John Hillman

John Hillman is an educator, image-maker and writer. Based in the U.K. his interests are focused around post-photography theory – an investigation into the contemporary account of what the image is becoming, and in philosophical approaches to contemporary culture and understanding how images and media technologies shape our experience. What unifies all his interests is the exploration of how theory can enrich and offer new insights to creative practice and lived experience.This has led to thinking through the aesthetic, philosophical and technological approaches to image making. Ultimately, his written work and his practice is an interrogation of how images operate in a contemporary culture, which is currently largely structured by the digital. He is engaged in the interdisciplinary areas of photography, image and visual culture. He currently works as Course Director of the Department of Photography at Birmingham City University.

What makes photographs so complex is how they render visible that which should not be possible to see. Therefore, in some way, all photographs teach us how to see and set out the co-ordinates for our visual understanding.

Photography shares little with the logic of simulation and simulacrum, instead it facilitates a dimension within which people and objects we photograph emerge from an impossible frame. Its intrigue resides in the palpable sense of impossibility that photographs render visible to us. This sleight of hand obfuscates the question of how appearance appears. In Finders Keepers, Dutch photographer Laura Chen works with imagery sourced from undeveloped films purchased from eBay and car-boot sales. When Chen develops the films, the real of someone else’s reality is transformed into art. Left undeveloped, these images occupy nowhere in particular, but Chen makes appearances fill in a void and poses a question which is not one of “why” but of “where” are images? Furthermore, in seeking out meanings, the magic of photography is understood through the misdirection of illusion and appearance. What is more useful is to ask how photography appears to appear?

In augmented reality, as things behave in unexpected ways, our ‘real’ reality seems more obscure, confused and hidden.

Augmented reality is fundamentally different from virtual reality: it does not map a real world environment into a digital one as a virtual experience. Instead, it locates both reality and virtual within the same experiential frame. Through it, our interactions with reality are mediated via the fantasy of an augmented experience. Thus, augmented reality supplements what we see with the purpose of trying to maintain our attention. What is most fascinating about augmented reality is how reality itself becomes a part of, rather than distinct from, digital information. It is in this sense that the very notion of seeing is fundamentally challenged. Since when augmented technology is not deployed, what is left is an apparent incompleteness of simply looking. But what are the consequences of confronting this incompleteness? In this article I examine how augmented reality simply renders a structure that has always sustained the visual field.

Historically, snapshots have always been about the everyday, the banal, the repetitive, the cliched events that are part of everyone’s lives. And by using Snapchat, almost any everyday activity can be combined with the production and distribution of an everyday image.

For users of the image messaging Snapchat app, expressiveness is largely mediated through in-built filters and extensive use of short pieces of text and emojis. It is also contingent upon the disappearance of the image after a set time. The certainty these images will not be retained – that they will disappear – sanctions a degree of liberty in what is sent between users. However, there is also a reciprocal level of trust, since despite the app itself having no feature to save an image, recipients can screen capture the images they receive. Users do receive notification that their image has been saved in a screen capture, and this is likely to elicit a spontaneous reaction of despair, a breach of the code of disappearing images that is implicit in Snapchat’s communication method. In this essay, I propose Snapchat portraits express not the face as image but image as perplexing, disappearing, mutating phenomena. With their filters and distortions they unsettle our notions of the index and with their built in disappearance they challenge any notion of image as a memory prosthetic. Snapchat, as a form of portraiture, is not engaged with likeness or reproducibility. Instead, it stresses duplication, disguise and disappearance as the dominant features of contemporary culture.


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