Public lecture by Professor Geoffrey Batchen

29 August 2017, 6-7pm
Fox Lecture Theatre, Arts Building, UWA
General Public, Faculty/Staff, Students, Alumni

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In Absentia: the politics of cameraless photography

A public lecture by Professor Geoffrey Batchen, School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington and UWA Institute of Advanced Studies Visiting Fellow.

How can a photograph of nothing—of nothing discernable or apparently significant—be said to offer some useful political purchase on the world it inhabits? How can a photograph that represents, but does not depict, a given situation be freighted with historical knowledge and import?

Confining itself primarily to examples of cameraless photography, from the 1830s to now, this talk by Professor Batchen will ask these questions with a view to determining a politics for such photographs in the present. Professor Batchen will argue that photographs which draw attention to their own coming into being assume photography is always already a politics; by engaging the visual and chemical grammar of the photograph, they dispute and challenge the fixity of that politics. In any case, to make such photographs today returns photography to a unique, hand-made craft and away from global capitalism and its vast economies of mass production and exploitation. Not that these photographs are innocent; on the contrary they are often generated by actions that are toxic, radioactive, enigmatic, violent, dangerous. Nor are they “abstract.” Instead, Professor Batchen will argue, they redefine the nature of both photography’s realism and its potential as a political agent.

Professor Geoffrey Batchen teaches art history at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, specializing in the history of photography. His books include Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography (1997), Each Wild Idea: Writing, Photography, History (2001), Forget Me Not: Photography and Remembrance (2004), William Henry Fox Talbot (2008), What of Shoes? Van Gogh and Art History (2009), Suspending Time: Life, Photography, Death (2010) and More Wild Ideas (forthcoming in Chinese, 2017). He has also edited Photography Degree Zero: Reflections on Roland Barthes's Camera Lucida (2009) and co-edited Picturing Atrocity: Photography in Crisis (2012). In April 2016 his exhibition, Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph, opened at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth, New Zealand. A book of the same name was published last year by Prestel. In October 2017 an exhibition curated under the direction of Batchen and titled Apparitions: The Photograph and its Image will open at the Adam Art Gallery at Victoria University of Wellington.