THE PHOTOGRAPH AS A FORM OF CONTEMPORARY THEORY: MAKING THE WORLD A LITTLE MORE ENIGMATIC AND UNINTELLIGIBLE.

_ B. Gerry Coulter



I. Introduction



Perhaps the desire to take photographs arises from the observation that on the broadest view, from the standpoint of reason, the world is a great disappointment. In its details, however, and caught by surprise, the world always has a stunning clarity [1].


1. Jean Baudrillard, Sao Paolo (1988) [2]

The secret of theory is that truth doesn't exist.  You can't confront it in any way.  The only thing you can do is play with some kind of provocative logic. Truth constitutes a space that can no longer be occupied [3].


2. Jean Baudrillard, Salins (1998).

To understand photography's full power in the contemporary context we must understand the role of theory and the shared characteristics of good theory and good photography. Theory and photography share, at the contemporary moment, many of the same goals and procedures - and both have the potential to take us towards the limits of poetic and enigmatic thought. This paper challenges photography to accept its place as a form of thought equivalent to the best kind of contemporary theory. As such, it challenges photographers to rethink what a photograph can be in the context of the radical uncertainty of our times. I begin with an examination of the role of theory today and then move to an examination of the implications of the contemporary theoretical context for photography. One of the implications of photography rising to the demands of contemporary theory at the present moment is that it must respect the object on its own terms. This, as I argue toward the end of this paper, presents a devastating problem for aesthetics and so called "art photography". While I tell these converging stories examples of photography that answers the call of theory (images by Baudrillard, Reid [4] and Alexander), appear between paragraphs and are allowed to speak for themselves. This paper applies many of the thoughts of Jean Baudrillard on subject and object while making its challenge to the photographic medium.


3. Kelly Reid, Kaliforniya (2005).

II. Fatal Theory


Here, however, lies the task of philosophical thought: to go to the limit of hypotheses and processes, even if they are catastrophic. The only justification for thinking and writing is that it accelerates these terminal processes. Here, beyond the discourse of truth, resides the poetic and enigmatic value of thinking [5].

Neither theory nor photography should be hampered by traditional forms science and technology[6]. Today, science and technology present us with an unreal world of total interactivity and networked connectivity - a world which resides beyond previous criteria for truth and reality [7]. Theory has been long employed in attempts to restore certainty and belief. This is why so much theory today is devoted to information and communication systems. No matter how we may try however, these systems of information merely deepen and exacerbate uncertainty. Attempts to meet uncertainty with theory only deepen the levels of information in which we drown. What is different about the contemporary moment is that it is now widely acknowledged that we have entered into a kind of radical uncertainty from which traditional theory cannot save us. For many, this new condition - the "death of meaning" - is a cause for despair. But is not the continuation of the age old search for empirical truth, faith and fundaments, and self-evidence, an even sadder prospect?

Today we face a condition we can no longer ignore - that the uncertainty of thought is based on the fact that it cannot be exchanged for truth. Today thought (theory) contributes to uncertainty and unknowability because it can no longer produce unified theories or truths. Facing the fact that there is no longer a universal standard of truth - merely a scale of probability - the space between the true and the false becomes randomized. The uncertainty principle of Heisenberg becomes elevated to a general condition of all pursuits of knowledge - the uncertainty condition in a very real way has replaced reality [8]. What we are forced to do today, in relation to the previous period of constructing grand narratives, is to accept the meaninglessness of the world. We are called to look for what it is that prevents us from seeing realities we thought we recognized before [9]. This demands of us that we pay special attention to the world of appearances behind which reality hides, never knowable. Jean Baudrillard has spoken to our current condition while raising a very pointed question:

...Do we absolutely have to choose between meaning and non-meaning? But the point is precisely that we do not want to. The absence of meaning is no doubt intolerable, but it would be just as intolerable to see the world assume a definitive meaning [10].

Before assessing the role of photography, what then is the theoretical context of the contemporary in which it resides?



