Ceci n'est pas une photographie. Spaces of Photography.On, Above, Below, Over Photography

Alen Ožbolt: Ceci n'est pas une photographie. Spaces of Photography.On, Above, Below, Over Photography

Alen Ožbolt

Ceci n'est pas une photographie. Spaces of Photography.On, Above, Below, Over Photography

8. September 2015 – 9. October 2015

Photon – Center for Contemporary Photography, Ljubljana, Slovenia

What is photography today?

Is a camera an eye?

Is photography a new view?

Is a camera a mirror?

You are where you are and yet you are to some degree someplace else. You are also on a photograph. A photograph is made of people, and also a human is made of photographic images, of increasingly more photographs, although they are evermore the same, evermore similar, almost exactly the same, completely alike, hence idiotic. Today the photographs are for the most part moronic, moronic photographs not necessarily always the photographs of morons.

Old people said: it is what it is; what you see is what you see!

Today it is the other way around: what you see is not what you see.

In the world of the omni-visible (“absolutely visible”), there is a photograph for all eyes, for every pair of eyes.

We don't watch only now. We watched before, we're watching now and we'll still watch afterwards.

In what direction do we watch? Do we watch outward or do we watch inward?

What do we see and what do we watch? What do we really see and what do we really watch?

We live in our heads; do we truly see – watch with our own eyes?

As a matter of fact, our eyes are not really open. Our eyes are directed and they dream.

What is their dream? Mass media pictures, mass media photographs. The world. Society. People. We dream.

Today “it isn't us who have appropriated the images but the images have appropriated us.ˮ We live in a culture permeated with images (digitalised to a large extent), we are flooded with mass media images. Image has become omnipresent. In the words of Boehm, Belting, and other theoreticians, “our era is the era of image hence it is iconic.ˮ

On one side, today's photography is potent while on the other it is impotent. Moreover, photography should also serve to see, to see better and to understand, and, of course, to realise and comprehend. To gain a broader, a further, a more profound perspective. But all we have today is an endless quantity of photographing. I call it “an epidemic of photographing,ˮ a disease called photographing.

What can photography do today, what can it change? Every piece of art is an event, it does something, it changes, shows, moves something. But what does photography do today in its infinite massiveness, its endless number? Doesn't it actually disappear, becoming lesser and lesser with every click and every photograph?! Hasn't it possibly already disappeared? What if there's no photography left? Photography is dead, long live photography!

“Early photographs were static, long exposures so painting at that time immediately became about movement – Futurism. About multiple viewpoints – Cubism. The old imagery was sucked out – and you got Malevitch.” Robert Motherwell.

Is a photograph still a document? It used to be, a long time ago, but today it is the production of a new or parallel reality… Today it is the construction of reality and not its reflection.

Photography has always been an extremely interesting cultural phenomenon: it reduces all subjects, objects…to a rectangle or a square. And it diminishes, levels everything, renders it the same size: it makes everything smaller, it squeezes, frames, makes everything exactly the same. A shoe on a photograph is the same size as man, a man is the same size as a house, a house is the same size as a mountain, a city is the same size as a cup, etc.

We assume that the artist's and consequently also the painter's view of photography – not necessarily through the lens – is always a specific portrait, a specific visualisation and transformation of a photograph into something before, on, below, behind, over a photograph which is something more or something different; it can be less than a photograph and it can be something not necessarily a photograph but also not more than it. These are, or want to be, the imaginations from, on, above, by, below photography.

My 'photographic' works are all about (procedures, actions, moves, movements, spots, pourings, cuts, stains…) transformations on a photograph. Literally and figuratively open photography: it should have to do with an open body of photography (because photography can have an endless number of media, bodies). At the same time, photographs are not only outside us because our head is full, meaning that also our brain is full of – photographs.

On, above, below, over the photograph… is applying, recycling, quoting, the use of the old, photo archives, documents, citations, elements ripped from the photographs, printed photographs…and constructing, cutting and gluing, penetration and escalation of colour…all of it on a photograph. A photograph can also be printed on canvas and mounted on the stretcher.

