Posts Tagged ‘Michel Foucualt

06
Dec
12

Public talk: ‘This is not my favourite photograph’ by Dr Marcus Bunyan part of ‘What makes a great photograph?’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy

Wednesday 5th December 2012

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We were asked to choose our favourite photograph, one that we could nominate as a great photograph. I chose a slightly different take on proceedings.

Many thankx to my fellow speakers for their talks and to Director of the Centre for Contemporary Photography Naomi Cass for inviting me to speak at a wonderful evening. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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This is not my favourite photograph

A minute’s silence…

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865 (detail)

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865 (detail)

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865 (detail)

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865

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Alexander Gardner
Lewis Paine
26th April, 1865
Albumen silver print from a Collodion glass plate negative

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This is not my favourite photograph
Nor may it be a great photograph…
More interestingly to me, it is a remarkable photograph – one that you are able to make remarks on.

It is also a photograph that has haunted me for years.

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Taken by Alexander Gardner in April 1865, this photograph is a portrait of Lewis Thornton Powell (aka Lewis Payne or Paine) who was one of the conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln which had happened the same month. The photograph has a background of dark metal, and was taken on one of the ironclads U.S.S. Montauk or Saugus, where the conspirators were for a time confined. Paine was executed in july 1865 just eight short weeks later.

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Alexander Gardner Lewis Paine 26th April, 1865

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Alexander Gardner
Three photographs of Lewis Paine
26th April, 1865

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This is the triptych of photographs by Gardner in the form they are usually displayed, like a three-panel renaissance altar-peice. The left and right hand photographs were taken within minutes of each other, with the camera in the same position, whereas in the centre photograph the camera has been lowered to show more of the body, and the image has been cropped at the top. In the central plate the figure of Paine has been raised up in the frame – almost prematurely brought back to life by his placement.

The centre image is the only one where Paine stares directly at the camera. He surveys the viewer with a gaze I find enigmatic.

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865 (detail)

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This is a very modern face, a very contemporary face. His hair is just like Justin Beiber’s.

Who brushed his hair across for this picture, and would it normally be this long, or has it just been ignored because of his fate?

He still has good muscle tone – has he been exercising in his cell?

And finally his clothing – is it navy issue, as his top appears to have been given to him, perhaps the coarse, navy blue wool of the Northern states.

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Hot Dead Guys: Lewis Powell

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Noel Cordle
Hot Dead Guys: Lewis Powell
Posted on September 5th, 2010
Mere Musings blog

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There’s even a web page dedicated to him on “hot dead guys” where there’s that awkward moment when one of lincoln’s conspirators is so sexy its ridiculous…

He wasn’t all bad. Biographers of Powell describe him as a quiet, introverted boy who enjoyed fishing and caring for sick and injured animals. Apparently, Lewis was an intelligent, sensitive, soul with great potential.

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Descriptions of Lewis from "The Life, Crime and Capture"

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Descriptions of Lewis from “The Life, Crime and Capture”

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865 (detail)

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865 (detail)

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Alexander Gardner
Lewis Paine (detail)
26th April, 1865
Albumen silver print from a Collodion glass plate negative

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Could we say that he is left-handed given the different size of his fingers (?)

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Roland Barthes. 'Camera Lucida (La Chambre claire)' 1980

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Roland Barthes
Camera Lucida (La Chambre claire)
1980

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Roland Barthes in his seminal work Camera Lucida said in Section 39: “He is dead and he is going to die…”
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“The photograph is handsome, as is the boy: that is the studium. But the punctum is: he is going to die. I read at the same time: this will be and this has been; I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake. By giving me the absolute past of the pose, the photograph tells me death in the future. What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence.”

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865 (detail)

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If we were to place this image within the metaphysical school of photography which peaked with Paul Caponigro and Minor White we could say:

Hovering above his head, has his spirit already begun to leave his body?

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865

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One reading of his gaze is that he is really interested in what the photographer is doing – almost the gaze of an apprentice wanting to apply these skills in the future.

Given his fate is he insane because of his interest?

What is really going on in his mind – what is his perspective?

Another reading could be as looking out to the future in the hope of finding that he will be judged in another way.

And another is the immediacy of his gaze – it is a gaze that is happening now!

The other thing that I find quite mysterious is the distance of the photographer from the subject.

Was it fear that stopped him getting any closer or are there deck fittings we cannot see that prevented his approach?

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865 (detail)

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What brought Paine to this place?

Michel Foucault calls the methods and techniques through which human beings constitute themselves, “Technologies of the self.” Foucault argued that we as subjects are perpetually engaged in processes whereby we define and produce our own ethical self-understanding. According to Foucault, technologies of the self are the forms of knowledge and strategies that “permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of immortality.”1

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As we look into his eyes he knows that we know he is going to die, has already died but the intensity of that knowledge is brought into present time. What Paine emanates is a form of i-mortality.

I wonder, did Gardner ever show him the finished photographs before he died?

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865 (detail)

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This is Barthes anterior future, a moment where truth is interpreted in the mind of the photographer, not out there but in here [points to head and heart], where past, present and future coalesce into single point in time – his death and our death are connected through his gaze, the knowledge of our discontinuity. Eons contracted into an eternal moment.

In this moment in time, what we are doing is we are making a list about the human condition when we talk about something that is remarkable. We are moving towards a language that defines the human condition…

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865 (detail)

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But ultimatley language can never fully describe the human condition, much as it may try… and this is why this photograph is remarkable, because it is ineffable, unknowable.

This photograph inhabits you, it haunts you like few others.

Early Wittgenstein described a world of facts pictured by thoughts. he said, “Don’t Think, But Look!”

I would add “Don’t think, but feel and look”

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This photograph is a memoriam to a young man and his present death.
As such it is a REMARKABLE photograph that haunts us all.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan
December 2012

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Postscript

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George Cook. 'Union ironclads firing on Fort Moultrie, S.C.,' 8th September 1863

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George Cook
Union ironclads firing on Fort Moultrie, S.C.,
8th September 1863
Photo courtesy of the Cook Collection, Valentine Richmond History

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George Cook’s photograph of Union ironclads firing on Fort Moultrie, S.C., believed to be the world’s first combat photograph. Monitors engage Confederate batteries on Sullivan’s Island, Charleston, South Carolina. Photographed from one of the Confederate emplacements, the ships are identified as (from left to right): WeehawkenMontauk and Passaic. The monitor on the right appears to be firing its guns. Date is given as 8 September 1863, when other U.S. Navy ships were providing cover for Weehawken, which had gone aground on the previous day. She was refloated on the 8th after receiving heavy gunfire from the Confederate fortifications.

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Kilburn Brothers. 'Four monitors laid up in the Anacostia River, off the Washington Navy Yard' c. 1866

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Kilburn Brothers
Four monitors laid up in the Anacostia River, off the Washington Navy Yard
c. 1866
Ships are (from left to right): USS Mahopac, USS Saugus, USS Montauk (probably), and either USS Casco or USS Chimo
Photo mounted on a stereograph card, marked: “Photographed and published by Kilburn Brothers, Littleton, N.H.”

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Anon. ''Montauk' at left, and 'Lehigh' at right, laid up at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania' c. late 1902 or early 1903

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Anon
‘Montauk’ at left, and ‘Lehigh’ at right, laid up at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania
c. late 1902 or early 1903
U.S. Naval Historical Center photograph

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Anon. 'Saugus, in Trent's Reach on the James River, Virginia' c. early 1865

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Anon
Saugus, in Trent’s Reach on the James River, Virginia
c. early 1865
Note the mine sweeping “rake” attached to her bow
U.S. Naval Historical Center photograph

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Anon. 'Officers pose on deck of the Saugus, in front of the gun turret, probably while the ship was serving on the James River, Virginia' c. early 1865

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Anon
Officers pose on deck of the Saugus, in front of the gun turret, probably while the ship was serving on the James River, Virginia
c. early 1865
Note ship’s bell and other details of the turret and deck fittings
U.S. Naval Historical Center photograph

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1. Foucault, Michel. “Technologies of the self,” in L. H. Martin, H. Gutman and P. H. Hutton (eds.). Technologies of the self. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988, p.18 quoted on Wikipedia. “Technologies of the Self.” [Online] Cited 23/06/2010.

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Centre for Contemporary Photography
404 George St, Fitzroy
Victoria 3065, Australia
T: + 61 3 9417 1549

Opening Hours:
Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm
Sunday, 1pm – 5pm

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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29
May
09

Review: ‘Desire’ paintings and video by Judith Wright at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 19th May – 13th June 2009

 

Judith Wright. Installation of 'Desire' exhibition at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

Judith Wright. Installation of 'Desire' exhibition at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Judith Wright’s exhibition Desire at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

On a beautiful sunny Autumn afternoon in Melbourne I made a visit to Space Furniture on Church Street to ogle at the wondrous designs and then to the galleries of Albert Street in Richmond for three outstanding painting exhibitions: John Beard at John Buckley Gallery, McLean Edwards at Karen Woodbury Gallery and Judith Wright at Sophie Gannon Gallery. First cab off the rank is Judith Wright but reviews of the other two shows will follow…

There is a part in Jim Jarmusch’s film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) where the anti-hero stares into the eyes of a dog and Jarmusch just holds the scene for what seems like an eternity. The camera observes the infinite bond between human and animal, an almost palpable connection across time and space, with an unflinching eye. The same can be said of Judith Wright’s encaustic paintings (also known as hot wax painting, involves using heated beeswax to which coloured pigments are added) but here she pushes the relationship further – into an investigation of the animal in the human and vice versa, and their erotic charge when placed together. Here is the carnivalesque at it most daring, most paired back, revealing in quiet Zen like compositions the dissolution of boundaries between both states of being.

Nominally based on the symbology of characters presented in two videos in the exhibition (masked figures playing with each other, a comical goats head with horns being one figure) the paintings are much more interesting than the videos. Painted on Japanese paper in wax and acrylic the biomorphic forms of babies heads, torsos and sculpted free forms and designs suggestive of living organisms address the title of the exhibition: desire!

Wright plays with scale and form, using earth tones and a luminous palette of oranges, yellows and pinks. Her shape-shifting paintings work to unhinge stagnant systems of thought that surround identity and the body. The waxed Japanese paper adds to the sensuality of the skin-like work. A baby seems to feed on a double nipple but the nipple has missed the mouth and is invading the eye. Forms intersect and the sensual shapes slip over each other: as in the Zen idea of ‘satori’ or enlightenment attained when two circles intersect here we have the intersection of an erotic enlightenment.

As Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin notes the carnivalesque is the contravention of normal laws of behaviour, “and he proposes that the carnivalesque is also the home of the grotesque, where otherwise antithetical properties or characteristics are matched together in the same being: beast with human, youth with age, male with female.”1

“The carnival offers the chance to have a new outlook on the world, to realise the relative nature of all that exists, and to enter a completely new order of things.”2

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And this is what these paintings propose: a new order of things, a chance for desires formed of new pleasures.

As Michel Foucault has observed,

“The possibility of using our bodies as a possible source of very numerous pleasures is something that is very important. For instance, if you look at the traditional construction of pleasure, you see that bodily pleasure, or pleasures of the flesh, are always drinking, eating and fucking. And that seems to be the limit of the understanding of our bodies, our pleasures … It is very interesting to note, for instance, that for centuries people generally, as well as doctors, psychiatrists, and even liberation movements, have always spoken about desire, and never about pleasure. “We have to liberate our desire,” they say. No! We have to create new pleasure. And then maybe desire will follow.”3

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In their luminosity, in their skin-like textures, in their balance between the colour of the paper, the dark voids and the brown of babies heads we feel the sharp intake of the cold breathe of winter on the nostrils – we feel an evocation of new pleasure, of possible desires within us and the loosening of the grip of conformity. Like the perfect placement of rocks in a Japanese garden and the ripples of the gravel, of a reality that swirls around them these paintings open hearts and minds to inner states of being unexperienced before. And yes, I did enjoy the ride.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Sophie Gannon Gallery for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on some of the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

  1. Buchbinder, David. Masculinities and Identities. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1994, p. 53. For a discussion of carnivalesque see Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and his World (trans. Hélène Iswolsky). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984, pp. 196-277, 303-367.
  2. Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and his World (trans. Hélène Iswolsky). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984, p. 34.
  3. Gallagher, Bob and Wilson, Alexander. “Sex and the Politics of Identity: An Interview with Michel Foucault,” in Thompson, Mark. Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987, p. 31.

 

Judith Wright video installation

 

Judith Wright. 'Desire [14]' 2009

 

Judith Wright
Desire [14]
2009
Acrylic and wax on Japanese paper
200 x 200 cm

 

Judith Wright. 'Desire [5]' 2009

 

Judith Wright
Desire [5]
2009
Acrylic and wax on Japanese paper
100 x 100 cm

 

Judith Wright. 'Desire [7]' 2009

 

Judith Wright
Desire [7]
2009
Acrylic and wax on Japanese paper
100 x 100 cm

 

Judith Wright. Desire [16]' 2009

 

Judith Wright
Desire [16]
2009
Acrylic and wax on Japanese paper
300 x 300 cm

 

Judith Wright. 'The Gift [2]' 2009

 

Judith Wright
The Gift [2]
2008
Acrylic and wax on Japanese paper

 

Judith Wright. 'The Gift [7]' 2008

 

Judith Wright
The Gift [7]
2008
Acrylic and wax on Japanese paper

 

 

Sophie Gannon Gallery
2, Albert Street, Richmond, Melbourne
Phone: +61 3 9421 0857

Opening hours:
Tues – Saturday 11 – 5pm

Sophie Gannon Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Sleep/Wound’ 1995-96


Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: 'Sleep/Wound' 1995-96 *PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE NUDITY - IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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