4. V Alexander, Baden-Baden 2006 5. Victoria Alexander, Ansouis (2006)


Theory is one of many forms of simulation - of shaping observations of appearances into a story. No theory can lay claim to being more than one of a number of possible ways of simulation as there is no longer any difference between the state of things and the state of theory [11]. From theory we do not derive a "real" alternative to reality, but we can make reality tremble if we deploy theory as a challenge to the real. This is the radicality of theory in our present condition - theory stands as a challenge to the real which is itself, from its hiding place, a challenge to theory [12]. Supreme truth, as any fundamentalist knows in his heart, is merely another name for death.



6. Kelly Reid, Lennoxville, 2005.


So what are we to do with theory after we acknowledge that the real and truth are accessible only along restricted and local horizons? The first step is to acknowledge that any attempt to return to theory with the goal of universal truth is an exercise in the banal. In our condition of radical uncertainty it is better to admit that we face an object world of which we can no longer understand ourselves to be masters of the game. As such, our long metaphysical and epistemological heritage that sees the human "knower" as more cunning than the object is radically destabilized. This, as we shall see below, has enormous implications for photography.



7. Jean Baudrillard, Bastille (1998)

If not banal theory, what then? Fatal conditions such as the death of truth call for fatal approaches or what Baudrillard has called "fatal theory":

There is perhaps but one fatal strategy and only one: theory.  And doubtless the only difference between a banal theory and a fatal theory is that in one strategy the subject still believes himself to be more cunning than the object, whereas in the other the object is considered more cunning, cynical, talented than the subject, for which it lies in wait. The metamorphoses, the ruses, the strategies of the object surpass the subject's understanding [13].

The world is no longer compatible with the concept of the real which we have long imposed upon it in our quest for certainty. The task of theory (and photography) today is to help us live in a world without truth and certainty - a world where reality is acknowledged to lie hidden behind appearances. Theory then loses its role as mediator between the real and knowing and takes on a more important role of mediator between appearances and knowing as a restricted and localized activity. One who holds this view of theory holds a camera in a different way than one who laboured under the enormous weight of Enlightenment thought and its understanding of theory as reflecting the real. Theory, fatal theory appropriate to the present condition, will not be interested in adding anything to the world of appearances. Theory will no longer have any stake in systems and will strive to undermine and possibly invert or even reverse systems. Rather than certainty, truth, meaning or the real, the object of theory will be uncertainty - fragments rather than wholes, the enigmatic rather than the knowable, the unintelligible over the intelligible. Theory, as opposed to what it was under Enlightenment thought, "recognizes that there is nothing to be said of the world, that there is nothing that this world can be exchanged for, while at the same time showing that his world cannot be as it is without this exchange with theory" [14]. Theory, if we carry Baudrillard's insight to its end, will be in a paradoxical position - it will become fatal - part of an ongoing duel between the world and thought. Our task is to understand that the world "was given to us as something enigmatic and unintelligible, and the task of thought is to make it, if possible, even more enigmatic and unintelligible [15].



8. Jean Baudrillard, Rio (1998)


If we accept the above as a reasonable approach to the conditions of radical uncertainty in which we live, we may then call upon photography to meet the demands of the contemporary. Photography, as it turns out, approached with the above in mind, is in a remarkably strong position to answer not only the call of theory, but indeed, a call to theory. An enigmatic and unintelligible world is a world that is indifferent to us as subject/ knowers. An understanding of theory as fatal, theory which no longer views the subject as more shrewd than the object  - theory that does not propose to interpret - may serve to elevate photography to a position where it can itself serve as theory - photography which makes a world given to us as something enigmatic and unintelligible, even more so.




9. Jean Baudrillard, Punto Final (1997)


III. Photography: An Object Based Medium

...finally I realized that there was a relation between the activity of theoretical writing and the activity of photography, which at the beginning seemed utterly indifferent to me, but it's the same process of isolating something in a kind of empty space, and analyzing it within that space, rather than interpreting it [16].




