The essays collected in this special issue of Critical Inquiry are devoted to reflection on the shifts in photographically based art practice, exhibition, and reception in recent years and to the changes brought about by these shifts in our understanding of photographic art. Although initiated in the 1960s, photography as a mainstream artistic practice has accelerated over the last two decades. No longer confined to specialist galleries, books, journals, and other distribution networks, contemporary art photographers are now regularly the subject of major retrospectives in mainstream fine-art museums on the same terms as any other artist. One could cite, for example, Thomas Struth at the Metropolitan Museum in New York (2003), Thomas Demand at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) (2005), or Jeff Wall at Tate Modern and MoMA (2006–7). Indeed, Wall's most recent museum show, at the time of writing, The Crooked Path at Bozar, Brussels (2011), situated his photography in relation to the work of a range of contemporary photographers, painters, sculptors, performance artists, and filmmakers with whose work Wall considers his own to be in dialogue, irrespective of differences of media. All this goes to show that photographic art is no longer regarded as a subgenre apart. The situation in the United Kingdom is perhaps emblematic of both photography's increasing prominence and its increased centrality in the contemporary art world over recent years. Tate hosted its first ever photography survey, Cruel and Tender, as recently as 2003, and since then photography surveys have become a regular biannual staple of its exhibition programming, culminating in the appointment of Tate's first dedicated curator of photography in 2010. A major shift in the perception of photography as art is clearly well under way.
Diarmuid Costello is associate professor of philosophy (reader) at the University of Warwick and chair of the British Society of Aesthetics. He is coauthor of Adrian Piper: Passing Time (2013) and coeditor of “The Media of Photography,” a special issue of Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (2012) and “Photography after Conceptual Art,” a special issue of Art History (2009). He is working on two longer projects: Art after Aesthetics? A Critique of Theories of Art after Modernism and On Photography. He was codirector (with Margaret Iversen) of the Arts and Humanities Council research project, “Aesthetics after Photography.” Margaret Iversen is professor in the School of Philosophy and Art History, University of Essex, England. Her most recent books are Beyond Pleasure: Freud, Lacan, Barthes (2007), Writing Art History (coauthored with Stephen Melville, 2010), and Chance (2010). Her other published books include Alois Riegl: Art History and Theory (1993) and Mary Kelly (1997). She coedited “Photography after Conceptual Art” for Art History (2009) and was director (with Diarmuid Costello) of the Arts and Humanities Research Council research project, “Aesthetics after Photography.”
I would like to set aside, for now, the distinction between art and art with a capital A because this distinction may not exist, except as a polemical tool or an expression of personal opinion.
Fifteen years ago, in “Marks of Indifference” I proposed that it was the dialectic of negation in which conceptual art implicated photography that paradoxically breached the final, most subtle, barriers to the acceptance of photography as art.
That implied, I think, that photography played some central role in the elaboration of conceptual art, what I am going to call the conceptual reduction of autonomous art. I don't know whether I meant to imply that or not, but, if I did, I shouldn't have because photography had nothing to do with the success of conceptual art; photography played no significant role in it. Photography was a sort of passenger on that trip. We can put it even more strongly and say that the very presence of photographs in works or discourse distracted or diminished the logic of the arguments conceptual artists were making.
The most rigorous conceptual artists had little or nothing to do with photography because they had no need for it and recognized that, as depiction, it could contribute nothing to the reduction they were seeking to establish.
Jeff Wall studied art history at the University of British Colombia and the Courtauld Institute of Art, London. His early work addressed conceptual art via photography. In 1976 he began using color photography, culminating in his signature format of large color transparencies mounted in light-boxes. In 1991 he started using digital montage, and he began making large black-and-white photographs in 1995. His work is widely exhibited internationally, including recent retrospectives at MoMA and Tate Modern. He is the recipient of numerous prizes, including the Hasselblad Foundation Award for Photography.
A concatenation of forces surrounded the rise of the photographic to the center of contemporary art practice. During the sixties the author-function was seriously critiqued. Roland Barthes announced the death of the author in 1967, and Michel Foucault answered his own question, what is an author? deconstructively in 1969, replacing what William Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley had already termed the intentional fallacy with a model of the cultural constructedness of all notions of creative agency. At the same time, notions of automatism generated by psychoanalytic models of mind and dada and surrealist conceptions of artistic and literary practice joined forces with sixties anticanonical, postexpressionist notions of the artwork as the deskilled, mechanical product of a consumerist society whose forces yielded the fantasy of individual will. Meanwhile, also during the sixties, painters such as Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg began to use found photographs very overtly either as part and parcel of the generative process of their work or inside their work along with other kinds of materials. And thus the medium-specific boundaries between the photographic and the painterly, just to take the two, began to crumble for good, though the art-school disciplines and museum departments dedicated to these two media continued to hold sway.
