Each Wild Idea
Each wild idea
Batchen, G. (2001) Each wild idea. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Batchen writes engagingly (and, essentially) interestingly in this series of essays developed from his published articles. They range over an eclection † of topics.
Desiring Production - Photography did not come as a surprise when Fox Talbot and Daguerre (and Bayard) invented it, the world had been ready and waiting for it for decades. Batchen, as we will see, does not take kindly to most photo histories. According to Sarah Boxer in the NY Times, this is also the theme of his book, Burning with Desire, so I might abandon my plan to buy that and trouser the £40.
Australian Made - I mentioned this one in the blog. There was no published 'scholarly history' study on Australian photography until 1988 when two came along and, pleasingly, one looked at the artistic side of things, the other more sociological. The timing of Australia's development as a (Western-style) society has more-or-less coincided with that of photography.
If only (I noted, regarding scholarly histories') the same could be said for British photography, or, even better, for American.
The books are, Gael Newton, Shades of Light: Photography and Australia, 1839-1988 and Anne-Marie Willis, Picturing History: A History of Photography. Amazon doesn't have a s/h copy of either.
Vernacular Photographs - Batchen disapproves of the absence of this from most photo-histories too as it comprises most of the photography that there is. There reasons he gives for the vernacular being ignored by mainstream (if that's what it is) photography is that it has little monetary value and it does not fit neatly and conveniently into the standard narrative of photography's development.
He draws attention to the physicality of some of the vernacular byroads, recalling that Daguerreotypes had weight and presence, often heavy and ornate mounts and had to be held at a certain angle to be viewed. Similarly framed and painted tintypes had a physical presence; family albums (containing a visual family history) sat next to family bibles (where genealogies were recorded); in scrapbooks, photographs were mounted next to souvenirs building life histories; the Mexican tradition of fotoescultura (new to me) is described.
This diversity needs a new approach and a new taxonomy that is as much sociological as artistic.
Taking and Making - Batchen opens by asking 'when is a photograph made?' When the shutter is released, when the image is selected from the other exposures, when it is exhibited? [He doesn't mention this, but I would venture it is sometimes when the picture is visualised, as I realised in the exercise to illustrate poetry (Exc. 2.3): when I've had the idea, it sometimes is not necessary to actually take the photograph to achieve the satisfaction of a solution.] He then lets go of the question almost entirely and sets off on the real purpose of the essay, taking a swipe at Stieglitz and the Oz snapper, Max Dupain, or more accurately in the case of the latter, rather more at the Oz art establishment.
b: 1864 d: 1946
Stieglitz is a towering figure in Photography's Firmament and Paula one of his best known images, often shown and often cited by writers on photography and the photographer himself as a milestone for Stieglitz and the medium in general as signalling the end of pictorialism and the beginning of modernism. It is usually dated as taken in 1889, but the earliest print Batchen can evidence is 1916, while Stieglitz claimed in 1937 to have shown it in 1905. Batchen concludes that Stieglitz saw the trend of 'European avant-garde art', checked his negative file and positioned himself in the vanguard of that trend: and that subsequently critics and curators have gone along with that because it fits the accepted history of photography.
b: 1911 Oz / d: 1992
Site - Wikipedia
A not dissimilar thing happened with Dupain's Sunbaker. Dupain holds a position of eminence in Oz Snaps equivalent (if such a thing were possible) to Stieglitz in the US. Sunbaker was probably taken in 1937 but was not published until 1948, gradually became well known and had retrospectively been credited with a much greater influence than the evidence justifies. There are two noticeably different versions of Sunbaker and also of Dupain's Bondi and The floater but that is too much detail to detain us here.
More importantly, Batchen attributes Dupain's awareness of artistic movements being afoot to a 1931 article in The Studio by G.H. Saxon Mills, Modern Photography: Its Development, Scope and Possibilities ‡. Batchen says of the article,
Saxon Mills defines "modern photography" as something "whose aim is partly or wholly aesthetic, as opposed to photography which is merely documentary and representational." Seeking to broaden his definition beyond the bounds of a "distorted" and sometimes "unintelligible" modern art practise, Saxon Mills suggests that "it is in the halfway between subjective and objective that the camera finds its true métier." Batchen on G.H. Saxon Mills, Modern Photography: Its Development, Scope and Possibilities (The Studio, 1931)
Readers will be pleased to learn that I have tracked down a copy of the article (paid for by not buying Batchen's other book) and it is on its way from Amsterdam. I have one other old copy of The Studio, 1966 on Mondrian. [24Jun] Here it is.
Batchen ends beautifully,
Once again, the semiotic mobility of photography surely requires an equally mobile historicization. Neither The sunbaker nor Paula has a stable moment of origin: like all other photographs, they exist only as a state of continual fabrication, constantly being made and remade within the twists and turns of their own unruly passage through space and time. he question is, Can we now develop a history of photography that acknowledges this same complexity? Can we at last abandon our investment in originary moments and dare to articulate instead the temporal and ontological convolutions that make photography the strange and fascinating phenomenon that is is? Well, can we? Geoffrey Batchen, Each wild idea p.106
‡ and also to Forsyth Hardy's Grierson on Documentary.
In Post-Photography , Batchen addresses the favourite Photography←→Art. His view is that photography has been absorbed into the mix of the arts and that photo-practicioners are straddling media. He describes and interprets (at length) several.
Obviously the artists have moved on to make other works since the Batchen mentions and those will be seen on their websites. Only the works references by Batchen are mentioned here.
b: 1961, US
Mike and Doug Starn
The photograph is 'twisted and shaped into a sculptural element'.
integrates distressed photos with found bric-a-brac to produce large composites.
films videos on Super-8 film, paints the film and lays it in strips. There are closeups on the web site where you can see the fascinating detail of the work.
pixelates childhood photos then recreates the pixels as coloured sugar cubes. This is much better than it sounds and takes a stride further than Ruff. More on Stevens here in the Nichers page.
b: 1953 Lansing, Mi.
Site - Wikipedia
builds models of prisons and photographs the models. Batchen says,
Such photography necessarily haunts its own conceptual armature, insists on acting as its own medium. Geoffrey Batchen, Each wild idea p.122
The two remaining entries in this essay reverse the process of photography: rather than render a three dimensional instant in a two dimension image, here photographs are refashioned in 3D and the instant made permanent.
b: 1955 Hammersmith
Site - Wikipedia
London-born, but Australia based, Redgate has reconstructed (or caused to be reconstructed) the contents of some of Fox Talbot's still lifes.
Site - Wikipedia
Bolande had the clever notion of fashioning Harold Edgerton's Milkdrop Coronetin porcelain. Batchen quotes A.D. Coleman describing the piece as 'essentially a one-liner', but he is significantly more impressed. While I would quite like to have one as an ornament, the piece does carry a hint of the museum souvenir: just the sort of thing they have in the British Museum and National Gallery shops. Here's the Edgerton entry.
It is unfortunate that Batchen's piece predates Eleanor Macnair's playful Play-Doh reliefs which she photographs for posterity (and earnings) and then reduces to its prior muti-monochrome state. And then, also covered on the Pastiche Page, there's Cortis & Sonderegger's Double Take and various artists working in Lego. Here's the Baldessari entry.
Ectoplasm - text
Site - Wikipedia
Photogenics - text
Obedient Numbers, Soft Delight - text
Da(r)ta - text
† This ought to be a word but, actually, it is just a 1960s folk rock band.