“What is photography? This question, already asked many times in many different ways and places, always tend to presuppose a singular answer: ‘photography is this’ or ‘photography is that’”(ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO PHOTOGRAPHY THEORY. 2021: 40).
Oxford Languages describes it as “the art or practise of taking and processing photographs.” The Irish Museum of Modern Art describes photography as “the word photography literally means ‘drawing with light’, which derives from the Greek photo, meaning light and graph meaning to draw. Photography is the process of recording an image — a photograph — on light-sensitive film or, in the case of digital photography, via a digital electronic or magnetic memory”(Irish Museum of Modern Art 2015). David Bate argues in Routledge Companion to Photography Theory, these definitions, as in the case of The Oxford Languages and IMMA, reduce the complexity of the identity of photography into “a singular ‘essence’ situated in one or another of the many cliché ideas of photography”(ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO PHOTOGRAPHY THEORY. 2021: 40). The word photography itself is perhaps misleading as its use suggests and turns this question on photography into the matter of its singularity. However, from its origins, the term photography was used as an umbrella term, under which various practitioners could describe what they were doing. The invention of photography in the nineteenth century was fundamentally a scientific discovery that promised to aid the process of drawing and fixing a scene for a painting. Since then, photography has found so many different functions and uses that its singular definition does not exist (ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO PHOTOGRAPHY THEORY. 2021: 41). What we call a photograph is not a singular thing. Therefore, it cannot be defined as such.
The result of this lack of singularity in photography was summarized by John Tagg as follows, “Photography has no identity” (Tagg cited in ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO PHOTOGRAPHY THEORY. 2021: 41). This lack of identity is evident in how different institutional practices use photography with different and sometimes contradictory aims. Bates cited, for example, “Military and police photographs, for instance, are radically different in their objective, form and purpose in political and judicial discourses from the function of glossy advertising photographs, whose aim is to sell luxury goods and products to consumers. He continues that “when the medical photograph of a traumatized body is made, it has an entirely different function and status to fashion photographs, whose purpose is to eroticize or embellish parts of the body, through the gaps and styling of the clothing(ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO PHOTOGRAPHY THEORY. 2021b: 41).
Because of this lack of identity, photography is inherently an interdisciplinary practice. This interdisciplinarity is evident in my practice. My practice often relies upon other forms of art for inspiration. For instance, in Along the Wandle, I recreated temporary sculptures along the banks of the River Wandle that served as a conversational starter that highlighted the issue of littering, which occurs as fitness enthusiasts and the general public use this route. The Plastic Problem series relied heavily on scientific research to comment broadly on the issues we face with single-use plastic.
- IRISH MUSEUM OF MODERN ART. 2015. ‘Photography’. IMMA [online]. Available at: https://imma.ie/what-is-art/series-3-materials-methodologies/photography/ [accessed 13 Nov 2021].
- ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO PHOTOGRAPHY THEORY. 2021. S.l.: ROUTLEDGE.