21C Photography reading (and viewing) list

Theory is a form of speculation that helps make sense of phenomenon. Conversely, the theoretical model that we use to interpret phenomenon has a major impact on our experience of that phenomenon. Given the paradigm shift perpetuated by digital photography, the growth in computing power, internet networks and mobile communications, some theorists have argued that the theoretical models developed to explain photography in the 20th century are no longer adequate to explain our environment (Rubinstein 2015). The follow list, in alphabetical order, includes writing by some of the theorists thinking about the implications of photography in the 21st century.

“The essays in this volume discuss both the culture of technology that we live in today, and culture as technology. Within the chapters of the book cultures of technology and cultural technologies are discussed, focusing on a variety of examples, from varied national contexts. The book brings together internationally recognized scholars from the social sciences and humanities, covering diverse themes such as intellectual property, server farms and search engines, cultural technologies and epistemology, virtual embassies, surveillance, peer-to-peer file-sharing, sound media and nostalgia and much more. It contains both historical and contemporary analyses of technological phenomena as well as epistemological discussions on the uses of technology.”


Abstract: “What is ubiquitous photography? The article addresses this question and argues that ubiquity signals something more than the proliferation and dispersal of photography into everyday life. Moving beyond the question of digitization and of new or digital media, the premise of the argument is that ubiquitous photography is inseparable from the claims and innovations associated with the wider field of ubiquitous computing. Here, photography and the photographic are realigned within the terms of the technoscience industries and their quest to generate ambient intelligent environments, automated systems such as face recognition technology (FRT), animated artefacts and augmented reality (AR). Employing a feminist approach to technoscience, the article offers a gendered, genealogical and interventionist critique of photography’s ‘everywhere’ status.”

“As David Campbell has pointed out in his reporton image integrity for the World Press Photo, this requires a profound reassessment of words like “manipulation” that assume the existence of a virginal image file that hasn’t already been touched by computational process. Veteran digital commentator Kevin Connor says, “The definition of computational photography is still evolving, but I like to think of it as a shift from using a camera as a picture-making device to using it as a data-collecting device.”

“In Vilém Flusser’s terms, the cat is not merely a functionary of the apparatus, but of the whole human-machine-cat assemblage.”

“Photography and Collaboration is the first book to position a broad range of collaborative photographic practices by contemporary artists in a historical and theoretical context. Unlike conventional accounts of photography that celebrate individual photographers and their personal visions, this book explores the concept of multiple authorship in photography. From artistic partnerships to crowdsourced projects, the book presents an expanded idea of authorial agency, not simply considering relationships between photographers, but between photographed subjects, spectators and digital software. Organized thematically, the five chapters each focus on three case studies of contemporary, international artists, set against broader histories of photographic practice. It argues for a revisioning of photographic history, showing how collaboration has been an important and overlooked part of the medium’s development. Focusing on contemporary practice, from the found photograph to images shared through social media, Photography and Collaboration offers an entirely fresh take on existing debates in art photography.”

“In short, 21stCentury Photography is not the representation of the world, but the exploration of the labor practices that shape this world through mass-production, computation, self-replication and pattern recognition. Through it we come to understand that the ‘real world’ is nothing more than so much information plucked out of chaos: the randomised and chaotic conflation of bits of matter, strands of DNA, sub-atomic particles and computer code.
In photography one can glimpse how the accidental meetings of these forces are capable of producing temporary, meaningful assemblages that we call ‘images’. In the 21stCentury, photography is not a stale sight for sore eyes, but the inquiry into what makes something an image. As such, photography is the most essential task of art in the current time.”

PDF: Rubenstein, D. & Fisher, A. (2013). ‘Introduction’, On the verge of photography : Imaging beyond representation. Birmingham, United Kingdom: Article Press. https://www.academia.edu/4703221/Introduction_On_The_Verge_of_Photography_

Digital imaging is everywhere and the digital camera is taken for granted as an everyday accessory. Mobile phones take digital photographs and compact digital cameras make snapshot images. Printed photographs and documents are digitized on flat bed scanners and webcams transmit live digitized moving image footage. For millions of people around the world digital imaging is part of everyday life. New media has transformed communication in ways that have important implications for how we think about photography. In this case study we offer a brief historical survey of digital photography, to include:

• the background and development of the digital camera • different types of digital camera • the digital snapshot • the dissemination of photographs and the changing nature of the family album.


  • Smith, P. & Lefley, C. (2016). Case Study 4: Digital and Mobile Phone Cultures. in Rethinking photography : Histories, theories, and education. New York: Routledge. (pp. 342-356)The winning image of the World Press Photo of the Year 2013 taken by John Stanmeyer (fig. CS4.1) is a beautifully symbolic image of the mobile phone in contemporary culture. The picture depicts African migrants attempting to get a cheaper mobile phone signal at the shore of Djibouti city. However, more than this, Stanmeyer’s picture also describes the new phenomenon of global connectivity. In 2014 it is predicted that 40 per cent of the world’s population is online, a statistic that suggests media theorist Marshall McLuhan’s idea of a ‘global village’ is becoming a reality (Internet World Stats, 2014). Both computers and mobile ‘smart’ phones now access the World Wide Web. A recent headline predicted that ‘Mobile internet devices will outnumber humans this year’ (Arthur, 2013). At the time of writing over six billion mobile phones are currently in use and half of these devices are purported to include in-built cameras. More than ever before, photography has become an accessible, democratic medium. In the developed world, many people have a camera with them at all times, as part of the functionality of their mobile phone. In an earlier case study on the digital camera (in Part 1, pp. 141-8) we described the development of the digital camera and introduced the idea of the mobile phone camera. In this case study the effect digital and mobile phone photography has on our culture is examined. We also consider the implications for both amateur and professional photographers. We will discuss three main areas: personal or snapshot photography by amateurs; photojournalism and the rise of the ‘citizen journalist’; and the influence of digital and mobile phone cultures in contemporary art practice.A Tsunami of Images It is estimated that in 2014, one billion photographs were uploaded to the Internet each day (Blodget and Danova, 2014). Contemporary writing on the new realm of the networked image and mobile photography usually begins with mind-boggling statistics for the numbers of images uploaded globally to the Internet on a daily basis. When discussing several of the online platforms for photography below, we will mention statistics to give the reader a sense of the volume involved. However, these figures are often hard to grasp, bearing little relation to the individual and most often are superseded by more phenomenal statistics by the time the article has been published.
  • Steyerl, H. | Politics of Post-Representation. http://dismagazine.com/disillusioned-2/62143/hito-steyerl-politics-of-post-representation/

“Let me give you one example. A while ago I met an extremely interesting developer in Holland. He was working on smart phone camera technology. A representational mode of thinking photography is: there is something out there and it will be represented by means of optical technology ideally via indexical link. But the technology for the phone camera is quite different. As the lenses are tiny and basically crap, about half of the data captured by the sensor are noise. The trick is to create the algorithm to clean the picture from the noise, or rather to define the picture from within noise. But how does the camera know this? Very simple. It scans all other pictures stored on the phone or on your social media networks and sifts through your contacts. It looks through the pictures you already made, or those that are networked to you and tries to match faces and shapes. In short: it creates the picture based on earlier pictures, on your/its memory. It does not only know what you saw but also what you might like to see based on your previous choices. In other words, it speculates on your preferences and offers an interpretation of data based on affinities to other data. The link to the thing in front of the lens is still there, but there are also links to past pictures that help create the picture. You don’t really photograph the present, as the past is woven into it.”

see also Savoy, V 2017 The endgame for cameras is having no camera at all  https://www.theverge.com/2017/4/12/15267486/photography-machine-learning-future


“The digital turn, and with it increased use of location-aware technologies, has yielded innovative image applications and posed new questions about the status and value of the image. These applications rely on algorithmically defined relations between the viewing subject and the world viewed, offering robust alternatives to the visual economies of the past. If we take seriously Heidegger’s insights regarding the Welt-bild as a metaphor for the modern era, the algorithmic reconfiguration of subject-object relations in this emerging visual regime potentially offers insights through which we can reflect upon the current era – and a metaphoric alternative. This article uses two entry points to explore this possible reconfiguration and, with it, the question of value. Downloadable applications such as Photosynth aggregate location-tagged photographs into a near-seamless whole, and offer a way to consider such issues as collaborative authorship of the image, unstable points of view and the repositioning of subject-object relationships – all elements that fundamentally challenge western representational norms dominant in the modern era. In this new regime, the spatial referents of greatest value are points of uniqueness sought out and built upon by the program’s algorithms – and not those perceived by the viewer. The viewer is in turn free to explore an extensive and dynamic image space unconstrained by (and, indeed, without access to) an authorised or ‘correct’ viewing position. A second case, built upon certain augmented reality applications, works by ‘recognising’ particular spaces and, through the use of computationally enhanced viewing screens, superimposing new images over real space. In this case, a system of virtual spatial annotation depends upon the ‘correct’ positioning of the viewer (and portable computing device) in the world. The two cases stand in a roughly reciprocal relationship, turning on different notions of algorithmic intermediation and subject-object relations and dynamics for the generation of meaning and value.”

“A new philosophy of photography that goes beyond humanist concepts to consider imaging practices from which the human is absent, as both subject and agent.Today, in the age of CCTV, drones, medical body scans, and satellite images, photography is increasingly decoupled from human agency and human vision. In Nonhuman Photography, Joanna Zylinska offers a new philosophy of photography, going beyond the human-centric view to consider imaging practices from which the human is absent. Zylinska argues further that even those images produced by humans, whether artists or amateurs, entail a nonhuman, mechanical element — that is, they involve the execution of technical and cultural algorithms that shape our image-making devices as well as our viewing practices. At the same time, she notes, photography is increasingly mobilized to document the precariousness of the human habitat and tasked with helping us imagine a better tomorrow. With its conjoined human-nonhuman agency and vision, Zylinska claims, photography functions as both a form of control and a life-shaping force.Zylinska explores the potential of photography for developing new modes of seeing and imagining, and presents images from her own photographic project, Active Perceptual Systems. She also examines the challenges posed by digitization to established notions of art, culture, and the media. In connecting biological extinction and technical obsolescence, and discussing the parallels between photography and fossilization, she proposes to understand photography as a light-induced process of fossilization across media and across time scales.”http://www.joannazylinska.net/




Philosophy of Photography Journal


“Philosophy of Photographyis an international peer-reviewed journal published six monthly in the spring and autumn. The journal’s aim is to provide a forum for theoretical and critical debate of issues arising from the historical, political, cultural, scientific and critical matrix of ideas, practices and techniques that constitute photography as a mul tifaceted and changing form.In a contemporary context characterised by its diversity and rapid rate of transformation, the conjunction of ‘philosophy’ and ‘photography’ in the journal’s title is intended to provoke reflection on the ways in which existing and emergent discourses might engage with each other to inform our understanding of the photographic.”

Unthinking Photography


“Unthinking Photography is a new online resource from The Photographers’ Gallery digital programme that explores, maps and responds to photography’s increasingly automated, networked life.”


Hinkson, M. (2016).Imaging identity : Media, memory and portraiture in the digital age. Acton, ACT: ANU Press.

Hoy, M. (2017).From point to pixel : A genealogy of digital aesthetics. Hanover, New Hampshire: Dartmouth College Press.

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