Fotograf Magazine

Critical Issues in Photography Today

(International Conference held at the University of Westminster, London, 18 – 19 May 2017)


Over its ten years of existence, the British magazine, Photographies (published by Taylor & Francis), has established itself as among the most important periodicals focused on contemporary photography theory and criticism. It approaches photography programmatically as a heterogeneous medium which keeps constantly changing and developing in relation to all aspects of contemporary culture. On the occasion of its anniversary, David Bate and Liz Wells (the magazine’s founding editors) organised a two-day international conference to re-focus the ways of understanding and interpreting the photographic medium, and to define the current conceptual frameworks and methodological approaches emerging from technological, economic, political and cultural changes.

Eighteen papers presented by photographers, teachers, critics and theoreticians from all kinds of cultural circles were arranged in five thematic panels: 1 Critical Issues, 2 Theory and Resistances, 3 Territory, Community and the State, 4 Borders and Boundaries, and 5 Education. Presentations, discussions and roundtables focused primarily on both the tangible and intangible aspects of the photographic image in various contexts: documentary and visual activism, photography and education, media practices and their threats, archives, the role of social media and contemporary art practice.

Let’s mention at least some of the papers that resonated most in the final discussion. Michelle Henning, in her paper called Image Flow: Photography on Tap, focused on the issue of photography as a shared image flow circulating in many directions: in what way does this daily generated mass of images transform the value of the image and our ways of understanding and treating photography? It is important to realise that the circulation of images and their “fluid metamorphosis” do not only go from the past to the present but also diverge in many other directions, and that these image streams are not generated by some passive anonymous power but by human sources that pro-actively shape their quantity and directions of flow by their behaviour, e.g. on social networks. Another major topic was the appropriation of a game image captured by the means of technologies other than a camera (Winfried Gerling, Photography in Digital: The Screenshot and In-Game Photography). The author focused his research on digitised virtual environments and photos captured in them, and especially on the practices and aesthetics of the screenshot. Sarah Tuck studied another form of operative images: machine vision with an emphasis on drones and their influence on the transformation of understanding of the near and the distant or the specific temporality of direct transmission. As in the other cases, these new technologies themselves were not analysed except as major stimuli for new ways of creative treatment of photography and its reflection. In addition to the topic of changing technical and media conditions, what proved to be of crucial importance was the theme of “world photography”, i.e. the questions of forms and functions of photography in various cultural and social fields and the possibilities of their translation or transcription (e.g. Lucy Soulter, Photography and Cultural Translation).

Zuzana Tomková and Tian Yang