Let’s be clear, I’m not comparing myself to Robert Frank. I was a hack photographer, a lens for hire variously photographing CEOs and CFOs for business magazines, racehorses for sports pages and some reportage for charities. Now I’m a flaneur with a fone, photographing ‘things of the day‘. No, it is not false modesty when I say that Frank and I are different photographers.
But I think we do have a common concern. At least in The Americans, Frank was interested in objects and exploring the nature of the photographer, the photo work and photography. He did this through looking to photographically explore ‘America’. In my Olympic Arcades Project I am interested in objects and looking to understand the nature of the jpeg photographer, the jpeg photo work and jpeg photography. I am doing this through photographically exploring ‘2012’.
We both set out on road trips. Frank chose to take a Ford Business Coupe and drive around America. I chose a bicycle and chose to (try and) bike around Tower Hamlets. Not as glamorous perhaps but a sort of road trip I like to think.
We both set out to photograph objects. Frank had obviously not read Graham Harman or Jane Bennett but he used his camera with a sense of vibrant matter and objects in their actuality, real but withdrawing, exceeding their relations, qualities and accidents. His jukeboxes, cigars, flags and cars form a Latour Litany of unhuman objects in a democracy of objects alongside the people whom he photographed. The scenes he framed were collections of objects.
The scenes I framed were also full of objects. But I chose to focus on fewer objects at a time – a single piece of litter, a remnant of an industrial past, an industrial artefact. What is more I chose to leave out the human object. Very different in look but sharing a common belief in the power and presence of actual, real objects. And of course when both our litanies became photographs they became another object: (part of) the photo work.
It is when as photographers Frank and I created those photo objects and created a photo-work (Frank’s paper road movie and my digital road stream), that we explored the ways in which objects connect within the heart of other objects. The Americans and The Olympic Arcades are nested objects, a space of connection between real and sensual objects and qualities that follow Harman’s FourFold.
The second parallel lies in our shared concern for our medium. We both understood that our projects were as much about photography as they were about their nominal subject. The Americans says as much about Frank the photographer, the photo work and photography as it does about America. That is why the book remains seminal. Photographers have to respond to it. They may echo or react against it but the book and the practice cannot be ignored.
I look to create a work that says something about the jpeg photographer, the jpeg image and stream and jpeg photography.
When we look at the objects created by Frank’s particular Leica practice we discover something about his position, his work and his medium, just as doubtless he discovered more about them as he worked. I have discovered things about jpeg and jpeg photography by using and abusing it. I look to my objects to say something about the jpeg photographer, jpeg photo works and jpeg photography and about what is now my research question: what is the nature, effects and connections at work in jpeg?
Frank’s photographs (and book) and my jpeg/RAW files are not texts to be read. They do not represent vibrant matter or object-oriented philosophy, they are vibrant material objects. They are traces of practice as well as theory but that does not mean that the images/files are somehow secondary. An object-oriented photography as well as an object-oriented photography/media studies accounts for images, photographer, camera, software and protocol as worthy of notice and thought because all of those objects are in play within imaging.
Frank never ‘wrote up’ his discoveries about photography, the photo work or the photographer, nor an account of his object-oriented philosophy or practice. I will, and I will do it through a consideration of the two road trips, photographic practice, and photo works in parallel… with all due deference to Frank.