Students within the MA Photography course at Central Saint Martins (CSM), discuss philosophy instead of traditional photographic techniques and produce work questioning notions about imagery and its contemporary use. In today’s selfie era, where social media and smartphones have made images widespread, contemporary photography struggles to define itself. The transition from traditional film to digital production have seen images become a mass communication tool.
Dr. Daniel Rubinstein, the photography course leader at CSM, believes that the new technologies and distribution of images provide new artistic liberties. He tells The Creators Project,“I think there’s currently a massive disconnect between what you see in a photography exhibition and all the ways in which photography is used in everyday life. This morning I used Snapchat, I saw photographs on Twitter and I posted some photos. I think the way we use photography like this and how it frames our experiences are not getting reflected in the way that photography is exhibited and shown. We communicate with photography on so many levels.”
“Photography never arrived at that moment of freedom from depicting reality in various ways,” says Rubinstein. “But now that the image is increasingly produced by digital means, photography can explore much more than its own internal aesthetics.”
Whether through Skype or captured by drone, sharing images is a cultural activity and visual language containing vast amounts of data when broken down from its digital form. In an online environment, an image is simply code, converted into a picture when placed in our physical surroundings.
Since its beginnings, photography has been a medium predominantly for documentation, providing a window into the world or representation of something in it. Used as a tool in art, science and beyond, photography has proven to influence artistic practices, helping give birth to movements such as Impressionism with its ability to capture lighting in real time. Art too, has had an influence on photographic practice. Fine art photography, like Diane Arbus and the Snapshot aesthetic, can be demonstrative of Modernist or Abstract painting, a time when artists began questioning the act of painting, moving away from creating portraits and landscapes so prominent in the Enlightenment period.
“Rather than being a picture of something that happens in the world, photography is what happens,” explains Rubinstein. “It is the event, not the picture of something. What the CSM students are trying to do is slow down and explore the complexities of that, releasing photography from this responsibility of representing things and reflecting on them culturally, politically, and socially.” Will Webster enlarged a photograph to make a 1p (about 33 cents) price tag to hang in the CSM building and sold it for 1p. Samantha Harvey, another student, created a network of raw films, exploring internal emotions by putting them on screen in a physical space for viewers to interact with.
While traditional photography—fine art or reportage—remains a critical player in the world of art, new ways of subverting society’s practice of Instagram, Snapchat or Skype, will certainly be something to look out for.
“The students really make a claim that photography is an art form, perhaps for the first time,” says Rubinstein. “They are kind of reimagining and reinvesting photography with its own materiality. To me, artists seem the best placed people to interrogate the various aspects of this online offline environment.”