Refraining photography for a post-media era

Coley, Rob, Lockwood, Dean and OMeara, Adam (2013) Refraining photography for a post-media era. In: On the Verge of Photography: Imaging, Mobile Art, Humans & Computers, 24-25 May, 2013, Birmingham School of Art.

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


The paper’s principal claim to originality lies in its deployment of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the ‘refrain’ in thinking the ‘resingularization’ of photography in the context of new media ecologies and the promise of what Guattari calls a ‘post-media era’. The paper itself constitutes a refrain and is structured according to the three moments of any refraining.
Firstly, a refrain is a spatio-temporalization, a way of marking out space, keeping time and assembling and activating subjectivity. At its most rudimentary, it is the establishment of a momentary centre, a point of order amidst chaos. We can conceive this in terms of the originary ‘cut’ of the photographic flash which – as in a familiar trope in horror films in which the flash of a camera guides the protagonist through a menacing darkness – illuminates one’s milieu, the spot on which one stands, and dispels the evils which gather on all sides. This flash is a singularity which, in rupturing darkness, does not merely constitute a representative image but is, as Guattari might say, a ‘vector of subjectivation’.
Secondly, the refrain circumscribes a territory, a circle of control, ethos, interiority or home. Our media are architecture, part of the congealing and hardening of territory. Here emerges an ‘incorporeal Universe’ which signs itself ‘Photography’. We approach photographic territorialization principally in terms of genre. Photographic genres are refrains become clichés, habits, fictions which uncritically sustain and abet the ravages of capitalistic subjectivity. Adhering, photographically, to these affective algorithms – creatively reacting in the belief that There Is No Alternative – is to generatively maintain the existence of a virtually stable territory. It is this territory that, we insist, requires estrangement through the amplification of its moments of uncertainty.
The third moment of the refrain is precisely the exacerbation of its instability, its transformation into a ‘music’ which is the cracking open of the territory to the world and its opening out onto futurity and alterity. We conceive this in two ways. On the one hand, the opening of the photographic refrain can be understood in terms of the ontology of mediation. Rather than a freezing of the moment, the photographic image is in and of the middle, medial – that is, it constitutes an event of interruptive time, the construction of an interval which is excessive and untimely. Here, we heed recent calls for a new ethics of photographic practice which understands and takes responsibility for the process of mediation ‘from within the process itself’ (Kember and Zylinska, 2012: 23). On the other hand, the opening of the photographic refrain can be understood in connection with the subjective pluralism which is the excess of the social. We are plural, polyphonic subjects, comprising affective communities which exist in relation to a ‘constellation of Universes’, at the intersection of refrains which variously harness anti-chaotic forces and can be resingularized and opened onto the forces of the future.
Along lines intimated by Guattari, we commend the collective reappropriation and resingularization of photography in order to escape its impasse, to reflexively trigger ‘an existential agglomeration’ (1995: 69). Mediation itself offers the promise of a ‘post-media era’ in which we liberate the creativity and virtuality of media in order to ‘bifurcate existence’, realizing the possibility of new constellations of Universes and an autopoiesis of subjectivity. Tapping into such excess requires a pedagogy of excess, too (Neary & Hagyard, 2010). For us, to respond ethically to the new powers of mediation means respecifying photography as a collective endeavour, beyond the principles of ‘self expression’ and ‘independence’ which have long dominated photography education (Fletcher & Lucas, 2012). It also means going beyond the conventions of genre and ‘socially-engaged’ practice, not simply through the usual judgement and denunciation of territory but through its falsification. As we see it, photography’s ‘fabulatory function’ is to both make perceptible and betray the ‘working forces’ of territorial refrains (Stengers, 2010), to both activate and ‘fail to satisfy’ them. Indeed, it is in this sense that photography might become a transversal tool with which to think the artistic and social simultaneously.

Keywords:Photography, Guattari, Refrain
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P300 Media studies
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V500 Philosophy
W Creative Arts and Design > W640 Photography
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Film & Media > Lincoln School of Film & Media (Media)
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ID Code:9838
Deposited On:13 Jun 2013 08:00

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