A Relational Ecology of Photographic Practices: Towards a Non-anthropocentric Approach to Photography
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This thesis argues that as photography’s technological basis has become more complex and increasingly detached from human vision, a thicker account of photographic practice that moves away from humanist discourse and single authorship can assist in demonstrating a continuity between film and new technological photographic practices. It revisits key concepts in documentary photography such as the ‘decisive moment’ through the filter of particular historical, technological and philosophical ideas that have informed the critical engagement with photography as a media of representation. It reconsiders some orthodox assumptions about photography including the idea that photography is fundamentally a human-centred practice and that photographic technology has a singular determining agency that is most often subordinated to the image. From this, the thesis attempts to factor in the material, cognitive and technical aspects that shape the photographic decision-making process as they can be observed in the relational network of elements that contribute to the final image. It then introduces new materialist theories that address non-human agencies and that have begun to force an awareness of the distribution of cognition and human action to the fore. Through a series of case studies and diffractive readings of contact sheets from professional photographic practice and production plans from a television broadcast, the collaborative relationship between the photographer, apparatus and world that co-produces the final image is made clear. This constructs a framework to understand photographic practice as a relational ecology that reveals the varying play of agencies in the collaborative meshwork between the photographer, the photographic apparatus and world during the photographic event. By emphasizing the mobility of the decision-making process in a way that helps towards an understanding of the dynamics of a collaboration it opens the way for a continuity between digital and analogue practices that do not bracket the cognitive processes of the photographer in favour of the non-human agents.
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