Unreal Nature

August 9, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… Her photographs are mash-ups of different moments and semiotic categories.

This is from Photography and the Art of Chance by Robin Kelsey (2015):

… Perhaps more broadly than any other practitioner, Cameron took advantage of the complex operations of chance in photography. In photographs, accidents appear in two related but divergent forms: the glitch and the inadvertently recorded detail. Cameron in her practice embraced both. She not only resisted an endless stream of suggestions to touch up her photographs to improve their technical standing but also prized certain of their unforeseen details.

… She frequently wrote “From the Life” or “From Life” on prints and albums, highlighting the existential relation that obtains between camera and subject.

Cameron’s dual emphasis on the living presence of her subject and the material process of her photography signified an exchange of performances. Her sitters and theatrical casts performed for her, and she performed for them. They left traces of their living presence before the lens on the light-sensitive surface of the plate, and she left traces of her living presence behind the camera in the fingerprints, streaks, discolored patches, and other blemishes of her prints. The mingling of signs of performative exchange is one of the most striking qualities of her photography.

… the photograph in general circulation [during Victorian times] tended to suppress this dialogic process. In other words, photographer and sitter worked together to generate a picture that seemed a natural expression of the sitter’s selfhood, as if image and person were one and the same. Cameron, to the contrary, left conspicuous evidence in her pictures of her role in the exchange that had made them.

For Cameron, the exchange of performances that went into the making of a photograph was part of a larger fabric of social bonds.

… the exchange of lively energies in her studio overcame the deadly mechanical process that photography could otherwise be. By insisting on long exposure times and refusing studio contrivances that helped sitters hold still, she invited signs of bodily life, including trembling hands and welling eyes, to infiltrate her apparatus.

[line break added] In her photographs, these signs mingle with traces of her own untamable bodily energy, which she never allowed conventional expectations of technique and scruple to suppress. In this way, she answered Eastlake, who had set painting’s “living application of that language which lies dead in [the artist’s] paint-box” against photography’s “obedience of the machine.” Cameron was explicit about her ambition to invest her photography with passion.

… Cameron’s glitches suspend her photographs in the gaps of culture. These gaps — between the original and the copies that produce it, the signal and the receipt that made it such, and the image and the materiality it can never shed — leaves traces in her pictures. Her photographs are mash-ups of different moments and semiotic categories. Collodion glitches stem from the moment of exposure, and other defects from the moment the photograph was printed. Some glitches in the final print are surface blemishes, while others are reproduced images of flaws on the negative.

[line break added] Some derive from the performance of the sitter, while others derive from that of the operator. This is not to say that the photograph becomes a final space where all splits are sutured and all traces unite. On the contrary, Cameron’s photographs are self-contesting registries in which glitches, chemical and optical, manual and mechanical, continually reproduce the divisions constituting the circuit of meaning production in Victorian culture generally and photography specifically.

My most recent previous post from Kelsey’s book is here.




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