There will be Others

The Modern Language Experiment presents there will be others, a group show at Angus Hughes Gallery.

The Modern Language Experiment presents there will be others, a group show at Angus Hughes Gallery.


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Seeing Myself in a Homemade Mirror

Pink Pillar

02 - 03



Seeing Perspective at The Elephant

04 - 05



From: jeremy akerman <jeremyakerman@hotmail.com>

To: Tina Hage <info@tinahage.com>

Subject: Re: sculpture

On 30 Apr 2012, at 12:03, jeremy akerman wrote:

Dear Tina,

I like the sunrise piece, is the orange also a solid item or wall paint?


From: Tina Hage <info@tinahage.com>

To: jeremy akerman <jeremyakerman@hotmail.com>

Subject: Re: sculpture

Date: Mon, 30 Apr 2012 12:38:05 +0100

Dear Jeremy,

How are you?

The orange is planned to be a big print (maybe out of 2 pieces stuck to the wall.)

So everything will be made out of prints. Let’s hope it will work out!

How are things with you?



06 - 07


From: jeremy akerman <jeremyakerman@hotmail.com>

To: Tina Hage <info@tinahage.com>

Subject: Re: sculpture

On 30 Apr 2012, at 13:08, jeremy akerman wrote:

hiya, it would be annoying of me to suggest that the orange wall should be

free standing and that you locate the whole experience in physical rather

than illusionary space... so I won’t say it. But, let go of your walking frame.

However i am glad it is not paint as I thought, it is braver and more real to be thing.

I really look froward to see this.

I am well and very busy making lots of cut ups, the first big one went very well

and then the second one threw a curve, which I am still chewing on. It really

does feel like being in the front carriage at the moment with these works, finally

a sense of risk! Also a laughable sense of how very thin my ideas are, that

they may not last the night, this also seems very nice and I am enjoying that.

another picture about landscape attached, am going to

do a graveyard later, back to a easier geometry.

best wishes, Jeremy

they spelt my name wrong on the press release : (


From: Tina Hage <info@tinahage.com>

To: jeremy akerman <jeremyakerman@hotmail.com>

Subject: Re: sculpture

Date: Mon, 30 Apr 2012 13:57:12 +0100

Hey there, the press release that has to be changed, will pass

it on, there also put O’Kane in front of Hage....tsk tsk

Also… What do you mean by “let go of your walking frame” (walking

frame)? I have to think the free standing backdrop over....

maybe too much...but will need to reconsider.

It is nice how the surface of your attached image is bulging

out a little bit, like a relief.

A graveyard with these cuts? The context of the work

seem to move into the horror genre.....



From: jeremy akerman <jeremyakerman@hotmail.com>

To: Tina Hage <info@tinahage.com>

Subject: Re: sculpture

On 30 Apr 2012, at 14:14, jeremy akerman wrote:

The question is what is the orange, is it background? Is the background the

locator for the sculpture, if it is it can be a locator anywhere? Or is it the photo

08 - 09


sculpture that references photography you are on stronger ground

as the whole world is remade for real. it is not the illusory world getting

slightly outside its frame but the frame is thrown out for new solution

altogether, hence let go of your walking frame;

a drunk needs the wall as a prop so does a picture but a sculpture doesn’t, also

you are not drunk, quite the reverse.

sorry didn’t mean to throw in spanners, it looks great but part off what

is exciting is that the questions/ideas come so vividly now.

not horror... no perhaps romantic but in a very pedestrian way.

From: Tina Hage <info@tinahage.com>

To: jeremy akerman <jeremyakerman@hotmail.com>

Subject: Re: sculpture

Date: Mon, 30 Apr 2012 14:51:13 +0100

Thank you very much for all your input. I did not think the idea of work

fully through, specially in this context, which now seems obvious.

I would like to keep the work really light in it’s materials, no frame for the orange,

no subframe for the sculpture, only the prints (with tiny little supports). It should feel

very light and on focused on it’s surface. I feel the square orange (sunrise), which for

me is somehow humours, that it is this clunky square, is the backdrop but is also

fighting for attention (striking colour and size) with the foreground object. And that

might be working quite well in the sense that it is a sculpture, but born out of a

photography, somehow both (sculpture/photo), which do not work by themselves.

But if happening, for a different show, I was planning to have

the backdrop on legs so it can stand freely in the space. I

think it needs quite a lot of space around it though.


Again many thinks for your input, I had to read your text twice! Much appreciated!



From: jeremy akerman

To: tina hage

Subject: RE: sculpture

Date: 30 April 2012 15:55:34 GMT+01:00

its fine, i am only thinking out loud not seriously stroking my

chin, and I just like to chat about these things anyway,

light is good, lots of possibilities , see ya, `J

From: Tina Hage <info@tinahage.com>

To: “pok@okpaul.com” <pok@okpaul.com>

Cc: jeremy akerman <jeremyakerman@hotmail.com>; Matthew Stock <matt@matthewstock.com>; Keh <keh.ng@modernlanguageexperiment.org>

Subject: Re: hello plus a long email

Sent: Tuesday, 13 March 2012, 12:52

Definitely spring has arrived since sometime....but will be around for a while...I hope.

