Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph
Munich: DelMonico Books; New Plymouth, NZ: Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, 2016
par Claude Baillargeon
Published to coincide with and provide a broader context for a similarly titled exhibition, Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph surveys a vital form of image making traditionally relegated to the margins of the medium’s history. Its author, the renowned art historian Geoffrey Batchen, based at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, also curated the companion exhibition for the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery located in New Plymouth, New Zealand. Although many artists are featured in both components, the publication aims to present a more global overview that is less susceptible to the limitations and exigencies of exhibition curating.
In contrast to Batchen’s more theoretically engaged reflections on photography, Emanations is, by the author’s own admission, “primarily a picture book” (p. 199). Notwithstanding this acknowledgment, it should not be misconstrued as merely a coffee-table book. On the contrary, it can be argued that Emanations exemplifies how a carefully conceived visual essay can be effective as a form of discursive practice. What better way is there to demonstrate that “throughout photography’s history the cameraless photograph has always been a subversive element, an autocritique of everything that photography is supposed to represent” (p. 47) than to rest one’s argument on a cross section of highly diverse images from all periods and locales?
Emanations is lavishly illustrated with 144 plates and 33 in-text figures, all impeccably reproduced in full colour, with the scale of individual images (representing works ranging from 6.0 × 8.0 cm to room-sized installations) intuitively adjusted to modulate their sequential reading. Complemented by an unobtrusive design eschewing images that are full-bleed and spill across the gutter, the sequence is mainly chronological, though one suspects that the final selection of images must have been determined with their pairing in mind. The fact that Batchen’s essay addresses each plate in the order in which it appears strongly suggests that he deserves credit for the often-exquisite pairing of images and their overall sequencing, both of which are conceptually and visually driven…
[See the printed or digital version of the magazine for the complete article.]