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nGordon Matta-Clark's



which chronicles his now legendary act of cutmoment of what can

ting apart a house in New Jersey, there occurs a spectacular

only be called rebirth ..The final cut is made by the artist's saw, and the house, its foundation strategically undermined, separates. Although divided only by a small gap, it

is suddenly penetrated by light. Utterly divested of all its domestic functions,


the structure becomes at once a sculptural object, a pri mordial calendar, and a metaphor Light is unlocked, received, pene-

Undisclosed Images
in this book to recover for

and revealed as the fundamental

trating force of the universe, capable of transmogrifying the ordinary, the quo-

tidian, the real, the


This is the sense of surprise and revelation I attempt those most quotidian objects-photographs

I want to see them split open, turned without pictures, or

inside out, exposed. The result will be a book of photographs rather photographs

that refuse to disclose fully the images they conta in, about such a collection is: Why the concern with phoinundates us with pictures

The obvious question tographs that withhold

at a time when photography

that disclose so much, and when surely nothing Why "photographs without pictures"

is now left unseen or unknown? particularity or more

at a time when the concrete

of photography, widely embraced

its factitious


has never been more relentless

in the world of art? Think of the sheer amplitude Ross, the unremitting intimacy

of a photograph

by Thomas Struth or Clifford chronicles.

of Nan Goldin's self-

Or think, on the other hand, of the fascination

among artists and colphotographs that

lectors for other people's pictures, those anonymous seem to have been authored by the world itself. Like everyone, canon, following I was educated in photography



to a modernist technology: from from

the seemingly beginnings


arc of the medium's of the masters;

blurry and uncertain

to the clarity



I 'found myself at George Eastman House. before should look like inau- From 0 lecture by Andros Simonyi. as put it nearly a century later. a consensus had developed about what a photograph and what (and how) it ought to represent Notional Galle/Y of Art. Not just because they carne first. little more than the stain of light-activated These prints. chemicals on paper. Washington. with its Babel of creeds.. but because they came before photographic 1 seeing was codified. June 9. Sp!illiflg. D. These photographs gurated what Ralph Waldo Ernerson called "the ocular age." the modern age. a Ithough I had never seen most of them before." This phrase continues to haunt rne because it seems to capture what is missing frorn conventional and even revisionist histories of photography: the sense that 10 . feeling that I had already seen each of the images a thousand into the histori- times. covered because of the danger that the very light that brought it into being would also make it disappear. held a privileged position. At r Gordon Motto-Clark. looking at an exhibition of prints by a modernist photographer who shall remain nameless. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy More probably the impulse was. I don't remember which print it was. about photography I suddenly video. but I remember the effect: it was like looking at the Gordon Matta-Clark also a transformation.INTRODUCTION and "mouse trap" camera to the digital revolution. 197<1 some point. bored. Talbot's rhetoric notwithstanding. to have "eyes outside our bodies. Yet I kept falling away from this catechism. returning espe- cially to the apostasy of early pho- tography. 2007. in such detail. like being present at a birth that was that much of wha I had assumed recognized and what it might disclose was wrong. Teleology All contributed to the of Today. but ocular in what sense? Surely not simply to duplicate what the eye saw. and all roads led color prints displaying if never to large-format a reality readily apprehended.C. almost nonexistent. I wandered cal collection and lifted the hood on a print by William Henry Fox Talbot.

