Vector portraits, or, photography for the Anthropocene

Coley, Rob (2015) Vector portraits, or, photography for the Anthropocene. In: 21st century photography: art, philosophy, technique, 5-6 June, 2015, Central Saint Martins.

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


The concept of the Anthropocene is no longer the preserve of geologists and climate scientists. We all now grapple with the idea that the planet will bear a permanent inscription produced, as Timothy Morton puts it, by human ‘terraforming’. Morton argues that the Anthropocene can be dated. He stresses the significance of 1784, when the invention of the steam engine led to the industrial depositing of carbon on a global scale. We might, though, consider another date: 1899 or 1901, the dates of Marconi’s wireless transmissions across the English Channel and Atlantic Ocean respectively. For it was the telegraph that, in McKenzie Wark’s words, ushered in ‘a regime of communication where information can travel faster than people or things.’ If the steam engine anticipated the machine logic of the industrial age, the telegraph did the same for the information age. How might photography come to express what Wark calls the ‘peculiar geography’ of the Anthropocene? How might the ‘vectoral’ space of a thoroughly mediated world be grasped in terms of its radical relations, rather than its identities and forms? As Wark makes clear, the abstract space of the vector exploits the fact that humans are always already technological beings, that we are inseparably linked to agencies, spaces and times that exceed us. This paper asks what a photographic practice truly immanent to the vector might look like. Taking as an example the new novel by Tom McCarthy, Satin Island, the paper proposes a photography for the Anthropocene, a photography that might create ‘portraits’ of the vector, that might provoke new intimacy with a world that is not our own. Vector portraits, this paper contends, would not reinforce a human world, but would instead reveal other-worldliness, would confront the paradox of an age named after the human at the very point at which the category of human has melted away.

Keywords:Anthropocene, Tom McCarthy, Satin Island, Photography, nonhuman
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:17623
Deposited On:09 Jun 2015 11:05

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