Positions and Practice - ‘Photography and the Art of Science’

How has the relationship between photography, science and technology affected how we attribute ideas around knowledge and truth to the photographic image? 

Although art and science often seem in contrast to one another, as noted in the presentation Photography and The Art of Science, photography has always had a closer relationship with science than other art forms. From it’s birth, photography was an act of science, and it has been used since it’s creation to document and observe for scientific purposes. The camera allows us to see things that would not normally be visible with the human eye, allowing us to observe with greater intensity and gain new knowledge about a subject. We have therefore attached the idea of truth and objective representation the photographic image. However, as discussed in relation to last week’s topic, the camera is not autonomous, it has always been a reflection of the photographer’s vision. Further more, the photograph has always been susceptible to manipulation, rendering it as unobjective or unreliable as any other visual art form. When considering the relationship between photography and science, I was reminded of a series I had created some years ago, initially inspired by the dubious art of spirit and aura photography.  

Breath #17, From the Series Breath (2013)

I had discovered, that by breathing on the lens of the camera, and using a specific arrangement of lighting, I was able to render an illumination in my images, a glow that appeared to emanate from my subjects. This series, entitled Breath, aimed to depict the breath of each individual, as I requested that they breath on the lens of the camera to create a filter of condensation, unique to them, before I took their photo. In my images I tried to emulate the style of spirit and aura photography. Unlike these forms of imagery however, I did not manipulate the images in anyway.

As the breath is something that is usually unseen, I was interested in the way that this could be captured by the camera lens. In Richard Morse’s series InfraThe Enclave and Heat Maps, he uses infrared film and thermographic cameras, to depict scenes not visible with the human eye. Both the infrared and thermographic technology Mosse uses were developed by the military to discover camouflaged installations hidden in the landscape. He uses these methods in his photographs to ‘make visible’, or draw attention to, humanitarian disasters that are usually overlooked by the media.

Richard Mosse, Madonna and Child, North Kivu, Eastern Congo (2012)

“Mosse employed this film to document an ongoing conflict situation in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. This humanitarian disaster—in which 5.4 million people have died since 1998—is largely overlooked by the mass media. Frequent massacres, human rights violations, and widespread sexual violence remain unaccounted for. In a kind of advocacy of seeing, The Enclave attempts to cast this forgotten tragedy in a new spectrum of light, to make this forgotten humanitarian disaster visible.” Mosse, R. 2017 The Enclave [Online]. [Accessed 3 October 2017]. Available from: http://www.richardmosse.com/projects/the-enclave

I find Mosse’s work particularly compelling, in the way that it challenges the accepted norms of documentary or war photography. As I aim to move my own practice into a more documentary or photojournalistic realm, it is interesting to see work which challenges the known conventions of the genre, and how powerful the affects can be.

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