The Voice of the Grain

Basil Al-Rawi, Untitled No. 5 from the series Façade, 2012

Foreword to the exhibition catalogue of the Masters in Photography Studies degree show, University of Westminster:

The degree show of this Masters in Photography Studies represents a unique moment in which photographers from different cultural, social, even political backgrounds come together to exhibit their work. Derived from Roland Barthes’ analysis on ‘the very precise space of the encounter between a language and a voice’ in his classic study Image Music Text, the exhibition, as one graduate succinctly put it to me, seeks to investigate the space between image and the imaged, materiality and physicality, and the body in relation to language.

Basil Al-Rawi, Untitled No. 3 from the series Façade, 2012

In this exhibition photography is used as a visual method and a form of communication in relation to the histories and theories of the medium. The different backgrounds of the students are thus also represented in the different ways photography is applied to tackle this endeavour: photography is used to document, to record, to preserve, to catalogue, to archive, to investigate, to explore, to retrace, to reveal, to meditate, to experiment, to remember and perhaps even to forget. Behind this long albeit incomplete list belies another far more complex narrative that brought the graduates to study, embrace and also to challenge photography.

Given the variety in the photographs on display, it becomes virtually impossible to find a single common denominator that runs through the exhibition. Perhaps this is a result of photography’s uneasy relationship with genres. Conceptual photography incorrectly implies that photographs from other genres are less conceptual. Snapshot photography dismissively suggests that the photograph was taken without any consideration before or after the ‘snap’. Similarly ambiguous, when does a portrait end and a documentary photograph begin? Many of the photographs in the exhibition seek to defy an easy classification by challenging these very genres.

Basil Al-Rawi, Untitled No. 6 from the series Façade, 2012

The title of the exhibition The Voice of the Grain can be seen to reaffirm the notion that a photograph functions within a dialectical relationship between the image and the viewer: apart from referring to Barthes’ notion of the grain as a seed or origin of communication, on a more literal level, the photograph ‘speaks’ from within an infinite number of grains (or pixels) that constitute the overall image. The same way that languages ‘die’ if they are not spoken, photographs depend on the viewer’s gaze to substantiate their existence. In a world of smartphones, the internet and the apparent democratization of photography, emerging photographers of today ironically face the task of making their photographs visible. In this quickly shifting environment, the very concept of photography is also changing. Is a photograph taken by a robot in anyway less of a photograph than that taken by an individual? Is a photograph displayed on a computer screen in anyways less a photograph than a large framed colour print? What are the boundaries of photography? I am looking at the work of a new generation of photographers to help me to find an answer.

Marco Bohr

For those of you in London, on Friday the 7th of September 2012, from 4 to 6pm, I will participate in a panel discussion that is part of the degree show and expand on the ideas set out above. Other panelists include David Bate, Sophy Rickett, Daniel Rubinstein and Eti Wade. Admission is free though please RSVP to The address is Ambika P3, 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS. Here is more information on the talk and the exhibition:

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