Gary Winogrand
I take photographs of things because I want to see how things look when photographed.

Yvonne Junya YuanSimulacra and Post-photographyThe desire to take photographs may perhaps arise from the following observation: looked at in general, from the angle of meaning, the world is distinctly disappointing. In detail, taken unawares, it is always perfectly self-evident.
——Jean Baudrillard

Post photography is not only served as a very important branch of post modernism art, but also manifests a bunch of characteristics that contemporary visual culture possesses. From the many schools of theory that addressing visual culture and its development procedure, I would like to pick up Jean Baudrillard’s simulation as the breakthrough point to start my reflection on post photography.

As we have learned in the previous week, according to Baudrillard’s point of view, there are three orders of simulacra that he articulated in Symbolic Exchange and Death in 1976. They are pre-industrial /classical order (counterfeiting/reproduction), industrial order (mass production) and the contemporary postmodern order (hyperreality). This could shed light on how we perceive that the present photography, which has entered the era of post-photography, has also entered the simulacra world. A child of the industrial revolution, photography has dropped back from its major function, which is representing and recording reality objectively. Simulation of the real has become the principal part of contemporary photography.

Map that precedes the territory
In the light of Baudrillard, what has happened in postmodern culture is that our society has become so reliant on models and maps that we have lost all contact with the real world that preceded the map. Reality itself has begun merely to imitate the model, which now precedes and determines the real world: "The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory—precession of simulacra—that engenders the territory". Hereby, post-photography extricated itself from the limitation that photography should reproduce the objective truth and original. Photographer could create simulation photographs based on his/her own models/maps, such as the outlook of world, life, value and moral. Take the series Untitled Film Still, 1977-1980 as an example, the famous American photographer and film director Cindy Sherman created a cast of women who seemed to be playing classic movie roles and all posed by herself. Modeling in several roles, varying from an immature school girl to an attractive seducer from a glamour diva to a caring housewife, she reveals gender as an unstable and constructed position. Based on the map (apparently Hollywood stills here), Cindy Sherman designed her make-up and scenes for different roles to achieve the fidelity of the Hollywood stage photos. c1.jpgc2.jpgc3.jpgc4.jpgcindy-sherman.jpgcindy-sherman2.jpgDifferent from borrowing the Hollywood stills, Sandy Skoglund simulates a scenario by use of the three-dimensional software, and then employs various kinds of materials, tools and people to build the whole setting and finally get it photograph. Her works always possess the virtual nature, highly saturated and contrast colors. Look at her work Cats in Paris, a cohort of model cats in pure green are walking through a real street that is shrouded in blue. This can’t be true in the real world, only by simulation and artificial construction could make it happen.
Cats in Paris

The hyperreality of post-photography lies in duplicating reality and surpassing reality. The material objects in real life still plays the part as the creation element, however, after deconstruction and resetting, they become more real than the reality. The point is that all the forms of reality could be operating effectively as the simulation. David Hockney’s photo-collage works could be perfect illustrations. Using varying numbers of Polaroid snaps or photolab-prints of a single subject, Hockney arranged a patchwork to make a composite image. Because these photographs are taken from different perspectives and at slightly different times, the result is work that has an affinity with Cubism, which was one of Hockney's major aims – discussing the way human vision works. Place Furstenberg Paris is a collection of photographs that are taken at different time, space and angle of vision. The subject is real for sure, but after rearrangement, dynamic changes come out and a condensed sense of crisscross of time and space wells up.
Place Furstenberg Paris

Chinese artist Yao Lu’s work New Landscape of Chinahas won the 2008 BMW- Paris Photo Prize for contemporary photography.
This thoughtful and timely series inspired by traditional Chinese paintings in which mounds of garbage covered in green protective nets are assembled and reworked by computer to create images of rural mountain landscapes wrapped in the mist. Those garbage and green protective nets covered up the “absence” of green hills and blue waters in Chinese paintings, and transcended the original version of beautiful hills and waters, expressing its profound connotation. No photographs that follows the objective law and reappear the truth will result in such effect.
Dwelling in the Mount Fuchun, 2008.
Fishing Boats Berthed by the Mount Yu, 2008.

