The Deferred Image: Rethinking Photography’s Temporalities

Justin Carville, Historical & Theoretical Studies in Photography, Institute of Art, Design & Technology, Dun Laoghaire (Dublin, Ireland),

Over the last 25 years the sub-genre of ‘late photography’ has emerged as a counter point to the perceived actuality and immediacy of photography’s representation of events ‘in medias res’ (in the midst of things) (Campany, 2003). Characterised by its codification of belatedness, the camera’s delayed arrival at the scene of an event, has, in an era of real-time media experiences of global conflict and catastrophe, evidenced a shift from the temporal specificity of photographic experience of war to the spatial appearance of its aftermath. Although late photography as a genre has been identified as emerging as a form of conflict representation across photojournalism, documentary and contemporary art, recent scholarship, and photographic practice, have also drawn attention to other forms of  photographic deferral. Ariella Azoulay’s identification of the belatedness of the gaze (Azoulay, 2011), the historical photograph’s punctuation of the present moment in artist Frank Willis Thomas’s exploration of racial injustice, and the continual re-inscription and re-temporalization of the photographic archive identified by John Roberts as where lateness is made normative (Roberts, 2014), demonstrate new theorizations, and representational strategies in the exploration of photography’s temporalities.  

Such forms of deferral of the photographic image may involve the reclaiming of histories by  mobilising photography’s social and political affects (Michelle Smith, 2020). Thus, a closer consideration of  processes of photographic deferral may also allow for a retheorising and rethinking of the aesthetic and politics of late photography. This panel seeks papers that interrogate the aesthetics and strategies of deferral, belatedness and latency in photographic histories and practices relating to; racial justice, peace and reconciliation, trauma and memory, decolonialism and de-colonizing the photographic archive. The panel especially welcomes papers that emphasise culturally differentiated practices of photographic deferral in the cultural politics of social movements, and identity formations

Speakers & Abstracts

Colour Timing: The Labour of the Laboratory and the Aesthetics of Delay

Kirsty Sinclair Dootson (University of St Andrews)

Colour has always troubled the temporality of photography. From the extended exposures demanded by early screen processes to the lengthy processing times necessary to produce colour prints, colour routinely challenged the idea of photography’s immediacy. While there was always a delay in analogue practice between shooting, printing, and viewing a photograph, this delay was exacerbated by colour, as many more chemical and mechanical processes intervened between these stages. In this paper I ask how this extended delay between capturing and consuming the image shaped the aesthetics and politics of chromatic photography. How could this delay create room to negotiate and critique the norms of photographic practice? What new meanings accrued during a colour photograph’s long gestation in the lab? I examine how this delay invites us to rethink the gendering of photographic labour by considering the feminised work of one colour laboratory in interwar Britain: Colour Photographs Limited. Manufacturing prints photographed in the Vivex process the lab is best known for printing the work of commercial photographer Madame Yevonde. At a time when photography was dominated by male practitioners and black-and-white images, Yevonde’s colour work challenged the hegemony of both. Her photography raised questions about colour’s capacity to feminise photography through her use of the Vivex process—a technique contingent on women’s labour at the laboratory, where prints took two weeks to manufacture. Yevonde’s photography articulated the value of women’s slow and patient work at time in interwar Britain when female labour was increasingly automated, mechanised, opposed, and devalued.

The Economy of Expiration: Alison Rossiter's Photographic Belonging to History

Noam Gal (The Hebrew University, Jerusalem)

The camera-less photographic installations of American artist Alison Rossiter are made of what she calls 'found photograms', that is, obsolete photographic papers which the artist collects and develops in her analogue darkroom, revealing the latent century-old visual content impacted by levels of light and temperature these papers met until they reached the hands of the artist. The resulted abstractions gain complex political framing through a specific titling method which reports on the artworks' material sources: the name of the paper's manufacturer, its date of expiration (stamped on the found package), and the date of the artist's final processing. By this condensed formulation, the artwork weaves together multiple histories, from the material history of photography and its nearing-extinction apparatuses, through the social history of mass-consumption in the camera-age, and up to the disciplined 'Art History' of modernist abstraction and its agendas. These simultaneous time-ranges are then charged by comparison with the different biographies of the artist and her viewers, but also by two words in Rossiter's appropriated titles – 'expiration' and 'process'. In Marxian terms, the former exemplifies the false promise of capitalism's logic of surplus production and 'Mehrwert' (as the 'expired' photo-paper still creates images), while the latter implies potentiality of 'concrete labour' in the arts. Yet, when the 'expiration' in one title is 'August 1945', the greyish cloud-like figure that came out in the processing of that paper takes on a totally different meaning of 'expiration', suggesting other histories that linger inside all photographic matter and that are, following Blanchot, ethically dependent on the historical affiliation to the biography of its present viewer.

