Unreal Nature

September 7, 2016

To Unfix the Photograph

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… It is a push to “unfix” the photograph and make it come alive …

This is from the editors’ introduction to Provoke: Between Protest and Performance: Photography in Japan 1960-1975 edited by Diane Dufour, Duncan Forbes, Walter Moser, and Matthew S. Witkovsky (2016):

… That great wave of performance in vanguard fine art [from the mid-1950s forward] has been celebrated in a series of (largely American) museum exhibitions in which photography (not to mention politics) has mostly played a vanishingly minor role. To redress that oversight, the present volume treats photography in Japan of the 1960s as a pivot between protest and performance, politics and art.

Enter Provoke, a formation that arguably bound photography to political and social protest on the one hand, and to avant-garde performance on the other. Although it formally coalesced only around the short-lived little magazine Provoke (1968-69), in fact this group of writer-photographers interacted with one another for nearly a decade, from around 1966 until 1974. Individually and collectively they carried great weight in those years, and their relevance and personal connections extended into the fine and performing arts, architecture, and literature as well as critical theory.

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… Yet Provoke cannot be classed as a set of protest books, inasmuch as its contributors largely avoided picturing or discussing incidents of protest. They found such pictures in particular anecdotal or politically naive, and there is no evidence that student protesters (who filled their books with pictures of marches and clashes) ever looked at Provoke. What, then, is the relation between the two? Moreover, how can photographs, to all appearances inherently commemorative or duplicative images, be in rather than of a performance?

… the affinities that place Provoke “between protest and performance” can be understood as occurring on a continuum with each term representing a limit of possibility for the others. The “rough, blurred, out of focus” appearance of many (although by no means all) photographs in Provoke should be seen not as a style, nor even as an expression of gestural abstraction in photography, but instead as an attempt to give form to contingency and ephemerality. It is a push to “unfix” the photograph and make it come alive — and therefore fragile and perishable.

… The outpouring of photographs and books excerpted in this volume gives a terrific sense of the protesters’ desire for self-representation, their wish to occupy the world as a stage and achieve social visibility on their own terms. The microphones, helmets, lengthy banner inscriptions, and other demonstration paraphernalia have the explanatory function, in photographs, of props for a revolutionary theater.

To be continued.

-Julie

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