The 21st Century Photography conference at Central Saint Martins last week was for me an inspiring event. It is, inevitably, reassuring to listen to papers that position photography somewhere close to where my research is heading. In essence, I had the distinct feeling some of us had been reading the same texts (some old and some new) and thinking these need thinking through in greater detail in terms of a way of considering photography (for me that’s Thrift and Bergson and Ranciere and Bennett and Ponty and Lacan and a whole host of others I will list elsewhere).
The term post, post-photography was mentioned. I’m not certain if this is a term we’ve all been able to define. It’s as if it sounds like it could be right, it could apply, but nobody is quite brave enough to declare it ‘this moment.’ Personally, the entire ‘post’ thing makes me wonder when do we begin again, when do we actually move on?
It was good to see some familiar faces and to meet new people, too – and to remark on what a small world the world of photography actually is. I enjoyed the conversation with another academic about their desire to NOT want to engage with Deleuze – and it reminded me of a similar conversation I’d had at Falmouth University where it was thought by a new (but now departed) Professor there that Deleuze was used by students because they thought they had to rather than because it was relevant (or indeed because they had even read any).
It was a shame Johnny Golding was delayed and we only got half the paper delivered. It was also a shame that air conditioning noise competed with the academic propositions in some of the presentations – as someone who suffers from hearing loss that really was frustrating.
Central Saint Martins is a great learning space and I was inspired to be there, to be inside its industrial frame and to be with so many interesting people. The weather was great, too! It was London at its best.
I hope that my paper was interesting enough for some people, enough that they sat through the twenty minutes and didn’t feel they’d turned up to the wrong session. I’m sorry I missed some papers but I did try to chose the sessions that contained the most relevant papers for me. The ideal conference would record all those other sessions and put them online somewhere. I think most people would like that and it would make parallel sessions less of a lottery.
I really enjoyed most of the papers I heard at the conference but the ones I especially remember wither because of their relevance to me or because of their delivery were by Sharon Harper, Katrin Joost, Dario Srbic and Rachel Kremer.
John Robert’s keynote on day two was a dense presentation on the ‘Political Economy of the Image.’ To be honest, I think I needed to read more of his work to appreciate what he was saying. Looking back at my notes they amount to intense, half finished phrases as John quickly moved onto his next point and I failed to really articulate, in brief, the point he was making in my note book. That’s partly on me but also partly connected to his delivery style. I think, had I read his paper, I would have needed a few goes to really understand it. So real time, spoken delivery didn’t quite translate for me. I was tempted to just shout “Stop, John! What do you actually mean, here?” but no one does that at academic conferences. . . Perhaps they should. He kept mentioning the ‘critical public’ but I wasn’t clear who they were or even why they were important. My notes end with ‘the life of an image as a life worth living,’ but even reading this now I’m not certain this has any substance as a phrase. It sounds good, but it doesn’t tell me an awful lot and that’s my problem with the notes I took from this keynote, they sound like good ideas: ‘truth resists iconography,’ ‘paradoxical outcome of relational aesthetics,’ ‘art doesn’t detach itself,’ but I don’t feel as though I understand them fully or can adequately apply them to anything useful. I wrote down that I should read more of Jameson and that will no doubt be a good starting point. I will also seek out some of John Robert’s written work so that I can spend time with it, rather than rush to scribble down the half remembered things he spoke about.
My next conference is the APHE at Nottingham University at the beginning of July – please feel free if you are in the audience to shout “Stop, John! What do you actually mean, here?” I shall take it as a complement.