We live in a time governed by a pandemic. The covid-19 situation leaves no one unaffected. This year’s degree exhibition, by master’s and bachelor’s students in Fine Art Photography at HDK-Valand, has had to migrate from a physical exhibition space to a digital platform. Everyone involved has had to rethink, recharge and remake in order to adapt to the new circumstances. Our daily lives and routines have changed, so too have our ways of social interaction. This is where we meet now; the web is where we operate, encounter and enact. Welcome to participate and share the journey of the students through this newly formed exhibition, containing work that has adapted and grown over a long time.
Klara Källström, Lecturer MA2
The medium of photography has developed and changed constantly since its invention. During the last thirty to forty years, the onset of computer-generated images and the theory around them has intensified. As technology has transformed, the understanding of what the photographic message is constituted of has shifted.
There are countless possibilities in creating digital images, but still we seem to be left with questions recognizable from the time when photography was born. The fascination of the physical aspects of the medium, what light does to paper, remains alongside an urge to comprehend sensory impressions rendered by technology.
A question that is as central to when I lecture in photography as it is to my own practice is whether it is possible to make a distinction between what it means to use photography as a tool to generate images, and how photography as a practice can incorporate and declare the understanding of itself as a means to represent the world.
Working with students in photography brings significant issues to my attention of what images produce in a world which, to an increasing extent, is communicated visually. We live in a time where the need of being able to read is challenged by the need of understanding what a visual language is composed of. These are unresolved enquiries that we do not take on the role of answering; rather, we keep asking the questions. Many of the works in this exhibition provide an opportunity to understand some of the mechanisms behind visual communication and they offer the possibility to identify the shift between message and ideology as the unresolved space where reflection and self-awareness is put at centre of our attention. In myriad ways and through different approaches we witness what the photographic message is composed of and how it exposes us to the difference between what is visible and what is told.
As the title for this text proposes, an act of finding the photographic is suggested. Central to several of the works is the idea of activating the mechanisms that come into play when encountering a photographic image. The in-between-ness is the field of study. The hovering state or intermediation taking place between the told and the untold could also be described in the words of image theorist W.J.T Mitchell who formulates this dialectic as a kind of ‘go-between’. The main concept of Mitchell is that images have agency. By this he claims that images are not passive objects assigned meaning by the viewer, rather they call for attention because they have desire. In Mitchell’s book What Do Pictures Want? he states that the notion of agency is to be understood from what is animated between the viewer and the image. Mitchell advocates “we need to reckon with images not just as inert objects but as animated beings with desires and drives of their own.”1 In the words of photographer, filmmaker and critic Allan Sekula and his seminal essay On the Invention of Photographic Meaning, this dialectic could be described as what forms a photographic discourse: “The meaning of a photograph, like that of any other entity, is inevitably subject to cultural definition. The task here is to define and engage critically something we might call ‘the photographic discourse.’ A discourse can be defined as an arena of information exchange, that is, a system of relations between parties engaged in communicative activity. In a very important sense, the notion of discourse is a notion of limits.”2
To study, work and lecture on the subject of photography is to take an investigative stance towards the medium itself. Its history or canon, be it the heavy baggage or the treasure chest, forms the parameters of which the producer and viewer is allowed to make use. Photography has a certain position amongst medias used for representing the world and when we include and declare the understanding of the use of photography, we may call it a photographic practice.
To be able to discuss what we are looking at, we must know how we are taught to see.
1. Mitchell, W.J.T, What Do Pictures Want? The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2005
2. Sekula, Allan, Photography Against the Grain, The Press of Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax, 1984