An expanded understanding of photography offers insight into many of the conditions of contemporary culture. In a technologically driven world, photography and image-making give access to more complex concerns about things like our digital subjectivity or digital perception. Simply put, thinking through photographic practice provides a way to think about other things. One of our goals is to try to understand and articulate why it is photographs show what they show.
Since photography has become so embedded into culture its operative function has become largely overlooked. Given the number of photographs we take but then don’t have time to look at, we can easily make a further claim that the act of looking at photography is often postponed indefinitely. Looking becomes something we defer. This does not mean we do not connect, in some way, to the idea of looking. But what it means is that we are essentially relieved from actually ever having to look. If the pleasure of looking directly has almost disappeared from our experience of photography, then what is left, in relation to furthering our understanding, is a question as to why photographs show what they show?
Our researchers have work with practitioners to consider such questions. For example, in “How does photography appear to appear?” (2021) Dr John Hillman considers the work of Dutch photographer Laura Chen whose practice used imagery sourced from undeveloped films purchased from eBay and car-boot sales. He suggests that when Chen develops the films, the real of someone else’s reality is transformed into art. Left undeveloped these images occupy nowhere in particular, but Chen makes appearances fill in a void and pose a question, which is not one of “why” but of “where” are images? In seeking out meanings, photography is understood through the misdirection of illusion and appearance, but Hillman suggests what is useful is to ask how photography appears to appear?