Meeting up might be good idea, as the exchange is running

in slow-motion. Probably after the 5th of April.

So far to be honest I am not sure what I am going to show, I

feel the framework of the show is floating a little.

10 - 11


Anyway it does feel a bit hard for me to distance myself from the photography medium

in order to be able to theorise my art practice more.

I use photography as a part in the process of making my images, and it feels natural

to use the camera due to the context of media references etc. I am working with.

So I do not see myself as a photographer, although my whole work is about

found photographs.

I am more interested in the context and story around and in the image I stumble

across, in people and their gestures, in colours, which convey modes and accents of

the seen atmosphere.

Quite often I see myself more like a keen observer who looks at images and feels that

their is a puzzle to be solved. The puzzle’s elements seem to follow a pattern or should

resolve in a mosaic and through re-arranging, re-staging, re-enacting the context I

sensed initial might become visible in the final picture.

They are all these elements that make photography what it is: aperture, light, time, the

equipment, the film (or not), focal point, the moment in time, the real (people, objects

etc.) etc., which are only indirectly (if at all) important or interesting to me, because I

am not the one who makes the picture or even at the actual location.

I definitely see myself as the person on the other side of the ‘machinery’ - the person

who looks at the pictures in the context they are presented - already digested by

others, filtered, and selected for a certain output.

All the best,



From: “pok@okpaul.com” <pok@okpaul.com>

To:Tina Hage <info@tinahage.com>

Cc: jeremy akerman <jeremyakerman@hotmail.com>; Matthew Stock <matt@matthewstock.com>; Keh <keh.ng@modernlanguageexperiment.org>

Subject: Re: hello plus a long email

Date: 13 March 2012 13:40:37 GMT


I think that this is a fine and clear

statement that can develop some

shared themes in our show. And

it does illuminate your own

methods and motives more than

I have heard thus-far.



12 - 13


From: Tina Hage <info@tinahage.com>

To: “pok@okpaul.com” <pok@okpaul.com>

Cc: jeremy akerman <jeremyakerman@hotmail.com>; Matthew Stock <matt@matthewstock.com>; Keh <keh.ng@modernlanguageexperiment.org>

Sent: Tuesday, 13 March 2012, 14:03

Hey there,

Thanks for your email. It helped me to clarify my thoughts which were

floating around for a while now but have not being expressed. I think

it helps me to position my art practise in the context of our show.



P.s. Paul your type size is always really big (maybe 24pt) when

I open your emails......It makes quite an impact.....

From: “pok@okpaul.com” <pok@okpaul.com>

To: Tina Hage <info@tinahage.com>

Cc: jeremy akerman <jeremyakerman@hotmail.com>; Matthew Stock <matt@matthewstock.com>; Keh <keh.ng@modernlanguageexperiment.org>

Subject: Re: hello plus a long email

Date: 13 March 2012 14:04:31 GMT

Didn’t I tell you, I am almost blind.



14 - 15



16 - 17



18 - 19



20 - 21



22 - 23



24 - 25



26 - 27



One or Two Ways To Square One

Towards an Onto-Psycho-Auto-Bio-Photo-Graphy.

July 2012

We might consider photography to be the world’s first GPS system, registering our

existence at a particular point in space and time. Personally, photography remains

something I need and use to orientate myself. But it is also possible that photography

orientates us culturally and philosophically. For me, photography can never simply be

art and never only critical but will always be in some way sentimentally intertwined

with the story of a life. Sentiment might form a dividing line between ‘critical’,

‘fine’ art and other worlds of amateur or outsider art that lay beyond this border.

Recognising this border is important if we are ever to understand what we mean

by ‘critical’ or ‘fine’ art.

In this written diptych I will use first objective then subjective responses followed by

a conclusion to suggest ways in which my own experience of photography might

be applicable to wider debates. I hope this experiment reveals a little of the special

contribution photography makes to art, psychology, history, ontology and philosophy.

Part One

Objective Mode

To write about photography is only ever to write around it. No words adequately

attach themselves to or penetrate its elusive fascination. No other art – if it is an

art- so strangely occupies the objective and subjective realms or hi and lo cultures

simultaneously. Nor does any other medium span the cultural distance between

rarefied treasures and disposable commonplaces. Thus, to begin to write about

photography is first of all to resign oneself to an ineffectual role. To set out, that is,

on a journey clearly recognisable as folly.

28 - 29


Roland Barthes is perhaps the thinker, writer and sensitised human being most

strongly associated with an attempt to find a key that might unlock photography’s

heart, and it is noticeable that, in doing-so his thoughts and prose were immediately

and increasingly diverted away from a quasi-scientific enquiry into a kind of séance –

a highly personalised and sentimental pursuit of something intensely private, albeit

in full public view.

Since we all make photographs, none of us, I suspect, can write about

photography without writing in some sense about ’our’ photography. Ever since

its domesticated debut within the walls and grounds of the Fox-Talbot household

photography has maintained an attachment to an individual human life and rapidly

grown into an adjunct or prosthesis which has transformed and extended human

consciousness as clearly as it has transformed the body language, physical profile

and motive of every camera carrier.

