Friday, 16 May 2014

Globalization, last stop?

The Sun obelisk at S. Giovanni, came from Egypt by the sea under Augustus, 2000 yrs ago. First example of Globalization, by amalric

Although I have followed roughly a chronological order until now in my enquiry about photography, there are some gaping holes. According to David Bate it goes like this:

1870-1910  Pictorialism
1920-1930s Avant-Garde/Modernism (Formalism)
1945-1960 s: New Realism/Humanist Photography
1960-1979: Minimalism, Conceptualism/late Modernism
1980-1990s: Postmodernism/Neoconceptualism

What comes after goes under the name of Globalisation, rising with the spread of the Internet, the WWW and the Social Media.

To complicate things we might have a different perception on how and when Photography became Art on the different sides of the Pond. I recently had a quarrel at DPR with an American reader that supported the idea that this had happened very early in New York. I checked, acceptance of Photography started at the old MOMA in 1940 with Edward Steichen and Beaumont Newhall. 
Indeed I am not very familiar with American Naturalism/Realism. The MOMA might have made Photo exhibitions very early , but was it considered High Art at all? Surely not in Europe.

In Europe, for all I know it happened less than 20 yrs. ago. David Bate reminds us that the Tate Modern Art in London didn't accept Photo as Art before 2003. He mentions that Conceptual Art was the Trojan horse, since it heavily relied on Photography. both for documentation, and as a means for the dematerialization of the art object.
So if you accept their photography, someone asked, why not accept photographers in the first place?

In my discussion at DPR many users were not interested in Art at all, for them Photo. to be a craft practiced with enthusiasm, is well enough. Although I concur, I hope I showed with Francesca Woodman and others that Art is much more potent vehicle of ideas and world views. It is really facing reality as adults, not children. It is not 'Pets & Brats', although that might be the main reason for people to buy cameras - if they don't use their phones at this point.

All this preface to explain that there is an important  gap before Globalization, and it is Conceptual Art because that opened the Museums doors to what had been considered before a minor art, a low art. 
Now the paradox is that the successive stage risks to plunge Photography again in the shapeless stage and the unmeasurable we experiment every day in the Social Media. Is Photography over?  this what they are currently debating at the Winterthur Fotomuseum. They are simply too many billions of images around, they note, and expanding. by hundreds millions every day!

In the beginning Globalizaton mostly  coincided with the very History of Photography. The first reportage ever by Roger Fenton was from the War of Crimea in 1850, and after that there was no colony in Africa and Asia that was not documented for the metropolitan public by early explorers and administrators.

Roger Fenton - a British hussar in Crimea

Photography was thus an important medium for the occidentalizing of the rest of the World. By the same token these populations learned to see reality with Western eyes. This process is still going around,  Western perspective being built in every camera, but world wide photo sites like Flickr or 500px are also showing different visual traditions emerging, as I showed in Chinese pictures here and here.

Curiously the first self-conscious attempt at establishing a universal visual  as part of a globalized culture was again at the MOMA, in 1946: The Family of Man, curated by Edward Steichen. 500 reportage pictures aimed at demonstrating that Men's lives were the same across the Planet: family ties, birth and death, the toil of work and other commonplaces that are effectively common. One glitch occurred when one black protested at the American embassy that blacks were misrepresented as the only ones shown famished and destitute - and so the relevant images had to be withdrawn! 

The Family of Man.

So much for universal humanism. This was only the onset of some of the problems we are facing now despite de-colonization is completed (not in Russia, with Chechenya though, or in China, with Tibet).

Let's do a sudden jump to 2014. The digital revolution  starting with the beginning of the New Century, and marrying the power of computer networks to the digital camera, spread a planetary web, which made the little world of paper of photography and newspapers pale in comparison. Or even irrelevant: we know that century old newspapers are firing their photographers, because they find more interesting  the illustrated twitters of citizens' journalism.

Part of the revolution is Facebook, with its billions of images, But also stock agencies like 500 pix that has photographers from more than 200 countries, and 2 million of highly selected images. 
All is well? The Advent of Photoshop has resulted in the majority being highly corrupted versions of reality. 
Read Ming Thein gloomy article on 'Illusion vs delusion vs reality: commercial photography today'. Advertising customers want beautified images of their products that don't exist in reality.
Moreover can you ever hope that your images will be selected with such a million wise competition? In these social sites you must apply the principle: you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours, to accumulate likes, and 'follows'.  OTH you have to tag accurately each of your images hoping that some computer looking for keywords will match exactly yours. 
I dialed 'Rome' and lo, what an amazing lot of wacky images of the Forum, and dramatized Coliseums. Fake images that might have come from Las Vegas, or another planet. Worse: Fake lights and colored filters that were never there in the first place. Ancient monuments redesigned as lurid backgrounds for promotional campaigns.
Pantheon- courtesy Smok

Besides what control have you on your own images?I suspect that my piccies at flickr are regularly ransacked by travel agencies to show their customers what their destinations look like, because some days the Views count jumps up suddenly by the thousands, and travel companies have been caught red handed before.

Is it what makes some Museum curators say that Photo is dead? 
Trevor Paglen, a visual artist from NY, has this to say at the Fotomuseum site:

"In the first instance, the rise of digital photography and image-processing software has fundamentally altered the craft. Digital cameras are cheap and ubiquitous; image-processing software (whether on-camera firmware or applications like Photoshop and Instagram) has made it extraordinarily easy to produce an image-quality that was previously only possible with years of specialized  training in equipment, shooting technique, and printing methods. The de-specialization of photography is an area of much concern among curators responsible for sorting out what’s worth paying attention to, and to practitioners who’ve seen their ability to make a living get much, much harder (witness the near collapse of photo-journalism as a profession). In this sense, perhaps the advent of digital photography and automated image-processing means that the traditional craft of photography is largely “over.”


