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The University of Southampton
Winchester Centre for Global Futures in Art Design & Media

Is There Life on Earth? Photography, Abstraction, and Counter-Surveillance Event

25 January 2012
Graphics Building, Seminar Rooms 8-9

For more information regarding this event, please email August Davies at .

Event details

The aerial photographic view, by eliminating the horizon, produces an all-over visual field that invites the viewer to read the image as a surface. Without supplementary information -- title, location, explanation of function, or points of interest -- an aerial photograph often presents itself primarily as form. In this way, aerial photographs can seem as blankly non-referential as abstract painting, as if the vertical dimension that makes the aerial view possible has collapsed and there is just the flat plane of the image.

Addressing the recent work of a number of prominent landscape photographers, including David Maisel, Trevor Paglen, Michael White, David Hanson, and Terry Evans, John Beck will focus in this seminar on the ways in which the abstraction of aerial photographs is being used to interrogate issues of visibility and invisibility, display and concealment, in relation to military-industrial strategies of camouflage and surveillance. Beck will argue thatrecent photography confronts the secrecy of military-industrial camouflage by drawing attention to the ways in which abstract form must be read not as a disavowal of content but as a screen that blocks and interrupts direct apprehension of that which has been concealed from view. Instead, the abstract aerial photograph enacts a form of counter-surveillance that replays camouflaging strategies as a form of exposure. "Give me truths," wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1847, "For I am weary of the surfaces." What Beck asks is: might we, in fact, find what truths there are in the surface itself? Can the hidden be a form of display? Does every act of concealment actually call attention to itself?

Speaker information

John Beck ,Reader in English, Newcastle University,John Beck is a Reader in the School of English at Newcastle University. He has written on various aspects of 20th century British and American literature, art, and photography, and is currently working on a book about post-World War II art, landscape, and science fiction.

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