Jasmine Wee

WAR vs. MILITARY PHOTOGRAPHY: Opposite Sides of the Same Coin

War photography has long been one of the most powerful and stirring genres of photojournalism and photography in general. In the times before extremely advanced satellite imagery, war journalists, like they do today, documented the fights and battles faced by soldiers daily on the front line. In contrast, the contemporary American military-industrial complex has lead to the creation of highly advanced satellites and honing devices that allow wars to be waged with greatly reduced human interaction: drones could be sent to drop tons of bombs from extremely high altitudes while the controller executes the job in a control room. The two photos I have chosen shows the most extreme contrast in war photography from the past and today; meanwhile, both images are debatable as to whether they depict genuine reality, or are their meanings and content distorted by the way in which the photographer or creator wanted to portray a particular object or person in a certain light.

The first photo, shot by Eddie Adams on February 1 1968, won the photographer a Pulitzer Prize for its shockingly raw and cold-blooded portrayal of an execution-in-progress. General Nguyen, then National Police of South Vietnam, has just fired a bullet into the head of a Viet Cong leader. The seeming calmness on Nguyen’s face, in contrast to the victim’s distorted features and the cringing private looking on on the left, drives home the chaos, cruelty and bloodshed experienced by the Vietnamese on both sides, as well as Americans, on a daily basis. This image and the video footage were broadly circulated and printed in papers, magazines and television news outlets throughout America, was arguably a key catalyst in bringing anti-Vietnam War sentiment to a breaking point in America. Naturally, Nguyen became the face of all that is bad about the war, but most people don’t know the backstory to his action. It was purported that Nguyen decided to shoot the Viet Cong officer, Captain Bay Lop, as Bay Lop was in command of a death squad that murdered as many as 34 South Vietnamese police officers (or in their stead, their families) on that very day. In turn, Eddie Adams admitted to regret the impact of his photo because “the general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my…people believe [in photographs], but photographs do lie…what the photograph didn’t say was, ‘What would you do if you were the general at that time and place…and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?’” Therefore, despite the General being portrayed as and understood to be a war criminal by the photograph itself and the wider public, the photographer’s intention was not to show him as a cruel man but was instead to document the actual event. In fact, when Nguyen died in1998, Adams called him “a hero” and that “America should be crying. I just hate to see him go this way, without people knowing anything about him.” The grey area of subjectivity and objectivity, truth and untruth that the medium covers is embodied within this photograph.

The second set of photographs, though not necessary “war photograph” in the traditional journalistic sense, are images that war tacticians, soldiers and certain geographers and cartographers see in a regular basis. But when they do get to the public, there is usually uproar and shock. These two photographs (digitally enhanced) were published on Foreign Policy’s website on January 13, 2011, accompanied by the banner headline “How 25 Tons of Bombs Made an Afghan Town Disappear.” The “before” and “after” says it all – a neatly organized nucleus of beige dwellings is replaced by only piles of dust and sand. The fact that the images are both so far away meant that we can’t see the details—animals, men, women, children—and neither could the drone controller or fighter jet pilots who unleashed the devastation on the village. Unlike the images from the Vietnam War that shocked, awed and reminded the public of the bloody reality of fighting, in these photos, we see no bits of color, items or clothing, blood, or limbs strewn everywhere. It simply looks like a big pile of dust in the “after” photo where the settlement used to be. These aerial views, snapped from a safe distance, are cool and clinical, lacking the immediacy and intensity of war photography such as the photo taken by Eddie Adams. This is a new brand of photography—one that pictures violence without actually capturing the action of violence; suggests pain and death, but not showing any trace of it. The “after” image shows only AFTER all the destruction has happened.

Obviously, the functions of war journalism photography and military photography are very different. However, it is worrying to me that humans have developed technology to such a state that they can consciously use technology to numb their feelings so that actions such as bombing and killing could be made an easier task. By deliberately shielding and detaching ourselves from the physical (as well as psychological) costs of war as much as possible, military photography has transcended from being merely an image to a psychological tool. But then again, no photograph is completely unbiased and objective, and, despite attempts by their creators, war and military photographs are perhaps the most obvious examples of this characteristic of the medium.
Lin Lu

Is photography a type of art? This questions has been raised since the emergence of the photography techniques. At the early stage of photography, photography served as the major method to record reality - the present moment. The history of photography started at 1826 by the French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. The image had poor quality and resolution and people could hardly tell what subjects were recorded. The shapes and boundaries between lights and shadows were obscure as well. Such poor quality images were quite expensive and they cost several hours to finish exposure process. Compared to paintings, the early photography could hardly to seem as a more convenient and better method to reflect objective world. What kinds of advantage did photography have that triggered people to continue pursue and improve technology? At the early history of photography, the unique characteristic would be its objectivity to reflect reality. With the development of technology, photography is no longer a simple tool to reflect an objective world but create a subjective world through lens and digital software.

Photography was highly influenced by paintings at the early stage. which resulted in pictorial photography. Pictorial photography is using photographic techniques and equipments to create images similar to paintings by adjusting apertures and speed. Some images of pictorial photography have commons with Monet’s Waterlily. The main genres of photographs can be categorized based on use of technology and cultural elements. If we categorize genres of photography based on how we use and experience it, I would list the following genres: realistic photography (landscape photography, portrait photography, photojournalism, pictorial photography, and etc...) and surrealism photography. Usually, we use photography to experience and real world and to record images reflecting objectives. Photography, as a method of preserving moments and history, is a social constructive form that shapes our views towards reality. On the other hand, with the development of technology of photography, surrealism photography enables human to experience create a subjective world based on objective reality. Two famous surrealist photographer in the early 1930 were Salvador Dalí and Philippe Halsman. Dali Atomicus (1948) by Halsman is one of the earliest surrealistic photography images, which explores the idea of suspension, depicting three cats flying, a bucket of thrown water, and Salvador Dalí in mid air.
1826, "View from the Window at Le Gras,"Saint-Loup-de-Varennes (France).

The technology in photography involves in accordance with chemistry and digital information technology, which influences the genres of photography and causes debates on aesthetic and authentic issues. From polished pewter plate covered with a petroleum derivative to silver compound, from exposing the silver first to iodine vapour to making glass plates with an albumen emulsion, and from color process to digital editing, technology changes a lot. Respectively, meanings and use of photography are changed. Remixed and hybrid images are popular in post-modernism. Rather than a privileged art form at the early stage of photography history, photography becomes a ubiquitous technique that every one can perceive it by buying a device such as cameras and mobiles.

With the development of digital technology, ubiquitous use of camera phones and digital cameras becomes a prevalent phenomenon. Bourdieu stated that “Photography is considered to be a perfectly realistic and objective reading of the visible because (from its origin) it has been assigned social uses that are held to be ‘realistic’ and ‘objective’ ( p.74) Photography becomes a tool to create legislative identity and art in some social mechanism because of the development of the new media. Iphones and online photo galleries enable instant images sharings. And I start question that how should we label values to these instant shared pictures?


It’s interesting to relate photography to the subject of ‘suture’ in media forms. I’m taking a film theory course this term, and suture is a recurring theme—but the idea is applicable to photography since film is basically a series of photographs rapidly fired. Suture is the process by which the work that goes into making a product what it is, is hidden from consumers. How does this relate to photography? For starters one could say that suture in photography is achieved through the addition of text. Barthes says that text and image have been associated since the book and separating the two requires going “back to partially illiterate societies.” Text can be words spoken or written. When was the last time we saw a photograph without text to give it context? An advertisement can be purely textual, though they very rarely are these days, but a purely visual advertisement is almost always temporary, a gimmick that is later explained with words. It seems almost every ad is a photograph sutured with words. Perhaps this is because we secretly know that photography isn't reality, so we rely on words to guide us to the reality the ad makers want. To use Barthes’ terms, in our world pure image (coded message) and anthropological knowledge (non-coded message) is almost always accompanied by a linguistic message.


But what about family photographs, perhaps the most private images we have? When only we are consuming them they don’t need linguistics—perhaps therefore the only thing that can replace text is experience. (I don’t need this picture to be explained to me, because I was there.) But when private photographs are made public, they are almost always accompanied by text. A prime example is the blog Dear Photograph. People recombine old photographs with new ones and explain the meaning to visitors. Does this mean that any image that is publicized counts as an ‘advertisement’? Is every photograph automatically an advertisement, since every photograph is meant for consumption?

"I'll always remember my first fish."

"Grandpa loved the outdoors. But he loved us more."

If we think about how Western society has evolved in the past millennium, we see a progression from media form to media form in search of the ultimate ‘unbiased’ and ‘scientific’ one: At first people thought it was most objective to record the world textually, then they came to think pictures ‘said a thousand words.’ Now pictures aren’t good enough, because pictures can be doctored. Now video is preferred. But since a video is only a series of rapidly fired photographs, the thought process is that a bunch of pictures in succession reify the pictures that precede and follow them. This means photography is inherently a political or ideological medium, which is what Bourdieu seems to be saying. Photography may seem to depict objective reality but 1) it only depicts the aspects of things that can be photographed; 2) it always captures these aspects from a certain angle; and 3) these aspects are “generally reduced in scale and always projected on to a plane” (73).