Carol Armstrong is professor of the history of art at Yale University. Among her publications on photography are Scenes in a Library: Reading the Photograph in the Book, 1843–1875 (1998). She is also a practicing photographic artist.
By the time photography was introduced to the public at the end of the 1830s, the fine arts idea was already exhibiting resilience through shifts of both extension and meaning. As to extension, one of Immanuel Kant's candidates, oratory, dropped out quickly. Music has always posed a problem for the mimesis constituent. In intension or cognitive meaning the components soon began internecine jostling, with shifting alliances—rather like ancient Athens, Sparta, Thebes, and Persia. Famously, the mental-content constituent, arising from “genius,” expanded in meaning and importance, at notable expense to craft and mimesis—thus the emergence of romanticism, as a popular term for creativity and self-expression. This is already well exemplified in John Stuart Mill's 1833 essays on poetry and genius, which demoted craft and deemphasized mimesis in favor of what he called “the expression or uttering forth of feeling.” Thirteen years later, Edgar Allan Poe responded with a craft-rhetoric put-down of genius and self-expression, although he later emphasized beauty. As for the aesthetic component, while Mill was willing to finesse a case for beauty in terms of self-expression, by the end of the century Leo Tolstoy's self-expression approach in What Is Art? would banish Poe's beauty from the answer as decadent hedonism. The pace did not slow in the twentieth century, when, leaping ahead, R. G. Collingwood explicitly demoted craft in favor of expression, thereby taking down mimesis—as were artists of the time—while Benedetto Croce placed beauty in the mental expression of the beholder. We scarcely need reminding of what came next: the historic phase of aesthetic or formalist counterattacks against mimesis—later, even against self-expression—with which religious thinkers such as Jacques Maritain had shown little patience from the start.
Patrick Maynard is emeritus professor of philosophy, University of Western Ontario. He is the author of The Engine of Visualization: Thinking through Photography and Drawing Distinctions: The Varieties of Graphic Expression, and coeditor of Aesthetics (Oxford Readers).
As traditional patronage gave way to new markets in the modern period, artists went in search of a public. The public sphere, driven inward by the private interests of capitalism, increasingly offered art a pure exchange-value and the role of a luxury good (something to match the couch). Artists, seeing no place else to go, pursued an endgame, sustaining art's vitality through inventive, elemental, and critically intelligent forms of negation. A key question was how to contend with the sham of taste—and artistic subjectivity more generally—as a refuge or antidote to the crass engines of the market.
Robin Kelsey is Shirley Carter Burden Professor of photography in the Department of the History of Art and the Department of Architecture at Harvard University.
Of the generation of post-1960s artists who looked to photography for a new set of conceptual tools, Gerhard Richter stands apart because he has uniquely professed a desire to “use painting as a means to photography,” that is, to bring painting to the structure and sensibility of the photograph. To ascribe sensibility or perceptive acuity to a process so mechanical as photography may strike the reader as either romantically fey or even offensively anthropomorphizing, given that the aesthetic questions at stake have exactly to do with philosophy's “mind-independent” designation of the medium. But the metaphor has pedigree among historians of photography, having been articulated by Walter Benjamin in his “Little History of Photography,” where he characterizes photography as a medium possessed of an “optical unconscious,” a nature specifically “other” in its ability to present the “spark of contingency, of the here and now, with which reality has (so to speak) seared the subject.” It is precisely on the basis of this picture making outside of human agency, Benjamin insists, that “the dubious project of authenticating photography in terms of painting” fails, for it is an attempt to “legitimize the photographer before the very tribunal he was in the process of overturning.” Certainly, it is from this premise of photography's revolutionary capacity that the first critical assessments of the work of “artists using photography” proceeded in the 1970s and continued through the 1980s into the present decade. This is particularly important to keep in mind when assessing what has been called the recent turn to the pictorial in photographic practices because this move has been accompanied by, on one hand, a general pulling away from easily legible, unambivalent documentary content in photographic practices—a tendency that may itself be considered part of a quietly growing, renewed interest in the critical capacity of painting among a new generation of artists—and, on the other, a nuanced exploration of the appropriative lessons of postmodernism, manifested in recent interest in the repurposing of found, or what Benjamin might call “other-determined,” imagery.
Susan Laxton is assistant professor of the history of photography at University of California, Riverside. Her work on play in the visual arts can be found in October, Papers of Surrealism, and scattered among a number of recent anthologies. She is currently finishing a book on ludic strategies in surrealism and has begun work on her next project, pop photography.
