Other theoretical research (Barthes, Lesy, Foucault)

Writing the Image After Roland Barthes

Narrative liasons: Roland Barthes and the Dangers of the Photo-Essay

By Carol Shloss

Roland Barthes said: “Naturally, several photographs can come together to form a sequence….;the signifier of connotation is then no longer to be found at the level of any one of the fragments of the sequence but at that – what the linguists would call the suprasegmental level – of the concatenation” (Rhetoric of the Image)

Wisconsin Death Trip, Michael Lesy

“Wisconsin Death Trip is a book I come back to again and again, although it chills me to my bones. In the early Seventies, author Michael Lesy assembled dozens of glass plate photographs, all taken in Jackson County, Wisconsin at the turn of the 19th century, and offering a strangely intimate view of life—and death—in a small town of the era. The Wisconsin Historical Society has set up a flickr stream showing some of the photos used in the book, including the stark, sad high Victorian funereal images, bleak towns and unsmiling overdressed women.

Lesy accompanied these with text taken directly from the local papers, mainly the Badger State Banner, stories of wild gangs of armed tramps, death by smallpox, and even tales of witchcraft. The result is unsettling, but completely compelling. The book became a touchstone in the early 1970s counterculture”



Example page from the book:

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Michael Foucault’s Truth And Power (Regimes of Truth)

“Each society has its regime of truth, its ‘general politics’ of truth:
that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as
true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and
false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and
procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those
who are charged with saying what counts as true.”

Another Way of Seeing by John Berger and Jean Mohr

Jean Mohr:

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John Burger:

“What are the possible relations between images and text?”

Seeing a photo out of context:

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“These experiences may tell us very little, but they are unquestionable.”

“All photographs are of the past…it can never lead to the present”

All photographs are ambiguous. All photographs have been taken out of a continuity. If the event is a public event, this continuity is history; if it is personal, the continuity, which has been broken, is a life story.”

Discontinuity always produces ambiguity. Yet often this ambiguity is not obvious, for as soon as photographs are used with words, they produce together an effect of certainty, even of dogmatic assertion.”

It is because photography has no language of its own, because it quotes rather than translates, that it is said that the camera cannot lie.”

“Utter truth is essential, and that is what stirs me when I look through the camera.” – Margaret Bourke-White

“All photographs have the status of fact.”

“Photographs can relate the particular to the general. This happens…even within a single picture. When it happens across a number of pictures, the nexus of relative affinities, contrasts and comparisons can be that much wider and more complex.”

If Each Time – photoseries by Jean Mohr

They don’t explain the images, except very loosely that they are about the reflections of an old woman.

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John Burger says of this work: “The ambiguities encountered are not an obstacle to “understanding” this work but a condition for following it…”

John Berger on narratives:

“Every narrative proposes an agreement about the unstated but assumed connections existing between events.”

“Stories walk… Every step is a stride over something not said.”

In regards to telling stories with photographs: “…it is precisely this an agreement about discontinuities which allows the listener to “enter the narration” and become part of its reflecting subject.”

“The teller becomes less present, less insistent, for he no longer employs words of his own; he speaks only through quotations, through his choice and placing of the photographs.” P287

Eisenstein’s montage of attractions: “what precedes the film-cut should attract what follows it, and vice versa”

John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’ Series

Episode one:

“A large part of seeing depends upon habit and convention”

“You are seeing them in the context of your own life”

“Everything around the image is part of its meaning”

“Everything around it confirms and consolidates its meaning”

Images can change in meaning depending on what sound you hear with them

“The meaning of an image can be changed according to what you see beside it or what comes after it.”

John Tragg’s ‘The Burden of Representation – Essays on Photographies and Histories’

Essay: Currency of the Photograph: New Deal Reformism and Documentary Rhetoric

Berenice Abbot believed a “documentary value” to be inherent “in the photographic process itself and present in every ‘good photograph’”.

“The photographs are dense with connotations…Just as we see each detail within the meaning of the total photographic image which they them themselves compose, so we see every object both singly and coming together to form an ensemble..”

“The photograph seems to declare: ‘This really happened. The camera was there. See for yourself’. However, if this binding quality of the photograph is partly enforced at the level of ‘internal relations’ by the degree of definition, it is also produced and reproduced by certain privileged ideological apparatuses, such as scientific establishments, government departments, the police and the law courts. This power to bestow authority and privilege on photographic representations is not given to other apparatuses…”

“As Susan Sontag has stressed, photographs are objects of manipulation”

“specific premium put on ‘truth’ in realist work.”

“What defines and creates ‘truth’ in any society is a system of more or less ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution and circulation of statements. Through these procedures ‘truth’ is bound in a circular relation to systems of power which produce and sustain it.”

Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’

“Melancholy Objects” essay

‘Gazing on other people’s reality with curiosity, with detachment, with professionalism, the ubiquitous photographer operates as if that activity transcends class interests, as if its perspective is universal.”

“Some photographers set up as scientists, others as moralists. The scientists make an inventory of the world; the moralists concentrate on hard cases.”

August Sander: photographic cataloguing of the German people started in 1911 > “imply a pseudo-scientific neutrality”

“Photographs are, of course, artefacts. But their appeal is that they also seem, in a world littered with photographic relics, to have the status of found objects – unpremeditated slices of the world”

“They are clouds of fantasy and pellets of information.“

“Photography is the inventory of mortality.”

“Photographs turn the past into an object of tender regard, scrambling moral distinctions and disarming historical judgements by the generalised pathos of looking at time past”

 “Rehabilitating old photographs, by finding new contexts for them, has become a major book industry. A photograph is only a fragment, and with the passage of time its moorings become unstuck. It drifts away into a soft abstract pastness, open to any kind of reading (or matching to other photographs)”

 A photograph could also be described as a quotation, which makes a books of photographs like a book of quotations. And an increasingly common way of presenting photographs in book form is to match photographs themselves with quotes.”

“Photographers…suggest the vanity of even trying to understand the world and instead propose that we collect it.”

Art Research – Algün Ringborg

Algün Ringborg’s Library of Unborrowed Books is a fantastically subtle work which showed int the BOS 2014. Ringborg took books from the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts library, assembling all the ones which had never been borrowed out. The work addresses systems and trends of knowledge, and our access to it. It also touches on the increasing redundancy of books in today’s world. Ringborg also included a plaque and two framed contracts to authenticate the existence of the library.

The Biennale of Sydney website says this of Ringborg’s work:

Libraries are repositories of information, aiding the acquisition and transference of knowledge from the individual to the global level. Algün Ringborg’s work draws attention to the explicit and implicit interests and systems that determine which books are kept in cultural and educational circulation, and which are left to fade into the shadows of history. With a small gesture, the artist gives these neglected titles their time in the sun; as viewers, we witness their existence and perhaps desire to save them from their former fate. The work also warns of the death of the book as a social phenomenon, signalling a time when perhaps all libraries (as long as they continue to exist) may consist entirely of unborrowed books. – See more at: