“In Absentia: The Politics of Cameraless Photography”

(Please note the special day and location of this event.)

How can a photograph of nothing—of nothing discernable or apparently significant—be said to offer some useful political purchase on the world it inhabits? How can a photograph that represents, but does not depict, a given situation be freighted with historical knowledge and import? Confining itself to examples of cameraless photography, from the 1830s to now, this paper will ask these questions with a view to determining a politics for such photographs in the present. In fact, given our contemporary context, cameraless photographs assume that photography is always already a politics; to engage the visual and chemical grammar of the photograph is to dispute and challenge that fixity of that politics. To make such photographs returns photography to a unique, hand-made craft and away from global capitalism and its vast economies of mass exploitation. Not that these photographs are innocent; on the contrary they are often generated by actions that are toxic, radioactive, enigmatic, violent, dangerous. Nor are they “abstract.” Instead, I will argue, they redefine the nature of both photography’s realism and its potential as a political agent.   

Professor Geoffrey Batchen teaches art history at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, specializing in the history of photography. His books include “Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography” (1997), “Each Wild Idea: Writing, Photography, History” (2001), “Forget Me Not: Photography and Remembrance” (2004), “William Henry Fox Talbot (2008), What of Shoes? Van Gogh and Art History” (2009), “Suspending Time: Life, Photography, Death” (2010) and “More Wild Ideas” (forthcoming in Chinese, 2015). He has also edited “Photography Degree Zero: Reflections on Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida” (2009) and co-edited “Picturing Atrocity: Photography in Crisis” (2012). In April 2016, his exhibition, “Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph”, will open at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth, New Zealand.

Geoffrey Batchen
Friday, May 29, 2015, 6:30pm
Level 3, Room 56
702-730 Harris Street, Ultimo

This event is free and open to the public. Bookings will not be accepted and PSM students will be given priority. For full details of the 2015 PSM Image Studies Lecture Series, please visit: