John Tagg

John Tagg (born 1949) is one of the most prominent contemporary contributors to critical theory of photography and art history. He started his academic career in the UK in 1976 and has since 1984 lived and worked in the United States. Tagg wrote a number of essays and influential books on the relationship between photography, institutions and power, such as The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories (1988), Grounds of Dispute: Art History, Cultural Politics and the Discursive Field (1992) and The Disciplinary Frame: Photographic Truths and the Capture of Meaning (2009). He is currently a Distinguished Professor of Art History at Binghamton University, State University of New York.

I would be reluctant to treat the monocular gaze of the camera and camouflage as a binary opposition. /.../ If we conceptualise the relation between the two as a duality – as visibility vs. invisibility, as watching machine vs. camouflage – then we run the risk of missing the fact that they are absolutely interlocked together and part of the same economy. I don’t see camouflage as being a response to panopticism, because camouflage is already part of the panoptic system.

John Tagg is one of the most prominent contributors to critical theory and history of photography. In the interview, he talks about the contemporary relationship between (photographic) image and governmentability, on the asymmetrical distribution of power relations that it implies and on the possibilities of resistance to the omnipresent social surveillance. Within the contemporary apparatuses and machineries of surveillance, the image often represents only a nodal point for collection of nonvisual information. As the value of the image within these machineries shifts away from their representational character, the image is increasingly becoming weaponized and is in the final instance, destined to become a trigger rather than visualisation device of the apparatuses of social control. Therefore purely visual strategies of resistance, such as camouflage, are not sufficient to fight against the increasingly automated machineries of social control and changed conditions of governmentability.

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