10. Kelly Reid, Montreal (2004)


The task of photography (an image text), like theory (a written text), if it is to face up to the demands of the present condition of radical uncertainty, is to function as a form of theory [17]. If theory is to be written with a recognition that the world it simulates can only be made more enigmatic and unintelligible, then photography, as a medium of the fragment, is also well placed to highlight the enigmatic and unintelligible nature of the world. Photography reduces the object to a mere trace of the world when everything else has disappeared outside of the frame [18].

The great demand that photography is well positioned to face, when guided by an understanding of fatal theory, is the recording of fragments of a world which is indifferent to us. Photographic image-text, like written theoretical text is, in this view, not required to clarify or explain, but to call our attention to, and possibly deepen the unintelligibility and enigmaticalness already present in a world which hides behind its appearances. Photography that achieves this can and should be recognized as a form of contemporary (fatal) theory on its own.




11. Victoria Alexander, Pasifik (2004).

At their respective best, both theory and photography lose their meaning at their limits - and this does not happen often enough - when it does, the photograph and the theoretical text do not participate in a truth building exercise(19). A provocative logic comes into play, one that recognizes that we can no longer occupy the space of truth. Here, photography, like theory can serve as a challenge to the real - a challenge to the real to expose itself as illusion. Good photography then highlights uncertainty - the only certainty we know. It does so however not by altering the object, but by respecting the enigmaticalness and ultimate unintelligibility of the object hiding behind the appearance that we photograph. Photography as theory is a kind of simulation - both a simulation of, and a challenge to, the world [20]. This is not the kind of simulation we gain from digital manipulation of the object or the scenic enactment of the object under the control of the subject. The subject of good photography, like good theory, is the unintelligibility and enigmaticalness of the world.



12. Jean Baudrillard, Saint Clément (1987)


13. Kelly Reid, Montreal 2006


14. Baudrillard, Toronto 1994


Photography which meets the demand of our contemporary context is never simply the act of a subject "taking" the image of an object. When we hold a camera in our hands we do not possess all the power in a subject-object relationship. Photography presents us with the opportunity to surrender the desire to seize the object and to experience the objective pleasures of taking photographic images. This pleasure can increase as we learn to recognize the power of the object in the photographic event - that object which has attracted and seduced us. The best thing that can happen to me as a subject holding a camera in the contemporary context is to be "seduced by the object" and acknowledge that I am the prey of appearances[21].

The dominant discourse assumes that photography allows us to see the object from the point of view of the subject. My position is that photography also allows us to see the subject from the vantage point of the object. This position should not be confused with a simple inversion to an object-based aesthetics. In much of what passes for photography the object disappears into the subjective vision - this is especially the case with "art" photography. What we must also realize is that in photography the object is also the site of the disappearance of the subject - hence, in the contemporary context, the subject must give up the notion of holding all the power. The object is a fatal attractor of the subject and photography, like written theory, merely need to isolate, rather than interpret, the object world.

Photography seen as a form of contemporary theory is based in an awareness of the power of the object in the face of the subject. Indeed, as I have come to experience photography, it is in the effort to exert power over the object that photography ends and we enter into some form of anti-photography - such as when art and aesthetics attempt to dominate photography - a place where we no longer "take" the image of the object that has seized us, but where, in attempting to seize the object, command and control it under a hegemonic subjective gaze, we move from "taking" images to "making" images. For me, this is the end of photography, a place from where photography can never reach the challenges of the contemporary theoretical context. My understanding of photographic practice has far reaching implications for how I view the work of people who travel under the name of "photographer".

We are far enough into an ironic reading of the world to know that it is the book that reads us, the television that watches us - why then do we not also allow that it is the object (of photography) that seizes us? A much less interesting theory of photography allows the subject to believe that s/he is more clever than the object. The photographic theory that I assert understands the object as lying in wait for the subject. The great benefit of this approach is that it allows us to understand photography as something random and less predictable (more object based) than art and aesthetics allow.

The photographs by Baudrillard, Reid and Alexander which appear in this article do not attempt to make the world real or to impose a narrative on it. They do not attempt to manipulate the object, merely to record objects as appearances. It is appearances which such photography records - the appearance of the world that we know ever so briefly before it's passing. Their photographs work against a narrative understanding of the world, against linearity, truth and the real. Here, meaning, truth and the real can appear locally, "along restricted horizons as partial objects" [22]
Importantly, they also work against a view of photography that sees photography as a subjective art via digital and other manipulations.

