The Un-Photographic Subject

Hillman, John (2016) The Un-Photographic Subject. In: Photography + (con) text Photography in Academic Research Symposium, UCL, London. (Unpublished)

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As a method of recording, documenting, reporting and giving testimony, photography is often one of the visual researcher’s tools of choice. Arguably, photography may be thought to represent its subjects accurately and reliably. However, in this paper I examine the significance, not of photography’s representational qualities – its ability to capture moments or to contain our memories – but how it specifically configures subjects of representation.

Photography - and with it contemporary cultural identity - assumes its subjects contain within them something photographically recognisable. The structuring characteristics of photography are its fragmentary, accidental and incomplete in nature, traits also common to much of modern culture. Since our experiences of the world are mediated by experiences of photographs, we might ask whether the world should be considered to be in some sense ‘photographic.’ The implication apropos to the configuration of subjects of representation is that their formation occurs, not unavoidably, through how we photograph what we photograph. Rather, subjects of representation are created through the systematic forces of replication and distribution that underpin photographic practice. In this conceptualisation, a photograph cannot be presumed to be simply an inscription of an external subject; the photograph implicates and calls into being its subject through its own various modes of duplication, circulation and transmission.

Within any visual research, photographs presuppose a photographic subject of research. I suggest it may therefore be a pressing task of photography, within the context of academic research, to expatiate something of the un-photographic subject.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
1 July 2016Accepted
Subjects: CAH25 - design, and creative and performing arts > CAH25-01 - creative arts and design > CAH25-01-04 - cinematics and photography
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Design and Media > Birmingham Institute of Creative Arts > School of Visual Communication
Depositing User: John Hillman
Date Deposited: 04 Jun 2019 09:21
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2022 16:57

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