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A problem in photography after modernism  is how to link or connect different image/texts in a way that is different from the narrative story telling convention of photo journalism. What options do we have if we want, if we desire the connections between image texts that are open and nonlinear and in no way claiming to be  'finished.'  Some suggestions to explore.

How do we think or write in images?

In the history of modern photography the photograph has been seen as a static object, a frozen moment of time and it is words that link the static objects. A photograph that has been taken in the past, or present, is a brief and short moment of time. If photography is a cut into time then film is a series of movement,  and the latter is regarded as a sequence of movement, therefore more able to achieve a higher synthesis of life as it "represents reality as it evolves in time". So argued Siegfried Kracauer in his  well known book Theory of Film.

New Zealand_-334.jpg Gary Sauer-Thompson, Kaikoura coastline, New Zealand, 2009

The image seduces the beholder to believe in its representational qualities, but when the beholder is introduced, we have a pictorial mediation between past and presence; a memory of this coast from an earlier time or experience. It is through the beholder that past becomes to be present and through the beholder the relationship between past and present began to loose their formal boundaries. As preserved duration memory stores experiences, keeps them alive and frames the present. The photographic image becomes the embodiment of memory related to the unconscious.

We can go further. Time can be seen in terms of becoming (and not as static being) and the photograph in terms of change and stasis. The photographic image then consists in a temporal movement, when the grabbed instant exceeds into duration. Past things are being received into present. So we have time as duration. Time flows through the images as the changes in the landscape.
The phrase is Heidegger's. It is taken from a late poem by Holderin and it is evoked in terms of the dangers of technology as a mode of being in modernity and the saving power of poesis in opposition to the will to technological power and its dominion over the earth. altfotonetNorthropH.jpg Dwelling is a kind of building. What then does it mean to dwell poetically on this earth? Surely it doesn't mean shutting one's eyes to actuality and living in a dream or one's imagination? Nor does it mean raising buildings or occupation of a building. It is concerned with our being-in-the-world and experiencing the world poetically renders the ordianry extraordinary.

At one point in a haphazart discussion about modernism vs. post-modernism I summarised a set of questions that were posed but still remain unanswered:

  1. Where in the scheme of post-modern practice do abstraction works fit?
  2. Does our abstraction work do what Stafford argues: disparate or fragmentary images in coherent compositions to produce larger coherent meanings.'?
  3. Does anybody still agree with Greenberg that 'the judgment of beauty is (tacitly) universal and incompatible with interest and practicality'.?
  4. Do any haphazartists [abstract photographers] question the formalist tenets of modernist abstraction?

I would like to try and begin to address the last question. Before doing so, I'll outline what I understand to be key elements / criteria of modernist photography - bearing in mind that there will be divergent views on the matter. Mine derives essentially from one that is linked to its European origins via the Bauhaus movement, etc.


Essentially a dynamic mode of photography celebrating the man-made rather than

the natural world.

This involves:-

  • the use of unconventional viewpoints such as worm's and bird's-eye views,

  • sudden changes in scale,
  • tendency towards dramatic tonal contrasts
  • radical cropping
  • a predilection for geometrical abstraction and flattening of form/ shapes
  • preference for urban/modern materials: steel, concrete, reflective surfaces such as:-
    • glass and chromium
    • tendency toward dramatic expression
    • adherence to compositional rules

Haphazartists are a diverse group of photographers and there is considerable diversity within the body of their work. So far, modernist tenets have not overtly been challenged in any of the discussions. However, I would say that a post-modern aesthetic can be found in many images not only posted to the group but also selected in the special themed shows. Modernist photography was/is basically done in black and white. One could argue that any colour image is already post-modern. But there are other factors.

Just a few examples:

pete pick - a fine use of abstraction within a rural setting rather than a man-made environment.

corrugation black 21 caburn

Likewise htakat's image has a landscape setting, but the blur in the image renders it one that has more to do with subtle changes in tone and colour than with form or subject matter.

landscape in fog

Christian's (tossthecam) image also has no obvious compositional lines / structure, instead it features some very delicate textural details....the importance given to 'almost nothing' here hints at an influence of Eastern philosophy and aesthetics. It seems concerned more with the creation of 'visual poetry' than about ideas or dramatic form.I do not think that this aligns the image with the more rational and concept driven post-modern concerns though.

Christian (delay tactics) - stretches the abstraction to its limits in a more 'dead pan' post-modernist least on this occasion

chair chair

Paul Glazier's image is about an interior scene, soft fabric on a soft couch - it seems quite removed from modernism in terms of subject matter and form.