.


15. Kelly Reid, Ormond Beach, 2006



16. Victoria Alexander, Eze (2006)


One of the implications of pushing photography to operate like theory, given the demands of the contemporary context, is to understand that aesthetics and art photography fall outside the definition of photography as theory. Indeed, art and aesthetics are hostile to the object based character of photography in the contemporary as they attempt to regain the mastery of the subject. Art photographers often attempt to control and manipulate the object. In doing so they create art but they do not create photography. I believe that if we are to better appreciate photography in the contemporary world, we must surrender the desire to control and manipulate the object. Photography in the present context is an opportunity to capture the world in its fragmentary state and in doing so to highlight its enigmaticalness and uncertainty. One does not require subjective manipulations to achieve this - indeed; they take us further away from the appearance of the object that it is photography's challenge to record. The works of Baudrillard, Reid and Alexander shown here are all examples of photography when it is seized by the object and the product is fragments of a world that remains as it was given to us: enigmatic and unintelligible. Each of their photographs gives back the world at least as unintelligible and enigmatic (or more so) than it was given to them. Like the best theory in the contemporary context, photography that isolates something within a specific space for analysis only within that space, but refuses to interpret beyond this.



17. Jean Baudrillard, Le Touquet (1995)


18. Jeff Wall, Destroyed Room, 1978.


The theory of subject dominance is the easy solution to some very complex problems posed by the introduction of photography over a century and a half ago. It has proven to be an indispensable weapon in the war between art and photography in which art and aesthetics have sought, and perpetrated to a good extent, a hostile takeover of photography. So called "art-photographers", whatever their intentions, are vitally important in this takeover. Yet, if we challenge our biases about subject and object, we may find a place for photography where it belongs, outside of the world of art and aesthetics where the object can be understood as something beyond the control of the subject - the viewpoint of the subject's disappearance. The object is a very strange attractor. It is precisely this strange attraction that art photography foregoes in the manipulation of images, a phenomenon which is spreading in the digital era, wherein the subjective vision does not merely dominate, but seeks maximal control and mastery through orchestration, direction, the presence of acting, meticulous arrangement, and ultimately digital manipulation. A very good example of "art-photography" is the work of Canadian Jeff Wall.


IV. Art Photography as Anti-Photography [23]

FIn order to point to the implications of my view of photography for art and aesthetics and their long and hostile relationship to photography, it is useful to examine the work of one of the leading art photographers in the world today, Canadian Jeff Wall [24]. Wall's work is among the most interesting to appear in the international art world over the past quarter century. Wall considers himself a photographer and his work photography. The art world, curators, galleries and museums recognize Wall as a photographer. In 2002 he was awarded the Hasselbad Foundation International Award for "photography".  Indeed, many of his images are considered to be icons of contemporary photography. While Wall does use a camera to record the images that become the transparencies spread over his "light boxes", his practice is not, as I have defined it above, photography. Wall's relation to the object is indeed the reverse of photography - his work is the anti-photography of subject dominance of the object [25].

Rather than being seized by the object, Wall to the contrary, seizes the object by the throat in his painstaking command of the photographic scene and its production into one of his images for art galleries. Jeff Wall's images are not those of the world, but of his own mind adding layers of subjective interpretation to that world (not unlike theory when guided by a narrative). Light, the very essence of photography, even in his outdoor scenes, is artificial. Photo-graphy (the writing of light) is reduced to artificiality for a subjective effect. Photography is traded cheaply for art and aesthetic effect in such an exchange. Once again we are far from photography here understood as an object based medium - that inversion of vision that allows the object to seize us. It is precisely the desire to create the scene of the photograph, this stage setting that is the place of the demand for aesthetics to dominate the object of photography. Wall then is one of the aestheticizers of photography - arranging and rearranging every minute detail of the image we see emerge from his laboratory. As such, Wall's images stand against the very technical essence of what photography is. Photography comes from a different place, a place before aesthetics.