A transformation on a photographic 'celluloid'; there's always a stain or a shade, an application, a cut or rupture on a photograph, an invasion of something external, foreign, we can call it an attack of a foreign force, a picture, a drawing, painting and drawing techniques, a drawing utensil, a brush, a knife, scissors, paint, pigment, varnish…Some sort of a 'quantitative' upgrade (though it can well be a demolition, deconstruction or destruction of a photographic image) of a photograph's originality, its autonomy, biography and authenticity. Meaning that we deal here with an escalation, an attack of the external, of the foreign. The exhibition puts on display the modifications – transformations – and these modifications can also be injuries, holes, wounds, the pains of a photograph.

In all these cases, a photograph comes out of this – painful – process of exposure to drawing or painting techniques and procedures of substantial or liquid 'narrative' – modified; a photograph changes but not by way of an analogue or digital camera or a computer. It undergoes a substantial 'metabolism', a transformation, a material metamorphosis, an extinguishing and alienation. Small nations use the word denationalisation (potujčitev), and Slovenes specifically talk about Germanisation (ponemčitev).

I see the exhibition as a demonstration of this process which brings into the field of photography the alienation effect (otherwise known as the Duchamp effect); the demystification or critics of the established, dogmatic definitions, concepts, forms, contents and values of photography serve to reconsider the very essence of photography - i.e., what photography actually is and what defines it. The very process of decomposition articulates photography in some foreignness and otherness of photography. At the exhibition, the term art photography is mirrored, or more precisely, transfigured from something solid, dogmatic into something else, both material and notional, and this is an idea which is above all reflected in the visible, in the visual field: i.e., all notional elements which constitute this photography are always visible, materialised, and not only conceptual.

This is where the event, possibly even an experience occurs through which the notion of photography is defined and affirmed on the basis of the conceptual, of an idea which is necessarily visualised whereby the visualisation is the result of not only the mental and conceptual but also a working and material process. By no means is it affirmed on the basis of a dogma, ideology or technique, a technical formality which is for art actually completely irrelevant or relevant only as a transgression, a breaking of rules.

The process described above is implemented through the confrontation of reality with its transformation into the virtual. Every traditional photograph is a lie. And this lie is, of course, its truth. In fact, today's process of endless clicking, selfieing, photographing is a virtualisation of life and man. Photographing – although this is not photographing – inspired me to reflect on what actually defines photography in terms of practice and a notion as well as the human perception.

Photography is dead – long live photography! What we deal with is photography that only implies the idea of a photographer, photographic equipment, photographic subject and photographing. In short, I'm talking photography which doesn't require a camera and produces photography as art because it has been constituted as such as an idea, an artistic principle and not by technique.

“To doˮ: Find, dig; i.e., take a photograph – although with a plain, short, instantaneous click on the mobile phone – and fill it with your image, subjectify it, personify it. Regardless whether this person is the same as millions of other persons, make one person be on this photograph – i.e., you. Then – print – one, it, the photograph, and at the same time delete it from the memory of the device; hold it on the paper, take one last look at it, fold it and turn this personal photograph, the photograph of a person, of you, face down. After all, it can be unique, it might have captured, recorded, a special personal moment of the person?! Caress it one last time, rub it with a nail and crush it with one hand. Then tear it with the fingers of both hands to the tiniest pieces and – although it is of female gender – throw it in the waste paper bin and take it immediately to the waste paper container. When you get back home, flush the toilet and rinse the bad (sadly nostalgic) taste from your mouth.

Text for the exhibition Ceci n'est pas une photographie.

Spaces of Photography / On, Above, Below, Over Photography, 2015.

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Installation Views

Selection of Works from the Exhibition

Ceci n'est pas une photographie. Spaces of Photography.On, Above, Below, Over Photography

Ceci n'est pas une photographie. Spaces of Photography.On, Above, Below, Over Photography

Alen Ožbolt