p. Abrorns. an arnbiguous is to call this work abstract photography in the sense of bei ng free of re p rese nta tio na I qua Iit ies. one. about a freedom that can all the artifacts light and its absence. stimulated. matrix of fabrication eration of photographies pressured. in both outgrowth of its positivist. if any. encompass I am talking about something of harnessed else. and documentary photography. undermined. referring to nothing outside themselves. My it emphasizes generality. a movement degree zero.UNDISCLOSED IMAGES photography tigating is simultaneously an investigation of reality and of the means of invesis not a that real ity The emphasis can shift. 2002). 11 . away of what "photography but th is im p lies a red ue t ion of p hotogr aphy. a st ri p ping toward what the artist Ellen Carey calls is essential. propagandistic. technological. sociological. all dimension of photography is its one constant. Viewed in this light. or biographical looks very different descriptions from we are used to. although particularity. formal "composition. of course. tendency concrete specificity. Indeed. industrial Of course. the long history of photography the formal. that does not privilege the subject of the photechnical process and refuses to shift and reception-a prolif- or a particular to the social and historical is inevitable. by scientific. scientific th is photography post-Newtonian manifests makes us rethin k our notions science and photography of positivism. roots. of these investigations Chance plays a significant a dorninant role-but is the outcorne if the work is really fruitful. '2 See few."? I would rather call the tendency "novel seeing. or undisclosed At its most extreme. it offers objects defined by their concrete. art photography has always been by and modified by these other photographies. not slice lyle Rexer." a vision photography of things that have not yet been seen-investigative rather than abstract photography. material existence." emphasis with. and com- mercial photography. In predetermined. Pholograpily's Anliquarion AV(Jn~Gorde: The New VI/ave ill Old Processes {New York: Harry N. In the face of photography's the medium's of reality. but photography looking at or a looking through but a looking Given such a description-one tograph. The end product is not usually a recognizable it can be. We find that the investigative intrinsic to its modernity. 128. because there is a conviction or immediat that experience We can deep unities that are not logically Iy perspicuous.

McGuine. that is. part magician. and a wish for some more intimate expression of the world's relation-but somehow made available through the eyes. metaphoric apprehensions. contradictory impulses. F. but he might have had the visual arts in mind. This book is by no means intended as encyclopedic.t"in. intuitions. part stage manager. and presents an argument for a new set of terms for this photography. photography We have leaped ahead of ourselves in this brief introduction. at least in the modernist sense-part showman.ogico Philo50phicu:.. We feel throughout the history of photography a chafing at its limits. The term comprehends several usages. The photograph itself is a piece of performance art. The definitions usually offered of abstraction in art (principally painting and sculpture) are tendentious. the index of its self-awareness and proof of its continui ng urge to transcend the visual through the visual. which we climb to its last step. that a 12 . We begin to see these experiments and accidents not as some byway of 3 passing through and encounteri ng ludWig Wittgen. some of them contradictory. an impatience with mere visuality. always. and the performer is light-its things in the world. apparent distortions. We need to say what we mean by abstraction.s (london: Routledge & ICegon Poul.F. and more than that. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein used the metaphor of a ladder. I propose a history of photography that comprises an archive of experiments. The photographer one does not "create" but harnesses and directs. 19611. embraced accidents. Pear. recognizing that we adopt the term provisionally. they attempt to demonstrate that all art in a period defined as prior or premodern leads up to the disappearance of representation from the image. and abstraction in photography. and B. and most poignantly. lrons D. photography but as its undercurrent. p. sometimes mad projects. perhaps only to kick it away like Wittgenstein's ladder. This makes the photographer into a strange kind of artist. eccentric. and. 151. rather it constitutes a description of those usages and the investigations they engender. then kick away and keep clirnbing? He was ta Iking about language in the realm of the ineffable.INTRODUCJION broaden the vision of Moholy-Nagy's eyes outside ou r bodies from the perspectival and scientific realms to the aesthetic and spiritual. Tradalvs I.

of historical artists in the twentieth each approach to vanquish all other false. forms. 1969. of a subject-centered beyond inherited view of art as r Donald Judd. from Cubists. who resisted historical work. but that it is between the expression of true reality and the true life . 19971. Conn. Copper. critics Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried. or mistaken directions. On Abslrocl Arf INew notion of individual of communication consciousness that. partial. of liberation. the appearance "shows that 'art' is not the expression of reality such as we see it nor the life which we live. most of these descriptions heterodox and often contradictory suppressed nature of the motives inscribed within any approach to abstraction. wrote Mondrian. Its representatives come from every quarter. practitioners of Neoplasticism Russian Suprematists and Concrete artists such pro- as Piel Mondrian. points out. we can see the loss of representational qual i- ties as the most obvious sign of Western art's gradual and complete secularization expression: ist becomes abstraction and the triumph beyond convention. in some sense. Nonfiguraof Hoven. promised form of abstraction Among possesses the character century. Thus we must distinguish 13 . Futurists with their cult of speed." From a distance. every artYet his own oracle. and transcen- This rhetoric dence is cognate with the notion of avant-gardes the Hegelian idea of history generally and with have it embodies. pon ents of art informer and so-ca IIed A bst ract Ex press ion ists su ch as Jackson Pollock and Clyfford Still. nevertheless its importance defined it in opposition of their to previous currents and and purification As critic the in terms of both liberation Briony Fer. self-validating. 57-59_ and its messy historical tive art.: Yole University Press.. pp.. Unlitled. len units with nine-inch intervals. do not depend on individual circumstances.UNDISCLOSED IMAGES particular necessity. Even Minimalists discussions the Carl Andre and Donald Judd. culmination. self-authenticating. a search for unconditioned forms 4 Brionyfer. as well as their promoters.6 x 1 rn] is also conceived by modern artists as a way around the production. 15 x 3lJll ft_ 14. and Constructivists. purification.