Wall has also crafted the term "cinematographic photograph" to convey some sense of his process and perhaps his own discomfort with the word "photography". But even here the term is deceptive as Wall's cinematographic transparencies that we see in galleries are anything but photographs as understood above. There is no better example of this than Wall's A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) 1993. To call this image a photograph, even a cinematographic photograph" is to stretch the definition of photography beyond credulity (which I take to be one of the goals of aesthetics and the fine arts). Wall has used computers and digitalization to manipulate many of his images. In reply to Turner's fear that photography would lead to the death of painting, Wall gives us images that participate in the death of photography via the effects of traditional painting (and cinema). This digital montage, like several others he has created, draws on the fictional character of historical painting in making this image out of over one-hundred individual photographs.



19. Jeff Wall A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) (1993)
(Cibachrome transparency, aluminum light box, fluorescent bulbs), Tate Gallery, London.




This anti-photograph makes reference to a print by Katsushika Hokusai bringing it to life in a farmer's field outside of Vancouver. Actors participated in the production of this cinematographic scene which took wall more than one-year to complete. This highly interesting image, steeped in the context of art history (Wall is an art historian by training), is the antithesis of photography and its ability to capture the singular moment in time. Ironically, what we are given here is an image that has taken over a year to script, produce, direct, and digitalize of a singular instant in time. The result is an interesting work of art, but it is not photography - this anti-photograph can only dream of a photographic medium it once barely knew - not unlike a baby snatched from its mother at birth.




20.The Giant (1992), Private Collection.
(Cibachrome transparency, aluminum light box, fluorescent bulbs).

Wall's The Giant is a work of masterful preparation, planning, and digital manipulation. It is an imaginary scene brought to life as an image of technical invention - image making as an electronic art. To make this computer generated image Wall digitally assembled shots taken in a library with those of a model standing in a scaled down set. The effect is of a giant standing on the staircase surrounded by Lilliputian library users (the couple descending the staircase at right). This is a kind of surrealism that can originate in a photograph but the end result is an object of the subjective imagination - the object in the world plays no active role here and hence this image is far from a photograph.


Wall's anti-photographic practice has also taken him into the highly creative realm of staging scenes from literature. One such work that has generated a good deal of attention is his Odradek, Tàboritskà 8, Prague, 18 July 1994  which enacts a brief scene of a woman descending a staircase [once again the art historical reference is unavoidable, this time to a famous work by Marcel Duchamp], from Kafka's story The Cares of a Family Man. The story is about "Odradek" a being who is part wooden, part living human, who remains hidden in the stairways of buildings. This work is also a reference to his own work which also often focuses on invisible and unseen people (such as The Invisible Man (1999-2000), The Volunteer (1996), or Morning Cleaning (1999)).



21. Odradek, Táboritská 8, Prague, 18 July 1994, Museum of Modern Art, Frankfurt).
(Cibachrome transparency, aluminum light box, fluorescent bulbs).


An image such as Odradek is not a photograph as I have described photography above and it more resembles a film scene. Being captured by the gaze of the everyday object is here sacrificed to the incredible effort to seize the everyday object which is constructed like a film set to enact a script. This is another instance then of Wall's powerful anti-photography - a practice that does not distinguish between the everyday world and the script, between the object in the world and the set design or between the object of photography and the object of the literary imagination. The result may be interesting, in the minds of some it may even be beautiful, there is no question it is art, but we should not call it photography.

Finally, Wall's The Flooded Grave (1998-2000), is an interesting anti-photograph because it shows us an event that is not a single event in a moment that is not a single moment. Again we find Wall dreaming of photography as this image took almost two years to complete and was made from over seventy different images taken at two cemeteries and a set in Wall's studio. It is a digital montage which dreams of the singular event in its moment but it is the antithesis of the momentary image that is the photograph.