Though Barthes has left an indelible mark, encouraging an understanding of

photography as a faintly melancholic mechanism etching indexical wounds into

our modern awareness of mortality, it is his countryman, André Malraux who,

during the post WW2 period announced what may be the greater and truer

profundity about photography i.e. that it presents us with a ‘Museum Without Walls.’

This ‘museum’, in Malraux’s vision, transcends all other arts and every other artefact

simply through photography’s capacity to contain all of them within its technical

vision, its infinite memory and its cultural remit.

Photography is a meta-art, and in this way (not in any derogatory or detrimental way)

photography might be excused the title of (mere) art. Everything can and will be

photographed and thereby enter into a ‘museum’ that, though contained within

the world also contains the world (at least as photograph.) As in set theory,

photography is a set of images that (paradoxically, counter-intuitively, non-extensively,

illogically) contains one image (one part of the set) that contains all the other

images (the whole set).


While photography, as a ‘museum without walls’ gently embraces the other arts and

effortlessly encloses them within its special means of representation it also transcends

and envelops the lives of those who utilise it. In a certain, barely explicable way the

photographs of a photographed life, and even the photographs of the surrounding

world made by anyone living a life attached to a camera become more than that life,

other to it, both escaping and attending that life, standing-in for and haunting that

life, confronting that life as if from outside the life, looking back upon and enduring

longer than that life. As if to try and challenge or balance this imposition some have

come to live lives as a series of photographs, but only to inevitably photograph

themselves in the act of doing so, thus leaving photography once again with

the upper hand.

The cause of our disorientation and disempowerment, like that of Barthes’ intense

and anxious descent into photography’s labyrinth, is not just Malraux’s ‘museum’ but

the medium’s promise (or threat) of achieving what Friedrich Nietzsche called a ‘

transvaluation of values.’ Not just every thing but everybody too, can and will be

photographed (think of the anthropological and typological traditions running through

August Sander, Stieglitz’s Family of Man, Robert Frank, Tony Ray-Jones, Martin Parr

etc.) And yet those photographed bodies make their own photographs, a fact truer

today than ever. Such disorientating universality and ubiquity create the kind of

relativism and aperspectivalism that interested Nietzsche and led him to theorise

a ‘transvaluation of values’. As the 19th century proclaimed not only the death of

painting but also the death of god, philosophy, art and the treasured concept of the

human were all exposed as relative, anthropocentric and perspectival. In such

circumstances, Nietzsche wondered, what happens to value itself, and what would

a world without value be like?

Photographs contradict and scramble values. They tend to be treasured and

encourage acquisitiveness but only as much as they are casually copied and carelessly

discarded. They make us proud to have witnessed an event (once-in-a-lifetime eclipse

or once-a-day school dinner) but prouder to have photographed it. They make us feel

more human, romantic, and nostalgic even as they represent a kind of machinic

30 - 31


dehumanisation or the inhuman threat of surveillance. Photography revels in

contradictions that scramble values, and it thereby plays some significant part,

a greater part than any other art perhaps, in triggering Nietzsche’s

unexploded question.

Photography appears to offer us orientation by means of its crisp and repetitive formal

geometry. Its right-angled frame precedes and informs the photographic image of our

experience even before it is made, promoting an understanding of a life on earth as a

kind of grid or tessellation. During a 19th century wherein the hands of painters were

set free of academic restraint photography’s foundations in scientific experiment, the

curiosity of gentleman amateurs, and legitimating by scientific societies lent it a

certain authority and didacticism, a patriarchal air of technical correctness whose

apotheosis is found in the rigour of Edward Weston’s ‘Zone System’. But all such

silver-haired, austere technical tendencies can of course be rendered anachronistic,

contradicted and opposed (as they were in the 1950s and 60s works of Nigel Henderson)

or even, perhaps, lampooned.

There is however something that provides us with a reliable, convincing and

enduring element of orientation in our response to the phenomenon of photography

and that is its very own birth and progression, its history or biography. Just as

every neurotic modern adult must at some point turn upon their life-story or

Psycho-Auto-Bio-Graphy armed with cod-psychoanalytic tools in search of clarifying

an identity, so photography offers itself to our comprehension only in the manageable

form of its own narrative. Perhaps this is why today we are fond of nostalgic

photo-effects (fast becoming kitsch auto-nostalgia available at the touch of an ‘app’),

and why today we admire, in a more profound sense, a strange (new) beauty of early

photographs that could also be considered as merely crude. Even relatively recently

passed photographic styles (e.g. 1950s and 60s) and their attendant, recently

outmoded tools might today beguile us with their idiosyncratic qualities to an extent

that is again less true of any other art. It seems we look upon the life of photography

in the same way that we look upon our own Psycho-Auto-Bio-Photo-Graphy,

i.e. emotionally nostalgic for the loss of an irretrievable youth and yet amused,


charmed and entertained by appearances and realisations we have progressed

through and beyond.

If photography extended and transformed human consciousness, becoming a lifelong

companion and permanent prosthesis, it also democratised the making of images

in an unprecedented way that made each of us part of a ‘bigger picture’. We might

argue that this invention, originally an aristocratic toy (think of J.H. Lartigue)

instigated, accelerated or encouraged the dynamic historical agency we came to call

modernity, contributing as much to the cause of social equality perhaps as the writings

of Karl Marx. Medieval serfs may have deciphered stained-glass stories of saints’ lives

but in modernity photography allowed the masses, both personally and collectively,

to view and review ourselves progressing through a narrative in graphic sequences

of illuminated scenes.

