Late Photography

Notes and responses on David Campany ‘Safety in Numbness’

  • Recent (post 60s/70s) ‘late’ photography has parallels with early conflict photography. Both focus on static scenes, the after effects of conflict or disaster. With early photography this was a necessity due to the cumbersome equipment and slow technology available. This was primarily intended as reportage; documenting the event rather than producing art
  • More recent photography in the same areas has come about as a reaction to photography becoming sidelined when it comes to reporting conflict. It has been superseded by video, moving images, which better tell the story. We – viewers – have become more used to seeing moving images and no longer respond to static images in the same way.
  • Still images can provide a more open interpretation of an event; we do not have the audio that (usually) accompanies video, which although it provides context does not allow as much room for our own ‘take’ on what is being shown. However much of what is seen as still images in news stories is likely to be a still image taken from a video capture.
  • Conflict reporting is far more likely to be politically controlled now than in the past. It becomes harder to take photographs (or video) that present an independent viewpoint at the time of the event.
  • Recent photography has seen a move towards recording the after-effects of conflict both as a necessary choice, and also as an aesthetic one. It is born out of a need to define a new purpose for photography, a differentiator from moving video images. Creative use of exposure, lighting, subject matter gives the depicted scene a muted, sombre quality, to invoke a sense of both melancholy and beauty. A danger with this approach is it reduces our response to an event to a purely aesthetic one; we become removed from the event itself.


One feature that stands out for me from many of the photographers mentioned in David Campany’s essay is that they generally do not show people. The scenes describe abandonment, as if the place itself no longer supports life. This also helps to provide the elegiac, melancholic feel to the landscape that he notes.

It does seem to me that individually the projects mentioned do not themselves lead to the aesthetic remove he warns about but collectively they could lead to a sense of indifference. Is it not the case though that this sense of indifference is primarily brought about because he is grouping them together?  I don’t think his intention is to blame the photographers for any aesthetic distancing we may feel from their work, but any sense of indifference is a lot less pronounced if we do not categorise them as such.

I’m not really sure where I am going with this as this point could probably apply to any art criticism. Would we appreciate art any more if we stopped trying to find patterns?

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