A (Self-)Portrait of the Vanishing Memory

Leonida Kovač (University of Zagreb, Academy of Fine Arts)

The paper considers the interdisciplinary research project of a photographer Silvestar Kolbas entitled Fotokemika. Fotokemika was successful photochemical company established in 1946 in Zagreb as a small laboratory that produced black and white photographic paper, photo chemicals and simple cameras. Since 1949 when the factory in the nearby city of Samobor was opened the firm developed in the successful producer of photographic, cinematographic and x-ray film that was exported all over the world. Needless to mention, in Fotokemika hundreds of qualified workers were employed. The factory which was self-governed by its workers until 1991 when, during the war, criminal privatization in Croatia begun, went bankrupt and was closed in 2012.

Silvestar Kolbas’ project addresses the relationship between history and materiality of photographic media. In his work where the photographic medium tells its own story, materiality, or more precisely, corporeality of photographic medium points to the social materiality and in doing so photography’s temporality becomes the bearer of the reflection on the transition from socialism to crony capitalism. Kolbas was spending days in a darkness of deserted and devastated factory halls and rooms where he found various kinds of films, photographic papers and chemicals the shelf life of which expired years and decades ago. He used that films to take the photographs of the factory interiors as well as the remains of machines and devices, with different analogue cameras; he developed them and printed images manually on the old photographic paper which was also produced and left in the photographed halls. Kolbas’ project is both enquiry of the history of Fotokemika factory and his own personal history, since his early career is inseparable from Fotokemika’s products that in in former Yugoslavia during 1970s and 1980s symbolized photographic profession.  Fotokemika project stems from the position of situated knowledge and relates personal history with the shift of the productive, economical, political and cultural paradigms that occurred at the turn of the century.

The Ghost of Unseen Childhood: Resurgence Images of Young/child soldiers of Iran-Iraq war

Younes Saramifar (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

In 1980 till 1989, Iran and Iraq experienced the longest protracted conventional war since World Ward II. These two Muslim majority countries were at war with each for almost 9 years. Both utilized the notion of martyrdom in their warmongering discourses, propaganda and combatant recruitment. Iraq, under Saddam Hussain encouraged martyrdom for the nation and Iran, under Ayatollah Khomeini propagated martyrdom in name of Islam. Iran, especially suffered from the disarray of armed forces because the newly established Islamic Republic (1979) has not yet organized its army. Therefore, it was dependent to conscriptions, drafting soldiers and intensive recruitment of volunteer combatants. The late Ayatollah Khomeini announced ‘the nation which has twenty million young men must have twenty million gunmen because such a country would not be vulnerable.’ (1979). His pronouncement encouraged young men as young as 10 or 11 years old to fake birth certificates and enlist for the war against Iraq to arrive at martyrdom and salvations. Iranian War photographers portrayed these under age soldiers in the war era and Iranian newspapers published proudly these young soldiers who were as tall as their AK47 or barely could carry their rifles. They were called young soldiers of Khomeini or little soldiers of Khomeini with endearment, envy and adorations. However, these images and pictures of these soldiers are judged and seen differently in the contemporary Iran. The postwar generations who were born during the war and after the war interrogate these deferred images and judge the earlier generations and their parents. They borrow the term child soldiers from unending conflicts in Africa and the civil war in Sri Lanka to challenge the religious sentiments and desires for martyrdom that ignored the childhood which was lost in the frames of martyrdom.

By way of an anthropology of memory and ethnography of postwar Iran, I have explored how these deferred images have become the bone of contention in postwar narratives in Iran. They bring out the war trauma which Iranians have decidedly ignored in early eras after the war. I explored the belatedness of gaze through ethnographic photo elicitation along with Iranians to show there is a delayed trauma embedded among Iran because martyrdom was the overlapping consensus that renamed death. The images of young Iranian soldiers are the story of the deferral of biopolitics and singing along with the necropolitics by the generation of pious who mistook death for life.




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