It is only now, with the rise of digitalization and the near-obsolescence of traditional technology, that we are becoming fully aware of the distinctive character of analogue photography. This owl-of-Minerva-like appreciation of the analogue has prompted photographic art practices that mine the medium for its specificity. Indeed, one could argue that analogue photography has only recently become a medium in the fullest sense of the term, for it is only when artists refuse to switch over to digital photographic technologies that the question of what constitutes analogue photography as a medium is self-consciously posed. While the benefits of digitalization—in terms of accessibility, dissemination, speed, and efficiency—are universally acknowledged, some people are also beginning to reflect on what is being lost in this great technological revolution. In this context, artists' use of analogue film and the revival of early photographic techniques should be regarded as timely interventions, although these may strike some as anachronistic. This essay does not attempt an ontological inquiry into the essential nature of the analogue; rather, it is an effort to articulate something about the meaning of analogue photography as an artistic medium for contemporary artists by paying close attention to its meaning and stakes for particular artists. Instead of presenting a general survey, I want to consider the work of just two artists, Zoe Leonard and Tacita Dean, both of whose work is concerned with what is being lost. As Leonard put it: “New technology is usually pitched to us as an improvement. … But progress is always an exchange. We gain something, we give something else up. I'm interested in looking at some of what we are losing.” Tellingly, both artists have produced exhibitions simply called Analogue. Leonard gave the title to a large project she did between 1998 and 2009 consisting of 412 silver gelatin and c-prints of local shop fronts in lower Manhattan and poor market stalls around the world. Dean used it for a 2006 retrospective exhibition of her films, photographs, and drawings.
Margaret Iversen is professor in the School of Philosophy and Art History, University of Essex, England. Her most recent books are Beyond Pleasure: Freud, Lacan, Barthes (2007), Writing Art History (coauthored with Stephen Melville, 2010), and Chance (2010). Her other published books include Alois Riegl: Art History and Theory (1993) and Mary Kelly (1997). She coedited “Photography after Conceptual Art” for Art History (2009) and was director (with Diarmuid Costello) of the Arts and Humanities Research Council research project, “Aesthetics after Photography.”
How might philosophers and art historians make the best use of one another's research? That, in nuce, is what this special issue considers with respect to questions concerning the nature of photography as an artistic medium; and that is what my essay addresses with respect to a specific case: the dialogue, or lack thereof, between the work of the philosopher Stanley Cavell and the art historian-critic Rosalind Krauss. It focuses on Krauss's late appeal to Cavell's notion of automatism to argue that artists now have to invent their own medium, both to provide criteria against which to judge artistic success or failure and to insulate serious art from the vacuous generalization of the aesthetic in a media-saturated culture at large. Much in the spirit of ‘Avant-Garde and Kitsch’, paying attention to the medium is once again an artist's best line of defence against the encroachment of new media, the culture industry, and spectacle. That Krauss should appeal to Cavell at all, let alone in such a Greenbergian frame of mind, is surprising if one is familiar with the fraught history of debate about artistic media in art theory since Greenberg. Cavell's work in this domain has always been closely associated with that of Michael Fried, and the mutual estrangement of Fried and Krauss, who began their critical careers as two of Greenberg's leading followers, is legendary.
I have written about the close connection between Fried's and Cavell's conceptions of an artistic medium before. Whereas Fried's and Cavell's early conception of an artistic medium was in a sense collaborative, emerging from an ongoing exchange of ideas at Harvard in the latter half of the 1960s, Krauss's much later appeal to the ideas of automatism and the automatic underpinning Cavell's conception of the photographic substrate of film from the early 1970s is not. In what follows, I try to clarify both the grounds of this appeal and its upshot. Does Krauss's account shed new light on Cavell's, or is she trying to press his terms into service for which they are ill-served? Both could of course be true, the former as a consequence of the latter perhaps. Conversely, do the art historical and philosophical accounts pass one another by? Note that even if the latter were true, its explanation might still prove instructive in the context of an interdisciplinary volume seeking to bring art historians and philosophers into dialogue around the themes of agency and automatism, which is precisely what Krauss's appeal to Cavell turns on.
Diarmuid Costello is associate professor of philosophy (reader) at the University of Warwick and chair of the British Society of Aesthetics. He is coauthor of Adrian Piper: Passing Time (2013) and coeditor of ‘The Media of Photography’, a special issue of The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (2012), and ‘Photography after Conceptual Art’, a special issue of Art History (2009). He is working on two longer projects: Art after Aesthetics? A Critique of Theories of Art after Modernism and On Photography. He was codirector (with Margaret Iversen) of the Arts and Humanities Council research project, ‘Aesthetics after Photography’.
