The Involution of Photography

Fisher, Andrew. 2009. The Involution of Photography. Radical Philosophy(157), ISSN 0300 211X [Article]

Andrew Fisher, The Involution of Photography, Radical Philosophy 157, 2009.pdf

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Abstract or Description

As we settle further into the era of digital media and globalized visual culture, it might be tempting to think that photography holds no more than historical interest. Yet it continues to feature in debates with considerable significance for the present.1 The terms by which it was negotiated in the twentieth century – the print, the negative and the mechanical-optical apparatus, the affective experience of a moment stilled, and any truth that its rendering promises – have been technically and culturally displaced and expanded. New instabilities have become familiar and have distanced us from how photography was understood, even in the fairly recent past. The current historical conjuncture is marked by a widespread suspicion that existing theories – including those that turned, in the 1970s, to Marxism, feminist critique, semiotics or psychoanalysis so as to politicize and contest mainstream photographic culture – might no longer be adequate to photography’s contemporary situation. That photography still matters, however, can be evidenced, prosaically and contingently, by noting the increasing number of new scholarly journals and exhibitions devoted to its past, present and future in recent years.2 There is, in this – as Fred Ritchin is only the latest to note – a sense that the undoing of photography’s prior certainties constitutes an ending and an enlargement. The fate of photography provides an ‘expansive filter’ through which to chart the ‘chaos of possibilities that emerge and recede, back up and move forward, crisscrossing each other.’3 Expectations of the new and the old, the obsolete and as yet only anticipated, are thrown into temporal disarray as its openness to reformation gives the photographic past a futural slant.

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


September 2009Published

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Date Deposited:

23 Nov 2010 14:49

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 17:05

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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