“Through the Looking Brain”

A Swiss Collection of Conceptual Photography by Stephan Berg, Konrad Bitterli, David Campany, Stefan Gronert, Dora Imhof.

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This is a huge hard-backed book that was heavily discounted at the Fox Talbot Museum shop. It was the display copy and has various marks to the cover and a ladybird pressed inside. It has 240 pages and 743 illustrations, nearly all of which are in colour. It is hard to imagine a collection on such a scale and I’m grateful for this book. Scanning down the artists (selection) list on the back cover I pick out the Bechers, Tacita Dean, Fischli & Weiss, Andreas Gursky, Roni Horn, Thomas Ruff, Ed Ruscha, Cindy Sherman, ROman Signer, Thomas Struth, Jeff Wall… and that’s only a selection of the selection. Some of Gursky’s images really came to life to me, helped by the relatively large scale of double-page spreads in the book.

There are several essays at the front of the book and it’s one of these that stopped me in my tracks. My tutor has talked to me about Walter Benjamin’s concept of the aura in the photographs, so I was starting to become aware of his writing. This book includes some consideration to “the tension between the photograph as trace and the photograph as picture, that is to say between the photograph as document and the photograph as artwork” (Berg, 2011 p 10). It goes on to list thirteen constructs assembled as pairs by Walter Benjamin. It was #VIII that stood out for me:

“In the artwork, subject matter is a ballast, jettisoned during contemplation.

The more one loses oneself in a document, the denser the subject matter grows.”

This was resonant for me because I am starting to work on A5 using instant prints, and I was unsure exactly how important a cohesive subject actually was. On one hand, the prints will be embossed, cut, inverted, deconstructed and I anticipate that what was actually in each picture (what the picture is OF) will become less apparent and more obscure and the format itself will become the theme. On the other hand, it seems a shame not to have a cohesive subject for the set, even though that layer of meaning may well be subdued by the altered format. Plus of course A5 is about ten photographs of the same subject. This quote seems to give permission for a subject to be designated, recognised, acknowledged and then “jettisoned” as the viewer and author consider other aspects of the work.

Having blogged that, my plan is to look through the images and then return to the essays, at which point I will update this blog post.

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5 thoughts on ““Through the Looking Brain”

  1. Photobooth Journal April 14, 2017 / 5:13 am

    Philosophically interesting, Kate. Your tutor seems to be a very interesting teacher to be guiding your explorations this way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kate April 14, 2017 / 1:33 pm

      This is my own exploration – I particularly enjoy conceptual work. That said, I am familiar with several of the photographers included because of my work on the two OCA courses.

      Liked by 1 person

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