22. The Flooded Grave (1998-2000), Private Collection.
(Cibachrome transparency, aluminum light box, fluorescent bulbs).



The camera has always troubled us because it records a world from which we are expelled in the photographic act. Every time we click our shutter and record an image, we remove ourselves one degree from the world we have photographed. This process of self extermination weighs heavily and many respond to it by attempting to take control of the camera and its images. If Wall's images were photographs they would not seek control, but rather, surrender it as the photographic act must. It is the world that demands to be photographed, the object that commands our attention, the photographer is merely part of the furniture in a pictorial space dominated by the object seizing us, and s/he is merely a conduit through which objects appear in photographs. Jeff Wall then is no photographer because for him images result from a reversal of such photographic practice - in his images the objects perform for the subject - Wall's images are like television, objects do not command Wall, Wall commands them.  This is interesting, it is often thought provoking, but this kind of image making is not photography - indeed, it is its opposite. It takes a certain amount of courage to do what Wall does - and it will take more for us to recognize it as something else other than photography.

What Wall's images do, and this is their real importance, is to show us the dis-ease we have with the camera - a dis-ease that mounts as we enter into the era of the digital. There are many image takers and image makers (Wall being the later). Image making is not photography as an object-based medium. Wall is a fabulous maker of images as Goddard is a fabulous maker of cinema, but Wall is not participating in photography understood as an object dominated endeavor - his images are art, but they are not photographs. Wall's images are an escape into subjectivity and aesthetics - a place where the photographer does all the work. The magic of photography of Baudrillard, Reid and Alexander derives from the fact that it is the object which does all the work [26].

For a photograph to take place, the otherness of the object must remain in tact. Wall's images are not the kind which filter out the subject; indeed, they impose the subjective vision over the object at every turn. As we subject ourselves to increasing digitalization it is important that we recognize that its appeal to us is largely aesthetic. Is this some form of revenge emanating from a culture held hostage by objects?


V. Conclusion

We can never photograph, nor can we appreciate photography, until we can allow ourselves to understand radical objectivity - the world's ability to escape our subjective view and to command our attention and focus. We like to think it is we subjects who discover the object but photography tells us something else entirely. In approaching photography in this manner (as object based), we find it an adept medium able to live up to the demands of  contemporary theory - a medium that can be used not to add to the world, not to build narratives and myths, but rather, to record fragments of the world in its enigmaticalness and unintelligibility. Like the best of theory, the best photography need not add to the world, and can make the world more unintelligible and enigmatic. Art photography and photography dominated by a subjective aesthetic approach buries the world of the object ever deeper in information.

The work of a photographer such as Jeff Wall [27] (a brilliant artist and aesthetician), does not record the object in the enigmatic and unintelligible world, but rather, provides us with an object buried under subjective aesthetic manipulation. Rather than making the world more enigmatic and unintelligible by respecting the unknowability of the object, art and aesthetics simply bury the object under layers of digital interpretation and subjective manipulation the way traditional theory buried appearances under narrative. Photography, like traditional forms of theory, here lapses into the production of meaning - and is reduced to being a mere tool in a very traditional artistic practice. 





23. Kelly Reid, Virginia (2006)


The advantage of understanding photography as an object based medium fits well alongside the understanding that the real remains hidden under appearances, and that subjective manipulation moves us a series of steps further from the real. The best glimpse we ever have of the real world are the appearances behind which it hides and which are the goal of allowing the object to seize us as photographers. When we attempt to seize the object in a subjective vision, we are carried further and further from the real - away from the world's enigmaticalness and unintelligibility and into the knowability and truth building effort of the subjective narrative. Such narratives may make good art, but they do not make good photography as they promote the old denial and the easy solution - conditions under which theory can no longer exist - that of adding meaning to the world. Subjective domination of the object in the arts is akin to traditional narrative building theory and not well suited to our contemporary condition. Neither theory nor photography can be taken seriously if they are involved exclusively in the play subject based games. Art and aesthetics cling to a past we can no longer inhabit in so doing. Photography, if it is to embrace the challenge and the context of contemporary theory and the times in which we live, must leave art and aesthetics to the art world. This is not surprising if we remember that photography, as an object based medium, comes from a place before art and aesthetics - both of which lived ever so briefly before tumbling over the event horizon of the dark star of the contemporary.





