Conditions of Knowledge: Photographic Material and the Process of Order

  • Joanna Vestey

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis deals with photography and its relationship to the condition of knowledge. With the discovery of photography in the 1830s came the promise of a new visual language, the creation of a new visual order and the proposition of a new way of ‘knowing’. Here, I identify that the advent of the microchip brought in similarly seismic social, cultural and technological changes, the magnitude of which compares to that earlier seismic change and is like no other development since. Through positioning photography as inherently bound up with these transformational moments, my research asks: what can the medium itself be tasked to reveal about them, and can I find a photographic form
    to speak of these transformations? Where it was initially feared that the latter paradigm shift would bring about an obsolescence or a ‘death’ of the medium, instead we find ourselves increasingly deluged by ubiquitous imagery and information in a time increasingly referred to as after, beyond or post-photographic.

    At the core of my argument, I identify a shift in material presence as being at the heart of the changes we are witnessing. My research takes Oxford, England as its focus, with its tangible structures of academia, from libraries and lecture theatres to repositories and cabinets, in speaking of the move from a print culture to the immaterial. In response I shape a line of enquiry that researches how knowledge is now ‘handled’ given the ephemeral nature of electronic media. William Henry Fox Talbot used an image from Oxford as the inaugural image in the first ever photographically illustrated book and this I take as my point of departure. I draw on Geoffrey Batchen’s research that
    specifically narrates the emergence of the medium, and use the work of Joan Fontcuberta to understand the position of photography now. I argue for a reading of this journey as being one of linear travel despite being punctuated by apparent ruptures. For this, I propose a return to the 1960s to understand
    the conceptual origins of photography rather than turning to the notion of the digital itself.
    Date of AwardDec 2018
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorMark Durden (Supervisor) & Lisa Barnard (Supervisor)

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