Introduction: Within the essay, I’m interested in exploring how the digital world has transformed photography, both in how we use it, view it and understand it. I will be looking at the problematics of assuming that any image-based media also concerns itself with the ontology of photography, and how this impacts our ability to articulate contemporary photography. I find myself asking questions such as is it the image that is our problem? or is it our photographic discourse which is insufficient? And how do we find a way to grapple with the slippery and complex notion that ‘photography’ as we know it might be over?’What is photography?’ (Richon, 2003, p.72) and ‘Where is the photograph?’ (Richon, 2003, p. 71) are key questions that theorist Oliver Richon proposes in his essay ‘Thinking Things’; a set of questions that seem to be constantly repeating themselves within current photographic discourse. But why is this the case? And how as individuals as well as a collective, critically engage and possibly propose answers to such questions in useful and meaningful ways?Through key texts such as George Baker’s ‘Photography’s expanded field’ I will be exploring how digital technologies have helped facilitate photography’s break from the specific into ‘an expanded field of operation’ (Baker, 2005, p.122). As well as looking at the benefits of, as Baker suggests, mapping out the possibilities this expanded field of operation has for our understanding of photography. As the widening potential of the photograph and its functions unfold ahead of our expectations I will be deconstructing how our cultural and social situations actually play a role in informing photography and vice-versa. This train of thought expands into a discussion on how self-reflexive practice, where the artist reflects back on their medium, can help continue a dialogue around such things. I will be looking at how then photography about photography as a form of practice can be seen as an ongoing dialogue between artist and the state of the medium, discussing how this openness to make work that aims to address current issues is powerful in engaging the viewer in the same conversations. The last section of the essay ties in all the themes I’ve just covered while concerning itself with expanding on the idea of abstraction as a concept for understanding the state of photography as well as how visual abstraction within work can be seen as a form of self-reflexive practice. I will be mainly looking at George Baker’s essay ‘Photography and Abstraction’ and Walead Beshty’s ‘Abstracting Photography’. I will conclude by looking at the conceptual work of both James Welling and Walead Beshty in relation to this.    PART ONE: What is photography?To begin I am going to start by expanding on George Baker’s essay Photography’s Expanded Field in which he discusses how the digital world has changed the field of contemporary art, and therefore photography. One of the key points Baker makes is that one of the problems we face today is that all things image-based can now be understood to be photographic. (Baker, 2005, p.122) This is problematic for instance because ‘images’ surfacing within cinema do not concern themselves with the ontology of photography. Thus rendering our current model for understanding photography insufficient.Baker claims that photography has been ‘outmoded technologically and displaced aesthetically.’ (Baker, 2005, p.122) This labeling of photography as seemingly redundant is a further mirroring of its inability to successfully articulate itself. As mentioned before, as evolving digital technologies continue to facilitate the slippage of images between mediums, ‘we need to enter into and explore what it might mean to declare photography to have an expanded field of operation.’ (Baker, 2005, p.122) Only then can we reposition our photographic discourse in such a way that provides a useful model for deconstructing photography’s exponentially expanding potential. It would seem that the theorized photographic object has entirely buckled into its ‘digital recoding’ in the last decade. Consequently, the sphere of contemporary art has proceeded to move forward towards a shift that one would call the cinematic as opposed to photographic. (Baker, 2005, p.122)As the parameters of our language expand to untighten our grip on photography’s specificity, we also open up the practicalities of acknowledging its fluidity. As a result of this open-minded play, contemporary artists refusing the specific and traditional aspects of photography are now providing beneficially progressive platforms in which to talk about photography. Furthermore, this is emphasized by their willingness to approach and treat photography as something to be understood in relation to other forms such as cinema, instead of an isolated (now outdated) medium. (Soutter, 2013, p.124)If anything the expanding and unfolding possibilities of what photography can now potentially offer should be something of a new exciting playground for contemporary photographers, not a source of unproductive, halting anxiety. Almost two decades ago, theorist Rosalind Krauss talks ‘of a “post-medium condition” and the need to “reinvent photography” at the time of its obsolescence’ (Daghighian, 2014, p.2) One would hope that such a statement would spark a call to action within photographic discourse, to perhaps mediate a critical framework that can articulate and facilitate the needs of our evolving medium. However fast track to 2008 and such calls may have fallen on deaf ears, Walead Beshty comments shockingly that ‘the issue of what constitutes “Photography” as an ontological category has again gained currency’. Furthermore, he argues that the apparent reinvested interest in medium specificity and revival of ‘categorical boundaries’ are in fact a signaling of a wider ‘critical dilemma’ confronting those seriously invested in the medium. That being that the unwarranted desire to restore ‘a stable and practicable definition of photography’ is inseparable from ‘the very real sense that the prominence of photographic discourse in contemporary art has receded.’ (Beshty, 2008, p.292) Fredric Jameson proposed in the infancy of postmodernism, that we should embrace the expanded field of photography while also constructing maps that deconstruct its potentials, the potentials of both its prospective closure and expanding logical prospects. (Baker, 2005, p.138) We have in light of this advice, as mapped out by Beshty earlier, turned our eyes. In doing so we have succumbed to our anxiety surrounding the ontology of photography in a way that prioritizes a train of thought that is proving to be unuseful and entirely counteractive. When we maintain this train of thought, answering questions such as ‘Where is the photograph?’ become an area for internal conflict because when we demand to know based on our previous, yet I repeat outdated, understanding of photography we fail to realize that the real answer lies somewhere entirely new and undefined. While Oliver Richon goes on to suggest that ‘the photograph’ may be somewhere ‘unclaimed’ or in some ‘lost property office of culture’. (Green, 2003, p.71) I believe it shall continue to stay there unclaimed until our stubbornness or maybe even more accurately described blindness, ceases. or Metaphorically speaking we continue to blindly dismiss the fact that the butterfly (representative of photography’s new form and mobility) originates from and has metamorphosed from the restricted caterpillar in its cocoon (Our traditionally ridged and specific understanding of photography) We continue to stare at the new beautiful butterfly while illogically asking but where is the caterpillar? So perhaps this blindness is not a physical disability, for example, we can see the butterfly with clarity, we know its there, but we do not make the psychological connection that it is also the caterpillar transformed. I won’t deny that the problem of answering ‘What is photography?’ seems increasingly slippery as we funnel through the urgent need but also problematic nature of asking such questions. It would appear that on one hand there is a sidestepping want for a concrete explanation of photography, but in attempting to construct one as such we are also constructing barriers that may harmfully limit the potential of the image. On the other hand, there are perceivable advantages to mapping out a form of conceptualism that encourages a consistent dialogue between practice and medium. Allan Sekula comments that ‘the meaning of a photograph, like that of any other entity, is in inevitably subject to cultural definition. ‘(Sekula, 2002, p.84) Reading into this, one could suggest that there subsequently becomes an act of mirroring between our evolving use of photography and our unfolding cultural and social situations. Therefore Mark Wyse may also submit that an effectively mapped conceptualism may become not only of importance for the sake of understanding photography on its own merits but also for the sake of understanding ourselves. (Wyse, 2008, p.94) Penelope Umbrico further reiterates this point when she states that ‘all images become an archive of humanity, photos become an index and portrait of who we are’ (Paris Photo, 2017) If we can deconstruct what Umbrico is saying here, I think we would find that if we start to become self-reflexive in our investigation of how we take and wade through imagery, we might also be able to also find clues about our past and current cultural and social situations. Pavel Büchler suggests that ‘rather than asking ourselves rhetorically, ‘Where is the photograph?’ we must demand to know ‘Where are the questions?’ (Bücher, 2003, p.91) With Büchler’s request in mind, I may go on to suggest that with this new metaphorical understanding of the photograph as a universal self-portrait, perhaps it might be useful to also then adapt questions such as ‘What is photography?’ to ‘Who are we?’ and ‘What do we want?’ Through understanding this inherent tie between the state of photography and our current historical moment, we may begin to be able to break down how self-reflexive practice in contemporary photography can be beneficial in exploring just this. Reflexivity is, as Nassim Daghighian states, ‘A play of mirrors that occurs when a work of art reflects and returns back on itself as a medium or picture’ (Daghighian, 2014, p.2) But why might this be of interest to the contemporary photographer? Well as Andy Grundberg writes ‘From the start, photography’s primary mission has been to depict the world; so when the world rapidly filled with photographic images in the twentieth century it was inevitable that photographs themselves would become subjects for photographers.’ (Grundberg, 2012, p.166) So it could be said that this interest in the medium of photography as a subject could be a way for photographers to also explore the current condition of contemporary photography in which photographic discourse is currently so up in arms.As I move on and begin to conclude this section of the essay I will not pretend to be naïve to the frustrating subjectivity of the previously proposed questions, perhaps again they will serve no real purpose in leading us to toward any clear resolution in the crisis that is understanding contemporary photography. But maybe this is where they succeed, and by succeed I mean in dropping a sense of pressure around achieving anything at all, in accepting the idea that by asking these questions we can only fail we open up the possibility of throwing around answers that seem outrageous, unconventional and at best problematic, at absolutely no cost at all. In by creating such an environment, we may uncover interesting and abstract hypothetical ideas that overwise may never have been thought of. These ideas when practically applied may to our surprise hold the potential to contain the very visual language we were missing to articulate such things in the first place.Again, answering the tricky ‘insert question relating to the state of photography’ questions in such playful and abstract ways is perhaps actually a means of formulating new modes of communication that directly improve the utility of our conversations around such. Perhaps this is exactly what George Baker was trying to do, for example as he reflects back on his essay ‘Photography’s expanded field’ he comments ‘My essay was a heuristic exercise, an attempt to invent language and transform our historical and descriptive discourse, for that expansion of photography had already occurred.’ (Baker, 2008, p.359) And thus I end this section of the essay by coming full circle.Abstraction and Self-Reflexive PracticeWithin this section of the essay, I will be lightly touching upon themes I have already covered in the first part of the essay while exploring how the idea of abstraction can be seen as a concept for understanding photography as well as how abstraction can be a visual tool within a self-reflexive practice. I will be looking at the essays of Walead Beshty ‘Abstracting Photography’ and George Baker’s ‘Photography and Abstraction’ to do the above, while also using James Welling and Walead Beshty’s practices as visual examples.Within Baker’s essay ‘Photography and Abstraction’  he explains that ‘it was not theory that had “abstracted” photography, but rather photography that had become-in some new and potentially radical way- abstract’ (Baker, 2008, p.359) So perhaps we could argue that if like discussed before there is a mirroring between photography and our cultural and social situations, then maybe photography’s ‘abstracted’ form can also be mirrored and seen in the form of the abstract image? Or as explained vice versa; the abstract image then becomes a visual metaphor and reflection of the ‘abstractness’ of photography. Perhaps Walead Beshty references this in another way in his essay ‘Abstracting Photography’ in which he writes: ‘This lack of certainty with regard to what constitutes photography as an object of inquiry is, in all its abstractness, a mirror of the problem of theorizing the photograph: a clash between the apparent concreteness of the photographic referent and its slippery contextual play’ (Beshty, 2008, p.293) 


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