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2018, Jan 10
Jams


Embedded with YouTube’s “privacy mode,” so you’ll only be tracked if you click play. FYI.

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2018, Jan 10
Rodrigo Zúñiga, La extensión fotográfica

Zúñiga, Rodrigo. La extensión fotográfica: ensayo sobre el triunfo de lo fotográfico. Santiago, Chile: Ediciones Metales pesados, 2013.

Found on a recent trip to Mexico City.

The book (a collection of five essays written separately) is an attempt to account for photography’s contemporary situation, that is to say its condition as a digital object. Some of Zúñiga’s ideas are worthwhile. For example, he argues cogently that we should not succumb to the discourse of the end of photography. While the strictly indexical model of photography that Barthes took to be stable ontological ground is now nothing more than “aesthetic region,” this is only a segment of the much broader space that the photographic now takes up. (81) The point here, in short, is that “the end of indexical hegemony does not mean the end of photography.” (80) Well and good. I’m also more or less in line with the idea that seems to drive his project as a whole: “we find ourselves obligated to rethink photographic potentiality [la potencia photográfica] itself, now that it seems to determine—in the age of connections and exchanges of images on a global scale—dynamics and processes of subjectification that we could not have even imagined until a few decades ago.” (8) This is an alluring formulation, but here problems creep in. Zúñiga is a philosopher, and so he does not introduce any concrete examples of photography in order to support his position. The result is that the essay (I’m referring to the titular one) comes across as ahistorical, if not simply presentist. In other words, for all that Zúñiga wants to make clear that the digital has not destroyed the validity of the concept of the photographic, he also has not made it clear exactly what is new about digital technology. But without any reference to, say, the 1930s, it seems a bit strange to suggest that photography has never before produced subjects in the way it does now. I don’t think this is convincing, and it’s a frustrating quality of philosophy that it operates in such an abstract way.

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2017, Dec 30

At the time that this blog was designed, I think I was using Tumblr more seriously. Perhaps I’ll use this blog as a Tumblr-like space at some point, or use it as a somewhat glorified Twitter. This blog was designed to be a container for longer posts, with the footnoted link system lending an academic sheen to the text. (This was before I started school.) If I really did learn the lesson from my post a minute ago, though, I will happily ignore any demand of “quality” that my own blog seems to expect.

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2017, Dec 30

I want to acknowledge the difficulty of graduate school here. In probably most any humanities PhD program, there is no reliable way to grasp your own progress, because the field itself is so expansive, and the skills that you’re meant to “develop” are not easily measured. In short, there’s just not enough time to read everything in your field. There will always be hundreds of essays and books that you haven’t read, and so your knowledge will always remain incomplete. Dealing with this realization is an existential and emotional challenge. In my case, I entered my program with literally no background in my field; I’d never taken an art history class until I started grad school. I felt acutely aware of this “deficiency,” and it seemed to me that I would never be able to find my feet under me, as it were. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, I often thought of leaving my program. I didn’t drop out, so what changed? Certainly not a sudden revelation from on high of newfound “mastery,” let alone an institutional validation (gold star!) that would confer upon me some unassailable position. No, instead I learned to accept that every scholar has deficiencies, not just the ones who started graduate school without any background in their field. Why even think of this negatively, anyway—perhaps this lack is constitutive in some way. In any case, after the trials and tribulations of courses, I’ve come to realize that there’s just no reason to worry about “mastering” a field. That’s a fiction. Getting to that point, though, is probably easier said than done.

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2017, Dec 20
“There are tens of thousands of cameras here”

“There are tens of thousands of cameras here,” said the officer, who gave his name as Tushan. “The moment you took your first step in this city, we knew.”

From a chilling article on the emerging police surveillance state in Xinjiang 1. Had a conversation yesterday in which I tried to suggest that photography differs from poetry in that it’s more closely tied to mass culture, but I didn’t even get to this kind of application. I suppose governments might use poetry for propaganda, but there’s no way it’s as easily allied to systems of control and classification. (The classic essay to consult here is Sekula’s “The Body and the Archive.”)


