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Interview
Scholars and museums tend to avoid the evidence of photography’s reproducibility. It is an unwelcome reminder of commerce and labour, of promiscuity and dissemination, of transformation and transgression.

Olena Chervonik talks with Geoffrey Batchen about his two most recent publications: Apparitions: Photography and Dissemination, that reached bookshelves in 2018, and Negative/Positive: A History of Photography, slated for release later in 2020. The conversation revolves around the photographic condition of reproducibility, repetition and difference, embedded in the medium from the time of its inception. While Apparitions explores photography’s relation to various newsprint outlets of the nineteenth century, Negative/Positive traces a comprehensive history of the medium’s propensity for multiplication, predicated on the dependence of photographs on the function of a negative, which, according to Batchen, seems to be a repressed Other in photographic history. A vehicle that enables reproducibility, a photographic negative is rarely discussed in critical literature and even more rarely reproduced or featured in the exhibition space. Batchen ponders this occlusion of a medium’s critical component, suggesting that a negative is linked to photography’s operation as capitalist mode of production. By omitting to profile a negative, we naturalize capitalism’s operational logic – a condition that clearly needs to be upset by directing a critical, revelatory, and thus politically engaged spotlight on photography’s predilection for image massification.

Modernity gets to be what it is because it has its others, and the same goes for art history. Enlightenment and the Enlightenment subject could only be formulated in comparison with the other: the colonized, the heathen, the unenlightened, the superstitious, the slave.

I spoke with Kajri Jain over Zoom during the early days of the pandemic in 2020. Our conversation began with a discussion of her early fieldwork in the bazaars in India, probing into Jain’s own education and formative experiences. It then detoured into a critical unpacking of art history’s “sacred cows’, the need to fundamentally rethink the discipline’s deep intertwining with colonialism, and the many forms of baggage that non-Western art historians must carry on their shoulders. Jain’s suspicion of medium specific approaches led to a productive dialogue about anthropologist Michael Taussig’s work, theory fetishism, and several facets of contemporary photography in South Asia. We agreed about the need to continue to critique an elitist discourse that misunderstands the importance of religion, and the embedded nature of caste, in any reading of aesthetics and mass culture in the subcontinent. Ending with the question of how to decolonize, provincialize and globalize when engaged in pedagogy, Jain left us with much to contemplate.

Hegel’s declaration of the end of art does not claim that art is effectively over, rather that this is true of a certain kind of understanding art. This is a part of a given historical moment: Hegel said it exactly in the moment when art actually gained true autonomy for the first time.

In the chapter “Self-consciousness”, found in his most important work The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), Hegel presents his famous thesis on the master-slave dialectic. The relationship between the two is reciprocal as one’s self-consciousness is acknowledged only through the other’s self-consciousness. In a combat relation, one of these self-consciousness’s gives way, while the other rises from the fight as a master. The idea of a master-slave dialectic was one of Hegel’s most influential ones; most notably, it inspired Marx in his formulation of the historical struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Much later, Kojève pointed out that Marx, in his formulation, omitted a key element found in Hegel’s equation: knowledge/truth is always on the side of the slave/proletariat. This gap that influenced the great French thinkers could not have come at a better time. Following the French Revolution, the structure of sovereignty changed radically, as the new social structures required a different kind of sovereignty. Up until the times of Freud, who witnessed the last “true” monarch, Franz Joseph, the remaining powerful father figures were slowly losing their power. The disappearance of traditional authorities provoked changes in the social structure. Society became mediatized hand in hand with political populism, however, this mediatization received its antipode in modern art.

We have to be careful not to project a nostalgic glow onto the past, as if magic can only be found there and not in our own moment.

His long-standing interest in the history of early photography makes Geoffrey Batchen the appropriate speaker to discuss the question of photographic magic. Therefore, our conversation oscillates between magic and realism, but also other antonyms within the medium: negative and positive, analogue and digital. Taking in consideration all these oppositional notions, Batchen suggests that theoreticians “need to acknowledge and embrace photography’s abstractions and contradictions”. Different contradictions within photography’s theory and history became pivotal in our conversation. We also discussed the indexicality of digital images. According to Batchen, the negative/positive system of traditional photography can be compared with the binary code of digital images, which “is therefore based on the same oppositional logic, the same interplay of one and its other, that generated the analogue photograph.” Moreover, digitality does not eliminate the magic character of the contemporary photographs; in this context, Batchen mentions the capacity of instant transmission of snapshots from one place of Earth to another. In conclusion, Batchen reveals some details of his upcoming book Negative/Positive: A History of Photography.

I like the challenge of refining it down to something simple and beautiful. If it works, the layers of meaning go deeper and deeper, and you can appreciate it on any of those levels.

Jason Fulford is a photographer who thinks and works like a poet: mixing thinking and feeling, things clear and vague, piling the contents only to eventually cut them to the most essential pieces, and expressing himself in an almost game form only to code the message to be appreciated on different levels. In his art, Fulford explores different ways to express the paradigms, paradoxes, unlikely proximities, and whatever he finds fascinating. When approached directly, he describes his work as “I take pictures of all sort of things and then re-contextualise them.” In a rather scholarly way, we would describe him as a refined formalist whose work is set to send a message. In his interview with Emina Djukić and Peter Rauch, Fulford delves into his bookmaking process, explaining the underlying method of his creative agenda, the process that starts the bookmaking process, the difference in relation between images and text in his books, the specifics of working with images and text simultaneously, the different roles of text and images, and the use of images to transcend into something meaningful.

If artistic creation can be considered as an astral trip to the outer space, planning and architecture education taught me how to come back to the Earth.

Public space directs how we live and act, how we socialize and even protest. If there is no community and solidarity there is no city, no civilization; there can only be a »city-state« as the modern version of an empire, says Murat Germen, photographer known for his critical view on the home-town of Istanbul. Muta-morphosis, probably one of his most famous series, uses digital manipulation to show a dark vision of future cities: buildings cramed together as in a strange and dangerous mutation process, almost melting as objects in Dali’s paintings. Through his artworks, text and lectures, Murat Germen criticizes excessive urbanization, motivated by capital and not by human needs. He also documented Gezi Park protests, in which the political aspect of managing the city became very apparent. His photos can be understood as a visual protest and Murat Germen thinks some of them may turn into visual evidence of the urban crime committed by the present Turkish government since 2002, when it came to power.

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