From Fox-Talbot photographing his comfortable-looking home to today’s teenager

updating their profile picture each time they change their appearance, all have come

to live within Malraux’s exceptional museum, which, as well as being unbounded also

appears, unlike any other museum, to be a dynamic stimulant to progress rather than

a place where dynamism is frozen and preserved. So what is a life once museologised

in this peculiar, photographic way? An ever-changing series of fixed grins; a walkingtalking

automaton’s existence; a living, breathing collection of private events subject

to the continuous scrutiny of exhibition?

It seems that, under the influence of this meta-art we come to live meta-lives, or

perhaps what psychologists Kris and Kurz called ‘enacted biographies.’ Kris and Kurz

drew their concept from a study of the particular and peculiar way in which artists,

influenced by a historical framework, appeared to live lives and conduct careers as

an unfolding narrative of progressive, meaningfully-linked events emerging in service

of their speculative practice, of their medium and of their struggling career. This

tendency was influenced by modern myths like the life of Van Gogh, as well as Freud’s

analysis of Leonardo, all of which further roots Kris and Kurz’s theory in Vasari’s Lives

of the Artists. But Vasari must of course have been influenced in his turn by the lives

32 - 33


of the saints and great religious leaders, adapting the sense of their prescribed

greatness and destiny to the worldlier lives of his contemporaries.

If, for Kris and Kurz the greatest image makers are exponents of a modern tendency

to ‘enact biographies’ then it is not difficult to see that artists and the myths

surrounding them have come, in their turn, to influence everyone who today

confidently and consistently makes images themselves, and who regularly makes

images of themselves. To make an image of the self is to make the self an image and

is the first step on the way to ’enacting a biography’ instead of merely living a life. But

we can also question whether this notion is really exceptional, strictly modern,

or if it is the special privilege of image-makers. After all, to live at all is perhaps to live

an image, and to live as an image, an image of the self, for both self and others,

the image of a ‘life’ or a life story.

Nevertheless, there is some small and special degree of celebrity around or

about everyone who has ever been touched by the medium of photography. Again,

photography transvalues value, this time by making stars of us all. To illustrate this we

could look at late 19th century portrait paintings by John Singer Sargent where a new

dash of electrified glamour seems derived from the influence of photography, even

if the sessions and poses still lasted hours or weeks. A more active, modern depiction

of personality, that can only be quasi-photographic, seems there to have replaced the

dull graciousness of the oil painted past, setting the modern ‘attitude’ of the middle

and upper classes free of traditional social limits and restraints. Thus photography

reinvents persona per se, leading us further into Psycho-Auto-Bio-Photo-Graphy.

We archive our photographs, making of them a guiding, over-arching myth of a life,

squirreling away material proof convinced of its future value as a document of the

present and as evidence of the otherwise evaporating event of our invaluable

existence. We use photographs to organise a linear biography once provided by

invisible and unreliable memories, contested anecdotes, the odd keepsake or scar.

Photographs have provided us with a meta- or parallel life to the degree whereby we

do not simply live lives but far more self-consciously ’enact biographies’. It has thus


made artists of us all, yet simultaneously made each of us an exhibit within Malraux’s

ever ever-changing and ever-expanding museum.

Before moving on to my own, more subjective, Psycho-Auto-Bio-Photo-Graphic

narrative I want to briefly sift through another series of difficult and disturbing

ontological questions about photography. What is it? When is it? And where is it?

Again unlike any other art photography comes to us in a blizzard of formats; as

Daguerreotype, digital file, ‘snap’, slide, negative, fine print, Polaroid, mounted,

framed, torn and discoloured, book or newspaper illustration, on a gallery wall, tucked

inside a wallet, shouting from a billboard or piled in an old biscuit tin or drawer.

Photography comes to us as a purely commercial vehicle filling glossy magazines

as well as on tasteful papers in mounts and on supports of every kind, and also as a

debate, a conceptual and critical enquiry into itself, with further implications for art,

for seeing, for being and for representation in general. All this variety adds to the

difficulty of locating the essence of the photograph or of photography. Is it made at

the moment of exposure or subsequent to a later act of selection? Is it made later still

when a chosen image is augmented and embellished, given form and proportions

(‘dimensions variable’), given a use, a context, and materiality?

Given such questions of manufacture and materiality we might become even more

convinced of photography’s influence over other arts, including the inauguration of

a conceptual tendency in modern art that came to emphasise choice over craft and

context over object. Meanwhile, the computer revolution, led by screen-based

machines with clear affinities with photography also appears grounded in the

virtual-actual procedure initiated by Fox-Talbot’s realisation of the negative-positive

process. Every time we use an alias-file, a ‘Zip’ or compressed file on a computer -

whether it contains words, images, moving images or commands for a 3D

printer- we seem to be re-enacting the peculiar procedure first made possible by

Fox-Talbot i.e. using latent, virtual, compressed information to achieve a visible,

actual, material image.

