“We shall be your favorite disappearing act!” / Clare Strand, Playing a Photograph
This essay discusses the intellectual foundation of the research group Thinking Tools at the Royal Academy of Antwerp. Established within the photography department at the Academy, the research group quickly decided to mainly support research into experimental photographic practices that radically question existing presuppositions. It starts from André Bazin's contention photography is the only way we can enjoy the absence of the human hand in the production of an image and goes on to explore how this theme of absence has become a guiding principle for the research group. The writings of Vilém Flusser on photography introduced us to the concept of the apparatus and to the photographer as an operator. These allow us to critically rethink the idea of photography as a simple instrument of image making. For a better understanding of the sovereignty of the camera we turned another thinker inspired by Flusser, the French photohistorian Michel Frizot. His definition of photography as the conjunction of an optical and a chemical system helped us to grasp in more concrete terms how photography radically differs from other existing art forms. Combining the theoretical positions of Flusser and Frizot gave us a robust framework for the 2021 publication Off Camera which set out to demonstrate how the concept of ‘the photographic’ expanded into the larger realm of the visual arts. The essay concludes with a discussion of two artists whose work could illuminate how this concept of ‘the photographic’ is at play in contemporary art.
Clare Strand’s “Playing a Photograph” is a telematic dialogue between a photograph and musical performers from the Royal Conservatoire (https://vimeo.com/773269239/c934f6a17a).
Coloured technical images: On the Role of Colour in Vilém Flusser’s Work
Flusser wrote about colour from different points of view His interdisciplinary approach defies clear-cut borders by contaminating that which is generally thought to be separated. It rather seeks to create complex syntheses that play a privileged role in his texts on colour. In the same way, colours do not stick to the forms into which one tries to imprison them. They overflow, blend and bleed into each other. This essay focuses on four aspects of colour: the connection of black and white in photography and discourses on “racial” differences; the role of greyness and its relationship to colour luminosity in the description of culture and politics; the presence of colour in nature, landscape, and the animal world; Flusser’s use of colour in a redefinition of the notion of technical images in the context of the project of the Casa da Cor.
Small Data Photography. Mit weniger Daten mehr erfahren
Everybody is snapshooting, everywhere. Flusser’s statement in his Toward a Philosophy of Photography from 1983 is even more significant forty years later in our brave new world of smartphone pictures. Is it possible to overcome the abundant redundancy of digital colour photography by using the same device, a mobile phone? In her experiments against the apparatus Vera Schwamborn developed what she calls „Small Data Photography“ as an answer. It is amazing that 480 x 640 pixel image on a small Nokia mobile can result in irritating and informative photographs opening a path to regain the world around us by small data. Flusser tried to combine aesthetics and technology as a way to bring back sensual experience into our abstract environment of calculus and computation. Together with Karl Gerstner he developed ideas of a colour code parallel to the all-embracing number codes of our time. Small Data photos also offer a reconciliation. They disclose a world of images that lie before the text and beyond the number.
Brief Encounter with Vilém Flusser. An Interview
In this interview, Henry Lewis, who originally comes from Australia where he now lives again, speaks about his early interest in photography, the years he spent in France and his relationship to Vilém Flusser. His work as a photographer was not only influenced by other photographers like Man Ray – especially the Rayographs -, Tom Dahos, Jürgen Klauke, Juan Fontcuberta, but also by painters and sculptors like Ellsworth Kelly. Lewis got to know Flusser through Andreas Müller-Pohle whom he had showed his radiographic work and who suggested that he made contact with Vilém Flusser in Robion. Lewis and his wife Christiane visited Vilém and Edith Flusser in the South of France several times. Lewis also talks about Flusser’s influence on his work, the relevance of Flusser’s work thirty years after his death, and the future of photography.
