IN DE­FENCE OF IMAGES

The Photographer's Mail - - Editorial - Rebecca Frog­ley

Be­ing a pho­tog­ra­pher my­self, I be­lieve — as you might ex­pect — that the pho­to­graphic medium is a very spe­cial and sig­nif­i­cant one. At its most com­plex, it brings to­gether time, place, and nar­ra­tive to dif­fuse ob­jec­tive in­for­ma­tion via a sub­jec­tive gaze. That said, I hope you’ll ex­cuse my say­ing that I some­times feel ex­hausted by the pres­ence of images — well, the sheer num­ber of them that sur­round us, any­way.

The con­tem­po­rary im­age, now lib­er­ated from the frame, has been thrust into the dig­i­tal uncer­tainty. Best un­der­stood as a col­lec­tion of eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble bi­nary dig­its, this un­con­strained dig­i­tal macro­cosm is com­prised of bil­lions of pix­els or­ga­nized within mil­lions of images, stored across mul­ti­ple plat­forms. They de­mand im­me­di­ate ac­knowl­edge­ment but are rarely fo­cused on for a sus­tained amount of time.

And it’s this lack of at­ten­tion that po­ten­tially evap­o­rates the pho­to­graph’s merit. In a world over­whelmed by an ex­po­nen­tial flood of images, it’s no won­der that the un­set­tling ques­tion, ‘but is the im­age a pho­to­graph?’ con­tin­ues to be posed by some, al­most two cen­turies since the very first pho­to­graph was taken.

With con­tem­po­rary pho­tog­ra­phy hav­ing less to do with aes­thetic cre­ations and more to do with in­tel­lec­tual and emo­tional re­sponses, it’s be­com­ing in­creas­ingly clear that we don’t have any firm idea as to what the fine-art pho­to­graph is sup­posed to look like, any­way. The chal­lenge, in­stead, is in defin­ing what drives the im­age: why it was made, what it means, and the so­cial or cul­tural con­ver­sa­tions it par­tic­i­pates in.

In this is­sue, our reg­u­lar colum­nist Kaye Davis dis­cusses Lisa Saad’s The Anony­mous Man series — the work awarded Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Pro­fes­sional Pho­tog­ra­phy’s (AIPP) most con­tro­ver­sial award of 2016, the Aus­tralian Pro­fes­sional Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year. The series of com­pos­ite images ap­peared to tease the bound­aries of art and de­sign, lead­ing land­scape pho­tog­ra­pher Ken Dun­can to la­bel the awards as “hi­jacked by ma­nip­u­la­tors”, among other things.

An­other per­spec­tive, Ken: rather than ad­her­ing to the tra­di­tional photo-mak­ing process, Lisa’s process is in the ser­vice of ideas. Though made up of more than one ex­po­sure, each com­pos­ite is the sin­gu­lar ex­e­cu­tion of the artist’s vi­sion — and such a vi­sion can be deeply com­pelling when car­ried out with con­vic­tion.

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