Photographer as object not subject

I photograph not to represent but to encounter and experience object-connection. I photograph not as the privileged subject-photographer or in order to create the privileged photo-object (the decisive moment) but within a flat non-correlationist photographic ontology.

I look to work with this philosophy by photographing a democracy of objects, connecting with objects within objects.

In specific terms I look to photograph objects in assemblages – not in the sense of objects in context or with other objects as a background but in terms of how what are sometimes seen as a hierarchy of objects are best seen, and photographed as flat.

As an example I photographed discarded human-made objects. I did not approach this as ‘litter’; an invasion in a natural landscape or as a correlationist human intervention in a separate ecology; or as a sign of some wider process or history.

The broken biro on the tarmac carries a history. It was made in a factory, in a country, in a system. It has a carbon footprint, a chemical presence and half-life. But it also has a presence and actuality as I encounter it. At the subatomic level, it is in motion. Its relation to the tarmac (within its own history) is dynamic as molecules react and inter-react. The pen and the pen/tarmac assemblage (itself an object) has an agentic capacity. It does things in the world semiotically perhaps but also materially. It changes the world, the chemical balance of the environment, perhaps the psychological or aesthetic balance of the pedestrian. As the photographer object in that encounter I am inevitably in object-connections with the biro, the tarmac, the light and a myriad of other objects.

I also photographed human-created objects literally entangled with natural objects. Again this was not as a way exploring or representing ecology or relations of production.

The disused mooring ring on the canal path near the 2012 fence can ‘stand’ for old east-end industry replaced by olympic brands, security and ‘legacy’. But the ring is not just a sign of something more. Nor is it just the trace of historical and political economic processes or human impact on ‘the environment’. There is no background or context here. The ring does things in the world at an ideological scale but also at a material scale. It rusts or leaks chemicals into the soil (alongside the toxins released by 2012 excavations). But when the ring-object is addressed in a flat ontology with the grass, the long-forgotten ironworks, the canalboat, its moorings licence, British Waterways and its internal memos proposing changes to the rules for the Olympics – that network of human and unhuman actants is real, present, actual, power-full and governmental (1).

Finally I photographed the encounter between natural objects. Here there is even more pressure to address the object-connections as a network, an ecological assemblage of objects.

The leaf from one plant fallen on another can be read (in reality or in my image) as both a sign of but also an example of an eco-network, nature, Gaia. Whether seen as I walk along the path, seen in an image or never seen the two objects connect within what Timothy Morton calls a hyperobject. Here the ecosystem is not the field within which objects connect but an object within which they connect. The system is just a special kind of object

Of course none of these objects and object-connections, networks or assemblages require my presence as photographer. But as photographer-object I am present. My object presence changes the character of the assemblage object as does the object presence of my camera, its hardware and software. That is true whether I press the button and take a picture or not, whether the assemblage before the lens ever becomes an image (online or off) or not. Each of those possibilities are potential new objects, the site of new connections. OOPh is merely the sensibility to those connections and objects.

These were object-oriented photographic practices not merely because at the moment of taking I refused the discourse of representation or a hierarchy of objects but because I refused correlationism. I as photographer was object not subject. I was implicated in that encounter. I connected with my objects within my photographic practice and ultimately within my photograph object. I could not stop being human but I could stop privileging that position and address it as human-object. It is this sense of the photographer as one object among many that led to this project.

Within any photography practice or photograph object there are objects, object connections and objects connecting: the things before the lens and the things behind. The human photographer is one object but so are other hardware and software objects… including JPEG.


1. The key distinction here between OOO and classical ANT is that for Harman these ‘separate’ objects exceed their relations. They have an actuality beyond the network. Their power is not dependent on the network or their relations.