Parataxis, power and the photograph

Hillman, John and Niva Millious, Victoria (2014) Parataxis, power and the photograph. In: Photomedia 2014, March 2014, Helsinki, Finland.

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Abstract / Summary

This paper considers how the juxtaposition of disparate perceptual elements forms the experience of encountering the image. We argue that the image is perhaps best understood not as a unitary narrative but as a fragmentary encounter. This poses a problem for scholars who use photographs in their research. What must be bracketed or exposed so that the researcher can engage with photographic sense-making given this paratactic encounter?

To address this methodological quandary, this paper considers how two seemingly irreconcilable subjects — community based participatory photographic practices and 3D fetal photography — organize an ongoing conversation about affect, subjectivity and power relationships. We ask: What are the image researcher’s obligations to understand the multiple clauses that arise from or organize the viewer's encounter with the photograph? The focus is to identify how viewership constructs the understanding of images. To be interested in the power of the photograph is to engage with a process that deals with the real exterior and psychological interior spaces. As Bergson suggested, the ‘image’ offers transcendence between the object (exterior) and consciousness (interior) and thus the very capacity to engage multiple, impartial encounters. These two spaces (object-exterior and conscious-interior) we argue, are often understood or articulated through narratives and memories that may express something of the power of the photograph and the agency of the viewer. Drawing on Bourriaud’s relational aesthetics, the research has so far indicated that the function of photography and the photograph may be to create a social circumstance in which these exterior and interior spaces intersect, organising and joining random fragments of perception. How can scholars engage fruitfully with this multiplicity?

To address this we consider whether the power of the image is not in what it represents but in what it draws together. If the object of photography is not the image itself, but the thing-power of the image, which, again, is inherently capable of producing and being produced by multiple encounters, then how are we to use photographs in our research? We argue that if the power of images is not “a given” but rather one that must be inferred, then a further exploration of the affective and emotional responses to images is needed. This may lead to an enhanced understanding of how responses to images are interwoven and embedded within our ideological frameworks, and further, how these frameworks themselves both stabilize but also potentially limit our image-knowledge. In turn this analysis serves to revise our understanding of the complex relationships that perpetuate and make possible photographic meaning.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: Arts > Photography
Courses by Department: The Institute of Photography > Photography
Depositing User: John Hillman
Date Deposited: 09 Apr 2015 08:41
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2017 16:06


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