in defense of the poor image

http://www.e-flux.com/journal/10/61362/in-defense-of-the-poor-image/

Carlos Saladén Vargas – Fish story (detail). 2016

“The poor image is a copy in motion. Its quality is bad, its resolution substandard. As it accelerates, it deteriorates. It is a ghost of an image, a preview, a thumbnail, an errant idea, an itinerant image distributed for free, squeezed through slow digital connections, compressed, reproduced, ripped, remixed, as well as copied and pasted into other channels of distribution.

The poor image is a rag or a rip; an AVI or a JPEG, a lumpen proletarian in the class society of appearances, ranked and valued according to its resolution. The poor image has been uploaded, downloaded, shared, reformatted, and reedited. It transforms quality into accessibility, exhibition value into cult value, films into clips, contemplation into distraction. The image is liberated from the vaults of cinemas and archives and thrust into digital uncertainty, at the expense of its own substance. The poor image tends towards abstraction: it is a visual idea in its very becoming.

The poor image is an illicit fifth-generation bastard of an original image. Its genealogy is dubious. Its filenames are deliberately misspelled. It often defies patrimony, national culture, or indeed copyright. It is passed on as a lure, a decoy, an index, or as a reminder of its former visual self. It mocks the promises of digital technology. Not only is it often degraded to the point of being just a hurried blur, one even doubts whether it could be called an image at all. Only digital technology could produce such a dilapidated image in the first place.

Poor images are the contemporary Wretched of the Screen, the debris of audiovisual production, the trash that washes up on the digital economies’ shores. They testify to the violent dislocation, transferrals, and displacement of images—their acceleration and circulation within the vicious cycles of audiovisual capitalism. Poor images are dragged around the globe as commodities or their effigies, as gifts or as bounty. They spread pleasure or death threats, conspiracy theories or bootlegs, resistance or stultification. Poor images show the rare, the obvious, and the unbelievable—that is, if we can still manage to decipher it.”

the power (and challenge) of photography, the unreasonable apple and the absence of loss

http://cphmag.com/challenge/

http://cphmag.com/graham-whales/

https://www.duckrabbit.info/2013/11/the-power-of-photography/

https://www.duckrabbit.info/2015/10/the-absence-of-loss/

“Whenever I talk to people who are not part of the world of photography, many of the concerns that appear to give theorists or photographers endless nightmares simply don’t appear to exist. Too many photographs? Who says so? Can there be a thing such as too many photographs, and why would that even be a problem?”

“It’s obvious that everybody reacts to art from their own points of view, their own preferences, this writer included. Still, I just wish Paul Graham’s work were just a little bit flawed, a little bit less careful, less cerebral. That said, unlike, say, Thomas Demand’s work Graham’s never drowns in its own artifice, leaving behind the feeling that what we’re really supposed to admire is the maker’s skills, not the work.”

“The inherent flaw in this idea is its assumption that because an image seems ‘banal’ it has no significance. I think the opposite. I’ve learned the hard way that images don’t just have ‘width’ and ‘height’ as these pundits would have us believe. They have ‘depth’ too, often many layers, unseen, unknown, and unguessed at by a casual viewer.”

photography is easy, photography is difficult

A shimmer of possibility. 2004-2006

A shimmer of possibility. 2004-2006

 

It’s so easy it’s ridiculous. It’s so easy that I can’t even begin – I just don’t know where to start. After all, it’s just looking at things. We all do that. It’s simply a way of recording what you see – point the camera at it, and press a button.  How hard is that? And what’s more, in this digital age, its free – doesn’t even cost you the price of film. It’s so simple and basic, it’s laughable.

It’s so difficult because it’s everywhere, every place, all the time, even right now. It’s the view of this pen in my hand as I write this, it’s an image of you reading now. Drift your consciousness up and out of this text and see: it’s right there, across the room – there… and there.  Then it’s gone.  You didn’t photograph it, because you didn’t think it was worth it. And now it’s too late, that moment has evaporated. But another one has arrived, instantly.  Now. Because life is flowing through and around us, rushing onwards and outwards, in every direction.

