Sunday, February 28, 2010

3/10 "The Vestige of Art II:" Interior and Exterior

Consider the images by Francesca Woodman on this week's image presentation in relation to Margaret Sundell's brilliant essay "Vanishing Points:The Photography of Francesca Woodman."
Why does Sundell refer to Woodman's quest for self-knowledge via the genre of self-portraiture as self-mutilation. Please attempt to paraphrase the following statement by curator Matthew Teitelbaum which Sundell cites, and explain what it means in relation to the images:

"It is as if, by making herself a subject to be looked at, she makes herself dissapear."

Please rehearse the cornerstone of Sundell's argument; what is Lacan's "mirror stage" and what has it to do with the photographic self-portraiture?

Monday, February 22, 2010

2/24 "The Vestige of Art" I

Compare Richard Avedon's "Marian Anderson" (1955) on the left to Ana Mendieta "Silueta" (1970s, above right) and Ed Ruscha's "Royal Road Test" (1967, above left). ENGAGE Mansoor's essay on Ruscha and Kwon's text on Mendieta. Define and discuss the importance of the concepts of "horizontality" and "contingency." Consider the relationship between these concepts and the index.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

2/10: The Singular Punture, the Wound (The Punctum) and Barthes "Camera Lucida"

Define the "Studium" in your own language. Describe (it defies definition) the "Punctum."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

2/3 "Mensuration en abyme"

The images posted here register Marcel Duchamp's movement from figuration, via abstraction, to indexical strategies. While Surrealism managed to find new tactics through which to present the body, corporeality, and "the real," Duchamp, according to David Joselit, struggled and agonized over the loss of the body to vision in representation. Joselit argues that, like Picasso (recall our discussion of "Girl with a Mandolin") Duchamp was preoccupied with the loss of the body to vision. (p.21). How does "3 Standard Stoppages" speak to this problem set. Consider--paraphrase and discuss the importance of-- Joselit's claim on page 29 that
"For if the meter, as a conventional standard of measurement, is the negation of carnality, the 3 Standard Stoppages endow it precisely with the qualities of a body and even a will. By allowing gravity to pull the length of string that represents a meter into a gentle curve, Duchamp invested it with weight and mass--he embodied it. Moreover, Duchamp anthropomorphozised the string, furnishing it with a kind of volition by stipulating that it will 'distort itself as it pleases.' "
Beyond paraphrasing and explicating this passage, if you can, discuss how it relates to Surrealism and "nature convulsing as writing."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

1/27: The Photographic Conditions of the Avant-garde

n the Photographic Conditions of the Avant-garde, Rosalind Krauss states, "Surrealist photography exploits the special condition to reality with which all photography is endowed. For photography is an imprint or transfer off the real; it is a photochemically processed trace causally connected to that thing in the world to which it refers in a manner parallel to that of finger prints or footprints.....Surreality is nature [the real/the index] convulsed into writing."

Through a close reading of the text and the passages cited above, please translate the concept above into your own language. What does Krauss mean? Why is Surrealist photography so radical? What does "Nature convulsed into writing" mean? How can only indexical representation do this?

Friday, January 15, 2010

1/21: The Optical Unconscious

(Top image David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, Fishwives of New Haven with Rev. James Fairbairn and Mr. Gall, 1845, (Calotype), below it, Marta Astfalck-Vietz, Self-Portrait, 1930 and Marta Astfalck-Vietz, Self-Portrait with Mask, 1930, below it, Andre Masson Automatic/Unconscious Drawng, 1930s)
(4th Image down: Brassai, Involuntary Sculpture, 1933)
(5th Image down, Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, Dust Breeding, 1920)

Compare the following statements, both of them by Walter Benjamin, the first dating to 1931, the second to 1936: "In Photography, one encounters something strange and new: in that fishwife from New Haven who looks down at the ground with such relaxed and seductive shame something remains that does not testify merely to the art of the photographer Hill, something that is not to be silenced, something demanding the name of the person who had lived then, who EVEN NOW IS STILL REAL AND WILL NOT PERISH INTO ART.....In such a picture, the spark has, as it were, burned through the person in the picture with reality finding the indiscernible place in the condition of that long past minute where the future is nesting, even today, so eloquently that we looking back can discover it." (A Short History of Photography) Benjamin calls this spark "The Optical Unconscious."
This invests the photograph with intimacy as well as the capacity for illumination impossible for the naked eye alone. He does admonish, towards the end of the text, that this special condition can be exploited by capital for advertising purposes.
Several years later, however, he seems to argue that the instrumentalization of photography is part of its very condition. He celebrates the revolutionary political potential of this. "To an ever increasing degree, the work reproduced becomes the reproduction of a work designed for reproducibility." At the end of the essay, Benjamin concludes with one of the most oft quoted phrases in the history of visual culture, that this condition opens onto a leftist "politicizing of art." And yet, at the opening of the essay, he charges photography with the dissolution of authenticity, aura, and historical depth. The deracination of history and authenticity seems to contradict the intimacy and spark he had located in photography.
The question, how does the intimacy of the optical unconscious link to this political capacity? How does the photographer manage a practice that is not reducible to propaganda or advertising? Try to think in Benjamin's terms and paraphrase his language into your own.

Monday, January 11, 2010

1/14: The Index as "The Feminine" vs Disciplinary Law

In "Cupid's Pencil of Light: Julia Margaret Cameron and the Maternalization of Photography," Armstrong makes the claim that flaws and blemishes are the "result of the indexical workings of photography." But rather than conclude with this observation about the semiotic status of photography (semiotic status=its quality as a particular type of sign, i.e. an indexical sign) Armstrong radicalizes her argument, raising the stakes. She continues: each photograph is "a child born of photographic generation, of Mother Photography's reflexive labor." This metaphor of "labor" (feminine labor) is loaded, both in terms of the formal properties of the medium, as well as its ideological import in the context of the late 19th C. Armstrong's proposition, as explicated by footnote 20) relies on Roland Barthes famous discussion of photography. In Camera Lucida (which we will eventually reach), Barthes "speaks of the photograph as a desire for a return to the heimlich of the mother's body" and to a pre-linguistic realm. So: what does Armstrong mean by "mother photography" and "father Art?" Elaborate on the difference, formally and in gendered terms. What has "accident," "chance" and "magic" to do with Armstrong's binary? Consider this provocative passage:
"Over and over again, the generative link between mother and child is tied, erotically, to photographic generation." How is the physical relationship between figures (skin to skin as the author insists) allegorize photography?
Finally, with Sekula in mind, what would the ramification of Armstrong's radical argument be for Sekula's claim that photography was but a form of surveillance and archive construction in the interest of the centralizing of power. How might we reconcile these arguments?