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In Absentia: the politics of cameraless photography

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The University of Western Australia

Fox Lecture Theatre

35 Stirling Hwy

Crawley, WA 6009

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IN ABSENTIA: THE POLITICS OF CAMERALESS PHOTOGRAPHY

A public lecture by Professor Geoffrey Batchen, School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington and UWA Institute of Advanced Studies Visiting Fellow.

How can a photograph of nothing—of nothing discernable or apparently significant—be said to offer some useful political purchase on the world it inhabits? How can a photograph that represents, but does not depict, a given situation be freighted with historical knowledge and import? Confining itself primarily to examples of cameraless photography, from the 1830s to now, this paper will ask these questions with a view to determining a politics for such photographs in the present. It will argue that photographs which draw attention to their own coming into being assume photography is always already a politics; by engaging the visual and chemical grammar of the photograph, they dispute and challenge the fixity of that politics. In any case, to make such photographs today returns photography to a unique, hand-made craft and away from global capitalism and its vast economies of mass production and exploitation. Not that these photographs are innocent; on the contrary they are often generated by actions that are toxic, radioactive, enigmatic, violent, dangerous. Nor are they “abstract.” Instead, I will argue, they redefine the nature of both photography’s realism and its potential as a political agent.

Professor Geoffrey Batchen teaches art history at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, specializing in the history of photography. His books include Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography (1997), Each Wild Idea: Writing, Photography, History (2001), Forget Me Not: Photography and Remembrance (2004), William Henry Fox Talbot (2008), What of Shoes? Van Gogh and Art History (2009), Suspending Time: Life, Photography, Death (2010) and More Wild Ideas (forthcoming in Chinese, 2017). He has also edited Photography Degree Zero: Reflections on Roland Barthes's Camera Lucida (2009) and co-edited Picturing Atrocity: Photography in Crisis (2012). In April 2016 his exhibition, Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph, opened at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth, New Zealand. A book of the same name was published last year by Prestel. In October 2017 an exhibition curated under the direction of Batchen and titled Apparitions: The Photograph and its Image will open at the Adam Art Gallery at Victoria University of Wellington.

Image: Shimpei Takeda (Japan), Trace #7, Nihonmatsu Castle (Nihonmatsu, Fukushima), 2012. Gelatin silver photograph. Courtesy of the artist, Tokyo.

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The University of Western Australia

Fox Lecture Theatre

35 Stirling Hwy

Crawley, WA 6009

Australia

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