetic value that it has in London or New York. Even though much depends on what is valued in each context, ultimately the result is independent of reception. It is a style. It is a form of conceptual art that invites an appreciative mind or eye.

sombreros-comestibles-4EdibleHatsGastronomicasombreros-comestibles-1© Alicia Rios, from Edible Hats Postcards, 1995. Photographs by Alejandro Pradera.

“Throughout history puritanical cultures have rejected fancy foods as a frill that goes beyond food’s primary purpose of sustenance. Although at first glance these hats may seem frivolous, I intend quite the opposite. Just as the goddess Athena was born winged from the head of Zeus, so these edible hats relate to the world of ideas, to the collective subconscious that arises from the head. These hats are, for me, like altars that bear the most sacred and peaceful offerings.”

Alicia’s statement. Excerpt from Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Winter 2005, 5.1, pp.113-4.

٠ Thomas Susanka’s ‘The Rhetorics of Authenticity: Photographic Representations of War’ (II of II) ٠

(continuation. part I here)

capa_life

PROXIMITY AND IMMEDIACY

With regard to war photography, we can isolate several major criteria of authenticity that have prevailed over the course of the last 60 years. Most prominent is the impression of spatial proximity and temporal immediacy with respect to the events depicted. Photographs satisfying these criteria create the impression that they were taken right at a particular spot at a significant moment in time and thereby suppon notions of truthfulness and accordance with real-life events.

(…)

The sense of temporal immediacy is created by freeze-framing an instantaneous moment, a certain constellation of people and objects, an unforeseen moment in the combat. The photographer Henri Canier-Bresson referred to this moment famously as the ‘decisive moment’ in photography. The notion of immediacy counters the suspicion of staging with the help of a seemingly spontaneous organization of the image. An imponant aspect of photographic authenticity, according to Elke Grittman, is that the photograph has to establish the impression that its subject was caught in a moment otherwise unobserved; that the subject is unaware of the camera, and his actions, therefore, do not appear to be merely performed for the camera. Perhaps the most famous image of war that creates this impres ion is Robert Capa’s Falling Soldier – despite the heavy debate about the photograph’s authenticity. Apart from subject matter, purely formal devices are often also instrumental in creating a sense of temporal immediacy. First and foremost, this can be achieved by an organic, snap-shot-like composition that reveals its formal logic only upon second glance, as opposed to images that feature a manifest system of organization that overtly reveals their compositionality.

Both spatial proximity and temporal immediacy reflect the notion that the construction of authenticity in war photography is defined by the interaction of form and content. Even though the subject matter intuitively seems to be central to a picture’s potential to appear authentic, it is not merely the subject matter and the fact that it was recorded with a camera that makes an image authentic. Authenticity is always connected to a certain style of depiction, and this style most often aims to create the impression that the picture was taken rather than made. (…) Pictures seem to make a stronger claim to authenticity when they hide the fact that they are constructed images and suggest that they are either unmediated pieces of reality (a window to the world, the captured gaze of the bystander) or the result of a spontaneous, unplanned and seemingly unintentional act of photographing without thinking about how to make the picture look good. In this sense, Volker Wortmann points to the paradox of creating the impression of authenticity by consciously pursuing an aesthetic strategy that tries to suggest that there is no conscious aestheticizing going on in the first place.

KratochvilIraqIraq. Photograph by Antonin Kratochvil

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS: DEFICIENT IMAGES AND CHANGE OF PERSPECTIVE

…we can observe two prominent strategies for establishing authenticity. The first is a playful engagement with the mediality of photography. Essentially, these photographs seem to highlight the medium and strike the beholder as unconventional insofar as they work by means of stylistic irritations (mainly with excessive blurring and tilting of the camera). The second strategy is the shift of perspective from that of a bystander to that of an actual agent in war. Both strategies seem to highlight the experience of war and aim at a more emotional appeal, since they try to present a more subjective and impressionist account of wartime events. And in this sense, these are clearly strategies that aim to create the idea of authentic images of war, giving the beholder the impression of being immersed in the conflict, seemingly annulling the distancing effect of medial communication and thereby getting closer to an authentic depiction of war.

(…)in recent war photography, the blur is used more freely as a stylistic effect in order to insinuate movement and action and hence goes along with the notion of immediacy. (…) Another newly observable stylistic irritation is a heightened use of tilting the image. For a long time, the standard for war photography that aimed to hide its mediality was normal human vision.(…) Now, however, photographers present pictures that suspend this rule of balance.(…) The result is vexing images that suggest movement and spontaneity during the process of imagemaking. These images seemingly imply that they were taken rather intuitively, without the photographer stylistically engaging in the act of representation (even though we may note how well-composed these images are, nevertheless). Similar to the blur, the appeal of authenticity of these images lies in the fact that they seemingly eliminate the intentionality of the photographer by transgressing an aesthetic norm.

ChrisMorrisChechenSoldierA Chechen soldier fleeing the destroyed Presidential Palace, 1995. Photograph by Christopher Morris

Both devices, the blur and the tilt, overtly defy the common standards of journalistic photography. But by overtly violating conventional conceptions of ‘objective photography,’ they also counter the suspicion of deception. After all, it is obvious in the era of Photoshop manipulation that flawless images can easily be created. An openly flawed image might strike us as more convincing, as it seemingly (and deceptively) lays its emphasis not on form but on content. But there is also another level on which devices like blurring and tilting seem to authenticate photographs – namely because tilts and blurs usually occur under extreme conditions, such as in combat action, where there may not always be enough time and it may be too dangerous to handle the camera properly. Thus, these photographs place emphasis on the moment at which they were taken and highlight the heat of the battle, underscoring their claim to authentic representation. (…) Through overt play with the medium, photographers employing this strategy aim to achieve authenticity by suggesting spontaneity and unimentionality.

(…)

Indeed, it seems as if the stylistic devices used by war photographers reflect contemporary conceptions of photographic truth – namely that despite its fervent appeal to our sense of authenticity, photography is a highly subjective and personal way of approaching the events of history. This points to a decisive change in the conceptions of photography after the digital tum: namely that photographic authenticity is no longer connected to the objectivity of representation but to the subjectivity of the represented experience.

Excerpts from an article by Thomas Susanka, published in “Paradoxes of Authenticity”, pp.95-113, edited by Julia Straub and published by transcript Verlag, Bielefeld, 2012