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:

Artist Research – Victoria Reichelt

Victoria Reichelt’s “The Bookshelf Portrait Project” is another fascinating example of portraying a portrait through an assemblage of books. These works are actually hyper-real paintings, and are taken from real bookshelves of contemporary Australian artists. They are titled with the subject’s name and each one is markedly different and unique. The composition of the paintings is also very aesthetically interesting.