24. Jean Baudrillard, Saint Beuve (1987)


25. V Alexander, Oxford 2006


Jean Baudrillard's photograph of a chair covered by a red blanket which retains the form of a recent sitter is an excellent example of the object based medium of photography at its best. Here is a photograph in which the subject-photographer has been seized by the object. The object (the blanket) retains only the form of the subject, a pointer to the absence of that very subject figure - the photographer. Here, as in the works of Reid and Alexander, photography returns to its place before art and aesthetics and is as able to present to us a world that is given to us as unintelligible and enigmatic in a way that increases these characteristics. It is at this point that photography is able to meet and stand equally with the challenge of contemporary theory to embrace radical uncertainty.

And so I return the world to you as I found it, images and fragments of texts floating on appearances behind which an unintelligible and enigmatic world hides as in this final image by Alexander [28].

We have to escape truth, and to escape truth you must not trust the subject, you have to leave matters to the object and its strange attraction, the world and its definitive uncertainty [29].

20 Ocak 2007.

NOTES:

1. Jean Baudrillard, The Transparency of Evil, New York: Verso, 1993:155.

2. All images by Jean Baudrillard are © copyright Jean Baudrillard and are used by permission. Photographs by Kelly Reid are © copyright Kelly Reid 2006 and are used by permission. Photographs by Victoria Alexander are © copyright Victoria Alexander 2006 and are used by permission. Images of the work of Jeff Wall are © copyright Jeff Wall and are reprinted here from the website of his show at the Tate Modern Gallery, London, England: "Jeff Wall Photographs, 1978-2004", October 21, 2005 - January 8, 2006. See "Past Exhibitions" http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/jeffwall/

3. Jean Baudrillard, "Forget Baudrillard: An Interview with Sylvere Lotringer". In Forget Foucault, Forget Baudrillard, New York: Semiotext(e), 1987:129-130).

4. For an article concerning Kelly Reid's photography see Gerry Coulter, "Through A Baudrillardian Lens" in Izinsiz Gösteri (posted in November, 2006): http://www.izinsizgosteri.net/asalsayi109/gerry.coulter_109.html

5. Jean Baudrillard, The Vital Illusion, New York: Columbia University Press, 2000:83.

6. Nor should the "science" of aesthetics be allowed to limit photography as we see later in this article.

7. Not long ago science fiction writers dreamed of cyborg posthumans with bio-chip prosthetic implants. Today the merger of the cell phone, the laptop and the internet which appear over the horizon in the wearable computer take us to the points of total interconnectivity and interactivity. The coming marriage of cyborg and computer technology will take us over the horizon of the posthuman.

8. Jean Baudrillard, Screened Out, New York: Verso, 2002:85-86.

9. Today we live with the full implications of Nietzsche's understanding that truth is merely an illusion which we do not yet recognize to be illusion.

10. Jean Baudrillard, Impossible Exchange, London: SAGE, 2001:128.

11. Judith Williamson, "An Interview with Jean Baudrillard". In Block 15, 1989: 16-17.

12. Jean Baudrillard, "The Divine Left" (1985), in Gary Genosko (Editor), The Uncollected Baudrillard. Thousand Oaks, CA.: SAGE, 2001:115.

13. Jean Baudrillard, Fatal Strategies (1983), New York: Semiotext(e), 1990:181.

14. Jean Baudrillard, Impossible Exchange, London: SAGE, 2001:150.

15. Jean Baudrillard, Impossible Exchange, London: SAGE, 2001:151.

16. Jean Baudrillard. "The Ecstacy of Photography: Jean Baudrillard Interviewed by Nicholas Zurbrugg" in Art and Artefact (Edited by Nicholas Zurbrugg). London: SAGE, 1997:34.

17. This is not to make a slave of photography to theory but rather, to acknowledge certain photographs, those that participate in making the world more enigmatic and unintelligible, as on a parallel plane with written theoretical texts which also make the world more enigmatic and unintelligible.