INTRODUCTION Kazimir Malevich. 57% x 49 in_1146.S x 124. Suprema/ism (figll/ Red Rectangles). 1915 Oil on convos.5 ern] 14 .

that abstraction was a form of "representation" 6 a new or wholly renovated form of experience At this point it is important tions of photographers that photography to declare that. set of terms. of recorded light If frame. Photography. surface. It has been standard operating seeking a rhetoric of justification. wedded to the world through is ontologically the mechanism 15 . shared the same world-historical situation. but rather. that abstraction end of the line in ad's evolution for representation. "figurative and NOIl- Figurative Ail. mass. when it came to abstraction. space. materia Is. form. all the arts in the West have and have found their forms within that whose career would appear to be diaas usually understood. borrowed terms and ideals from painting early on No question. especially procedure to assume that photography." in AI/isis on All. as well as more complicated inherencies anatomization like time. scale. I do not believe by a description of the artistic developments can be subsumed around it. came to it on different From the modern period to the contemporary. or why Ad Reinhardt would declare in 1960 that his black had already made just such a paintings were "the last paintings. one which has an individual and one which has a universal appearance. p. Roben Goldwaler and Marco Treves INew Yor]. 5 Piel Mondrian. relation. 19581. as we will see. and continued to. eds. and analogy. photography. metrically opposed to these trends? After all. unity. regar-dless of the close affilia- and other artists (and among all the arts).UNDISCLOSED IMAGES two kinds of reality. It is not hard to see where such leads. modern shift in Western art was toward nonrepresentation did not "follow" a somewhat painting into this territory. What was not entertai ned by any of these early and late partisans of abstraction was the notion. the great however. p 42. but ultimately in whatever form might not be the only one among a variety of options and not indeed." Kazirnir Malevich claim some forty years earlier. So what can we say of photography. and sculpture and interwould be was to foreground rogate the various aspects of art that otherwise submerged in (or obscured 6 Fer.: Fontheon. put forward presciently by the Russian Formalist critic Viktor Shklovsky. On Abslracl Arl. 17 by or harnessed to) an image: color.'? We can say at least about that the impact of abstraction painting character.8.

and decisions. and backward when contemplated. even subtracted. something away from the flux of visual experience. each step in this progress toward an image removes it from "di rect" representation and sol icits the artist with an invitation. of disclosure. often. in how they organize form and. for a defense of the distortion and Perhaps this seems to lay the groundwork manipulation modernist of photographic images in the name of art. a photograph is something harnessed. Confined Space IStanford. and we can see an offers a pic- image only at the behest of impeded light. put u nd er pressure. true of both chemical time from some primary event. undermine raphy. su d d e nl y accorded pro mine nee. but is already always secondary. Photog- put in and leave out. to intervene. as if there were (as some Charles Baude- photographers bel ieved. As vve will see. cast in new relations to each oth er. involves a slippage between what is shown (or seen) and what is 16 .INTRODUCTION a painting is something made. however. involving many steps and digital photography It works forward in its own origin (or its own termination). and hone her selectivity chooses to intensify the pressure. an index Call these are terms of some anterior real- Another Way of Tellill91New York Ponlheon. to general ize. embodying are hierarchizing values in what they it. Representational Painting and sculpture in ways other plastic else. whet he r or not the photographer the frame. a moment. of an image. 1982). constructed. accreted. in the barest act of cutting the elements of 'phologroph. a description. p 96 applied to it by photographers and critics) ity. confined space" of the photograph. we might say. A photograph 7 John Berger and [eon Mo~r. arts are not. nle in which signifier and signified are united." The space is strange not least because it is interpretive. sustain those heady modernist claims to wipe the slate clean and proclaim itself as Yet it is also a process. What light does. Colii.· A Strange. oddly echoing the photophobic laire) some pure notion of photography But in the mere selection 8 Mary Price. any image are intrinsically displaced. ture. art is often of one thing but about something processes. restrict naturalism is what This intrinsically nonnatural author Mary Price calls "the strange. a photograph is. John Berger calls it a "quotation" of reality? It cannot start from It cannot scratch.: Stonlord Universily Pres" 19941. a slice. and to divagate from the imperative a permission.

