Photography and The Body 1: Camera as Artifact – Body/Technology Relations

During this lecture we were discussing cameras and the way we use them.

To start off the lecture we were told about a performance art piece where the artist was naked and blindfolded in a cold room (the door was open) and had cold slip clay thrown on him by an assistant. The slip clay was not gently poured onto him but thrown on. Once the assistant had stopped throwing clay on to his body he then walked into a corner and curled up into a foetal position – this signified the end of the performance. He stayed in this position for 20-15 minutes.
The people watching this performance were constantly taking pictures or filming it… why?
It could be because we have a compulsion to record things, or perhaps due to the nature of the performance it could have been because they were feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable, empathising with the man doing to the performance, needing to put something in between them. Apparently the artist who performed the piece as his work always tends to me of this nature gets people reacting this way a lot.

Meaning is shaped both culturally and corporeally (of the nature of the physical body; bodily.)– embodied subject and cultural context exist in a reflexive relationship; they form a ‘dynamic unity’.

How at the beginning of taking a photograph meaning is put into it.

  1. Body-technology relations … technological mediation; the technologically augmented body-

Technologies, visual and embodied, new ways of experiencing the world.

  1. The act of photography as embedded in the world … the photograph as ‘in place’ and ‘in movement’

 Body/technology relations – the idea of ‘mediation’

Mediation between us and our cameras, connected, don’t have to think. An extension of ourselves.

“In our technological culture, many of the relations we have with the world around us are either mediated by or directed at technological devices – ranging from looking through a pair of glasses to reading off a thermometer, from getting money from an ATM to having a telephone conversation, and from hearing the sound of the air conditioner to having an MRI scan made.” Verbeek p389

‘Humans do not experience the world directly [in all cases], but … via a mediating artifact which helps to shape a specific relation between humans and world. [Technological artifacts] help to shape new experiences, either by procuring new ways of accessing reality or by creating new contexts for experience.  … human beings simply could not have such experiences without these mediating devices.’  Verbeek389

Technology helps to shape new experiences new ways of accessing reality.

Example: photographer Paul Geffrey was lost in a forest and in order to figure out where he was he used his camera on a high ISO. In his situation his camera could actually see more than he could and used it as a way of seeing.

 “Technologies of vision change both the object seen and the way of seeing through one’s kinesthetic body...” Ihde, p59
Kinesthetic: kinetic, in constant movement.

The photographer shown in the image would not be in this position if it wasn’t for the camera in his hands. picture5

“Merleau-Ponty … argues that … we grasp external space, relationships between objects and our relationships to them through our position in, and movement through, the world.” Entwistle, p28

Visual display instruments modify our “bodily movement … and [we have] had to learn to compensate for this by … careful, and sometimes consciously developed, bodily motion.” Ihde, p59
How we interact socially and with our environment.
For example: how an iPhone becomes an extension of our hand – holding an eye in our hand.

The Becher’s do extensive research before taking their pictures; they scout locations for days, make sure there’s the same amount of foreground and wait for an overcast day to actually take the picture.

Old selfies – bodily discipline, the arm in the picture, having to guess where your face was as there wasn’t a front camera on phones or portable cameras.

Sally Mann – uses an 10×8 camera, has to use her whole body to take the picture. Head to steady the camera, one hand covering the lens and the other taking the dark slide out. Guesses her exposure – knows it well enough to almost always get it right.

Amateur daguerreotype apparatus

(from Bland and Long catalogue, 1865)

–   No 1 Walnut sliding body camera

–   with a single achromatic lens mounted on a brass front

–   Dark slides for plates

–   Ground focusing glass, &c.

–   Bromine and iodine pans, with air-tight glass covers

–   1 set of frames  – 3 Plate holders

–   3 Plate boxes  – 2 Velvet polishing buffs

–   Mercury box, with thermometer

–   Porcelain washing tray

–   Gilding stand, with levelling screws

–    Improved pliers  –  Glass spirit lamp

–   Funnel   – Filtering paper

–   All the necessary chemicals and polishing materials-   in hard wood boxes. 

The whole is packed in two stained cases with locks and handles:

The following price does not include a supply of silvered plates

£6  6s  0d

Portable darkroom c. 1865

At the beginning of photography people had to travel with lots of equipment, you had to be dedicated to be willing to carry so much to take pictures.

How to make a wet collodion print

  1.  Dissolve gun-cotton in ether to produce collodion. 
  2. Add bromides and iodides to the collodion mixture and coat one side of the glass plate, to achieve an even coating of collodion. (Some early reports say the solution was sticky, and had to be spread onto the glass plates.  Others say it was thinner than water, was poured onto the glass plate.)
  3. Sensitize the glass plate by placing it for two minutes in a “silver bath”, usually a light-tight container containing silver nitrate dissolved in water.
  4. Transfer the plate, under a safelight, into a plate holder, then transfer the plate holder into the camera.
  5. Take the photo while the coating just wet and very delicate.  An exposure of several seconds would be required – perhaps 3 sec at f16.
  6. Develop the wet negative. (originally  pyro-gallic acid was used; later, in the 1860s, ferrous sulphate was used)
  7. Fix in hypo or a cyanide solution, rinse and dry.
  8. Coat with a gum sandarac varnish to help to protect the collodion layer.
  9. Lay the negative over albumen paper, and expose to light.
  10. Treat with gold chloride to prevent fading.

With wet collodion prints you are very involved in the process, as it takes so long in preparation and only gives you a short amount of time to actually take the picture it would make you slow down and really think about what you’re going to take a picture of. There is a back story to the images because of this, it creates context.

Photography as happening ‘in movement’ and ‘in place’
Images ‘form part of a world in which we are continually moving forward and which is the very source of their production and the environment of their consumption.’ Pink7
Both ideas Sarah Pink brings up in the article ‘visual studies’ (essential reading).
Images of tragic events spread quickly – world feels like a smaller place.
Sense of memories but also moving forward into the future. Process of moving forward. Deep sense of context.

Jay Haynes work was part of a geological survey documenting the American West as part of propaganda. The team were all men (no record of women- perhaps just to cook). Images of idyllic, hostile environments, too dangerous for women.
Photography expeditions got attacked- not wanting them on their land. The camera limited the possibilities of what they could record, sand storms etc, wouldn’t be able to expose due to low light.


Abelardo Morell, Camera Obscura: View of the Brooklyn Bridge in Bedroom, 2009

Abelardo Morell made camera obscura’s in hotel room and photographed them, used a lens so that they were the right way up. The camera obscura is a moving image. He was basically taking an image of the inside of a camera.

More points discussed by Pink:

‘Photographs are part of multisensory environments and experienced through the interconnected senses; they are produced in and by movement, they are not static, and do not stand for static surfaces but always represent environments they were part of; when we view or ‘consume’ images they cannot take us ‘back’ but are part of new ‘constellations of processes’ …we become corporeally and sensorially engaged with them …’ Pink9

The photographer ‘has to ‘know what it is to move like a bullfighter, to be able to feel her or himself into the moves made by the performer, and, importantly, to take the photograph at the right moment and be able to anticipate performer and bull’s next move.’ Pink10

‘Photographing the bullfight is thus a sensory embodied practice, in which the photographer uses her or his own practical experience to become corporeally engaged with the movement of bull and performer. She or he might be sitting in the stalls, or leaning over the barrier, but is simultaneously in movement, both through the narrative of the performance and because her or his own actions are intertwined and moving forward with those of the bullfighter-bull.’ Pink10

Technology has made it possible to photograph things in different ways – see world in more depth.

  •  Smaller cameras: Luigi Colani, Canon T90, 1986, Leica Luxus c.1930
  • Go Pro’s: can be used in all kinds of different environments, can be attached to objects such as helmets – hands free.
  • Underwater Cameras: being able to photograph whilst underwater, creates more freedom, less limited.
  • Compact cameras: easy to carry around, light weight.

Gregory Crewdson


Gregory Crewdson, Untitled, (from Beneath the Roses), 2007

Crewdson controls everything in the image, the way he works is more like a film set. The image looks very still and eerie due to the colours, but could be mistaken for an instant image taken spontaneously. Creating an image that looks like reality but isn’t.

In conclusion during this lecture I began to think about how I relate to my camera. With some mediums I feel very connected (Pentax K1000) and others I feel worlds apart from (large format). I don’t have to think when I’m using 35mm or a DSLR, but with large format I have to constantly think about what I’m doing and I also question myself a lot because the film is expensive and it’s a long process to have to do it again so I want to get it right first time. I have also perhaps always felt more comfortable with smaller cameras as I grew up in the technological age where everything was getting smaller and smaller this is what I know. It is very interesting looking at my work where I have used 35mm or medium format compared to large format as I feel as though my images show the amount of control I’m having in the image.


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