Rob Coley, Dean Lockwood and Adam O’Meara
Rob Coley, Dean Lockwood and Adam O’Meara, Three Moments, 2014, 11’22”
This short film essay acts as prolegomenon for Photography in the Middle: Dispatches on Media Aesthetics and Ecologies (forthcoming with Punctum Books). We have approached this project as an ‘experience book’, or ‘book of exploration’, described by Foucault as a process of dismantling through which one deduces – rather than begins with – a constructive methodology: ‘What I write does not prescribe anything, neither to myself nor to others. At most, its character is instrumental and visionary or dream-like’. Such a book, focused on experience, ‘resingularizes’ and transforms rather than demonstrates truth. Another way of saying this, with Deleuze, is that the work should serve a fabulatory function, setting out to falsify given truths and meanings and release noise, validating the virtuality of the world rather than reinforcing actual things. In a Deleuzo-Guattarian conception, moreover, the fabulatory is connected with the ‘minor’ and the ‘molecular’, which is to say that it is concerned with collective disruption of established sense from within, from the middle, for the sake of a community to come.
We have sought to actualize Photography in the Middle through collaborative experience, through experiments undertaken as a live process in both our academic practices (the philosophy of the book underpins a newly devised MA in Photography at the University of Lincoln’s School of Media) and the things we do in our daily lives to spur action and thought (encounters, walking, consuming fictions, friendships). In doing so, we posit the notion that the actually-existing institutions of photography are territorialized through the dominance of what Deleuze and Guattari call ‘refrains’. After William S Burroughs, whose writing is also central to our project, we understand refrains as medial scanning patterns from which perceptions of reality come to be generated, and through which our social, political and aesthetic practices are controlled. These refrains can, though, be subjected to ecologically-attuned processes of counter-refraining, and it is by probing this possibility of photography’s becoming-other that we might aspire to its resingularization.
The film takes its name from the three moments that comprise any refraining. Firstly, a refrain is a way of marking out space, keeping time, and assembling and activating subjectivity. We conceive this in terms of the originary ‘cut’ of the photographic flash which – as in a familiar trope in horror films in which the flash of a camera guides the protagonist through a menacing darkness – cuts the darkness and illuminates one’s milieu, the spot on which one stands, and dispels the evils which gather on all sides. This flash is a singularity which, in rupturing darkness, does not merely constitute a representative image but is, as Guattari might say, a ‘vector of subjectivation’.
Secondly, the refrain circumscribes an ethos, a home, a circle of control. Our media are architectural, part of the congealing and hardening of territory. Here emerges an ‘incorporeal Universe’ which signs itself ‘Photography’. We approach photographic territorialization principally in terms of genre. Photographic genres are refrains become clichés, habits, fictions which uncritically sustain and abet the ravages of capitalistic subjectivity. Adhering, photographically, to these affective algorithms is to generatively maintain the existence of a virtually stable territory. It is this territory that, we insist, requires estrangement through the amplification of its moments of uncertainty.
The third moment of the refrain is precisely the exacerbation of its instability, its transformation into a ‘music’ which is the cracking open of the territory to the world and its opening out onto futurity and alterity. We conceive this in two ways. On the one hand, the opening of the photographic refrain can be understood in terms of the ontology of mediation. Rather than a freezing of the moment, the photographic image is in and of the middle, medial – that is, it constitutes an event of interruptive time, the construction of an interval which is excessive and untimely. On the other hand, the opening of the photographic refrain can be understood in connection with the subjective pluralism which is the excess of the social. We are plural, polyphonic subjects, affective communities which exist in relation to a ‘constellation of Universes’, at the intersection of refrains which variously harness anti-chaotic forces and can be opened onto the forces of the future.
Developing these ideas, we commend the collective reappropriation of photography. For us, this means experimenting with a practice which functions beyond the principles of ‘self expression’ and ‘independence’ that have long dominated photography education. It also means going beyond the conventions of genre and ‘socially-engaged’ practice, not simply through the usual judgement and denunciation of territory but through its falsification. To falsify is to bifurcate, to deviate, to throw off identitarian forms. Deleuze transmutes Bergson’s notion of the ‘fabulatory function’ to name the abjection of identity by which resingularization occurs. As we maintain here, photography’s fabulatory function is to both make perceptible and betray territorial refrains.
Narrator: Kate Hebb
Soundtrack: AD Jacques and David McSherry
Archive courtesy of ITV
With thanks to the Media Archive for Central England at the University of Lincoln
Rob Coley, Dean Lockwood and Adam O’Meara are lecturers in the School of Media at the University of Lincoln. They teach on the MA Photography course, newly redesigned in response to ‘Student as Producer’, the university’s radical initiative for teaching and learning. They are the authors of Photography in the Middle: Dispatches on Media Aesthetics and Ecologies (forthcoming with Punctum Books).