Art & Theory, Photography

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Sandra Križić Roban and Ana Šverko | Watching, Waiting

Sandra Križić Roban and Ana Šverko

 

Watching and waiting have, in multiple ways, been intrinsic to photography since its inception, regardless of technological advancements.

 

Watching, Waiting presents a collection of essays that brings emptiness into interdisciplinary focus as an object of study that extends beyond the present. Through still and moving images, it examines the photographic aestheticisation of emptiness, existing stereotypes of ‘empty places’, and transformations of human experience. In the aftermath of Covid-19, the theme of ‘empty places’ has  taken on a new relevance topicality and resonance. “It seemed that everyone was suddenly capturing emptiness through photography,” clarify editors Sandra Križić Roban and Ana Šverko.

Briefly and concisely explain in plain language what the book is about.

Watching, Waiting delves into the relationship between space and photography through the phenomenon of emptiness, across various parts of the world and different periods – from the dawn of photography to contemporary artworks. We explored intentional emptiness in photography, as well as emptiness caused by objective circumstances: from the emptiness in early photography caused by a slow photographic process, to the emptiness during the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the slowed-down pace of life.

Watching and waiting have, in multiple ways, been intrinsic to photography since its inception, regardless of technological advances. From a contemporary interdisciplinary perspective, the authors provide insights into geographically and temporally diverse production models of empty places. They shed light on their corresponding intricate and delicate global and local relations, while also addressing the ethics of behaviours and the protests that manifest themselves within these spaces.

What or who inspired you to choose this topic?

The book was inspired by the global dominance of empty spaces caused by the COVID-19 pandemic around the world. It seemed that everyone was suddenly capturing emptiness through photography. This publication is an expression of how to transform a global situation, marked by the impossibility of physical encounters, into an opportunity to discuss photography. The inspiration thus stemmed from the circumstances of the lockdowns we shared, from conversations about a situation that was new to most people. Yet, on the other hand, it highlighted that the photographic depiction of emptiness in spaces has its layered and significant history. A history that encompasses interpersonal relationships, aesthetic strategies, technological advancements, and the evolution of civilisation as a whole.

Do you have any reading suggestions to share (books, blogs, journals, …) for anyone who wants to know more about the subject?

We recommend the extensive bibliography in our book. As the book is interdisciplinary, and it explores the topic in many directions, a smaller number of recommendations necessarily omits topics needed for a more complete understanding of the matter at hand.

How did the writing process for this book go? Did you experience anything surprising, amusing or strange?

The contributions in the book do not point to amusing situations, but the positive atmosphere during its creation certainly helped transform the weight of the content into an exceptional experience. It is as if photography, with its unique language, enabled us to connect different eras, bringing together people who had never met, along with the places they observed, and to highlight various strategies of emptiness (mental, physical, symbolic, hygienic) that photography conveys.

The journey from presentations at a conference to a coherent volume is a challenging one. During the manuscript editing process, we were joined by a young assistant, Tomislav Bosnić. He was of great help and learned a lot during this process. We are delighted that the book has also served the career development of a young scholar.

Continuous discussions with the authors and conversations between us two editors helped to integrate the contributions into a harmonious whole, fostering creative interactions. The final visual essay by Luca Nostri, for example, emerged from this process as the perfect conclusion to the entire book, linking the end with the beginning. His photographs, in which he documents the emptiness caused by the slowed-down pace of life during the COVID-19 pandemic using an analogue field camera, are actually reminiscent of the emptiness in nineteenth-century photographs due to the slowness of the photographic process.

What would you like readers to remember about your book? 

Perhaps the magic hinted at by the cover photograph, behind which lie layers of content that can be seen, interpreted, and discussed. Today’s photographic language travels at unimaginable speeds, shared across networks, and manipulated in various ways, often appearing superficial and “shallow”. At times, it seems there’s no time left for what photographs truly convey, something we’ve included in this book – a rediscovered absence inherent in the nature of the medium. We were aware that times of crisis and change are not fixed, and that the conditions we initially spoke of would not persist in this form. Moreover, we’d like this book to inspire further interdisciplinary connections in relation to our other research and academic interests,. We want readers to feel that we have given equal weight to artistic projects, documentary approaches, historical perspectives and personal experiences.

Watching and waiting: these two states became universal during the pandemic, in a world emptied and steeped in existential uncertainty. But has this waiting period taught us how to wait? We hope that this book, by exploring the photographic aestheticisation of emptiness and examining existing stereotypes of “empty places”, will refocus our gaze on the human face of crisis, and demonstrate the power of photography as a mediator in the positive transformation of human experience.

