2019 - Ongoing
A Shift in Material Presence
As the entire mode of existence of human collectives changes over long historical periods, so too does their mode of perception. The way in which human perception is organised – the medium in which it occurs – is conditioned not only by nature but by history. (Benjamin, 1936: 23)
The medium of photography has been inherently bound up in just such a seismic transformational moment. Beyond its capacity to organise and present, I see that it is the shift in material presence that it has undergone that reveals this.
Where images were once embedded or created
as part of their physical support structures, such as the glass plate or the negative where the image sat on it, today they float seemingly unmoored, routed rather than rooted. Much was written about the ‘twilight zone of obsolescence’ and the ‘death of the medium’, as digital image making was expanding in the 90’s, but of course neither happened. Instead, we find ourselves increasingly drowning in a deluge of imagery in a time increasingly referred to as; after, beyond or
post photographic. Where we have witnessed a relative death of film we now see a ‘proliferation of photographies’.
This series reflects an enquiry into the changed landscape in which the medium of photography now resides. Over the past few years I have been collecting unexposed, expired plates and film and photographing them on a light box, as
I take them out of their carefully sealed packets.
I felt deep joy in spending time with these physical objects, reconnecting with the wonder
of the haptic. This process enabled me to experience the inherent fragility and instability
of these material, tangible objects whose origins are anchored in discovery, chance and alchemy from earlier moments in the mediums history. Their materiality standing in stark contrast to
the ephemeral nature of todays electronic media, where immaterial and intangible images are made up of bits, bytes and pixels and created largely for sharing and distribution over connected media.
For me the deep colours and the unique shifts that have occurred in each objects chemistry, reflecting the nature of entropy, imperfection and chance, are something to be celebrated. Within the pools of light and the vivid hues there is an invitation
to take a quiet moment for reflection, a chance
to escape the bombardment of day to day digital imagery and to bring one’s own thoughts to
the fore. In thinking of this I am reminded of the colour field painters of the 1950’s, such as Mark Rothko or Barnett Newman, who understood this so well.
While not lamenting the loss of the physical or the working methods of the past, I cannot avoid sitting with the question of what the preferencing for circulating and sharing – over the holding of the physical object – means, and where this ultimately leaves the role of the photographer today.
Joanna Vestey, Oxford 2020