When contacted by the Central Saint Martins MA Photography students about contributing a short piece of text to STOP IT, the graduate catalogue (which also includes the MA Fine Art and MA Art and Science graduates), it was amusing to find that they wanted a response to the question “Why Is Photography Such A Mind-Fuck?” The language is of the everyday and at odds to what one would expect from a masters degree program. No doubt the manner in which the question itself is phrased put off some from answering, and it does border on the vague, yet one could not let such an opportunity go amiss. Why? Because it’s fucking fun.
Of course, this sounds like the kind of question one asks after a rather long and testing day in the studio, or listening to 30 fucking hours of panel discussions…or seeing who just won the fucking award you applied for, again. The point being, most of us have thought about photography in this way, and despite the courteous apology in the email for using such language, it always pays to question that which you hold dear in the simplest (or crudest) of language.
The contributors to the catalogue who attempted to answer the fucking question were:
The responses vary from the utterly useless “Much that I am tickled by your question, I just don’t understand it, so will pass.” from Martin Parr, to the patronizing “I think that using this kind of language does not help to figure out things. Instead of trying to look hip, better work hard and make something which people will be interested in.” from Lev Manovich.
There were other short answers using a mixture of wit and honesty they expose anxieties a number of photographers feel, with Jason Evans’ “Photography can often seem like a mind-fuck because it’s easy and complicated at the same time”, and Jeff Wall’s “Because image traffic has become so heavy and so continuous, it now seems as if these millions of images came into being by themselves, without the agency of a person.”
My own response to the mind-fuck in question:
“The constituent particles that form you and I most likely came from a supernova explosion up to five billion years ago. While particles do not have memory, information is never lost. Form can frequently change, and there are more possibilities for a disorganised existence than an organised one.
Our being composed of the elemental remnants of a supernova is relative to a photographic image being composed of the sun’s photons. It could be that a photograph, a singular record of organised light, has the power to subconsciously remind us while as humans we are finite in form, we are also infinite in essence.”
Without repeating all the texts, it must be said the majority offered a philosophical argument for or against photography being a mind-fuck. There were some thoughtful and genuine ideas regarding image production and dissemination in our digital age, as well as how we communicate our ideas about photography. In short, it was not a bad tactic to gain some attention by the students while rebelling against the fucking tedium of academic language that can discourage engagement and cloud judgement.