Today at Westminster: Photography and Abstraction

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Just back from a terrific symposium at University of Westminster today organised by John Beck, David Cunningham and Sas Mays. The event was on Photography and Abstraction, not my normal field, but it was tremendously thought provoking and the line-up of speakers was great.

Highlights for me were to hear Mark Dorrian (Edinburgh) talk about work he is doing on drones, robotic weaponry and visual perspectives. Some of the themes were quite familiar via Derek Gregory, Steve Graham and other authors, but it was interesting to see this explored and developed through photography. Of course Trevor Paglen’s work was mentioned quite liberally throughout the workshop. Mark’s talk will be realised in pamphlet form to be published sometime soon. Andy Fisher from Goldsmiths also spoke about photography and the problematics of scale, before David Bate (Westminster) discussed the contradictions of movement and image in Daguerre’s Paris Boulevard, 1839.

I really enjoyed my panel, talking alongside Clare Birchall (Kings) who gave an excellent paper on thinking secrecy and its politics in relation to both Paglen’s work and wider concerns over public privacy in light of the Snowden revelations. Clare compared a politics of openness against one of opacity, or a right to be hidden, presenting some really fruitful ways of making sense of debates over intelligence, secrecy and aesthetics. The other panellist Ella Chmielewska gave a paper based on the chapter she had published in Dorrian and Pousin’s Seeing from Above. This was a moving and insightful examination of the visual practices, intimate relations and ways of writing around the photography of an aerial survey conducted by the Luftwaffe in 1944 of Warsaw. I really appreciated the attention to detail but also the sensitivity to image, framing and descriptions of the photos, but also what she called the gaps between writing.

Peter Adey





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