Witold Kanicki

Witold Kanicki (1979) is an art historian, assistant professor at the Department of Art Education, University of Arts in Poznan (Poland), and guest lecturer at the Zurich University of the Arts (Switzerland). He worked as an independent curator and critic. His PhD book (Ujemny biegun fotografii) was published this year by the Słowo/Obraz, terytoria editorial house. He is an author of more than 50 articles, published in scientific journals, as well as in catalogues of exhibitions and magazines on contemporary art and photography. He participated in numerous conferences (Including: the 2nd International Conference in Photography and Theory, Ayia Napa, 2012, Cyprus; the 3rd International Conference in Photography and Theory, Nicosia, Cyprus, 2014; Photography and the LEFT, Lisbon, 2016, Portugal; Faktizität und Gebrauch früher Fotografie, Rome 2017). His scope of interest includes history and theory of photography, contemporary art, new museology and curating.

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.

Every conceivable object of Nature and Art will soon scale off its surface for us. Men will hunt all curious, beautiful, grand objects, as they hunt the cattle in South America, for their skins, and leave the carcasses as of little worth. – Oliver Wendel Holmes

Archives abounding in collections of nineteenth-century photographs contain numerous examples of works dealing with the subject of bodily anomalies. Information about such pictures being taken used to be published on a regular basis in daily press, in which the readership were notified about photo ateliers which immortalised a variety of “monstrosities”. Although it would seem that such pictures were taken solely for scientific purposes, the many and varied contexts of their use let us link them to a much older tradition of viewing and collecting visual curiosities. Having the above facts in mind, this article confronts the popular habits of photographing peculiarities in the 19th century, with museum practice and the Wunderkammers tradition. The space of a photograph may substitute exhibition space, while a desire to watch all kinds of abnormalities and the culture of curiosity determines the connection between former museum visitors and recipients of photographs.


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