34 - 35


The photograph’s presence and existence in space and time is uniquely variable. Does

a photograph fully become itself only when it appears on the page of a book, hanging

on a gallery wall, given mass, weight and substance by a support, caption or frame,

perhaps flattered by a passé-partout pressed under glass? For the photograph,

identity, even existence is peculiarly elusive and it might be argued that photography,

ever since its invention, also confronts identity and existence per se with new

challenges, ramifications and philosophical repercussions. And here we seem to

stumble towards an Onto-Psycho-Auto-Bio-Photo-Graphy.

Part 2

Subjective Mode

The questions above are those that an artist like myself - who claims and aspires to

practice photography as art and as profession - needs to raise, consider and try to

answer; not definitively but at least temporarily (e.g. for the duration of a particular

exhibition), and personally (to consolidate a confident, viable, recognisable practice.)

And if all the above were not complex enough, the question of personal narrative

– one’s own particular story of one’s particular relationship with photography- also

seems irrepressible.

For every image made on one side of the camera there is a human life responsible

on the other side of the camera (sometimes of course, these two might be the

same person.) Photography calls forth - once again in ways unlike the other artsa

slightly shameful mode of subjectivity, sentiment, and ‘expression,’ according to

which a personal narrative cries out to be told. This renders any clear-cut or delimited

photographic practice even more unmanageable, scrambling any subjectiveobjective

divide in a way that I suspect is peculiar to photography – or at least

peculiarly prevalent and powerful within the realm of photography. Such

considerations threaten to lose not only our object and our aim but to

simultaneously dissipate our position as an artist/subject.


I have tried in various ways to make photography as art into my profession over

a period of 30 years, and yet exploring it with fine-art’s and philosophy’s critical

tools and offering it up to the special challenge of the gallery invariably find myself

negotiating a chasm between - on one hand - lofty, painterly, perhaps historical or

anachronistic ambitions to ‘make’ a ’show’ of trophy-like ‘great pictures’ or ‘good’

(according to certain established values) photographs; and –on the other hand- a

critical, deconstructive investigation of photography’s presumptions, habits and

clichés e.g. its particular culture of images, tools, paraphernalia, its traditional

expression of masculinity or the hobbyist amateur.

These opposing aims form yet another contradiction of the kind set out above and

which I claim makes photography formless and unknowable. We said above that

photography might only be comprehendible to us as its own narrative or biography –

the story of photography. If so we might most honestly and accurately understand our

relationship with photography as a personal story too. And so, here I complete what

might be called an Onto-Psycho-Auto-Bio-Photo-Graph. I hope this final section isn’t

perceived as the mere overflowing of personal, mid-life anecdote but rather, in this

context can be understood as empirical evidence to expand, balance and consolidate

the more objective points made in the preceding section.

The first photographs I ever made were with my father’s cheap Kodak ‘Reflex’ camera,

an extremely poor imitation of a real, professional, 1950s medium format Rolleiflex

but with none of the latter’s quality or associated prestige. It was in fact a plastic,

glorified ‘Brownie’ with vertical viewfinder and separate viewing and taking lenses.

The camera itself says a lot about my father’s budget, class, aspirations etc. and like

a lot of men (particularly men) of his generation (b. 1928) for him photography was

a more or less serious hobby, promising some measure of personal fulfilment and

perhaps a little kudos.

I still have a few of dad’s best efforts from the 1950s, some of which seem to reveal the

influence of contemporary Sunday supplements. He was never middle-class enough

(no disposable income, little leisure time) nor hobbyist enough to process a film or

36 - 37


enlarge a print of his own and so the pictures I have are those stiff little Boots or

Kodak-style prints, glossy, with crisp white borders designed to protect the central

image (which was nevertheless subjected to decades of grubby, grabbing hands.)

On the occasion of a school holiday trip, at the age of nine, dad, perhaps

subconsciously expressing a wish to accompany and protect me on my first flight from

the nest, loaned me his glorified Brownie. This seemed an honour and a responsibility

at the time and I recall it hanging incongruously around my childhood shoulders as

it bounced on my abdomen like an over-sized medallion.

The very first pictures I took were of myself. In one I am reflected in a ‘hall of-mirrors,’

distorted by a mirror at a fun palace near the holiday camp where we stayed. In

another I precociously staged a Cindy Sherman-like or Jeff Wall-ish psychodrama in

a photograph that I must have asked a friend to take. It shows me posing with hands

clasped in prayer on steps leading into the deep end of the holiday camp swimming

pool. Now it seems as if I was subconsciously appealing to my father (and mother),

calling home through the lens of the camera, warning them of the possible perils such

school holiday trips might involve.

Both pictures now seem to show either excessive self-regard or an intuitive and

self-conscious interest in photography’s peculiar potential as a recorder of biography,

and as itself a mirror-based medium reflecting the world by means of a series of

reversals and inversions. We could call these photographs attempts at ‘wit,’ or

‘conceptual’ in their arch self-reflexivity. Meanwhile both pictures could provide

material for a Freudian or Lacanian psychoanalytic theorist to ruminate over, and

I should mention that a significant personal trauma is associated with this particular

trip, from which my father was unable to protect me, and which caused a new, more

distanced relationship with him on my return. This provides the first example of a

repeated co-incidence of photography and trauma in my life.

