Photography - a manifesto:
If it ain’t broke, break it.
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.
Rip it up and start again
Rip it up and start again
Rip it up and Start Again, Orange Juice
1. All photography is a lie
Anything that suggests that you are looking as if through a window onto the world is a lie. What you see, is what you get. All photography is a surface - nothing more, nothing less. The only thing that is real is the photograph itself - the piece of paper in your hand or the electronic ones and zeros in your computer.
2. Technology hinders rather than helps
Analogue technologies typically reveal something of the medium at the point of their use. The light pop or scratch as the stylus hits the vinyl, or the loading of 35mm film into a camera and the subsequent manual winding on to advance the film frames. This can be contrasted to the invisible workings of a digital device. A swipe of an index finger sets into motion a series of complex and unknowable events. Every week sees a new phone or a new camera that lays claim to the most pixels, the best image quality etc. But to what ends? Technology does not bring us closer to truth, it hides behind its black mirror and it obscures how the world really works.
Digital images function to keep track of us and to serve the interests of those that provide the networked spaces we inhabit. A networked image is not a static, unique thing, but an ever-changing, always moving, infinitely reproducible, shared collection of data. No longer are we looking at images, it is images that look at us. We need a photography that acknowledges and reflects this, not one that continues with the old ways of (not)seeing the world.
3. Expose the apparatus
‘Liking’ a photo is all about enhancing the program and keeping you engaged. Flickr, Instagram etc are not interested in photography but in running a business and it is you the user who is working for them, as part of their program, in order to improve their standing and their profit. The thing the camera companies and the photography platforms want are not your images but your information, which is mostly contained within the metadata and the connections you make. It is those artists, photographers, philosophers, activists etc who manifest this in their work who are showing us the world as it really is. Reality isn’t a selfie on the London Eye, it’s the geo-tags, the sharing and the connections made with one another. The world of photography has moved from being a physical artefact that shows us a view to being an ever-changing, glossy surface for travelling information. Commercials sell us technology along with the illusion of being individuals - “You’re all individuals!” The Crowd answer as one: “Yes! We're all individuals!” (Life of Brian) - but technology does not define us this way, what it does do is shape the way we view and understand the world.
We cannot trust technology as it strives to become our master and to make us its slaves. We need a photography that understand this. Technology gives us consumer choice at the expense of a lost solidarity. We are networked zombies, our faces downcast, staring passively through an illuminated screen, connected yet disconnected from the immediate environment and staggering through the world half-dead. A zombie cull is needed. We can forgo the recommended lopping of the head with a sharp object and instead put a spanner in the works, we can rage against the machine by disrupting the technology. Remember, it is at this point of breakdown that the medium begins to reveal itself. Through glitches and mistakes we get to see the base elements, the very construction of the material that creates those illusions of reality. Ultimately, an act of destruction, is a creative act as it reveals something new. And, if we kill a few zombies on the way, then, so be it.
4. There are too many images
Billions of images circulate the digital world around us, but of what interest are they? Imagine a bottomless pit of images - millions added daily. What happens to those at the bottom? Gone or just hibernating, awaiting the moment in the digital daylight once more. How many more photographs of the Grand Canyon, or the Taj Mahal or that lovely meal you had can we digest? Do they add to our understanding of the world or do they distract?
Most images now are made by machines for machines. CCTV cameras read car number plates and circulate the images internally. Most often the image never gets as far as being of something - it remains a series of code, a digital latent image never to see the light of day. This is photography in the service of the state, or the corporation used to control rather than free the population.
We are at the point now where we do not need new photographs (exceptions allowed for medical imagery and some photo-journalism). For photography to fulfil its true function it does not require more of the same. With this in mind, henceforth no new photographs should be taken. Existing images should be re-used, remixed and re-imagined to create new meanings.
5. No more cameras
Cameras are an apparatus in thrall to capitalism. Meaning and understanding cannot be gleaned from a camera unless it is broken. A broken camera says “screw you” to the manual and creates its own reality. The glitch or the point of breakdown is a kick up the backside for both the photographer and the viewer. Suddenly we see images for what they are: the technology stops being invisible and is brought into sharp focus through the jolt of seeing something unexpected. It may be that the underlying structures that support this technology are also laid bare for us to examine, the disruptive forces allowing us to see the means of production.
What we see, what we experience, is the controlling program. Those glossy screens may dazzle and seduce us, distracting us from the political economy that encourages the alienating working conditions of those who made them and the ‘digital capitalism’ that values only what can be sold - the hardware, the software and the big data that reveals our deepest desires. The (Marxist) alienation that the production line worker experiences can be seen as a continuation of the capitalist paradigm.
6. Photographs don't exist
They are like a scar we carry with us or like footsteps in the sand. They carry the trace of a past event but they themselves - the paper, the chemicals or the glowing pixels can only exist in the present- an ongoing now. The thing in the picture should not be confused with the photograph itself the materials that make it.
These photographs are to be looked at, not through to another world. They are all there is. They do not show us a time in the past, they exist in a perpetual now - here they are, look. They are not images of a thing, they are the thing itself. It is only by approaching photography in this manner that we can free ourselves. By engaging with the physical material in front of you, you are in the moment, only now exists.
6a. Artist Challenge - Digital
In the digital realm, one of the challenges for artists working with any form of glitch or disruption is that in order to produce a piece of visual work, the artist has to pull back from fully destroying a file. If the disruption is pushed too far there is nothing - a blank screen or an error message. The ideal result is something undead, a zombie image that isn’t quite lifeless, that stands between fully functioning and fatally broken. When an algorithmic glitch is unintentional, it becomes an act of subversion on the part of the machine. It has stopped, turned to us and stuck two fingers in our face - very punk. But what may feel like an act of deliberate defiance, is but a glimpse of the wizard behind the curtain.
6b. Artist Challenge - Analogue
In the same way that photography was initially seen as the nail in the coffin for painting, when it fact it freed it from the representational, digital has allowed analogue photography to turn away from the indexical and to examine its own materiality. By utilising analogue processes artists and photographers can remind us of both the illusion that photography creates and the magic upon which it is built.
The challenge now is for artists and photographers to show us not only this world and how it affects our day-to-today life, but how it informs our understanding of all that we see.
If I seem a little jittery I can't restrain myself
I'm falling into fancy fragments - can't contain myself
I'm gonna breakdown
Kill yr. idols
Ah, let that shit die
And find out the new goal
Kill yr. idols, Sonic Youth
Search and Destroy
Love in the middle of a fire fight
Iggy and the Stooges
Hold out your hand to me
Give me your hand
And I'll bite it off!
Damaged, Black Flag
Smash it Up
We've been crying now for much too long
And now we're gonna dance to a different song
I'm gonna scream and shout ’til my dying breath
I'm gonna smash it up ’til theres nothing left
Smash it Up, The Damned
We must strip away the unnecessary to leave only barest amount of detail. We should be looking for the visual equivalent of that 2 minutes and 12 seconds of honed perfection that is Blitzkrieg Bop.