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This thesis focuses on the contemporary queer photography of the artists Zanele Muholi, Momo Okabe, and Zach Blas. More specifically, it examines the role of different theories on gender, queerness, and photography in connection to queer time and space, haptics, affect, and queer opacity. These aesthetic elements are treated as potentially subversive in relation to Gilles Deleuze’s concept of the society of control. The frameworks of both queer and photography theories are employed to analyze the photographs’ formal and political aspects in order to explore their subversive possibilities. My readings and analysis of the photographs suggest that each of these artists deploys aesthetic features as queer tactics to resist the society of control. Additionally, based on the analysis of my own photographic series, Showering with Glasses (2018), I provide an artist’s perspective on possible methods to approach queer aesthetics and the ways in which they might be harnessed as queer tactics. By specifically addressing contemporary queer photography, my hope is to provide insight into what this genre is capable of achieving in the real world.
The study of affect has gained momentum since the 1990s, especially since scholars within cultural studies and film studies have indicated their interest in addressing affect in relation to the examination of the body and materiality. Since then, affect has been discussed in terms of physiological processes, energetic intensities, corporeality and form. However, the lack of consensus over the term’s definition in academia makes it challenging, but also liberating to analyze a cultural object from an affective perspective. Within the academic sphere, a video artist that has utilized affect is Bill Viola, whose presence on the art scene became increasingly felt from the 1970s onwards.
This realization is particularly relevant for the analyses of his work as together with the development of new technologies and subsequently, Viola’s new modes of presentation, the academic debates were operating in alignment with such advancements. A trend that can be observed regarding the different analyses of his art is that his early works were often discussed in relation to haptics while his more recent works have been primarily studied in connection to symbolism, theology and affect; either with the focus on formal analysis or spectatorship. Consequently, this essay concentrates on one of Viola’s more recent and barely-ever analyzed works – The Messenger (1996) – where both affect and haptics can be discussed simultaneously in relation to form and the spectator. Therefore, the paper aims to answer the question: In what ways do the affective and haptic aspects of Bill Viola’s The Messenger (1996) contribute to an embodied spectatorship?
Ever since cinema was invented in 1895, many film theorists have attempted to definitively answer the question: “What is cinema?” The prominent film theorist André Bazin has connected cinema with the medium of photography and emphasized cinema’s operating as “twenty-four photographic frames that flit by each second.” This account corresponds with an understanding of cinema in terms of an indexical sign which assumes not mediated and direct representation of reality. According to Daniel Morgan, this interpretation directly impacts cinematic aesthetics because “the realism of cinema follows from [a] photographic base.” However, this particular definition became challenged after film developed and shifted from analogue to digital technology in the 1990s, causing theorists like Morgan to question whether digitally manipulated films can still be defined as merely indexical. Instead, the medium’s iconographic qualities have been highlighted, which has enabled Morgan to distance himself from this account of cinema as a strictly photographic medium. He uses the cinematography of Jean-Luc Godard to propose an account of cinema as an impure medium where photography is conceived of in relation to other artistic media.
In 1986, one of the most disastrous nuclear power plant accidents in history took place. As a result of this nuclear spillover, known as the Chernobyl disaster, millions of people were affected by harmful radiation and the effects of this catastrophe are still felt today. In 2015 and 2016, Kazuma Obara, a Japanese documentary photographer, travelled to Pripyat, which is a city situated five kilometers away from where the initial explosion happened. It was there that he found an expired film that had been exposed to radiation within the area. He decided to use this film in his photography series Exposure (2015-2016), which considerably influenced the overall outcome of the work. Exposure can be connected to the genre of late photography, defined as images taken after specific events have ended where only traces, fragments and empty buildings are left behind. Furthermore, late photography generally depicts stillness and operates in contrast to “freeze frames,” which are often distributed in the media during or immediately after an event has occurred. In alignment with the genre’s popularity, David Campany considers it to be a dangerous art form because its openness for interpretation may “foster an indifference and political withdrawal that masquerades as concern,” hence stimulating a purely “aestheticized response.” Therefore, in this essay, I aim to answer the question: Does Obara’s photographic series Exposure (2015-2016) have a contemplative effect on the viewers that can contribute to a critical re-evaluation of their memories in connection to the Chernobyl disaster or does it merely instill an aestheticized response? Read more
The rise of avant-garde art movements can be dated back to the 1910s although they became most prominent during the 1960s and 1970s. Throughout their historical development, the umbrella term – avant-garde art – encompassed movements such as Dadaism, futurism and surrealism from the 1910s up until the 1940s. Later, socially engaged avant-garde (1920s-30s), critical neo-avant-garde (1960s-70s) and situationist cultural avant-garde (1960s-70s) became prominent in the art scene. Peter Bürger provides a definition of the European avant-garde movements as “an attack on the status of art in bourgeois society” where the attack is mainly directed at institutions that influence our daily lives. The main aim of avant-garde movements was to abolish autonomous art by integrating art into the praxis of life instead. After they allegedly failed to sublate art into the praxis of life, theorists like Bürger found neo-avant-garde art to be inauthentic because it lost its shock value and essentially “institutionalizes the avant-garde as art and thus negates genuinely avant-gardiste intentions.”