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Aesthetics After Photography - Workshop Session 5

Maarten Vanvolsem & Patrick Maynard

Maarten Vanvolsem - Photography Beyond the Still Image


The 'strip technique' has a surprisingly long history dating back to 1846, and widespread, mainly scientific, uses ranging from panorama photography, photo-finish, aerial survey and photogrammetry, to ballistics and peripheral photography. The technique, rather than freezing time or catching the moment, scans through time. In this the images are not made in a fraction of a second but they are built over time. The strip technique therefore is interesting to me as an artist, as it allows to explore the bounderies between the still and the moving image. The digitalisation of such a photographic technique seems to open up more possibilities like smaller and lighter cameras and virtually endlessly long images, but there are also some surprising limitations.


Patrick Maynard - Hands-On Digital


A priori predictions about photography have a poor record. Greeting daguerreotypy in 1839, Paul Delaroche stated, “From today, painting is dead”. This was in the month of Cézanne’s birth, a year before Monet’s, thirty before Matisse’s, forty-two before Picasso’s. Then an opposed camp - including Lady Eastlake, Peter Henry Emerson, Roger Scruton, Janet Malcolm - held that photography could not make it as serious visual art, beside painting. Not only has gallery and collection history since the ‘80s gone against that, perceptual experience has shown the premises of their arguments to be mistaken. About a century later, following photography’s ‘second invention’, Walter Benjamin proved no better prophet, predicting that photomechanical reproduction would evaporate an aura of uniqueness around works of visual art. But reproduction, together with postwar travel, enormously widened that very appeal, so that the Met is the most frequented gated venue in New York City, entrances to museums of all kinds in North America outrun those to sports events, and market prices for unique works continually exceed expectations. With photography’s third main invention, digitalization, another fifty years on, we had prophecy that, from that day, photography was dead. Yet, a decade later, a best-selling proclamation, The reconfigured eye: visual truth in the post-photographic era, appears twice mistaken. Still, the anxieties of philosophers of art, as well as the popular press, seem captured by that book’s blurb: “Enhanced? Or faked? … the very idea of photographic veracity is … radically challenged by the new technology of digital image” - in an age when digital enhancement greatly improves our understanding of the universe through photo-sensing, also our appreciation of pictures, and actual catastrophic distortions of marketing photography can hardly be blamed on digitalization. My case is that, putting aside a priori conjecturing, there is a job for philosophy in 'substantive aesthetics': through insightful treatment of the variety of individual cases. Let generalizations emerge from such inductive work. Let us close the introductory period of philosophy of photography, and begin that, for which the workshop’s mixing of philosophers and photographers is a good beginning - especially as some of the participants are both.








Maarten Vanvolsem

(Click to see image)

Silent Move 12 by Maarten Vanvolsem


Patrick Maynard

(Click to see image)


View of mural in courtyard of Toronto's Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, by Patrick Maynard, of Canadian Robert Burley's photo of implosion of buildings 65 and 69, Kodak Park, Rochester, N.Y., 6 October 2007, with crowd including employees at the plant recording the event on digital cameras.