When I entered graduate school to study photography in 1969, the medium was in transition. Photography had long been used to make visible the previously unknown and unverified mysteries of the world. Photography had been the means to peer into areas previously unavailable to our own senses. Its truthfulness rested upon the viewer’s faith in its unmanipulated technology. The fragile authenticity of photographic truth rested upon what was not done to the negative. But in the 1920s and then again in the 1960s, artists were, in all creative mediums, adding interpretation to perception to redefine the meaning of reality.

At the time of its invention in 1839, photography’s extended exposure times of twenty minutes or more duration made it, like painting, an unimpulsive form of memorialization, poetic yet truthful. The instructive work of this period was made by pointing the camera at static objects. From the 1880s forward, technological advances in photography allowed truth to be visible in exposure times approaching, in the twentieth century, a millionth of a second. The arc of every technological innovation within the medium carried film and camera toward capturing a thinner slice of time.

As a graduate student, I felt obligated to follow the traditions of photography while not wanting to be bound by them. I wanted to use photography to see more than the human eye can see. I began to use extended time. Each frame of the film was exposed for one-second, approximately 100 times longer than normal. The camera was hand-held. The film was processed up to eight hours, while normal black & white film processing time is about eight minutes. The resulting images remain, for me, both painterly and realistic.

Alan Cohen grew up in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. After earning a degree in nuclear engineering at North Carolina State University and beginning a doctoral program in thermodynamics at Northwestern University, he began photographing and eventually left the sciences to study photography. As a graduate student at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design, he studied with Aaron Siskind, Arthur Siegel, Garry Winogrand, Charles Swedlund, Ken Josephson, and Joe Jachna. He was awarded a M.Sc. Photography degree in 1972.

Elizabeth Atterbury

Elizabeth Atterbury (born 1982, West Palm Beach, FL) lives and works in Portland, Maine. Recent solo and group shows include Kate Werble Gallery, New York; The Portland Museum of Art, Portland; Mrs., Queens; The Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville; kijidome, Boston; Document, Chicago; Western Exhibitions, Chicago; The Luminary, St Louis; Et al. Etc., San Francisco; Pulaski Park Field House, Chicago; Able Baker Contemporary, Portland; Ida Schmid, Brooklyn; TSA, Brooklyn; Bodega, Philadelphia/New York; KANSAS, New York; and The ICA at Maine College of Art, Portland, among others. In the Middle, An Oasis, a monograph of her work, was published by Bodega Press in 2013. She received her BA from Hampshire College and her MFA from MassArt.

Atterbury’s studio practice is fluid, fluctuating between picture making and object making. Fascinated with the autonomy of the artifact – objects disassociated from their original function and context – Atterbury’s practice considers the distinction or lack thereof between artifact, prop, model and sculpture.  Drawn to materials such as paper and sand, Atterbury constructs ephemeral tableaux specifically for the purpose of transfiguring and recording them. Both her photographs and sculpture build upon a continued interest in display and its visual structures, along with a more recent interest in language, ritual, and abstraction.

Elizabeth Atterbury, 26 Waves, 2018, Mortar, plywood and glue, 22 3/4 x 19 x 1 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Alone at night, 2018, Mortar, plywood and glue, 23 x 19 x 1 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Still life with bowl and mirror, 2018, Mortar, plywood and glue, 23 x 19 x 1 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Anonymous Old Poem, 2018, Mortar, plywood and glue, 23 x 19 x 1 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Another Poem, 2018, Mortar, plywood and glue, 23 x 19 x 1 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Calligraphy Frame, 2018, Maple, acrylic paint, glue, 60 x 40 x 1 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, The Well, Again (Pool), 2017, Beach sand, glue, MDF, 10 1/2 x 8 x 6 1/4 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, The Well, The Wall, 2016, Silver gelatin print, 20 x 24 in, Edition of 3

Elizabeth Atterbury, Beach Woks (Marks of a Tool II), 2016, Silver gelatin print, 20 x 24 in, Edition of 3

Elizabeth Atterbury, Still Life with Popcorn and Pits, 2016, Silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 in, Edition of 3

