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    Pictures of things and things that are pictures

    Penny, David John (2014) Pictures of things and things that are pictures. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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    This project, encompassing a written thesis and final exhibition of work, traces the trajectory of my development as a photographic practitioner, following from an interest in creating photographs of objects. This practice has been brought into an artistic research framework and uses an open-ended methodology involving critical reflection on my processes in order to draw out a research question. I ask what and how a practice of making pictures of things – made prominent as things themselves – might contribute to an ongoing interrogation of the ontology of photography. The context for this question is a ‘material turn’ within photographic discourse, identified by Batchen (1997) and Edwards and Hart (2004), that suggests a shift from a concern with the textual to a concern with the objecthood of the photograph. A detailed evaluation of my methodology encompasses technical and aesthetic considerations, examining the steps of my process – indentified as attention, creation, proto-production and resolute production – in order to investigate and make explicit the specificities of my methods of making pictures. I emphasize these stages and inter-stages (periods of latency) as important components in the final outcome of the work, which aim to conceptually distance an appreciation of the constructed image from the original object. The text argues that the thesis, together with the art works, constitutes a contribution to knowledge in the field of photography. It is specifically concerned with art practices that engage with a seeming paradox: that the photograph, while appearing to give relatively unmediated access to its referent, is also a catalyst for speculation whose very materiality is part of its affect on the viewer. I map the field with reference to historical and contemporary debates around the shifting identity of photography, locating critics including, Bazin, Barthes, Snyder and Elkins, and I nominate as exemplars, prominent practitioners from Edward Weston to Hiroshi Sugimoto, Thomas Demand and Elad Lassry. It is through the viewer’s experience of an encounter with the exhibition of artworks that the research is finally realised. My photographic practice of making Pictures of Things and Things that are Pictures – defining ‘things’ through their indeterminacy – produces an analogue with the unsettled territory of photographic theory and the anxiety of the photograph as immaterial image/material artefact.

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