On the Verge of Photography

On the Verge of Photography emerges from an intense period of investigation by the Photography Research Network into ongoing transformations within the field of photography, namely how it has been affected by and is mediated by the acceleration in technological advancement. The various essays within the publication navigate approaches to photography’s function and distribution via highly philosophical perspectives. These perspectives frame studies of digital image production in relation to areas of scientific investigation that are ethically problematic, such as surveillance, artificial intelligence and networked imaging which contribute to the collection and storage of metadata relating to our everyday lives off and online.

Many of the texts within this edited volume consider the role of the ‘thinking machines’ that produce photography, away from the lens of the camera itself. Implicitly taking Walter Benjamin’s oft-cited text The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction of 1936 as a springboard for contemporary consideration, in On the Verge of Photography satellites, cameras as prosthetic devices, the instantaneousness of social media image circulation and technologically extended vision are a small sample of ideas traversed in great detail.

Some of the most engaging writing, however, is that which connects the camera to the body in a more visceral and sentient approach to the process of making photographs. In an essay by Eve Forrest, for example, the near imperceptible movements of the body in the capturing of information with the camera’s lens is foregrounded: the human body still has a role to play. In a similar move, the sensuality of photographic images is an idea that runs throughout Johnny Golding’s text. In it she evokes Charles Baudelaire’s notion of photography being bound up in the sensual, and connects the photographer’s darkroom to other sites of more personal transformation relating to image production: the closet and the sex club. Mika Elo’s essay explores how photography might be interpreted as intelligence programmed into images coded for sensual consumption and immediate gratification. Connections to the embodiment of photography are a welcome counterpoint to complex discussions elsewhere in the book around highly scientific, sometimes clinical research subjects.

The ‘verge’ of the book’s title is the key to understanding its rationale. It suggests an openness, perhaps a playfulness, that invites speculation on the future of photography as it abuts on indexicality, truth, perception, the machine, the maker and the viewer. The term also implies a kind of tipping point in thinking on photography, an anticipation of a breakthrough or a collapse. In either use of the term, ‘verge’ connects photography to a process of becoming, of transformation from one thing to another and a gathering of multiple possibilities, rather than an attempt to pin it down.

There are only a handful of photographs in this publication. These tend to be diagrammatic representations or images produced by satellites, computer aided design and screen shots. There is in this publication, then, a focus not on the aesthetics of photography but rather on its conceptual and theoretical limitations and potential. By operating on the verge, rather than existing in a state which constrains definition, the book shows how photography might be able to move away from ideas that have previously stifled it, opening up new ways of both making and using photography in the digital age.

Commissioned and published by Photomonitor 10 July 2014

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