Towards an object-oriented photography… again

Following Ian Bogost’s thoughts about Winogrand and mine about Frank, some more half-baked musings about object-oriented photography.

Bogost and I are in agreement about an object-oriented sensibility or at least sensitivity in some photographers. For him it is Winogrand’s taking photographs to see what the world looks like in photographs. For me it’s Frank’s panoply of Americana. These are cameramen with more than just an eye for an object but a realisation that we live and they photograph in world of vibrant objects (to follow Jane Bennett). These are not background or compositional elements. Nor are they signs or representational simulacra. They are real, the things themselves – objects without a subject.

To approach photographic criticism with an object-oriented framework allows a way of seeing the work of Winogrand, Frank and in very different ways maybe August Sander, Irving Penn and Edward Weston as telling an object-truth. It also enables us to read other photographers – artist, journalist or domestic as inevitably imag(in)ing the object. By refusing to move from the object to some space of becoming, potentiality, representation or signification, our photographic seeing takes on a different dimension not only in terms of what the photograph ‘shows’ but also its presence as a digital file, a print, slide or memory. If it is objects all the way down we have a new way of approaching visual culture, scopic regimes and scopic governmentality.

But an objet-oriented sensibility also opens up new spaces of practice. Just as Bogost argues that Winogrand’s freedom from subject-object correlation allowed him to image and imagine with an abandon that opens up the potential for new senses of the visual, so an object focus allows the rest of us to imagine new ways of imag(in)ing.

I’ve begun to play around with a few options (my Thing of the Day catalogue of the objects I live with and through), my object-based apparatuses and JPEG imaging of the of light-object are all looking for ways not of capturing objects or representing them but acknowledging their presence, power, vitality and my position as one among many.

When I trained and worked as a professional photographer, I worked with the idea that my job was to capture the object (person or thing), to represent and re-present. That’s what my editor paid me to do and the readers wanted. I was the subject, author, photographer: it was the object. A professional correlation mirrored by that between viewer and text. This drove the imaging practice, the search for the decisive moment-object. The aggressive, colonising verbs ‘capture’, ‘take’, ‘shoot’ emphasised the metaphysics as much as the patriarchy and power. Here there was no flat ontology.

An object-oriented photography is not just more ‘democratic’ or open in some sort of liberal sense, nor even just more philosophically defensible. It is not even that it might be considered a practice that Timothy Morton may read as more spiritually aware, more open to the network of objects. An object-oriented photography is a challenge. Just as Frank set out with the task of picturing America and Winogrand sought to catalogue things, so an OOP challenges us to add our camera, imaging and imag(in)ing to the panoply of objects in play in a scopic regime and material culture.

3 replies on “Towards an object-oriented photography… again”

  1. Nice.

    The funny thing about Winogrand: he’s my second choice for an object-oriented photography. In my forthcoming book Alien Phenomenology, I spend a long time talking about the work of Stephen Shore, whom I consider the best example–not only because of his tremendous images, but also because of his (later) choice of apparatus, the 8×10 view camera.

    I like the example of Frank too, although his style is different from GW’s and Shore’s, with a stronger focus on individual objects. In any case, these are three of my favorite photographers.

    1. Looking forward to the book… although I hope its published soon so I can work with it, or after I submit! Not just before, please..!

      Interesting you mention the apparatus. Obviously this is something I am working with in my own imaging in terms of (digital) pinhole as a way of exploring the JPEG object. Having used large format apparatuses, it obviously changes the nature of imaging, the pace etc but does it make a particular practice more object-oriented? I think Frank and Winogrand’s (35mm) object-orientation arises from a particular sense of what imaging is, a particular understanding of objects and their sensual/real dimensions.

      The different object assemblage that is a view camera as compared with the assemblage of objects in a Leica or an iPhone is interesting from an OOO p.o.v but I think maybe the practice has a separate OOO dynamic.

    2. Very briefly: In the case of the view camera, it amplifies withdrawal by physically separating the photographer from the scene captured (the photographer looks at the scene but not through the apparatus), and by distorting that view during framing (the reversed glass image), and by obscuring that view during capture (the insertion of plate instead of glass).

      About the book, it’ll be out early 2012. If you need it sooner send me an email.

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