Negative Thinking - A History of the Photographic Negative as a Repressed Other

Conversation with Geoffrey Batchen

Negative Thinking - A History of the Photographic Negative as a Repressed Other

Conversation with Geoffrey Batchen

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.

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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.
Reading time: 14 min.

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