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Title: Existential spatiality and photography as social form
Author: Fisher, Andrew Thomas
Awarding Body: UCL (University College London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2007
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This thesis is an attempt to write a phenomenology of photography. It is undertaken in response to significant tendencies in contemporary photographic culture that make central a range of phenomenological themes and issues. Though critical discourse on photography has recently adopted phenomenological categories and, despite the fact that recent photographic practices have come to stress issues of a phenomenological nature, there exists no attempt to think photography explicitly in phenomenological terms. What follows is an attempt to respond to this situation theoretically and critically. Recent practice and criticism have shown photography to be a problematic form of the production of social meaning and this had led to a marked stress on cultural specificity in attempts to understand it and to use it. As such, it would seem to resist articulation in terms of a transcendental or eidetic phenomenology, (which tends towards the formalisation of photographic temporality as an ontological condition) yet, such temporal formalism is the dominant mode of (what thus remain partial) attempts to understand photography phenomenologically. This tendency colours much that might stand as a phenomenological discourse of photographic culture and serves to limit its critical valency. The thesis presented here takes Maurice Merleau-Ponty's philosophical critique of transcendental phenomenology as a model for thinking the possibility and the value of a socio-historically reflexive phenomenology of photography as a social form and it does so by concentrating on core problems that are articulated in his writings on art and perception. A detailed critique of what is here taken to be the only compelling candidate for an explicit phenomenology of photography Roland Barthes' Camera Lucida reveals the problematic character of any eidetic theorisation of photography in terms of temporality alone. This text exemplifies the manner in which eidetic phenomenology, in this context, is unreflexive in the face of the socio-historical characteristic of photographic spatio-temporality. A range of Merleau-Pontian concepts developed through his attempt to theorise lived experience in terms of the 'reversibility' of embodied perception, the expressive character of language, his theorisation of these as contextualised by a notion of actively produced existential 'dimensionality' and his later radicalisation of the visible as 'flesh' are examined as conceptual resources through which to think the relations and problems highlighted by discussion of Barthes. These themes, it is argued, are most appropriately articulated in terms of Merleau-Ponty's distinctive notion of art. The conceptual framework suggested by these discussions demand to be 'tested out' so as to assess the descriptive purchase, critical value and historical relevance that a phenomenological theory of photography developed on their basis might have. The photographic work of Emilio Prini, with its emphasises on issues of embodiment, its problematisation of immediate perceptual experience and its stress on the material characteristics of photographic mediation suggests itself as being immediately and intuitively appropriate to such a task. Analysis of the technically mediated forms of construction structuring this practice provide a rich resource for articulation of relations between specific modes of embodiment and their particular historical contexts. However, ultimately, this analysis suggests, but cannot offer a means of articulating a more socially reflexive basis for a phenomenology of mediated perceptual experience. Allan Sekula's critical, existentially oriented project attempts to establish a specifically photographic-art of social critique that foregrounds issues of spatiality and stresses the phenomenological conditions of spectatorship in ways, I argue, that promise to extend the rich phenomenological implications of Prini's use of photography into a more socio-historically specific register.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available