This book argues for a renewed understanding of the fundamentally uncanny quality of the medium of photography. It especially makes the case for the capacity of certain photographs—precisely through their uncanniness—to contest structures of political and social dominance. The uncanny as a quality that unsettles the perception of home emerges as a symptom of modern and contemporary society and also as an aesthetic apparatus by which some key photographs critique the hegemony of capitalist and industrialist domains. The book’s historical scope is large, beginning with William Henry Fox Talbot and closing with contemporary indigenous photographer Bear Allison and contemporary African American photographer Devin Allen. Through close readings, exegesis, of individual photographs and careful deployment of contemporary political and aesthetic theory, The Photographic Uncanny argues for a re-envisioning of the political capacity of photography to expose the haunted, homeless, condition of modernity.
The written component of this thesis is an integral part of the whole project. In supporting the creative practice, it offers a route map through the various ideas, theories, reflections and sensibilities that inform and nourish my photographic work. I begin by tracing the association between observation, knowledge and power. The panoptic principle is considered an exemplary surveillance mechanism, manifest in both Modern urbanism and photography. Central to photography's power is its perceived accuracy at recording the world based on the conventions of perspectivism. I suggest, therefore, that the panoramic vista in photography is also subject to panopticon beliefs, being essentially a hegemonic mode of seeing. Continuing, I develop the notion of the post-landscape in which peripherality seems to dominate spatial relations, form and function have synthesised, and time-space compression has brought about the contemporary phenomenon of 'placelessness'. The loss of history and memory, emerging from technology and the overabundance of temporal and spatial knowledge means we live in an age of commodified spectacle, pastiche and nostalgia. Here we continually experience an uncanny succession of discontinuous events. Evident in urban design, it tends to obscure rather than confront the increase of anxiety and uncertainty found in the contemporary world. The eclipse of the public realm has led to escapism, characterised by privatism and an increase of surveillance. Thus, hyperreal environments create 'disciplinary spaces' that obscure power, making it more elusive and hence insidious. Such anxieties are understood as 'spatial estrangement' and theorised through the Freudian uncanny, for example, the notion of the 'double', the collapse of the distinction between imagination and reality and of the post-landscape as strange, repressed and 'other'. I continue with an analysis of 'place construction' and 'spatial discourses', suggesting a need to reclaim space and 'the art of dwelling'. Cartesian dualism has separated 'spatial practices', the conceived, the perceived and the directly lived. The object is to uncover the mediations between them, and Lefebvre's 'conceptual triad' offers us a theoretical framework. As a 'strategy', perspectivism is a conceptualised space tied to positivistic knowledge and de Certeau sees such a 'panoptic practice' as a 'triumph of place over time'. Photography is both indexical (relying on perspectivism) and privileges time, and it is this ability for temporal/spatial displacement which may be considered a tactical manoeuvre in the undermining of the strategic 'establishment of place'. Hence, the panoptic ism and estrangement of the post-landscape is 'made strange' through detournement. In its aesthetic dimension, the 'spatial uncanny' can be a powerful trope for projecting the felt response and trauma of 'placelessness' through the re-coding of spatial conventions. Surrealist photography offers many examples of symbolic displacement through informe which transgress dominant orders of spatialisation. Similarly, the Situationists used 'psychogeography' to cultivate awareness of ways in which everyday life is conditioned and controlled. Today, postmodern fldnerie disrupts 'landscapes of consumption', so transforming and contradicting learned discourses of space. For the photographer, the terrain vague can offer opportunities to speak both of and as the estranged. The 'photographic uncanny' makes use of photography's ability for temporal and spatial displacement, fragmentation and doubling. Such a tactical manoeuvre may deform or 'liberate' dominant space, seeking to transform it into imago, thus becoming the opposite of an alienated condition. I conclude by locating such 'dematerialisation' or 'anti-structure' within the 'luminous uncanny' and the anthropological theory of liminality. I have called this project Esperantis to suggest both an imaginary and mythical place (Atlantis), that has global connotations (Esperanto). Esperantis therefore sets out to explore imaginatively the material and psychological impact of the processes involved in the post-landscape; accentuate and focus attention upon peripheral territories which are frequently ignored; and propose a form of tactical engagement understood both as 'process' (to transcend), and as 'place construction' (to transform).
David Bate examines automatism and the photographic image, the Surrealist passion for insanity, ambivalent use of Orientalism, use of Sadean philosophy and the effect of fascism of the Surrealists. The book is illustrated wtih a wide range of surrealist photographs.
Author: Parasol Unit: Foundation for Contemporary Art (London)
To mark the occasion of the exhibition, Magical Surfaces: The Uncanny in Contemporary Photography, Parasol unit has published a comprehensive, limited edition publication.0The works of the seven artists selected for this exhibition, Sonja Braas, David Claerbout, Elger Esser, Julie Monaco, Jörg Sasse, Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld, all reveal in varying forms the idea of the uncanny ? from the magical to the strange and fearful. Each of the exhibiting artists has chosen their own process, either manipulating photographic imagery or creating such settings, which prompts us to marvel at the many ways the uncanny can occur in surfaces and realise once more that any photograph is indeed authored.00Exhibition: Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art, London, UK (13.04.-19.06.2016).
A compelling and innovative reflection on the way photography captures and condenses time Two photographs, connected by a ladder, separated by a century. First, William Henry Fox Talbot photographed a faithfully realistic image of a ladder against a haystack in the English countryside.One hundred years later, an anonymous photographer captured another ladder, “photographed” alongside an incinerated man by the blinding light of the atomic bomb. These two images underpin a poetic and theoretical reflection on the origins of photographic technique, the imaginative power of montage, and the relation of photography to time itself in Jean-Christophe Bailly’s The Instant and Its Shadow, translated into English for the very first time. A rare find of intellectual caliber and theoretical rigor, The Instant and Its Shadow pursues a unique and powerful reflection on the first hundred years of photography’s history and on the essence of the photographic art in general. Inspired by the unexpected coming together of these two iconic images, the book begins by retracing Talbot’s invention of the photographic calotype in the early nineteenthcentury, highlighting the paradox that saw Talbot wishing to imitate the representative arts of painting and drawing while simultaneously liberating the image from any imitative paradigm. This analysis leads Bailly to elucidate photography’s relation to material and visual reality. A meditation on photography’s seeming ability to stop time follows, concluding with the photographs of Hiroshima and the photographic nature of the atomic bomb. Building on an inspired juxtaposition of The Haystack with the Hiroshima photographs, the book becomes a testament to the potency of photomontage, arguing that “the more singular an image, the greater its connective power.” Bailly’s book is at once a lyrical homage to some of the founding texts of photographic theory and a startling reminder of the uncanny power of photography itself. Part theoretical reflection, part lyrical reverie, The Instant and Its Shadow is packed with profound and stellar insights about the medium.
Via the story of two images separated by a century, Jean-Christophe Bailly's The Instant and Its Shadow is a poetic and theoretical reflection on the origins of photographic technique, the imaginative power of montage, and the relation of photography to time itself.