18. See: Jean Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime, New York: Verso, 1996:85.

19. Jean Baudrillard. Forget Foucault (c 1977), Forget Baudrillard (c1987). New York: Semiotexte, 1987:38.

20. Jean Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime, New York: Verso, 1996:133.

21. For a further discussion of the seduction of appearances see: Jean Baudrillard, Fatal Strategies: Crystal Revenge. New York: Semiotext(e), 1990:83. Translated by Philip Beitchman and W.G.J. Niesluchowski.

22. See Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation (c 1981), Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994:108.

23. Some of the material in this section is also forthcoming in Gerry Coulter, "Seizing the Object By The Throat: The Anti-Photography of Jeff Wall" in the third issue of European Art Magazine (Online), January-February, 2007: www.europeanartmagazine.com

24. Wall is one of dozens of art photographers whose work I might have selected at this point. My reason for choosing Wall's work is that he is arguably at the pinnacle of current generation of established international art photographers. I am also very fond of Wall's work as "art" but I do not think it is photography defined as an object-based medium. As such, Wall's work meets the demands of contemporary art, not the demands of the contemporary theoretical context in the way that object-based photography does.

25. While Wall does make some documentary photographs (such as The Bridge (1980), The Old Prison (1987), his "Diagonal Compositions" of the 1990s), the vast majority of the work he is famous for, if we approach photography as an object-based medium, is not photography at all.

26. Jean Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime, New York: Verso, 1996:86-87.

27. While it is not central to my argument we should not ignore Wall's choice of medium of display - the transparency spread over a light box. In this form of display Wall also takes us a long way from photography. The light-box transparencies have much more in common with a cinematic screen than photography (although both are rooted in the camera). Like the screen, or brightly lit advertisements, Wall's images use light to capture our attention in a word full of images. Even in a technical sense then, what Wall brings into the gallery are not photographs. What he displays are only transparencies fitted over an aluminum box of fluorescent light. Wall is understood to be a master of photography but he is a master of transparency.

28. The author wishes to express his sincere gratitude to Kelly Reid for her thoughtful proof reading and analytical commentary during the writing of the final draft of this article.

29. Jean Baudrillard. Impossible Exchange, London: SAGE, 2001:17.


B. Gerry Coulter gcoulter@ubishops.ca
He is Full Professor of Theory, Art and Cinema in the Department of Sociology at Bishop's University in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada. He is the founding editor of the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (www.ubishops.ca/baudrillardstudies ). His recent writings include: "Jean Baudrillard and the Definitive Ambivalence of Gaming" appeared in the SAGE journal Games and Culture (Volume 2, Number 4, December, 2007:358-365) - also available on-line at:
http://www.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/2/4/358.

His recent Article: "A Place For The Non-Believer: Jean Baudrillard on the West and the Arab and Islamic Worlds", appears in Subaltern Studies: http://www.subalternstudies.com/?p=476; An essay "A Way of Proceeding: Joseph Beuys, the Epistemological Break, and Radical Thought Today" appears in Kritikos: A Journal of Postmodern Cultural Sound, Text, and Image (May - June, 2008): http://intertheory.org/gcoulter.htm; and his quarterly column for Euro Art (On-line) Magazine: "Kees van Dongen and the Power of Seduction" (Spring 2008) is available at: http://www.euroartmagazine.com/new/?issue=13=1&content=156. A recent paper: "Baudrillard and Hölderlin and the Poetic Resolution of the World" appeared in Volume 5, Number 4 of Nebula: A Journal of Multidisciplinary Scholarship in December, 2008:145-64: www.nobleworld.biz/Coulter.pdf

Another recent paper: "In The Shadow of Post-Democratic Capitalism - A Fascination for China" appeared in Avinus - European Magazine for Media, Culture and Politics (November 21, 2008): http://magazin.avinus.de/2008/11/20/coulter-gerry-in-the-shadow-of-post-democratic-capitalism-%e2%80%93-a-fascination-for-china-20112008/ . Dr. Coulter's teaching has been recognized on numerous occasions most recently by Bishop's University's highest award for teaching - the William and Nancy Turner Prize.