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2017, Dec 19
Scholarly identity

I realize I’ve posted almost nothing at all since I entered grad school, almost more than three and a half years ago. Quite frankly, I was too overloaded with work, too stressed out about what I was actually doing or whether I even belonged in school, too scared to make any sort of comment about anything because I was painfully aware of how little I knew. These days I’m more comfortable with the idea that there’s no such thing as “mastery” of a subject, and that everyone has tremendous gaps in their knowledge.

So, I came in to grad school knowing that I wanted to work on “photography in Japan,” but I wasn’t entirely sure whether I would focus on the former or the latter. A friendly conversation over the summer brought this realization to the surface, even if I probably could have guessed the answer years ago. When, in the course of chatting, I mentioned that I hardly knew anything about Japan before 1860 or so, one of my colleagues who studies premodern literature rolled their eyes at me, almost involuntarily. I didn’t process it at the time, but the next day I realized: I’m a photography scholar, not a scholar of Japan, and photography doesn’t even get invented until the mid-19th century, so I have no reason to be ashamed of knowing nothing about medieval Japanese literature! (As it happens, “Japan” also doesn’t get invented until the 19th century, but that’s a different story.)

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2017, Dec 18

What would it mean to write a post here every day? To write posts that perhaps make no sense even to me, but to push them out into the world anyway? To subject them to the (immensely fearsome, in my imagination) scrutiny of an audience entirely unknown to me? I should take it as a good exercise. An important aspect of this blog has been its function as a catalog of my own questions and interests. At this point, I assume that no one reads this blog, that no one checks the RSS feed. Of course I know that this is probably not true, but it feels like a productive story to tell myself anyway. It would be best to push past my doubts.

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2017, Aug 04
Shimizu Minoru’s criteria for Canon New Cosmos

The website for the Canon New Cosmos of Photography competition includes statements by various judges 1—this year’s crop includes a number of international figures like Alec Soth, Dayanita Singh and Sandra Phillips. I was taken with Shimizu Minoru’s statement, which shows his usual rigor, if not outright harshness:

Abstract catch copy discharged irresponsibly by people who do not look at photographs―words such as “real,” “natural,” or “wild”―is not permitted. Even if it is desirable to take photographs about photography, or to have a good eye for looking at photographs, it is pointless to merely consult the history of photography on its own.

Please be aware that work which relies on context (the death of a family member, the death of a loved one, natural disaster, etc) almost immediately becomes homogeneous. Instead of “a close friend,” select your ideal subject with the utmost care.
Instead of “a photograph of nothing,” show something after thinking, looking, and selecting it with utmost care.
Digital technology is already no longer “something that is not an analog photograph”; it opens on to an unknown territory.
Something that connects this unknown territory to the future and to the past, something that rediscovers “photography”―that’s the kind of expression I’m waiting for.


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2017, Jul 27
Three Years Away From Photoland

I think I’ve spent about three years away from photoland. I wonder what I’ve missed during this span of time that’s been filled with academic coursework. My initial guess would be: not much. In the first weeks after the election, I wondered whether anyone within the photography community had published an essay on the relationship between photography and the current political situation in the United States. Nothing was forthcoming then, and I wonder whether there’s anything worth reading now. I suppose my own skepticism about this might open up the question of what the purpose of the “photography community” (“photoland,” as it was called) might be, and what anyone gets from sticking around it.

By now I know that I’m absolutely interested in the history of photography (not “Japanese photography” in particular, not “art history” in general). But as I focus closer on this history, it seems all the more important to guard against the hermetic approach to the medium that I think the term “photoland” captures. Even the most medium-specific of art historians 1 recognize that the term “medium” no longer refers strictly to a technical support. Why not ask what’s outside the borders of this land?

1
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosalind_E._Krauss: I’m thinking of her 1999 essay “Reinventing the Medium”

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