When, as a working class, school-leaving teenager, I found a way off the dole, out of

factories and building sites and onto an arts foundation course it was photography


that grabbed me and which I embraced in return. It was a redemptive vehicle, a

saviour, that gave me self-esteem, the thrill of making images that others praised, and

a license to go-places and do things (make photographs.) Photography even gave

me a way of escaping the inauspicious council estate where I grew up when I won a

place on a London degree course. Now I had a way to leave my socio-economically

incarcerating surroundings and aspire to be a professional in the city.

Soon after arriving in London however, having borrowed dad’s car and naively left it

parked filled with my portfolios, cameras and other valuables, the vehicle was stolen

and recovered soon after completely wrecked, with my precious images scattered all

around it in puddles and in shreds. I wish I had taken a picture of that bleak scene

but my cameras were of course also missing. Whether this shock had a detrimental

effect on my father’s health I can’t say but within a year, and having barely started my

degree, I learned that he had only months to live.

After dad’s unexpected and premature demise I became preoccupied with my

mother but tried to re-engage with my interrupted studies. One afternoon at

college I clearly recall abandoning a print in a developing tray because it suddenly

felt like an inconsequential and insubstantial vehicle for the new depth feeling I

was experiencing. That new apathy eventually led me to resign from my course as

once again trauma and photography conspired to create a milestone directing my life.

After leaving my first degree I wandered far from photography, pursuing creative

practices that seemed more likely to dispel the displaced energies of a grieving young

man. But I noted a tendency I had to reunite with photography whenever I felt myself

most lost or at a loss. Without a degree, a peer group or professional context I was

thrown back into a working class state of fragile survival and general, hopeless

ineffectuality. For years I drifted from dole to temporary labouring and back to dole

again but always with a hyperactive, artist’s mind, always looking closely and thinking

hard, yet minus the basic ability to support myself that might form the foundation

of a career.

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I fell in and out of relationships with friends and partners that I found confusing and

hard to commit to. Sometimes I lost my grip on the city and fell back to the dreaded

default of my council estate origins. There I could at least catch my breath, lick my

wounds and taste the bittersweet comfort that a family’s care provides to an adult who

above all seeks independence.

During this difficult time, about five years after quitting college, my grandmother,

aware of my tragic saga, gave me the surprising gift of a hand-built darkroom. She

was a typical cockney gleaner and had found an idiosyncratic enlarger, safelights,

printing papers etc. left out for anyone to claim by the house of a recently

departed and reputedly eccentric local man not far from her Kings Cross home.

Nan had thought of me and claimed the equipment, and so I couldn’t refuse it

even though I doubted if it would be operational or whether I would put it to

use given the insecure state of my mind, relationships, housing and economy.

The darkroom lay around in pieces for quite a while but I eventually assembled it and

found that it all worked. It was the first time I had a full darkroom in my home and

I experienced the freedom to work uninterrupted through the night and perfect

my printing. The sense of autonomy was profound and it reassured me that

photography might after-all provide me with all I needed in life - a manageable

and satisfying means of being an artist – if only things would stay still and secure

for long enough to turn my first love into my profession.

But some resentful force seemed averse to me taking any such shortcut to fulfilment.

Soon after I got into the swing of making new images a friend asked to borrow my only

camera and returned it jammed in such a way that neither he, I, nor specialists that

examined it could fix it or even understand what had gone wrong. It was pronounced

irretrievably broken and, as I was unable to buy anything of comparable quality I

neurotically and superstitiously allowed this new setback to knock me off course once

again. I folded the darkroom and proceeded to get thoroughly lost once more.

A few more years of under-achieving confusion, that fuelled several dramatic and


traumatic manoeuvres, forced me to accept that the only way to find a negotiable

road in my life was to U-Turn all the way back to square one and somehow complete

my abandoned degree. For fear of inviting further more bad luck I chose a fine art,

rather than a photography BA. This gave me a wider remit and broader, speculative

aims, though I soon found my way to the college darkrooms, both making new images

and revisiting an archive of negatives which seemed to offer a foundation on which I

could rebuild.

Soon after starting to believe photography would form the substance of my fine art

degree, all my negatives (everything I had made and retained, all the way back to my

original foundation course) disappeared - either lost or stolen. I never found them

or discovered what happened to them and once again I felt as if the very spirit of

photography kicking me in the teeth in return for my passion, insisting, by a kind of

violent force, that I take another route, rather than enjoy any cosy reconciliation with

the medium.

After graduating I lived like a hermit in a studio for several years and again bounced

between short-lived labouring jobs and the dole. By keeping myself to myself and

to my art I resolved to test and examine as much of both as I could, aided by the

philosophical level of scrutiny I had gained on my fine art degree. At a weak moment

I again accepted a family gift. This time it was an old, used Rolleiflex that my mother

had noticed me covet. Like my grandmother, she knew I was still struggling, well into

my maturity, to find my feet, and believed that as photography had provided me with

a way and a direction me once it might well do so again.

