Photography, Performance, Ruin: Performing Photography in site of Architecture

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This article is written from the perspective of a photographer aware of the flaws of the medium in providing an accurate account of reality. Photography and the act of photographing are considered in performative terms and the value of performance in extending photography’s penetrative and illuminating power is discussed. In exploring these ideas the essay considers photography in relation to time, history and ruin. A reading of a photograph as a premonition of ruin is considered in relation to the photographic representation of architecture. The author’s own photographic encounters with the exterior of the Bank of England are examined in terms of how the performative act of photography, coupled with the medium’s relation to ruin, may reveal something of that building’s history – as an institution founded on abstract notions of money and power. The author’s subjective experience with photography is considered in relation to the interpreted spatial and temporal dynamics of performance and ruin manifest in the work of Robert Smithson. Of interest here is Smithson’s approach to photography, clashing the matter-of-factness of mechanical photographic reproduction with allegorical interpretation and allusion to the ruinous forces of entropy. The visual and conceptual resolutions of Smithson’s ideas are considered in relation to Walter Benjamin’s advocacy of subjective interpretation and his envisioning of a messianic redemptive arc enabling the past to break the continuum of history. The essay argues that photography is more effective as a revelatory medium if enacted in ways that draw attention to the medium’s limitations. The photograph’s own signification of inevitable ruin – enhanced through photography’s alignment with performance – is key to its illuminating power.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126-134
Number of pages9
JournalPerformance Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015


  • Photography
  • Architecture
  • Ruin
  • Performance
  • Subjectivity
  • Objectivity
  • Ontology
  • Site


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