Professor Martin Irvine
Photography to Post-Photography and the Hybrid Image:
Overview of Important Directions in Photography Today

Jeff Wall, After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Preface, 1999-2001. Cibachrome transparency, aluminum lightbox. Edition of 2. 76.25 x 106.25 x 10.25 inches. Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery, New York. Further information.

Photography is How We See,
and is Always Encoded in Specific Genre Frames

We never experience "photography" (in the abstract): we experience photographs, specific kinds of photographs (genres) framed by their uses and reception contexts (social and material). After around 150 years of being socialized into ways of seeing with photographs (and all lens based media, including film and video), and before that, becoming "optical" since the 15th century through paintings and drawings made with optical aids (lenses, camera obscura, mirrors), we arrive at an important social-technical intersection with digital photography. We have to learn how to look at photographs as social and cultural forms of representation to see how they work, and how we see and think "photographically".

The genres and functions of the photograph have continued through many technical shifts: the iPhone and inexpensive digital cameras have confirmed Bourdieu's view of "the middle brow art form" in the millions of family and personal snapshots taken everyday, records of highly ritualized events, poses, contexts, views that conform to learned beliefs about what's pictorial, a portrait, the camera-moment.

From optics to pixel grid:

Photography has always been developed from hybridizing/new combinations of technologies and methods: the invention of photography involved optics (lenses) + chemistry + material support = photographic image.

Since the introduction of digital photography and the digital darkroom (Photoshop), we have seen a shift in thinking about/with photographic images:

from what the lens "sees" (principles of optics, focus, perspective, light sources), and metaphors of capturing, registering, mechanical means

to what a screen can display (digital pixels, imitation of camera lens point-of-view, focus, and perspective).

Now many images are made to look photographic, and are still called "photographs," whether no lenses or many lenses, were used in the making of the image.

The "photograph" is an idea, an image category, before it is instantiated in any material form.

Intersections of technologies and institutions:

Photography has always been linked to developments in technology for the film medium and cameras as optical light capturing devices. But the interesting history is found in the many conceptual uses of photography, the institutions and social organization of the medium, and the mass adoption of cameras in the middle class for "taking pictures" of family and domestic life.

What important ideas can we extrapolate from the social and technical history of photography, from early cameras to digital cameras and camera phones (iPhone)?

Post-Photographic Era:
The Era of Ubiquitous Photography and the Digital Object

Some observers and theorists of photography and film are talking about our current era being "post-photographic": we live in a culture trained to read photo-produced images (and images as judged or assumed to live up to photographic expectations), yet many of the images we experience every day imitate photographic features without being produced by (or solely by) a device with a lens and recording medium. What is the status of the photograph as a digital object?

What are the implications of living "post-photographic"? Is this an extension of the notion of the hyper-real? With photographic "realism" still providing the codes for "the real"?

Recent Bibliography: Notable Books []

Blink: 100 photographers, 10 curators, 10 writers. Curated by Shahidul Alam, et al. Phaidon Press, 2005.

Susan Bright, Art Photography Now, Aperture Press, 2005. [Aperture Foundation]

Art Now, ed. Uta Grosenick, vols 1 and 2, Taschen Books, 2005, 2006.

Photographers included: (vol. 1) Matthew Barney, Thomas Demand, Rineke Dijkstra, Douglas Gordon, Andreas Gursky, Shirin Neshat, Thomas Ruff, Cindy Sherman, Thomas Struth, Wolfgang Tillmans, Jeff Wall. (Vol. 2, additional) Vanessa Beecroft, Richard Prince, Anna Gaskell, Candida Höfer, Pierre Huyghe, Cindy Sherman

Jonathan Lipkin, Photography Reborn: Image Making in the Digital Era (Abrams Studio). NY: Abrams, 2005.

"The digital photography revolution may have taken place somewhat secretively inside dark boxes--cameras and computers--but the impact of digital photography, which is the subject of photographer and educator Lipkin's thorough introduction to the medium, has yet to be fully realized. Since its invention, photography has been a tool to both authenticate and manipulate experience. It is precisely this paradox that has made the medium so intriguing for critics, historians, photographers and viewers. But photography has never been as untrustworthy as it is now, and, according to Lipkin, it has also never been as creative.

Lipkin takes some provocative and challenging stances, such as arguing that we have reverted to a 19th-century way of seeing with this new technology, making for an intriguing read.

Examples by contemporary artists Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Pedro Meyer, Nancy Burson, and Loretta Lux."


Fashioning Fiction in Photography Since 1990.

This groundbreaking book, accompanying the spring 2004 exhibition at MoMA, explores the nature of fashion photography in the last decade.

The 1990s witnessed a particularly vital and inventive period when the reciprocal influences of artistic and commercial photography effected a clear change in fashion photography. Fashioning Fiction in Photography since 1990 tracks two of the key routes taken by contemporary fashion photographers: the application of cinematic techniques, as seen in the work of Cedric Buchet and Cindy Sherman, among others, and the snapshot aesthetic, as exemplified by the photographs of Nan Goldin, Juergen Teller, and others. In order to address the concerns, desires, and realities of youth culture, photographers and editors expanded the narrative of fashion photography to depict lifestyles, rather than the clothes themselves.

An interview of Dennis Freedman, Vice Chairman and Creative Director of W magazine, by the curators, discusses the subject from within the fashion industry and provides an intimate view of the creation of the promotional campaigns and the imagery of fashion.

Fashion, the Portrait, Fine Art

Face of Fashion
Photographs by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, Corinne Day, Steven Klein, Paolo Roversi, and Mario Sorrenti
By Susan Bright
Essay by Vince Aletti
Copublished with the National Portrait Gallery, London
NY: Aperture Press, 2007

This striking volume presents the intensely unconventional, often unnervingly intimate portraiture being made by some of today's most creative and original fashion photographers.

Each photographer is represented by a range of portraits, including several commissioned especially for this book. Some of these portraits were produced as ads, others were commissioned for editorial features. Many of the subjects are celebrities—Kate Moss by Corinne Day, Madonna by Steven Klein and by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, Sting by Paolo Roversi; others are as anonymous as Mario Sorrenti's Woman I. Essays by Susan Bright and Vince Aletti illuminate the collaborative nature of this radically new approach to portraiture, as well as how it diverges from earlier work by Cecil Beaton, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, and others. In addition, interviews and candid descriptions of the process by the photographers and subjects themselves provide rare insight into the potent mix of fame, fashion, and photography seen here.


Important Issues in Photography []

Continuing Major Issues

See Key Issues in Modern Photograph: Making a Photograph vs. Taking a Picture (link)

  • Realism, Representation, and the Status of the Image in a Post-Digital, Post-Photography Era
  • Pictures and Movies that rely on the codes of photography and cinema with using a camera and lens
  • Point of view, perspective, lighting
  • Post-photography photography: using photographic (photo-sensitive media) without a camera
  • Picture plane to pixel grid: metaphoric shift and photographic medium


Exemplary Photographers []

Modern Photographers Contributing to Current Issues in Photography (selected exemplary artists)

Contemporary Photographers: Photography in Visual Art Since the 1980s

Visual Artists Who Use the Function of Photography in Other Media []

Using Painting, Representation, and the Picture Plane to Question the Photographic Image

Chuck Close

Gerhard Richter