Reflexion. Henry Lewis: X-Räume / Reflexion. Henry Lewis: X-spaces / Henry Lewis, X-Spaces
In 1990, “European Photography” published a text by Vilém Flusser on the work of the photographer Henry Lewis: „Henry Lewis: X-Spaces (41/11, 1990: 46-47). In this essay, Flusser discusses the impossibility to experience space with the eyes. We can only reach as far as the surface of objects, he writes, but radiography penetrates beyond the surface into space. Flusser contends that Henry Lewis is not interested in finding out what is behind the surface, but in making the experience of space visible. He is making pictures of the third dimension.
This text is the third chapter of David Levis Strauss’ Photography and Belief, an examination of past and present convictions about the reality, authenticity, trustworthiness of the photographic image. Following on from considerations of the subjectivity of a photograph as developed by Benjamin, Barthes, and Berger, the photograph’s status as a sign and the implications of its indexicality, this chapter positions photography in a far broader context. For Flusser recognises the photograph as the onset of a shift in human communications as vast as the invention of writing, introducing visual codes that undermine those of alphabetic writing, and opening completely different means of generating and storing information. Although Flusser spoke little of belief as such, he did speak often of doubt. If we accept that doubt is not the opposite of belief, but of certainty, his approach touches continually on questions of belief. For Flusser remains uncertain whether the new society based on technical images – the first being the photograph – will be the most creatively exciting, humane society the world has ever known, or its very opposite, a mindless network of functionaries.
Appareil et caméras chez Vilém Flusser, objections et critique
For Vilém Flusser, apparatus is a term of primary importance. Key to the post-historical age, it tends to designate a programmed functioning within which the players or functionaries, that we will be from now on, are activated. The problem is to define such a notion, Flusser relies on a questionable conception of photography and of the “photographable.” The point of this paper is not to consider, as Flusser puts it, what can be “left for us,” but to consider more optimistically what can be done “with” the new recording devices. Considering that history is not finished, we will propose, following the suggestions of Walter Benjamin, to think of technique as open to a less regulated, freer and potentially more critical understanding.
This is a short interview with Claude Lutz, the founder and director of Édition Circé, which in 1996 published a French translation of Vilém Flusser’s Für eine Philosophie der Fotografie. Three more translations followed: Petite philosophie du design (2002), Essais sur la nature et la culture (2005) and La Civilisation des médias (2006).
Les Rendez-vous manqués. Flusser, la France et la photographie
Flusser was based in France for the last sixteen years of his life. He spoke reasonably good French, but he published very little in France, either books or articles, gave few conferences or lectures, and never became part of French intellectual circles. While some of it may be due to his modest knowledge of French and to his living in a small southern village far away from Paris, the main reason is probably that he was an outsider, not a member of academia and not a thinker who could nicely fit in the “French Theory” dogma. Even after his death he did not attract much interest in French intellectual circles until recently. This essay analyzes this “missed encounter” principally from the viewpoint of photography; it notes however that interest in his concepts has been growing in France for several years, goes on to suggest ways to cultivate and extend this trend.
In L’inter-code, a pseudo-random algorithm controls the appearance of zones of images and zones of text in mutual exclusion over the screen. The images include animations based on 3D models of objects exhibited in the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris: astronomical instruments which measure the infinitely big, a cyclotron which probes the subatomic world and above all, photo cameras adapted to the measure of space (photogrammetry). The images also include footages taken by the German ethnologist Theodor Koch-Grünberg in 1911 while living with the Taulipang tribe in Brazilian Guyana. The texts where extracted from the work of the philosopher Vilém Flusser, Towards a Philosophy of photography, which inspired this work. Strengthened by the soundtrack, this animation opposes Images and Texts in line with the ideas of Vilém Flusser: texts and images confront one another in the representation of the real world. This dialectical relationship, whose synthesis is yet to be discovered, is matched in the video by another opposition: tribal men living in equilibrium with nature, contrasting with the divergences of technical progress. By representing the biased relationship mankind maintains with the real when it is coded by texts and by images, L’inter-code seeks to question photographic image, not as the neutral product of a technique but as a complex construction that embeds a risk: the danger of increasing the distance between mankind and the world he inhabits. L’inter-code questions the possibilities and limits of science and its materialization in technology.