Elizabeth Atterbury, Logogram III, 2016, Silver gelatin print, 20 x 24 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Logogram II, 2016, Silver gelatin print, 20 x 24 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Logogram I, 2016, Silver gelatin print, 20 x 24 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sunny Side, FL (Tomb), 2016, Enamel paint, steel, 12 x 7 1/2 x 5 1/2 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sunny Side, FL (The Cut), 2016, Enamel paint, steel, 13 1/2 x 28 1/2 x 1 1/4 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sunny Side, FL (Sunset Hedge), 2016, Enamel paint, steel, 1 1/2 x 16 x 2 1/2 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sunny Side, FL (Small House), 2016, Enamel paint, steel, 1 x 16 3/4 x 14 1/2 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sunny Side, FL (Bull Shark), 2016, Enamel paint, steel, 2 1/2 x 18 x 1 1/2 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sunny Side, FL (Paper Cut / Hedge), 2016, Enamel paint, steel, 10 x 9 x 1 3/4 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sunny Side, FL (Noguchi's Intetra, Mist Fountain), 2016, Enamel paint, steel, 11 x 9 1/2 x 9 1/2 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sunny Side, FL (Lawn), 2016, Enamel paint, steel 9 x 9 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sunny Side, FL (Big House), 2016, Enamel paint, steel, 16 x 18 x 6 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sunny Side, FL (Palms), 2015, Enamel paint, steel, 17 1/2 x 11 x 16 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Relief (China White), 2015, Plywood and paint, 33 x 48 x 1 3/4 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Moonlight on the river, 2014, Chromogenic print, 14 x 11 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Slow Song, 2014, Chromogenic print, 14 x 11 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Marks of a tool, 2014, Silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Rake, 2014, Silver gelatin print, 24 x 20 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Ghost Tracks, 2014, Silver gelatin print, 24 x 20 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Black Beach, 2014, Silver gelatin print, 13 1/2 x 11 1/2 in, Edition of 3

Elizabeth Atterbury, Bones, 2014, Silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 in, Edition of 3

Elizabeth Atterburym Glyphs II, 2014, Silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Glyphs, 2014, Silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Site, 2014, Silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sculpture Park, 2014, Silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Bricks, 2013 Chromogenic print, 13 1/2 x 11 1/2 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Harry, Henri, Sal, 2013, Chromogenic print, 14 x 11 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Blue Runner Night, 2014, Chromogenic print, 13 1/2 x 11 1/2 in, Editon of 3

What Role Do Photographers Play in an Increasingly Automated Image Culture?

by Hettie Judah |  November 8, 2018

At the Photographers’ Gallery in London, a show examining the increasingly ubiquitous images produced by machines

Who areWho are photographs for? Who are photographs by? Increasingly, the answer to both questions is, more or less, machine: images are captured by autonomous, or semi-autonomous devices in the act of gathering data for artificial intelligences.

Reading the world of the internet through human eyes, this devolved, machinic image-capture seems ubiquitous. Whether tracking down a building through Street View, reading an academic text on Google Books or locating an artwork through a search engine, there is little sense of authorship to the photos we consume online. For all our sophisticated understanding of image manipulation – from Snapchat bunny filters to movie special effects – we are remarkably trusting of many of these apparently unauthored images, as if the question of intent or agenda was removed alongside human agency.

Stephanie Kneissl and Maximilian Lackner, Stop The Algorithm, 2017. Courtesy: The Photographers Gallery, London

In ‘All I Know Is What’s On The Internet’ – an exhibition at London’s Photographers’ Gallery, ominously titled after a Donald Trump quote – artists mine online content for evidence of human intervention. These often present themselves as glitches of one form or another. Winnie Soon’s video Unerasable Images (2018) shows how heavy-handed censorship causes even a Lego rendering of the 1989 protests at Tiananmen Square in Beijing to pop in and out of visibility on online platforms in China.

