Burgin Chapter 7

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S.R. I'm really happy that you said that, because I very often have the feeling in the discussions on digital photography that... also in earlier writings on indexicality, that many of the authors just take indexicality as something like a given thing in the worst of photography, and I'm exactly of your opinion, that I always try to think or to say that you need something like a witness, it's not there // that's right//; the difference between the old paradigm of documentary photography or the new paradigm of digital documents is not so big, but you have technical differences and you have these different functions in society and that's the reason where I want to come to the question of representation. ... In Germany we have for ... four weeks a new advertisement for a Cybershot camera from Sony, they say: »Don't think, shoot« // V.B. Yes // ... one thing is that they took it from Lomo photographs, it's exactly the slogan of Lomo –  these Russian, very cheap cameras, but that's not so interesting to me, I want to take this sentence, "Don't think, shoot," I want to take this in relation to the increasing number of so-called »documents« from crises fields on Earth, like you said already the whole mess of Iraq and it's bringing something like a very war-time idea into the public space, into the public sphere, when you read in the street "Don't think, shoot" and you see the advertisement of a camera. For me it's a really strange change of behaviour in advertising in the public sphere. ... This mixing of the capitalist use of images and verbal information in the public field is combined with this advice –  which says, on one level it says "Don't think, shoot", very aggressive.

V.B. Yes. I could both agree and disagree with you. I disagree that there's any great change of behaviour in advertising; advertising has always been aggressive, advertising in its nature is aggressive; »Don't think, shoot« – again, advertising offers instant gratification; and I think that that offers instant gratification, I mean basically what they are telling you is that, in a sense, there's no instrument between you and the image that you're going to make; ... it's »point and shoot«, I mean I think the point that the ad is making. You don't have to think about the controls, you don't have to think about the settings; that's the kind of »sell« they were using even before digital cameras there were increasing numbers of transistorized circuits in cameras that would automatically fix the exposure and so on. To that extent there's been a great change - I agree with you that the message embedded in it, which has nothing to do with the easy use of technology, is chilling; the aggressivity can easily be mapped onto the aggressivity of global capitalism in general as represented by the current American administration – who don't think very much and shoot a lot. So »Don't think, shoot« possibly could be inscribed over George Bush's office, absolutely. I agree there that they have that kind of message in the environment continually reiterated, reinforced has to have certain implications. I used to say to my students a long time ago, it was things differently, I used to say to them ... what happened was that I was teaching theory to film and photography students, it's a three-year course, and in the end of the second year find this phenomenon of students individually coming to see me, talking around the issue for a while, finally coming out of what they wanted to say, saying: "Don't get me wrong, it's not that I'm not interested in the theory course, I find it very interesting but I'm starting to find that I can't take a picture any more; so every time I lift the camera I think 'what are the implications of this?', you know politically, whatever." My advice is always the same: I would say: "shoot first, ask questions later; take the picture, allow the unconscious to speak and then afterwards you don't have to show it you may not even decide to conserve it or only in a certain context or accompanied by a certain text ... that process comes later. 'Shoot first, ask questions later'. But again that was a different time, a different moment. As no sentence stands by its own in one context, it has a way of drifting into other contexts. »Don't think, shoot« today is quite horrific. But I mean, again, this raises, you mentioned that early, the collection I had on "thinking photography". This raises a whole issue of the image and the thought; and of course »thinking photography« was deliberately ambivalent, ambiguous: Is it the photography that is thinking, or is it thinking about photography, or is it the two things at the same time? Art for me is a way of thinking; using photographs rather then perhaps more traditional media in art ... painting but the decision to use photographs in the first place in the context of art was the result of thinking about art. And becoming unhappy with the development of conceptual art, with this hermetic tendency within conceptual art, to have art as a way of thinking about art; this totally circular, totally self-referential attitude is one that I became unhappy with. The move to photography was one way of necessarily engaging with the world outside of the institutions of art so thinking about art necessarily involved thinking about other things at the same time. That became very important. I just wanted to say that ... to move into that area of photography is not actually to move out of the area of art but is rather to contribute a redefinition of the area of art; and in one of my subsequent books, »the end of art theory« again was a play on the sense of that; the end of art theory: does this mean that art theory has come to an end or does this mean the end, the goal, »le but« of art theory: It meant the two things at the same time for me it meant that a certain way of theorizing art that was concerned mainly with an idea of art itself and nothing else, had to come to an end, had, in fact, come to an end that to continue to walk and talk like that was to have entered the realm of the living dead; because it really has no purchase on the contemporary world. So that was the argument. Then the end of art theory, the goal of art theory, but nevertheless one goes on, one continues to speak simply because of the way of history pushing you and if you leave the art institution and speak, if you're outside of the art institution, and you speak, then the speech in a sense is meaningless; because it's void for a lack of reference, there's no context giving a meaning. So again it's a matter of trying to negotiate that relationship not simply philosophically and philosophically, between the world and the image but between this institution and the other institutions in which it's embedded and which increasingly invaded; so art is a way of thinking but what kind of practices are the best, what will help you to think, and what should one be thinking about? ... Rather, maybe to move back to one of the origins of conceptualism, in a rejection of anything that defined art in terms of market commodities in favor of – what has always been part of the history of art - in market society nothing escapes the market economy – but not to have art reduced to that, not to have art defined in a certain way determined of that but find a way of thinking that could engage outside of the economy and the protocols of the society of the art world.


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