David Bate is an artist and theorist working in photography. His books Photography: The Key Concepts (2nd edition, Bloomsbury, 2016), Art Photography (Tate Publishing, 2015), Photography and Surrealism (IB Tauris, 2004) as well as the journal photographies (Routledge, 2009–) of which he is a co-founding editor, are perhaps the most popular representatives of a career that spans more than 30 years and includes numerous essays and art works crucial to a critical understanding of the medium through time and across different geographies. Teaching has been a constant activity in Bate’s career, and it was at the University of Westminster (formerly, the Polytechnic of Central London), where he is Professor of Photography.
We used to believe that photographs always “refer” to something beyond themselves that already exists, like an actual place, space, object or person(s). Even though this was never always true or completely convincing, such strongly held convictions have been profoundly shaken by the effects of popular digital culture. It is no longer a matter of any specific photograph itself being unreliable, so much as the whole edifice of social and cultural life, and its media platforms, being taken over by a pervading sense of doubt.
The idea and belief that photographs invoke a presence is increasingly compromised by the haunting sense of an absence. As explored in this work, a house in Germany is the site of a machinic vision, whose “consciousness” is implanted as an instrument of human vision.
We meet with David Bate, artist and theorist working in photography in a Portuguese cafe in London the day the United Kingdom is holding what will most probably be its last European Parliamentary elections. The country has been at the forefront of education in photography, offering a record number of university degrees which historically were pioneer in introducing critical theory as part of the curriculum. But today this situation might have changed. The conversation flows freely between Bate’s experience of growing up in a working class area in 1970s UK and the realities of today’s educational and social system, the correlation between theory and practice and the paradoxes of the digital image and our current relation to it, aiming to introduce (or update) our readers to one of the most thought provoking and rigorous critical practitioners (which is to say, thinkers) working in and with the medium today.