Curators: Witek Orski, Krzysztof Pijarski
Although from its inception photography promised to be a democratic medium, circumventing the hierarchies of skill, style, or culture, this potential, like that of a latent image, remained unrealised. The necessary knowledge of chemistry and optics, the prohibitive cost of equipment, the laboriousness of the process, and, finally, the skill required to operate the entire apparatus were the initial stumbling blocks. Over time, such obstacles became less of a hindrance, while the photographic gesture became more and more commonplace. One could argue that it was only after 2007, with the invention of the smartphone—a miniaturised, pocket-sized computer equipped with a phone and camera module—that photography became truly ubiquitous. The parallel development of photo-processing software, including advances in machine learning, colloquially known as artificial intelligence (AI), led to the fact that today everyone is not only capable of taking technically correct pictures, but actually does so on a daily basis.
If photography really does have democratic potential, that potential does not necessarily lie in the photographic gesture itself, in its universality or ease. It should rather be sought in contemporary image-distribution networks. It has never been easier to reach thousands or even millions of other people with your message. This ecstasy of communication, however, is accompanied by ever-increasing anxiety, triggered by the awareness that this ease of participation in the global circulation of images is concomitant with ever more draconian attempts at controlling, curtailing, and censoring it. And, what’s more, with the knowledge that an increasing number of images are not only not made for people, but also not made by people. Images, in their multitude, are establishing apace an autonomous, global republic of their own.
In Why Pictures?, we aim to, in concert with contemporary theorists and practitioners, explore this global republic of images in search of the democratic potential of photography. In the sphere of social media, where and how is a common cause established, and a community formed around it, through the sharing of images? When is a collective good felt to be at stake? Is the autonomous character of the republic of images analogous to that of the current modalities of capitalism? If so, could such autonomy, paradoxically, empower the agency of images? And, to take this further, can photography play the role of a universal language in a contemporary world increasingly dominated by particularisms? Can it be a common space for dispute, iconoclash? These, among others, are the questions we would like to ask. Stay tuned!
The series is co-organised by the Krakow Photomonth Festival; View. Foundation for Visual Culture; Jasna 10. The Warsaw Cultural Centre of Political Critique as a part of ‘Centrum Jasna,’ financed by the Municipality of Warsaw; and the Visual Narratives Laboratory at the Film School in Łódź.
The Format of the Series
Why Pictures? is a series of dialogues and encounters that will make use of video, audio, text, and pictures. The dialogues are to take place on a blog-like platform, where the curators of the series will publish subsequent voices in an ongoing exchange, and with the audience able to participate in the discussion. Each dialogue will be initiated by an invited guest with a short audiovisual statement in the form of a recorded lecture, desktop documentary, or the like. After each opening statement, responses will be posted over the ensuing weeks; for example, in the form of a short text, a recording of the series’ next guest, a work or series of works by the invited artist, or a response from the audience. Each dialogue will conclude with a wrap-up discussion, which will be transmitted live (on Zoom, for example) and then later made available in edited form. The guest whose opening statement catalysed a given dialogue will be invited to write a final text, which will summarise and develop the most important issues and points discussed, and comment on the works that were cited over the course of a dialogue.
After the series finale, the Why Pictures? blog will transform into an autonomous digital publication, becoming part of the ‘New Narrations’ series of the Visual Narratives Laboratory at the Film School in Łódź.