The Rolleiflex‘s square format, its professional and nostalgic associations, its higher

quality, larger negative and superior lens (most of which my father’s camera so poorly

imitated), plus the relative care and patience required to use it, all inspired me to

make a new kind of picture and allowed me to grasp something more abstract and

fundamental about photography than I’d previously understood i.e. this kind of

camera is not a grasper of content like a 35 mm SLR, but more a catcher of light –

qualities of light, quantities of light, changing light. As such the Rolleiflex brought me

40 - 41


closer to (though not necessarily back to) certain fundamentals of photography.

I pursued photography in tandem with my newly acquired research skills,

considering light as an aspect of physics, and more symbolically as an aspect of

ethics, psychology and philosophy. The camera became a live-in companion for my

self-imposed solitude and the heart of my life in my studio. Every aspect of life seemed

related to light, punctuated and articulated by light and the peculiar way in which

light, through photography, records and describes a singular event and an entire

life. The objects, drawings and writings I made at this time were also preoccupied

with the passage of time. All were, in one way or another, other means of recording,

measuring and illustrating time’s passage.

After about seven years, when this investigation seemed exhausted and as wolves at

the door became impossible to placate I gave up my home and studio, put my camera

away again and studied for an MA that turned into a PhD revolving around art and

theories of time. By the time I completed the last of my possible exams I finally

found a sustainable way to support myself financially and consequently returned to

photography as a fine at practice, beginning to exhibit in a professional context.

The works I have since made include randomly chosen images from my archive,

printed with purposeful poverty on the outdated papers that came with my

grandmother’s gift, and pictures purposefully bruised and scratched when a new,

professional film was forced to pass uncomfortably and incongruously through an old,

amateur camera of my dad’s vintage. I also made an artist’s book, titled The Time

Before That, featuring a set of old slides I had made in the week before I discovered

my father was terminally ill. These images were accompanied by two short pieces of

writing reflecting on this act of reclamation.

Exhibiting images has led me into extended debate and experiments concerning the

materiality, phenomenology and event-uality involved in the encounter between a

photograph, space, and human perception.



After thirty fragmented and interrupted years, repeatedly attempting to reconcile my

own present with my past, always using the medium that seems best suited to that

purpose it now feels clearer to me that, by simply disobeying linear and chronological

history (e.g. in the way that the disorganised archive found in a biscuit-tin full of snaps

allows us to do) we can happily scramble, mix and connect times, events, people and

places otherwise distinguished and separated by any ‘official,’ ‘true,’ or established

linear narrative.

It also seems too simplistic and psychoanalytic to imagine that in my work I have been

trying to reconnect with my nine year-old self, reflected in that distorting, fun-palace

mirror or the one praying by the pool, in those first photographs I ever took. Nor am

I trying to reconnect with the person I was in the week before I learned my father was

going to die, with the grieving adolescent who tore up a half-developed print and

quit college. Nor am I trying to reconnect with my father himself, the father of my

youth or the father of his own relative youth who briefly loved photography before I

was conceived.

As a fine artist, trained on the cusp of the modernist/postmodernist paradigms and

now somewhere other than either, I am using photography to articulate, not only my

own stories but also the story or ‘biography’ of photography itself, trying to make

some (modernist) objective observation about its essence amid a (postmodernist)

swirl of cultural and subjective, atemporal and eclectic relativism.

As I continue to make progress in these directions I come to feel that, far from ever

reclaiming, retrieving or understanding photography, I (perhaps ‘we’) always start out

anew. We are always ‘back at square one’ with photography, considering every

possible material manifestation of images - thick, thin, large, small, framed, unframed,

poor, fine, wall-mounted, floor-bound, vulnerable, strong, perfect, destroyed,

expensive, cheap, beautiful, ugly. Even as it promises to pinpoint our existence in

space and time photography thus continues to disorientate, scramble and transvalue

42 - 43


whatever values we offer up to it, throwing them back at us and forcing us to further

consider value per se.

Photography thus makes us search hard for an adequate response to its unique

proposition, while raising unprecedented questions, about a human life as a material

object rendered animate, and yet rendered barely material, and ultimately inanimate

and immaterial by the mysterious actions of time.



44 - 45



46 - 47



48 - 49



50 - 51



52 - 53



54 - 55



Photography and Crisis

For anyone engaged with the continuing discourse around photography’s

medium-specificity, crisis seems to be the word. Crisis – which appears with

maddening frequency in all discussions around the photographic – is the product of a

celebration of diversity, turned to the realization of irresolvable irresolution. For what

shapes the pattern of recent photographic practice is a willful rejection of many

culturally embedded photographic conventions, many of which are played out around

a discussion of depiction and abstraction, virtuality and the material stuff of

photography, but all of which are united in their rejection of the image as complete

record. This fragmentation and incompletion, the product of the push and pull

not only of one medium up against another, but of a whole new agency and utility

of the photographic, has resulted in a ‘crisis’, which seems to have bred a

wide-scale understanding, cast in the negative, regarding the expansiveness of

recent photography.

