The theme set for this week of studies was ‘Strategies of Mediation’ and during the week we discussed and read about the strategies of appropriation and remixing in the field of photography, which, very generally defined, refer to the processes which image-makers utilise in their work when making use of the images created by other image-makers. These kind of image-making processes put the notion of authorship in photography into question. Campanelli argues that “in the universe of technical (and telematic) images it no longer makes sense to speak of “author” (Autor) and “authority” (Autorität)” (2014: 70). Campanelli goes further and states: “automation of the processes of production, reproduction, and distribution make such terms unnecessary” (Ibid. 70) and “under the regime of reproducibility “authority” becomes redundant” (Ibid. 71). Thus, putting into the question the notion of authorship is especially pertinent to the medium of photography since the processes of production, reproduction and distribution are so intimately linked to the medium’s technological evolution. Without losing sight of the complexity that surrounds the evolution of all processes, one could hypothesise that the advent of photography helped provide the necessary impetus for these processes to take shape, since the medium, from the day of its discovery, and, onwards, through its evolution, so naturally inclined towards these processes – one could jocularly say that the medium of photography, naturally tending towards these processes, came equipped with its own marketing strategy.
Now the issue of whether one can or cannot attribute authorship to the photograph need not concern us here. What should be of concern here is the fact that authorship in photography can be put into question. Therefore, without arguing for or against authorship in photography, putting authorship in photography into question enables one to envision the case in which experiencing the photograph is not necessarily reliant on awareness of authorship. And, therefore, if we can ably experience the photograph fully without making recourse to authorship, what are we effectively experiencing when we look at the photograph?
One could argue that while looking at the photograph we simply perceive its represented content.
Let us think of the concepts of Time and Space. One could argue that such concepts merely exist in the mind with no actual referent in reality. But we know that we do experience in our lives the ravages caused by these ‘concepts’. We therefore experience time and space and can then choose to represent them in our spoken discussions (at this point, one could remark that seemingly the only representational modality afforded to us is the spoken word, that is, our day to day discussions we have with each other).
Thus, if a photograph of a table is not a representation of a table, then what is it? Kendall Walton states: “photographs are transparent. We see the world through them” (1984: 251); and talking about looking at photographs of our ancestors he states: “my claim is that we see, quite literally, our dead relatives themselves when we look at photographs of them” (1984: 252). But common sense would tell us that when looking at photographs of our ancestors what we are effectively seeing is someone’s look aimed at our ancestors now recorded in the photograph. As Thomas Ruff states, the photographic camera “records the reality the person behind the camera points” (RUFF & GEFTER 2010). A photograph of a table is not the table itself, neither is it a representation of the table – it is a record through which we experience the Other’s look aimed at the table. Stated in more general terms: a photograph enshrines within it the look of the Other, the perpetual observer, the Stranger, as s/he happens to glance at this and then that. We do not experience the photograph in the first person but always through the eyes of the Other, the Stranger (the photographer).
Bruna Ginammi’s photograph (shown below) so beautifully captures this relationship we have with photography. In this mesmerising photograph, the subject is effectively outside the photograph, unrecorded – ‘the picture is an object of desire, the desire for the signification that is know to be absent” (Douglas Crimp, cited in Verwoert 2007: 5).
Campanelli, Vito. 2014. ‘Toward a Remix Culture: An Existential Perspective’. In NAVAS, Eduardo, GALLAGHER, Owen & BURROUGH, Xtine (eds.). The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies. Routledge, 68-82.
RUFF, Thomas & GEFTER, Philip. 2010. Conversation. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZZf0rT9WpA [accessed 15 June 2019].
VERWOERT, Jan. 2007. ‘Living with Ghosts: From Appropriation to Invocation in Contemporary Art’. Art & Research, 1(2), 1-7.
WALTON, Kendall L. 1984. ‘Transparent Pictures: On the Nature of Photographic Realism’. Critical Inquiry, 11(2), 246-277.
GINAMMI, Bruna. 2014. Rinascita. Il Post [online]. Available at: https://www.ilpost.it/2016/10/06/fotografe-italiane-mostra-triennale/bruna-ginammi-rinascita-2014/ [accessed 15 June 2019].
Raffaele Pagani [License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode]. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabriel#/media/File:Leonardo_da_Vinci_Annunciazione_(dettaglio).jpg [accessed 16 June 2019; original image not modified].