Following the lunchbreak the symposium restarted with another discussion piece, this one hosted by Firecracker (an online platform supporting European female photographers). Fiona Rogers of Firecracker introduced three female photographers who have produced intensely personal projects, possibly making it the easiest to recognise in relation to the festival theme of Inside Out. Natasha Carauna and her project The Other Woman, Briony Campbell‘s The Dad Project and Laura Hynd‘s project The Letting Go are all very different takes on using one’s own personal experiences as the subject for artistic work. Hynd’s project was a direct and conscious effort to work through what she described as a dark period of her life, using the work as a way to connect with different people and feelings, in contrast to Carauna’s project which she embarked upon without intending to take part herself. Carauna’s own situation triggered the idea for the project, but it wasn’t until it neared completion that she realised the need to include herself in the work. Campbell’s work almost trod between these two extremes, the project itself being intensely personal from the start, but only resolving into a coherent or intentional project as it developed.
Given these varying approaches the discussion could have been a fruitful exploration of method, result & intentions, but for some reason the discussion felt somewhat flat, with the three photographers responding almost directly to Rogers, while she directed questions to each in turn. Some of this awkwardness may have stemmed from the impression of connecting the production of a personal project with the artist’s gender. All three photographers took pains to dispel the idea that their being female was a factor in their decision to produce a personal project.
Mishka Henner presented work from four of his projects, Fifty-One US Military Outposts, Dutch Landscapes, No Man’s Land and Children of the Metropolis. Henner’s projects all have an aspect of the photographer/artist as curator/deity, in the vein of Duchamp and his readymades. Henner’s selection and collection of images which he has not himself taken will lead some to question his status as a photographer. His appropriation of generally machine captured images for the generation of a body of work adds to the questions being raised in the work, rather than detracts. Henner used comments from website articles to discuss his works, the strongest reaction being to No Man’s Land which included the outrage at the use of women’s visage without explicit permission (despite taking the images directly from Google’s streetview which is clearly in the public domain) as well labelling them as sex workers, something Henner did not specifically do (although he did highlight the possibility that they might be). The themes of each of Henner’s specific projects are compelling enough on their own, however given the method for creating the work, Henner has reignited the conversation of what makes an artistic work, flinging it into our modern technological age where copying/appropriation can occur at the click of a button.
Henner’s modern reframing of this age old discussion in our technological present is almost the perfect precursor to James Bridle‘s presentation on the New Aesthetic. Bridle presented his ongoing research into what has been titled the New Aesthetic, a visual theme incorporating machine imagery. Bridle made it clear that it’s not a movement per se, but rather a collection of the visual now. Bridle discussed the explosion of nostaligia, from Instagram to retro chic authenticity, and just how radical a shift this is from previous generations’ desire to vision the future. Projects such as Damon Winter’s Hipstamatic images of the Afghanistan War for The New York Times and the “instagramming” of actual vintage war photography raise complex questions about how we visually understand these images. While perhaps not the most conventional speaker for a photography symposium, Bridle’s research made an excellent counterpoint to the discussion, calling for a new modern visual language to imagine the future with.
The symposium closed with a Q&A session, although some of the speakers weren’t able to stay for the entire event, which limited the discussion. While there was a plethora of discussion worthy topics raised throughout the day, the Q&A discussion got stuck on a couple of points regarding film vs digital and the previously mentioned stereotype of women producing the majority of personal projects. Ranging from discussion of photographic education and the firm statement by David Moore and Antonio Olmos that photography is not defined by the techniques used to create it, photography is defined by the stories it tells, the concepts it explores. Which, all in all, was a positive and fitting affirmation to close the symposium with.
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