George Baker, in his pivotal text, ‘Photography’s Expanded Field’ uses crisis to

describe a medium pulled between painting and cinema (a distinctly over-egged

frame of reference); using the model of his tutor Rosalind Krauss’ ‘Sculpture in the

Expanded Field’ – and it is interesting, as an aside, to note that approaches to

sculpture might become a model for photographic criticism, as this is where the text’s

value really lies – Baker states that the new Photography is ‘Not Static’ and ‘Not

Narrative’ (for this read ‘Not Architecture’ and ‘Not Landscape’ in sculpture): this at

least might allow for the photographic image to have a less specified form of action or

agency: stasis and narrative being reductive notions concerning what photography

actually does. For Joan Fontcuberta, in ‘Photography - Crisis of History’, the

predicament is technological (and secondly, political and economical). The dubious

hope for an elusive and totalising photographic ontology seems to reside here (as

it can elsewhere, in the reunification of photography beyond analogue and digital).

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A complete picture of photography is undermined - as it is and perhaps always will

be - by technological advancements that are the product of what wecontinue to call

late capitalism. Alongside military and political conquest, capitalism produces rapid

technological change in which the destabilizing new is prioritized and morally

sanctified: we rarely see beyond technological development, identifying stronger

continuities. Prosser et al’s ‘Picturing Atrocity’ – with its subtitle ‘Photography in

Crisis’, whilst it has no such doubts about the representational role of the medium,

nevertheless anguishes over the action of this representation – ‘Photography in Crisis’

here plays off the double meaning of Photography’s role in the representation of war

and conflict, ands its own internalized discourses and instrumentality.

More broadly, discussions about Photography display a notion of crisis frequently

through other means, especially that of death or demise. Since Barthes, death has

lingered like a bad smell around all that photography sees and does, its ability

to outlive the agent that produces the image having no comparable anchor in

painting, sculpture, or even much of film. Photography seems particularly, peculiarly

melancholic. It should not be a surprise to note that Photography here seems

to have inherited, and acts out a new model of the modernist endgame of the death

of painting (a different and narrower death that photography uses addresses).

Fred Ritchin’s account of digital photography, ‘After Photography’, seems to imagine

a post-photographic condition (without necessarily specifying that would be) and this

seems to be a long, if distant echo of Marcel Duchamp’s famous comment: “You know

exactly how I feel about photography. I would like to see it make people despise

painting until something else will make photography unbearable.” Duchamp is apt in

pointing to a new target for the venom of artists and critics, and photography is, we

must accept, now technologically superceded as truly cutting edge or state of the art

- which is not to place it as antique or outmoded. The diminishing role and

repositioning of documentary photography surely lays testament to an altered

technological emphasis in our broader culture, especially in the rapid turnover of

information and short-span news cycles. As a result, documentary photography has

similarly been re-theorized. TJ Demos, writing about the artist Mitra Tabrizian,

describes a practice ‘Beyond The Limits of Photography’, and in his opening survey


to the book Vitamin Ph discusses what he calls ‘The Ends of Photography’: both are

oriented, following Demos’ schema, towards the construction of new forms of the

documentary image, which of course will wed it to a specific utility, a return to

functionality after the frivolity of much expressionistic art.

If some of diagnoses of photography’s demise seem provisional, or a non-committal,

some commentaries are positively hyperbolic: the 2010 symposium at SF MOMA

asked gravely ‘Is Photography Over?, whilst more selectively, Eric Rosenberg’s text

states ‘Photography is Over, If You Want It’. Sometimes, the panic is so effusive, as

in Aspen Art Museum’s recent ‘The Anxiety of Photography” that symptoms appear

to render Photography a patient. But how exactly is Photography anxious? Or

who is anxious for it? Of course, Rosenberg is referring, as is Ritchin and many

other commentators, to our expectation of photography as faithful or objective

representation of our times. Yet in the context of the digital (if we weren’t perceptive

enough already), we know that images cannot be trusted as indexical markers. And in

the appearance of the analogue, in the appearance of the digital, we are aware of the

thingliness of the photograph, something that is also not new. So what kind of panic is

photography undergoing, exactly? Only of symptoms that were always in plain sight.

Photography has become a hypochondriac.

The diagnosis here frequently is rendered in the negative – photography is in

decline, is at the ends of its life. Like so many newspaper columns that need filling,

this seems convenient at best. The glut of discourse around photography’s crises

more often than not exposes the vast space between so much criticism and the

practice of photography itself, which is experimental, expansive, playful and

open-ended. Baker for one, frequently deploys the most established and static of

photographers (Wall, Sherman, Lockhart) to explore ideas that are resonant and

contemporaneous. That photographers and artists have found a new vast space in

which to use photography is indicative not of the medium’s death, but of its

reconstitution and ongoing relevance. Writers simply need to keep up.

58 - 59


Duncan Wooldridge is an artist, writer and curator. He curated the exhibition ‘Anti-Photography’ for Focal Point Gallery in 2011, and has written

for Source, Eikon and Art Monthly. He is Course Director for the BA Photography at Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts, London

The book was produced as part of

the exhibition There will be Others

20 June - 30 July 2012


Keh Ng

Matthew Stock

Copy Editor

Keh Ng

Matthew Stock


Paul Crump



The Modern Language Experiment

First published 2012


Available to buy at


© the modern language experiment 2012

All rights reserved. No part of this book

may be reprinted or reproduced or

utilised in anyform or by any mechanical,

electronic or other means known with

out the permission in writing from

the publishers.

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