But is there is even an objective reality for film to depict in the first place? If a fully functional person only perceives reality using his or her five senses, then ‘reality’ itself is an ideology or perception. Thus photography might not be more than the perception of a perception. Either way, photography mixes reality and fantasy. It shows us life from an angle that we never look at it from. It’s more like a ‘god’s eye view.’ Photography even shows us things that no human has ever seen but through photography.

How many of us see trees and grass like this when we go to the park?


No human has ever seen Earth from this perspective, but we all believe it's a realistic and objective projection of reality. No one has ever seen the Crab Nebula in any way other than photographic, but we all believe this is what it looks like.

"Pale blue dot"

Crab Nebula

Alexis Hamann-Nazaroff

Bresson, in The Decisive Moment, called a good photograph a “stolen image”. This term jumps out at me because it implies a power dynamic, in which taking a photograph is a violent, violating act; the photographer is a thief of an image that rightfully belongs to his or her photographic subject. The metaphor of photography and violence also comes across in the phrase “to shoot a photograph”, as Metz points out in Photography and Fetish.

There are a few uses of photography especially for which this is a deeply apt metaphor is deeply apt. Since I learned of their existence a number of years ago, I have been horrifically fascinated by American (sub-)cultural tradition of photographing lynching.
Lynching photo example Lynching Photo example 2

The photographers for these two images are both anonymous. Both photos are from from shortly after 1900. They were made into postcards, and presumably sent out to family and friends (who would want such a greeting?) or kept as souvenirs. From Wikipedia: “There were cases in which a lynching was timed so that a newspaper reporter could make his deadline. Photographers sold photos for postcards to make extra money. The event was publicized so that the intended audience, African Americans and whites who might challenge the society, was warned to stay in their places.Wikipedia Article Many of these photo-postcards now sit in historical archives around the country.

However much these photos horrify us, they were part of the very essence of the lynching event. What does it mean that people would want to buy a postcard of this violent event? It strikes me as particularly twisted when connected to the writings of Bourdieu and Metz, who point out that whatever its myriad of uses, photography’s essential identity is in documenting family. Photography’s essence, these authors argue is found in the snapshots of important family gatherings, of children before they become adults, of adults before they die. Bourdieu even suggests the possibility that rather than the camera being a side-prop which we must not forget to take out at important events, the family gathering is actually called together in order to document through photography a fantasy about what the family should be. The photograph is more important than the gathering is in real-time. What does this mean for these lynching photos? The lynchings they portray were often major events in the towns and cities in which they occurred, the kind of event your day centered around (and not only if you were the victim), an event you dressed up for, discussed long afterward, and for which your blood pounded a little more wildly. When thought about this way, it is no wonder a photographer seemed to be always present at the seen. It was an event made for the camera. The lynching photo combined two of the most deep-seated metaphors of photography: it captured the essence of what was a monumental event for the neighbors, in the way of a family-gathering snapshot, and its subject was death, silence, immobility. To return to my first point, that the metaphor of the “stolen image” implies power, the purpose of the lynching photographs were for the onlookers and visitors to revel in their power. By sending these postcards, or displaying them, they told their friends and their enemies about their power.

A number of contemporary artists have collected many of these postcards as well, and insert them, repute them and reappropriate them in their work. For example, I recently saw the exhibit Strange Fruit, at the Corcoran Gallery by photography and video artist Hank Willis Thomas, and it made quite an impression on me. He takes the iconography of the lynching photograph, but completely subverts its context. It is no longer an aura-less, multi-copy postcard, but a monumental-sized, glowing photograph on a museum wall. Since visitors to contemporary art museums are usually going to test their critical gaze, perhaps this new context is more appropriate to critiquing the image, even as Thomas seems to turn it into an icon.

Strange Fruit, Hank Willis Thomas
Strange Fruit, Hank Willis Thomas
HWThomas website
Ken Gonzales-Day is another photographer who has done a project based on the lynching photos. From his own collection of lynching photographs from western states (the crime is usually associated with the deep south, but it was in fact more widespread than that), he spent years searching for the actual locations where the photographs were taken, and then he re-photographed the same tree, now empty of a body, where the event had occurred. His final product is also a photograph –a-temporal, silent, and representing a fleeting moment that has too past away, and yet his process seems to subvert this understanding of photography. By finding the original locations represented in the photo-postcards he collected, he insists on their lifespan, their changing meaning, the still-living presence of the events they represent with us today.
nightfall, Ken Gonzales-Day
nightfall, Ken Gonzales-Day
K Gonzales-Day Website
I’m curious to know what the class makes of the works of these two artists, Thomas and Gonzales-Day.