I picked this image by Paul Glazier since in my view, it illustrates perfectly how many disparate elements can be pulled together into a cohesive abstracted whole....providing the viewer with a cohesive meaning perhaps, although to me it is more likely to be a poetic and an elusive one.

beyond modernism

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 Dom Ciancibelli raises an interesting issue about contemporary photography at haphazart! Contemporary Abstracts. The issue raised is transgressing modernism and shifting to a postmodern photography practice. It raises the question: can photography be a postmodern art form as well as a modernist one. If so what would the former look like?

This excellent picture----- new year in gaza-----by Mark Valentine would be generally interpreted as a modernist picture: it is abstract, expressionistic and associated with music.Yet it also refers beyond itself as photographic art:

Ciancibelli starts his discussion by quoting from linkwise, who says that:

At the risk if bursting some inflated egos, many images that we see in this forum are at best reiterations and regurgitations of visual issues that modernist painters and photographers resolved decades and indeed centuries ago. Thus there is not a lot to discuss.
My concern here is not to pass judgment on the quality of modernist abstractionist photography but merely to note that abstraction in art has been around a long time---most of the 20th century---and that it is no longer part of the avant-garde movement.
Can we speak of dialectical pictures or images. If so,  is the picture below---- entitled The end of oil 11  by  Peter G.A. Rosén aka  Kritisk massa on Flickr---- an example of one? If it is, then what can it offer those interested in cultural criticism? 


Walter Benjamin understood a dialectical image as an image of the past which carries the desires of the past generations into the present; an image that crystallizes antithetical elements  and where the  "synthesis" of these antithetical elements  is not a movement towards resolution, but the point at which their axes intersect.

The antithetical elements in the above picture is the promise of freedom by the car and  the negative effects of the car on both the environment (dirty air + emission of greenhouse gases)  and our urban fabric.These contradictory tendencies are not resolved in the picture --they intersect ---petrol station and the unsettling garish, greenish tinge. 
 Is there a connection between  representation and responsibility?

The standard response is yes and the answer is usually given in terms of either the artist being responsible for  the truth of the representation, or the artist being ethically responsible in relation to their audience. In this picture---Close----  by Incognita Nom de Plume the responsibility  would refer to the Spanish culture, the family of the dead,  and to the power of the picture and its  possible diverse interpretations by Flickr members.


The standard response goes against, or is a response to,   the notion of art or photography as a lie, or   just fooling around; or the modernist account of art as representation only being responsible to itself--its own form, genre, necessity, etc.  

It is not just the artists who produces the representations who have responsibility ---we, the interpreters of the picture,  have responsibility as well, since our interpretations and the way we frame the image in discourse, is also a representation within a network of social relations.
In concluding Picture Theory WJT Mitchell raises the issue of representation  and what lies beyond it. This picture by casually, krystina  is not just a representation of reflections in a window--it points, or refers, to what lies beyond this particular representation. It suggests that something lies beyond this object (a picture) that seems to stand before us, a thing  standing for something else. The "something else", as suggested by the light in the background,  is some form of transcendence.  

There is a tradition that makes a distinction between visual representation and what is represented. However Mitchell also mentions the aesthetic tradition that holds there is nothing outside representation. Is this picture a way of emphasizing the unpresentable?


Are there different visual ways of allowing the unpresentable to be put forward?

Mitchell says that this is the tradition of the aesthetic sublime, which posits a realm of a negation, of  radical otherness,  and unknowability. The sublime located in pain, death transcendence and the unknowable, is precisely the unrepresentable.

the grid

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The grid has functioned to declare the emergence of modernism. It declares the autonomy of art; walls the visual arts into a realm of exclusive visuality and defends them  them from the intrusions of text;  signifies art turning its  back on nature and its embrace of  geometry with its ideal forms and perfectly precise lines;  and rejects linear perspective and its representation of reality.

If the grid is the figure of modernism, then the "formal layout" of the grid signifies the prefabricated order  of a mathematical coordinate system. Right angles and straight lines were deemed to be so quintessentially modern, so expressive  of the machine age, that it functioned as the cornerstone of Western visual culture for much of the 20th century.


This picture entitled Burning by Mark Valentine and Floebee transgresses the grid of modernism by undercutting it as a figure of static repose and introducing dynamic movement. The flow of energy within the spaces of  the grid indicate that grids are obsolete in network culture.

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