Even as art theory and analytic philosophy have failed to connect in their studies of photography, the two disciplines have joined in tying conceptions of the specific character of photography to ideas about automaticity and agency. In rough caricature, the philosopher reasons: “An item is a work of art only insofar as it is the product of agency, so a photograph is not an art work insofar it is not the product of artistic agency. After all, in Lady Eastlake's colorful words, the ‘obedience of the machine’ in photography is no ‘picturesque agent.’” This much is accepted both by philosophers who go on to conclude that photography is not an art and also by those who defend the contrary. The reasoning on the side of theory and criticism often goes, again in caricature, as follows: “Art works sometimes result from a suppression of agency, and the distinctive ‘obedience of the machine’ in photography is no ‘picturesque agent,’ so the automatism of the photographic machine shapes the distinctive profile of photographic art.” The triadic assemblage of the medium, automatism, and agency is clearly more than a trope in writing on photography; it regulates and structures reasoning about photography, even as it sends that reasoning off in remarkably divergent directions in different disciplines. In the spirit of the nudge towards convergence that this special issue represents, this afterword develops some thoughts that are sparked by and that offer a friendly challenge to the preceding papers. In brief, the triad that controls thinking about photography across disciplines depends on some rather demanding conceptions of agency and automatism. As it turns out, less demanding conceptions of agency and automatism pave the way to a new and more modest conception of the specificity of photography as an art medium. If our common ground is what keeps us apart, perhaps we should find some new common ground?
Dominic McIver Lopes is Distinguished University Scholar and Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of Understanding Pictures (1996), Sight and Sensibility: Evaluating Pictures (2005), A Philosophy of Computer Art (2009), and Beyond Art (forthcoming) in addition to papers on such topics as depiction, the ontology of art, theories of art, and aesthetic value. He is now at work on a book provisionally entitled Four Arts of Photography.
Ruth Leys (“The Turn to Affect: A Critique,” Critical Inquiry 37 [Spring 2011]: 434–72) raises a number of important questions about the conceptual and empirical underpinnings of the affect theories that have emerged in the critical humanities, sciences, and social sciences in the last decade. There are a variety of frameworks for thinking about what constitutes the affective realm (neurological, psychological, social, cultural, philosophical), and there are different preferences for how such frameworks could be deployed. We would like to engage with just one part of that debate: the contributions of Silvan Tomkins's affect theory. We take issue with Leys's formulation that Tomkins's work along with that of Brian Massumi, William Connolly, and Paul Ekman form a group of like-minded theorists. We do not believe this represents an accurate account of the conceptual and empirical commitments of these various authors. By bundling their work together, Leys misses much of what is compellingly critical in each of these writers, and she overlooks what is most invigorating in the debates amongst them. In addition, the specificities of Tomkins's work have been badly served in Leys's essay. In four volumes stretching from 1962 to 1992 (and elaborated in various other empirical and theoretical papers) Tomkins laid out a complex and captivating theory of the human affect system, in which mechanisms of neurological feedback, social scripts, and facial behavior coassemble as affective events. Our response to Leys's essay is motivated by a wish to see more detailed engagements with this theory—the distinctiveness of which we believe has yet to be fully explored in this new affective turn.
Adam Frank is associate professor in the Department of English at the University of British Columbia. He coedited, with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Shame and Its Sisters: A Silvan Tomkins Reader (1995) and has recently completed a book manuscript titled Transferential Poetics, from Poe to Warhol. Elizabeth A. Wilson is professor of women's, gender, and sexuality studies at Emory University. She is the author of Psychosomatic: Feminism and the Neurological Body (2004) and Affect and Artificial Intelligence (2010). Frank and Wilson are cowriting A Silvan Tomkins Handbook (forthcoming).
One does not have to share William Connolly's vitalist affiliations in order to have serious reservations about Ruth Leys's essay and response. Simple phenomenological concerns will do to make one suspicious of her core claim:
From my perspective, intentionality involves concept-possession; the term intentionality carries with it the idea that thoughts and feelings are directed to conceptually and cognitively appraised and meaningful objects in the world. The general aim of my paper is to propose that affective neuroscientists and the new affect theorists are thus making a mistake when they suggest that emotion or affect can be defined in nonconceptual or nonintentional terms.
