Academic journal article Afterimage

Golden Anniversary

Academic journal article Afterimage

Golden Anniversary

Article excerpt

Society for Photographic Education 50th annual conference


March 7-10, 2012

This year's annual conference of the Society for Photographic Education (SPE) brought more than sixteen hundred photography educators, students, curators, critics, writers, and artists to Chicago to celebrate the organization's fiftieth anniversary under the theme of "Conferring Significance: Celebrating Photography's Continuum," intending to "examine how concentration on a subject has allowed image, concept, criticism, teaching and learning to shape the past, present and future of photography, its instruction and SPE itself," as stated in a press sheet. The ever-increasing ease of distribution and the proliferation of images being shared resulted in expected attention being paid to the digital and social media on a global scale. But with this golden anniversary, the legacy of both the organization and the medium's primary practitioners was honored in the programming.

Presentations, panels, and lectures on theory and practice made up the bulk of each day's offerings. Early in the conference, Mona Kasra of the University of Texas at Dallas spoke on "The Emergent Image: Toward Collective Witnessing and Action." Kasra contended that social media offers a more democratic flow of production and reproduction of content, contrasting the ideas of Roland Barthes and Walter Benjamin. Instead of "what has been" we have come to what is in front of the camera at any particular time. In speaking about the perpetrators of aggression and abuse in such media productions as the 2012 video documenting the bullying ala school bus monitor in New York State and the photographs of torture from Abu Ghraib (released in 2004), she argued that, "it was the anticipation of future distribution that framed their behavior." Kasra addressed the importance of literal and contextual indexation but also the challenges of establishing authenticity and trust, noting that images welcome intervention and there is evidence of a shift in the power of the meaning of images from photographers to netizens.

Steven Skopik offered a sharp take on banality in contemporary photography with an amusing interpretation of the aesthetic tropes of the genre: "the glazed and confused," "the sad or sometimes absurd little tree," "the blank two-dimensional surface of mute ineffability," "the inert pile of enigmatic profundity," and "performance anxiety" (which he described as more conceptual than categorical). He reasoned, "We should expect recognizable tropes to exist. Banality in the hands of contemporary photographers is irony. ... Banality provides a hedging strategy for the skeptical post-modernist, a metaphilosophical skepticism."

Julia Bradshaw's presentation "Inflection Points: Photography and the Post-Medium Condition" applied the theories of Rosalind Krauss in regard to technology and the postmodern to photography, and particularly to the proliferation of images. She spoke of the material properties of photography, contrasting three artists from the 1970s with three contemporary makers who explore qualities of the photographic medium itself, playing with the technical and the conceptual.

Kate Palmer Albers was awarded the SPE honor of Excellence in Historical, Theoretical and Critical Writing for her paper "Abundant Images and the Collective Sublime." As she noted, the very abundance of images is also ground for critical investigation of artistic explorations of how we accumulate and store these images. This includes the issue of image density, which has been called "quantifying the sublime." She spoke also of evidence of a "cornucopia aesthetic" and "voracious consumptive and cumulative tendencies." Albers has studied aesthetic strategies for exhibiting accumulation and shared the work both of artists using pre-digital processes (e.g., Gerhard Richter) and those using digital formats (e.g., Hasan Elahi, Erik Kessels, Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe, and Penelope Umbrico). …

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