Andrew Norman Wilson’s Scanops prints (2012–ongoing) reproduce lone images found among Google’s Books pages that unwittingly reveal the role of human beings in the data extraction process. Fingers and hands wearing latex anti-contamination gloves are seen holding pages flat for scanning. A series of goofy, mangled, circular portraits by Emilio Vavarella – The Google Trilogy 3: The Driver and the Cameras(2012) – turn out to be accidental shots harvested from Google Streetview, capturing the drivers adjusting the cameras on their vehicles

Eva and Franco Mattes’s series Dark Content(2016) explores the covert role of content moderators – the humans performing the role of censors commonly attributed to algorithms – some working freelance for social media, others for the comments section of news sites. All participate in the videos anonymously, their voices and likenesses transferred to generic avatars. A moderator hired by a third party for a social media site worries that, after blocking a video containing child pornography, the censure might go no further. Will anyone help the child? Will the video be reported to the police? Caught in the web of the automated service economy, she can find no way of contacting the client company to check. Moderators for the news sites are horribly disturbed by suicide videos, and likewise haunted by unanswerable questions about how the footage made its way to them online.

Degoutin & Wagon, World Brain, 2015, HD Video. Courtesy: The Photographers Gallery, London

Sebastian Schmieg and Silvio Lorusso’s suite of leporellos Five Years of Captured Captchas (2017) are a reminder that more often than we realize, the humans caught in that web are us. ‘Captcha’ puzzles (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) used on online forms serve a double function: having identified us as non-robot, we are offered text or images that are troubling the optical character recognition tasked with digitizing them. Unbeknownst to us, our human eyes and brain become harvesting tools for non-human intelligence.

The artists point out that Google was once slapped with an (unsuccessful) class action lawsuit for this unpaid labour. The ethics are certainly twisty. On the one hand, what harm is there in crowdsourcing interpretation of documents and images that become sources of public information? On the other, if they are the property of Google – a global for-profit company that extends its post-national stance to its attitude to taxation – how public are they, really? And why do it covertly?

This vision of humankind as sentient servants of a giant artificial intelligence is extended in Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon’s World Brain (2015). A feature-length film work split between scenes in giant data centres, and a neo-survivalist forest camp populated by tech intellectuals, World Brain suggests that external observers of our present earth would see a planet colonized by a super brain that we are collectively dedicated to nurturing. The internet is presented as a highly successful superorganism, within which we all live, both virtually – the details of our day-to-day captured as data – and physically, surrounded by the cables, wires and transmissions of its infrastructure.

Andrew Norman Wilson, Scanops The INsland Printer, 2018. Courtesy: The Photographers Gallery, London

While not directly referenced in the exhibition, the spirit of James Bridle’s recent book The New Dark Age hovers over ‘All I Know …’ The exhibition brings illustrative focus to many of the issues raised by Bridle. The visual economy with which these works raise complex questions about control, surveillance, trauma, manipulation and agency is, in itself, a sharp reminder of the power of the image in relation to the word.

If an artificial intelligence learns what kinds of pictures you favour, why should it not assist you in optimizing photographs of your family? If an algorithm can predict what pleases you in an image feed, why should it not boost your happiness by showing you more of them? If cameraphones are already ubiquitous in conflict zones, why do we need war photographers? If we’re already broadcasting ourselves all of the time, what’s the point of documentary filmmakers? Is it wrong to have content moderators removing images intended to traumatise us? For the Photographers’ Gallery – an institution hitherto dedicated to images transmitting the vision of one human eye to another – these enquiries are pressing. They carry in their wake deeper questions about who a ‘photographer’ is, and what their role might be in an increasingly automated image culture.

‘All I Know Is What’s On The Internet’ runs at the The Photographers’ Gallery, London until 24 February 2019.

Main image: Miao Ying Lan, Love Poem, 2014-15. Courtesy: The Photographers’ Gallery, London

Owner
Aron Gent
aron@documentspace.com
Director
Sibylle Friche
sibylle@documentspace.com
Gallery and Print Studio Assistant
Renata Cruz Lara Guerra
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DOCUMENT is a commercial gallery located in Chicago that specializes in contemporary photography, film and media based art. The gallery has organized more than 40 solo exhibitions since its opening in 2011 and actively promotes the work of emerging national and international artists. Operating conjointly as a professional printmaking studio, DOCUMENT facilitates the production of works by artists from Chicago and the US. At this time we do not accept unsolicited submissions.