A toy piccie, from Lomography, NY.

Trevor Paglen:

"On the cultural side, the digital “revolution” has meant an upheaval in the photographic landscape. What is the place of photography in society when there are now well over 250 billion photographs on Facebook (with an additional 350 million added daily), where the average person sees over 5,000 advertisements a day, and where photography has come to inhabit the very core of our “technological a priori.” 

"Photography has become so fundamental to the way we see that “photography” and “seeing” are becoming more and more synonymous. The ubiquity of photography is, perhaps ironically, a challenge to curators, practitioners, and critics. Why look at any particular image, when they are literally everywhere? Perhaps “photography” has become so all-pervasive that it no longer makes sense to think about it as a discreet practice or field of inquiry. In other words, perhaps “photography,” as a meaningful cultural trope, is over."

A Turner Prize photographer, Wolfgang Tillmans, proposes that picture taking is so pervasive that it is replacing words:

"Something interesting is happening: pictures are replacing words as messages," Tillmans says of selfies and restaurant Instagramming. "You could trace these elements to work I did 20 years ago, and obviously I am not responsible for that, but that sense that there is some significance in a piece of clothing on the floor. I cannot bitch about millions of people who photograph their food. But I didn't photograph plates or still lifes to show my friend: 'Look! I've just eaten this banana!'"

Falafel - courtesy giff constable

This I find interesting but in a different sense: the advent of Pictograms, that William Burroughs had predicted. It is easier to connect across cultures and languages with images and movies. It is also the reasoning at the base of this blog.

In a further post at the FotoMuseum blog, "Seeing Machines" Trevor Paglen makes a daring hypothesis:

"Seeing machines is an expansive definition of photography. It is intended to encompass the myriad ways that not only humans use technology to “see” the world, but the ways machines see the world for other machines. Seeing machines includes familiar photographic devices and categories like viewfinder cameras and photosensitive films and papers, but quickly moves far beyond that. It embraces everything from iPhones to airport security backscatter-imaging devices, from electro-optical reconnaissance satellites in low-earth orbit, to QR code readers at supermarket checkouts, from border checkpoint facial-recognition surveillance cameras to privatized networks of Automated License Plate Recognition systems, and from military wide-area-airborne-surveillance systems, to the roving cameras on board legions of Google’s Street View” cars.

"What’s more, the idea of seeing machines I’m sketching out here isn’t confined to the imaging devices and systems I’ve described in broad strokes. The definition extends to include the images (or data) produced by such imaging systems, the digital metadata associated with those images, as well as additional systems for storage, archiving, search and interpretation (either human or algorithmic)". 

The only comment that comes to my mind about automated vision is 'Life Logging'  devices where an automatic camera you carry across your neck documents your life by taking a picture at intervals, according to some pre-programmed software and sensors, activated by differences in light and shadow. 
Later a computer program then assembles the separate instants or angles in something meaningful - that is very close to some ideas of Conceptual Art. 

Life Logging was originally a Microsoft Project in Cambridge, UK, for helping patients with Brain Injury to recover language and memory, but it also became an activity in itself. Total Recall you might dub it. 

As you see a lot has been put on the table. We have just began to unravel a paradox, that we must leave the details for the next episode.
Is it the end of photography? I hope not.

 I hope that you don't think I am over-intellectualizing. I think that Photography as Art and mass shooting are both a reality, so why avoid one for the other? 
One of the contentions above however is that machines are replacing the act of seeing, by their own.

I am hardly there. In my simple daily life in Rome which I keep documenting, starting from my multiethnic neighborhood, it as relatively simple to have the pulse of globalization by doing environmental portraits of my neighbors. As the local saying goes, you hardly see an Italian in the streets, or on busses now. All the easier then for me to give an image of Rome as a global city or better, a global village. In the future the population will be an ethnic mix, hybridizing cultural traditions, so why not start now to document the fusion?
I wonder often how my Chinese friends see Rome without my remaining ethno-religious filters. Perhaps Rome will be reborn like when it was Pagan and accepted people from all parts of the Empire with their Gods aka cultures? A polytheistic Rome.

A Chinese friend, by amalric.

And then, is it true that picture is replacing word? That was my assumption about Burroughs pictograms. Certainly we can exchange pics more easily than words across the continents.
Also, with hypertextual blogs such as this one we are watching the onset of this pictographic culture. Does a series of words and pictures related to each other by links and hyperlinks constitute a poem? I once published a Visual book with Poesia Visiva's Adriano Spatola, and that was certainly his assumption. Pictograms do replace words, and that is how the hieroglyphic first language was born in the heart of the Sahara desert, more than 5000 yrs. ago. 

The Swimmers' Cave, rock paintings in the Western Desert, by amalric. Messages about the presence of water were the first pictograms.

 'Nadja'  was only a first example of what could be achieved. It is a prose poem, not only for its links with the Unconscious but also in a formal way. Because words resonate in the pictures, and the pictures in words. This I would certainly like to explore further with your help.


May I remind you that I welcome your contributions, both in words and pictures - especially in such wide ranging subjects? Please use the e-mail box to get in touch or to send material.  

Last, David Bate, forsees that Photography might evolve in the direction of a New Realism, even of Italian Neorealismo, which is certainly very close to my own photographical stance, therefore I wrote about poet and film maker PP Pasolini. Perhaps stepping back from overprocessing might be a first move. 

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