Your book is published open access thanks to the support of the KU Leuven Fund for Fair Open Access. How did the open access publication process go? What makes open access so attractive for you/your book? Have you thus far noticed that your book reaches a wider audience?

While we don’t yet have precise data on the number of downloads, we are convinced that digital content reaches readers faster and more easily. And while a bound book evokes a kind of magic that only a printed edition possesses, it’s important to allow the unhindered dissemination of scientific data to as many users as possible. Numerous colleagues immediately responded by downloading the digital edition, and many have promised to acquire the print edition for the libraries of their institutions.

Do you have any plans yet for another publication? What will it be about? Would you consider publishing the book open access?

We are working on various publications. Sandra is editing a book that is the culmination of a scientific project dedicated to photography which has brought together scholars from different fields. They all discuss the significance of media and the photographic image as a vehicle of knowledge essential for a comprehensive discourse. This book, entitled “Formats of (Non)Seeing,” will also be available in open access. Additionally, she is writing a book about women’s photography in Croatia, but that edition will most likely be a traditional print.

Ana is writing a book on the renowned Croatian artistic heritage photographer Nenad Gattin. She is also compiling a volume on Dalmatian artistic heritage in women’s travel narratives from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. This collection explores the travelogue as a genre of female emancipation and investigates the extent of female expertise in this field. Both editions will be available in print and open access.

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Olga Smith | Contemporary Photography in France

Olga Smith

“I have tried to formulate narratives that reach beyond the national perspective, opening onto wider questions concerning the place of national histories of art within increasingly globalized practices.”


In Contemporary Photography in France author Olga Smith explores the history of photography in France from the 1970s to the present day and sets photographic practices in contemporary art, documentary, photojournalism, and fashion in dialogue with French philosophy. The result is an innovative study of the intersections between the photographic image, text, practice, and theory.

Briefly and concisely explain in plain language what the book is about.
This book traces the broad arc of photography’s development in contemporary France. This narrative follows a straightforward chronological structure, with chapters arranged by decade, from the 1970s to the present day, to include a wide range of practices as they co-existed at any one moment in time, mainly in contemporary art, although I also include documentary, photojournalist, and fashion photography.

This book is also a study of the interchanges between artistic practices and French philosophy. It shows that the encounters with photography were consequential for the development of critical thought of figures such as Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard and Jacques Rancière. Their ideas, in turn, provided a point of reference for the artistic practices, as well as being critically probed by means of photography.

What or who inspired you to choose this topic?
The seed from which the book developed was my PhD, and when I embarked on it ten years ago photography started to be exhibited in the museum, discussed in the classroom and written about in a systematic manner. I was inspired by my peers at the regular meetings of Ph: The Photography Research Network – a kind of monthly salon for people writing about photography, hosted by The Photographers’ Gallery in London, which I co-founded. This was an exciting time for the study of photography, but there were very obvious gaps. Available histories of photography systematically under-represented women photographers and offered a very skewed picture of global distribution of photographic practices. Contemporary photography from France was largely missing from these surveys, and from photography discourses, and this is what determined the subject of my PhD.

Do you have any reading suggestions to share (books, blogs, journals, …) for anyone who wants to know more about the subject?
Michel Poivert’s survey, 50 ans de photographie française (2020), is indispensable for anyone who wants to know about contemporary photography in France. There are other brilliant studies by French historians of photography, critics and curators, including Dominique Baqué, Marta Gili, Nathalie Boulouch, Clément Chéroux, Danièle Méaux, Léa Bismuth, Clara Bouveresse, Héloïse Connessa, Marie Robert, Julie Jones and many others, but sadly most are not available in translation. The exhibition programme of venues such as Jeu de Paume, Kadist, Le Bal and the Institut pour la photographie in Lille gives a great insight into current photographic practices in France.

How did the writing process for this book go? Did you experience anything surprising, amusing or strange?
The book took far too long to complete! I am surprised it is finally going to be published.

What would you like readers to remember about your book?
Ideally, I would like this book to be received as a question: what does it means to write a national history of photography today? It has been a challenge – but also an advantage – to write about a national tradition of photography from the perspective of an outsider, a non-native speaker of either French or English. In writing this book I have tried to formulate narratives that reach beyond the national perspective, opening onto wider questions concerning the place of national histories of art within increasingly globalized practices.

Do you have any plans yet for another publication? What will it be about?
I am currently at work on two major projects. The first is a study of ‘landscape’ as a form of engaging with nature in contemporary art. The second is a co-edited volume of essays on ecocritical methods in art history.