Photography and Its Failure to Represent.

Hillman, John (2017) Photography and Its Failure to Represent. Doctoral thesis, University of the Arts London and Falmouth University.

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Abstract / Summary

This PhD research project examines the agency of photography and the photographic image. The research develops insights into photography as one of the dominant image making, cultural practices in the Twenty-first Century. Its focus is on digital photography and it begins by understanding agency as distributed, connected and networked: properties predominantly associated with an image that is digital. The intended contribution to knowledge is a philosophical engagement with how images embody notions of representational failure because they present themselves as image in support of a fiction of reality. What this means philosophically, is that there is no access to reality other than through representations that fail to represent.

Underpinned by the question as to whether and how “practice interpellates a subject of the signifier” (Burgin, 2011: 196) the research considers the role of photography in helping to determine individuals as viewing subjects. Since photography is the “quintessential practice of life” (Kember & Zylinkska, 2015:07) in which seemingly every moment is recorded, captured and represented, this project investigates how we become who we are through interactions and encounters with photography. I conclude that photographic agency conceals a structure sustained by a form of labour and production that is masked by creativity and enjoyment. The research also provides new ideas towards
understanding how technology has shaped perceptual experiences and aligns agency to algorithms and software.

Since amateurs and casual image-makers – those “without the spirit of mastery” (Barthes 1977/1975: 52) – are the producers of the majority of images we encounter today, much of the inquiry focused on their experiences. This approach, focusing on the amateur, was also taken within the context of the “massive production of photos in the conduct of everyday life” (Hand, 2012: 02) and the “identifiable increase in image-making as an ordinary aspect of people’s lives” (Ibid: 03). In this sense photography is addressed as a dominant cultural practice. Drawing on the experiences of those who take photographs, the research develops an understanding of an interconnected object of inquiry: photography and the photographic image. Practice contributes two fold to this research. Firstly, as the output of photographic labour, secondly, in the form of my own practice, as a set of responses to the theoretical ideas developed within the project.

This research delivers a refined theory of photographic agency. It proposes, through a chain of reasoning, that in photography we do not create likeness of places. Instead, we grasp how unlike places photographs really are and in turn the ground of representation is questioned and repositioned. If photography is not “another visual form of representation, but an immersive economy that offers an entirely new way to inhabit materiality and its relation to bodies, machines and brains” (Rubinstein, 2015), then it is this new, emerging and complex photographic ontology that my project contributes toward.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Photography Images, Photographic
Subjects: Arts > Photography > Digital Photography
Depositing User: Lucy Seale
Date Deposited: 14 Mar 2019 16:36
Last Modified: 23 Nov 2023 14:06


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