I worry about the difficulty of defining the boundaries of a notion like conceptual, especially since on the next page Leys claims an equivalence between cognition and signification. There seems at least a tendency toward tautology in equating “nonconceptual” with “nonintentional,” as if one could be used to define the other. But then signification enters the picture, although criteria for signification involve simple recognition and do not implicate the awareness of logical connectives that seem necessary for conceptual and cognitive appraisal. And the Wittgenstein in me worries even more why Leys thinks that intentionality should be confined to only one set of traits despite the fact that a great variety of language games depend on something like intentional awareness.
Charles Altieri is Staffberg Professor of English at University of California, Berkeley. His latest book is entitled Wallace Stevens and the Phenomenology of Value.
The purpose of my article, “The Turn to Affect: A Critique,” was to show that the theorists whose work I analyzed are all committed to the mistaken idea that affective processes are responses of the organism that occur independently of cognition or intention. My aim was not to emphasize the differences among the authors under consideration—differences that, as I noted in my article, of course do exist—but rather to demonstrate that those theorists share certain erroneous assumptions about the separation presumed to obtain between the affect system on the one hand and intention, cognition, and meaning on the other and to lay out the unfortunate consequences of their doing so.
If Adam Frank and Elizabeth A. Wilson wish for another kind of essay than the one I have written—an essay that would stress the divergences between the ideas of Silvan S. Tomkins and those of the other affect theorists I consider, especially those of Paul Ekman, in order to show what was distinctive about Tomkins's contributions—let them write it. But in such an essay they will have to acknowledge certain facts about the relationship between Tomkins and Ekman that, in their haste to separate Tomkins's theories from Ekman's, they are in danger of neglecting or misrepresenting.
Ruth Leys is the Henry Wiesenfeld Professor of Humanities in the Humanities Center at The Johns Hopkins University. Her recent books include Trauma: A Genealogy (2000) and From Guilt to Shame: Auschwitz and After (2007). For aspects of her current work in progress on the history of post-World War Two experimental and theoretical approaches to emotion and affect, see “‘Both of Us Disgusted in My Insula': Mirror Neuron Theory and Emotional Empathy,” nonsite.org, no. 5 (Spring 2012).
Every once in awhile an academic drudge gets to visit a place that dreams are made of. We all know the little game in which American scholars compete to mention the exotic locations they have been to: Paris, London, Beijing, Mumbai. But I have never aroused such open jealousy in my colleagues until I uttered the word “Casablanca.”
For knowledgeable tourists, this is something of a puzzle. Casablanca is routinely disrespected by the guidebooks for its lack of an authentically ancient medina or a labyrinthine souk, and its paucity of museums leaves the tourist with relatively few obvious destinations. One suspects that much of the aura surrounding the city's name comes from the wholly fictional movie and the associated mystique of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Moroccans are notably marginal in the film, which, in a kind of doubling of colonial occupation, treats Casablanca as an outpost of the Vichy French regime under the thumb of the Nazis. Rick's Café Américain never existed until quite recently, when a retired American diplomat decided to capitalize on the legendary bistro with a simulacrum. The real city is quite modern, with the relics of 1920s colonial art-deco-French architecture serving as a main attraction, along with the thoroughly contemporary mosque of Hassan II, designed by a French architect and finished only in the 1990s. There is also the Corniche, with its surfing beaches and exclusive cafés, clubs, and hotels.
W. J. T. Mitchell is professor of English and art history at the University of Chicago and has been editor of Critical Inquiry since 1978. He is the author of Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology (1987), Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation (1995), and What Do Pictures Want: The Lives and Loves of Images (2006), a loosely linked trilogy on media, visual culture, and image theory. His most recent books are Cloning Terror: The War of Images, 9–11 to the Present (2011) and Seeing through Race (2012).
We would like to announce the addition of two coeditors to Critical Inquiry. Haun Saussy is University Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago. He is the author of The Problem of a Chinese Aesthetic (1993) and Great Walls of Discourse and Other Adventures in Cultural China (2001), and he has edited or coedited a number of volumes, including Ferdinand de Saussure's Course in General Linguistics (with Perry Meisel; 2011). He is currently working on a book about the concept of rhythm in psychology, linguistics, literature, and folklore. Patrick Jagoda is Assistant Professor in the Departments of English and Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. His research examines how contemporary American literature, film, television, and new media deploy different forms to render the complexities of global networks.
We would also like to announce the latest additions to our editorial staff. First, Hank Scotch has been hired to replace Irene Hsiao as our new manuscript editor. Previously an editorial assistant at the journal for three years, Hank is a graduate student in the Department of English at the University of Chicago. He has just completed his dissertation entitled Oceanic America. Andrew Yale, a graduate student in the Department of English at the University of Chicago, rejoins the staff as an editorial assistant. Finally, Jason de Stefano joins Louis Sterrett as our newest editorial intern.