Paraphotographic belief, or, critical horror

Coley, Rob and Lockwood, Dean (2014) Paraphotographic belief, or, critical horror. In: Helsinki Photomedia: Photographic Powers, 26-28 March 2014, Aalto University, School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Helsinki.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


This paper will introduce ‘paraphotography’ as an experimental social practice and perception which emerges in response to the threats and potentials immanent to our contemporary media ecology. It draws, firstly, on Allan Sekula’s insistence on an ethical and political function of photographic practice which operates ‘against the grain’. In his role as both critic and visual artist, Sekula rejected the impulse toward objectively documenting a society from which the photographer remains separate, and recognized, instead, that he or she is always already part of the patterns and processes of social life. In this context, the task of the photographer is not to represent supposed appearances of reality, but to engage directly in the processes by which reality comes to be produced, ‘in and against the grip of advanced capitalism.’ In Deleuzian terms, we refer to this activity as fabulation, as a truth-making encounter with the imperceptible forces, intensities and dynamics of mediated social reality. However, this paper will contend that, in the 21st century, and within a capitalistic grip that has transformed, that has become more subtle and complex, the fabulatory function of photography must become more radical. It must function not only against the grain of hegemonic reality, but ‘in the middle’ of post-hegemonic systems of control and mediation.

Against the affirmative and accelerationist tendencies of what Felix Guattari called a ‘post-media era’, in which distributed networks provide collective resistance to mass media spectacle, we argue that the established rhythms and refrains of photography have rendered its promise ‘time-worn’ (Zielinski), its utopias ersatz. On one level at least, photographic refrains now operate as part of the ‘practical constraints’ of an anti-revolutionary system, its social practices fully and invisibly integrated within an informational system which maintains the stable reiteration of capitalistic subjectivity. This is not to say that the reality produced by such refrains is fixed, but rather that carefully mediated photographic networks act as capital’s probe-heads, mystically capturing speculative images of future realities by integrating them within an unchanging present, a present reduced to ‘infernal alternatives’ (Pignarre & Stengers). This mode of photography anaesthetizes against the painful thresholds of social excesses, it is ‘at the greatest possible remove from what whips us into a state of excitement, induces aesthetic exultation, or triggers irritated thoughts’ (Zielinski).

Paraphotography, by contrast, is an aesthetic ordeal, a fabulatory experience of intensities and intuitions which must be endured so as to renew and reinvent our collective belief in the world. It contaminates photography’s ‘high theory’ of reason and rationality with the esoteric desires and cultic practices of, among others, Gilles Deleuze and William S Burroughs. Moreover, and in line with posthuman subjectivity, it emerges in response to calls for a resituated critical negativism, one that operates against accelerationist reactions to capitalist digitality. The task of paraphotographic practice is ‘to make pre-individual and nonpersonal singularities speak – in short, to produce sense’ (Deleuze). Here, though speaking functions as a scream, a scream in which nothing is said but from which everything can become. It is only through this exercise of critical horror that photographic refrains can be interrupted and destabilized, and from which other subjectivities and other beliefs can be brought forth.

Keywords:Photography, media studies, horror, weird fiction
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P300 Media studies
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Film & Media > Lincoln School of Film & Media (Media)
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ID Code:13669
Deposited On:31 Mar 2014 13:23

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