Exercise 3.3 ‘Late photography’
- Read David Campany’s essay ‘Safety in Numbness’ (see ‘Online learning materials and
student-led research’ at the start of this course guide). Summarise the key points of the
essay and note down your own observations on the points he raises.
- Look at some of Meyerowitz’s images available online from Aftermath: World Trade
Centre Archive (2006). Consider how these images differ from your own memories of
the news footage and other images of the time. Write a short response to the work
(around 300 words), noting what value you feel this ‘late’ approach has.
- That photography was assumed to be a better medium than television to record the aftermath of 9/11.
- That while the Meyrowittz images were ordered and held together in the exhibition and the book there is a likelihood that history will fragment this and they will find their own way of representing events and that the desired control of this will be lost to time.
- Photography is becoming used more often to document the aftermath of events.
- Photography has inherited a major role as an undertaker to events.
- Photography is assumed to be connected to memory which has developed from mass media using photography to freeze a moment.
- This has cemented the notion that photographs are a snapshot of an instant in history where film has come to represent the now of an event.
- From the 20’s photographers used the advance in technology to be in the moment of an event where the goal was to be in the right place at the right time as things happened. this lasted until the 1970’s when portable video took this mantel
- Today it is rare that photographs break the news, the newspaper is often the only a second wave of the news.
- Cinema developed an Idea of stillness in photography
- In the era of photojournalism the speedy compact camera and the the photographers quick reaction and ability to be in the right place at the right time gave rise to the “Decisive Moment”
- Videography took away this monopoly with stoppable repeatable cheap quick material.
- The announcement of the death of photojournalism he claims are premature as photography had to sketch out a new pace for itself
- He reflects over the history of photojournalism
- Vietnam is regarded as the last photographers war
- The Gulf War was described as the first war experienced by simulation using satellite images an missile cameras. Very few photographers covered this conflict.
- After the war lots of photographers went in to cover the aftermath.
- Photography discovered that the sombre quite reflective nature was somewhat seductive in its melancholy
- Today more than half of the photographs used are screen grabs from digital sources
- Two points from this 1. The lines between video and photography are more blurred 2. Photography is finding other roles to fulfil such as the aftermath.
- He reflects that Meyrowitz stated that he was performing an automatic process in which creativity is avoidable and notes that a man with his skill set has a second nature that can’t avoid making beautiful images.
- Late photography has become a vehicle for mass mourning or working through.
- He points out that this kind of mourning can get a bit aestheticized and indifferent.
- he concludes:
Certainly the late photograph is often used as a vehicle for mass mourning or working through (Meyerowitz’ Ground Zero project was produced primarily for New Yorkers). The danger is that it can also foster an indifference and political withdrawal that masquerades as concern. Mourning by association becomes merely an aestheticized response. There is a sense in which the late photograph in all its silence, can easily flatter the ideological paralysis of those who gaze at it with a lack of social or political will to make sense of its circumstance. In its apparent finitude and muteness it can leave us in permanent limbo, obliterating even the need for analysis and bolstering a kind of liberal melancholy that shuns political explanation like a vampire shuns garlic.
If the banal matter-of-factness of the late photograph can fill us with a sense of the sublime, it is imperative that we think through why this might be. There is a fine line between the banal and the sublime, and it is political. If an experience of the contemporary sublime derives from our being caught in a geo-political circumstance beyond our comprehension, then it is a politically reified as much as an aesthetically rarefied one.
Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problems of ‘Late Photography’ by David Campany