Photography: Taken, not Made

"Photography: Taken, not Made," in Arnis Balčus, ed., Territories, Borders, and Checkpoints (Riga Photomonth Catalogue) (Riga: Society Riga Photomonth, 2016), pp. 90-95. ISBN 978-9934-14-852-1. 

The essay accompanied an exhibition of experimental photography, Paintings and Sculptures, curated by Arnis Balčus and Elīna Sproģe as part of Riga Photomonth programming.  The artists in the exhibition: Eduards Gaiķis, Valters Jānis Ezeriņš, and Līga Spunde. The exhibition took place at the Exhibition hall of the Latvian National Library, Riga, May 7-30, 2016.

Do artists take photographs, or do they make them?

The role of photography as a document is constantly overrated. The role of camera in photography is also overrated.

Yes, of course, we could agree about the indexical nature of photographic images—camera always captures whatever is before the lens. But what is being produced is an image, a confusing and treacherous one. Whenever we talk about the realism of photographs and how wonderfully this or that photograph has captured “life,” “moment,” or “truth,” we are being betrayed by the image. We are led into forgetting that we are looking at an image, an artificial and constructed piece of visual information. When we look at a photograph and see what is depicted, we overlook the materiality of the photograph itself.

Perhaps all we need to know about photography was said already before photography became a subject for art historians’ debates. “This is not a pipe” (Ceci n'est pas une pipe), wrote René Magritte on his painting The Treachery of Images (1928-1929) that depicts a pipe. Accordingly, when we look at a photograph, we should see a photograph, not only the subject matter. “Experimental,” “alternative,” and “manipulated” are just some names given to numerous photographic practices that bring into focus the materiality of a photograph or the apparatus that produced it. Robert Hirsch has established a term, “handmade photography” (Robert Hirsch, Transformational Imagemaking: Handmade Photography since 1960, New York and London: Focal Press, 2014). This is the kind of photography that interests us here.

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