the discrepancy between what is seen and what is depicted (the originary reality) is never the issue. never make so insistent a claim and often deliberately fight against it. abstracted No matter what. We are exhorted not to think or interpret but to react and feel. The photograph always already discloses-and withholds. This has prompted the philosopher Stanley Cavell to assert that a photograph "emphasizes the existence of its subject. It was riveting not only because it showed what the world looked like (which everyone knew) but what it looked like photographed: framed. and probably not even then. fixed. We have said that the photograph is interpretive. We never ask the question of a painting. for as we will see. hence it is that it may be called a transcription. recording it. its own "qualities. instead inviting contemplation without sensual objects and experiences without emotional prompts. its recognizable visual "facts. It can go so far as to offer itself as pure cultural data-the way Ed Rusche's transparent photographs of gas stations 9 lbid. and often frustrate such impulses. Other kinds of art." but also to the uses of those facts. except in the case of blatant propaganda. but this carries an additional sense. Butthe images are more disjunctive than that." which cannot be reduced or referred wholly to things or situations outside the frame. sculpture. which offers no commerce with visuality. The other side of the coin is marked by conceptual art. to their interpretation. to try to say immediately what it means and how it works and why it was made. But a photograph might make appeals on both sides. Our tendency is to make something of the photograph. 7. not just to the order of its coded elements. 17 . resorting to the languages of emotion and direct experience.UNDISCLOSED IMAGES understood about what is seen. or polyglot installation What is it really? Forthese. The existence of the photograph commits a dumb and apparently contingent image to a symbolic order.. Photography creates objects that have no past or present. the strange. confined space of the photograph was so strange to early practitioners that it was almost impossible to look through. p."? Spoken like a philosopher and not like an artist. even though they solicit precisely an interest in historical circumstances. a photograph emphasizes its own existence. which of course always solicit us on many levels.

ambiguity. an artist and theoretician of photography.lly Asia. images:" he writes. Through has insisted we his own work at he dispense with the term abstract photography altogether. and this fact renders them abstract at their inception. in Europe."? like Donald Judd advocating his own discussion. In Jager's view this uninterpretable occupied Phoiography:' Photography Concrete. communication with 2007." With tive history approaches are intrinsic primarily 11 falls into a category Jager and Beshty in mind. not with Verlag. neither similar nor equivalent..INTRODUCTION and motels do-and as ex post facto evidence of a motive. are available from everywhere. he has advocated and the exhibitions an approach has curated at many locations "concrete" or "constructive" Walead he calls photography The term is also adopted the denotative by emerging of the photographer Beshty. recogniz- ing that this does not represent the full range of work being done. some thing or event rendered completely are made possible by photography's ists have continuously 170 years interpretable Gottfried acknowledged ambiguous. October an art of "specific however. on artists from Europe. and occasiona. scheme. virtually every photograph of "abstraction. images of At the other end of the spectrum. 20051. These extreme alternatives unique status of likeness/di fference. and artand explored the medium's are quintessentially extremities interpretive for or We want to say that photographs events. Josef llnschlnqer [Vlennc: Ritter raphy is pure photography. He sounds very much objects" Extending the author. Germany. p. examples and abstraction We focus to photography. or program the photograph can yield non-data. Jager. North America. By this scheme. in Ed. only with its means. Jager has identified no less than five different degrees or criteria by which photographs engage in emphasizes independence photographic 10 Goilfried Jager. "Concreie process and places a premium on the creation of new photog- and unbeholdenobiects. neither icons II Gottfried jager. "neither "We call their sign class 'structural depictions nor figures. but does reflect 18 . its mean ings or associations. nor symbols. 25. the technical school of applied arts in Bielefeld. and a selective rather than comprehensive su rvey of Because issues of disclosure. we intend in this book to offer a correcof photography to abstraction. which he arranges as a grid.

