Telling places, a photographic exploration
Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2019.
ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This thesis and accompanying exhibition explore landscape photography practice within the politically fraught context of the Southern African landscape and equally fraught traditions of landscape representation, especially in previously colonised countries. Ideological and political readings of landscape photographs tend to automatically position the artist and, by extension, the viewer, in a distanced, contemplative relation to the landscape (Malpas, 2011a: 6). This kind of relation skews power relations towards the viewer; in part due to the nature of the photographic medium with its monocular, static, linear perspective. This thesis seeks to question this determinist position and to explore through reflective photographic practice an alternative frame within which to engage with places photographically. With this study I propose that a postphenomenological approach to making and thinking about landscape photography can bring about a co-constitutive relation between photographer, camera, and environment through which places continue to become. Landscape photography as representation of place is conceptualised as consisting of two stages: firstly, the act of photographing in the physical environment (Being-in) and secondly, the process of preparing and presenting the works (Telling-of). For the first phase, Being-in, I created three photographic events that allowed me, as a practising photographer, to engage with the complexity of place in terms of Casey’s (2001: 417) definition, which draws socio-political histories, personal histories, and the physical environment together into individual embodied experience. In the cyclic process of engaging in the practice of photographing place and reflecting on this practice in relation to phenomenological understanding of being, as well as postphenomenological developments that entangle technologies in this being, I tested the practice against the theory and the theory against the practice, as recommended for a phenomenology of practice by Max Van Manen (2014: 66-68). For each of the three places – Morgenster, Mochudi, and Kempton Park in Southern Africa – selected for their role in different times in my personal history, I chose a different photographic system with which to work that resonated with my individual experience of that place and facilitated distinctive expressions of the experience. I then produced three bodies of photographic works. Phase 2 is titled Telling-of. This section deals with the process of bringing the work produced in Phase 1 into the public discourse on land in South Africa as well as on South African landscape photography. In this telling-of, physical places are represented as ‘landscape’, with all its ideological and art historical ‘baggage’. To contextualise the work created for this thesis, I consider this ‘baggage’ and relate it to the ideas and understandings developed in Phase 1, as well as a brief history of landscape photography in South Africa. UNSETTLED: One Hundred Year Xhosa War of Resistance (1776-1876) by Nunn is discussed as emblematic of South African photographers’ engagement with land from a highly political, personally involved stance, but also as a form of practice-based research. Curatorial practice is then explored as a form of telling-byshowing in the work of Nunn, as well as the curation of my exhibition that forms part of this research: Telling Places: A Photographic Exploration. I explore how the curatorial process becomes a phenomenological act of shaping relations between display technologies and viewers that tells of, and is telling, of places, and thereby ‘emplaces’ the viewer.
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