But if it’s everywhere and all the time, and so easy to make, then what’s of value? which pictures matter? Is it the hard won photograph, knowing, controlled, previsualised?  Yes.  Or are those contrived, dry and belabored?  Sometimes. Is it the offhand snapshot made on a whim. For sure. Or is that just a lucky observation, some random moment caught by chance? Maybe. Is it an intuitive expression of liquid intelligence?  Exactly.  Or the distillation of years of looking seeing thinking photography.  Definitely.

Life’s single lesson: that there is more accident to it than a man can admit to in a lifetime, and stay sane
– Thomas Pynchon, V

Ok, so how do I make sense of that never ending flow, the fog that covers life here and now.  How do I see through that, how do I cross that boundary?  Do I walk down the street and make pictures of strangers, do I make a drama-tableaux with my friends, do I only photograph my beloved, my family, myself? Or maybe I should just photograph the land, the rocks and trees – they don’t move or complain or push back. The old houses?  The new houses? Do I go to a war zone on the other side of the world, or just to the corner store, or not leave my room at all?

Yes and yes and yes.  That’s the choice you are spoiled for, just don’t let it stop you. Be aware of it, but don’t get stuck – relax, it’s everything and everywhere.  You will find it, and it will find you, just start, somehow, anyhow, but: start.

Okay, but shouldn’t I have a clear coherent theme, surely I have to know what I’m doing first?  That would be nice, but I doubt Robert Frank knew what it all meant when he started, or for that matter Cindy Sherman or Robert Mapplethorpe or Atget or…  so you shouldn’t expect it. The more preplanned it is the less room for surprise, for the world to talk back, for the idea to find itself, allowing ambivalence and ambiguity to seep in, and sometimes those are more important than certainty and clarity. The work often says more than the artist intended.

But my photography doesn’t always fit into neat, coherent series, so maybe I need to roll freeform around this world, unfettered, able to photograph whatever and whenever: the sky, my feet, the coffee in my cup, the flowers I just noticed, my friends and lovers, and, because it’s all my life, surely it will make sense? Perhaps. Sometimes that works, sometimes it’s indulgent, but really it’s your choice, because you are also free to not make ‘sense’.

“so finally even this story is absurd, which is an important part of the point, if any, since that it should have none whatsoever seems part of the point too” 
– Malcolm Lowry, Ghostkeeper.

Ok, so I need time to think about this. To allow myself that freedom for a short time.  A couple of years.  Maybe I won’t find my answer, but I will be around others who understand this question, who have reached a similar point.  Maybe I’ll start on the wrong road, or for the wrong reasons – because I liked cameras, because I thought photography was an easy option, but if I’m forced to try, then perhaps I’ll stumble on some little thing, that makes a piece of sense to me, or simply just feels right.  If I concentrate on that, then maybe it grows, and in its modest ineffable way, begins to matter. Like photographing Arab-Americans in the USA as human beings with lives and hopes, families and feelings, straight, gay, young, old, with all the humanity that Hollywood never grants them. Or the black community of New Haven, doing inexplicable joyous, ridiculous theatrical-charades that explode my preconceptions into a thousand pieces. Or funny-disturbing-sad echoes of a snapshot of my old boyfriend.  Or the anonymous suburban landscape of upstate in a way that defies the spectacular images we’re addicted to. Or… how we women use our bodies to display who we believe we should be, Or…

“A Novel? No, I don’t have the endurance any more. To write a novel, you have to be like Atlas, holding up the whole world on your shoulders, and supporting it there for months and years, while its affairs work themselves out…”   
 – J. M. Coetzee, Diary of a Bad Year.

And hopefully I will carry on, and develop it, because it is worthwhile.  Carry on because it matters when other things don’t seem to matter so much: the money job, the editorial assignment, the fashion shoot. Then one day it will be complete enough to believe it is finished.  Made. Existing.  Done.  And in its own way: a contribution, and all that effort and frustration and time and money will fall away.  It was worth it, because it is something real, that didn’t exist before you made it exist: a sentient work of art and power and sensitivity, that speaks of this world and your fellow human beings place within it. Isn’t that beautiful?

– Paul Graham. Yale MFA Photography Graduation, February 2009.