j. What strikes human eyes determines not only the knowlbetween various edge of the relations objects. this first side of visuality.UNDISCLOSED IMAGES important historical and geographic nodes. Fholoqrovure. cognition. p. 19205. 7. 1999). We wi II encounter or undisclosed data-gathering images. 10 x 8 in."12 photographs The contemporary that perhaps come closest to evoking Bataille's sense of horror behind certain all-too-precise images would be of the blood and semen photographs Andres hover Serrano. "The Language of or digital manipulation. Adiani In] details. and gives at least some indication of paths of dispersion and influence. signs that allow the to be distinguished from each other. in the appearance only the intelligible various elements of things. class of images reveals the monstrous iarizing forms. The first and most common capabilities to frame unfamiliar primarily two forms of abstract accentuates the camera's own or at least that and views of recognizable a deliberate stable subjects." in Karl B1055fel& Art Forms in Noture (London: Schirmer. something Pedol m. often by exaggerating into conventionalized like what Georges By detarnilKarl Blossieldl. can become extremely emotion in photography. Flowers. co.3 emf seeing of unbidden Bataille describes when conternplati ng the floral photo- graphs of Karl Blossfeldt: "It is vain to consider. by repetidevelop- The game can be exaggerated through darkroom tion or multiplication ing strategies and accentuated 12 Georges Boloille. but also a given and decisive and inexplicable state of mind. These photographs between literal examination . it allows the irruption associations. [25. At its most extreme. It amounts to a game of hide-and-seek. complex and implicate alienation aspects of meaning.4 x 20.

deli berately emphasizing prints. provide the impetus for experiments the obvious premeditation even more than the visual components. photogra- of abstraction lies closer to Jager's concrete of photograph ic processes or events. or abraded and rephotographed than that. They also reveal that photographs. Yet in spite of Idris in photographic of projects by artists such as Penelope Umbrico. Perhaps it is precisely about any photographic this unpredictability of impact that is so attractive of vision and upsets approach that disorders the domicile 20 . and Thomas Ruff. Above all. dissolution. they can promulgate new categories with the clea r implication in advancing that the artist and the universe the beautiful and by extension itself. which have no denothis territory often overlaps with the first.aszlo Moholy-Nagy's They change the field of physical perception phrase. deconstruction. ambiguous. whether developed ends of film rolls. and agency. collaborate human consciousness. what often begin as calculated end in objects and installations of unexpected poignancy critical acts and open-ended ness. and death. through its laws. their works cannot in the end be reduced to those terms. artifacts inherently need their captions. inspire metaphors. Seth Lambert. number In practice. of photographers are interveni ng at every stage of chemica I and digital processes to produce objects that often bear little visua I relation to any antecedent reality The objects are what they are. in l. by at least suggesting visual analogies. We can add a third category.INTRODUCTION and metaphor that opens onto a world of pain. but a physical and social reality. chance. they become. The other territory phy-that is. over- exposed Polaroids. Jager would class this as analytical better designation might be conceptual or critical abstraction. in which the so-called textual and cultural aspects of photography. They can incite moods and. Whatever modulators. A growing tative content. of aesthetic experience. already suggested by the first two but prompted by other convictions about the intrinsic nature of the photograph and its relation to photography. Khan. But they can be more and its relation to qua lities of the photograph time. light. de spa ir. they intend. light-space as well as of emotional response and cu Itura I interpretation. Beginning from a program.

and the willful introduction of untoward elements justify photographs without pictures? Are these intuitions and provocations "concepts" or something more fundamental? Doesn't photography give ceaseless expression to the belief. even of visible reality? As Duane M ichaIs once remarked. but nothing is what it appears to be"13 13 Duone Michol:.. Photography Spooks INew York: Aperture/Chrysler Museurn. As motive for the creation of new documents.UNDISCLOSED IMAGES the furn iture of interpretation. 116. "Photography deals exquisitely with appearances. p. the interventions into set methods of production. 21 . the interactions of time and chance. the apprehension. the conviction. in Brooks johnson. 19891. cannot the play of light. that the seen is always only a suggestion of reality.