I open my mouth. I let my lower lip relax and drop. I relax my jaw, my cheeks. I close my eyes. I turn my eyeballs toward the back of my skull. I feel ripples all the way from my tailbone to the back of my head. My body is all in motion. I feel it from the base of my feet to the root of my tongue. My tongue droops, my hands reach out, opening my body, zooming in and negotiating space. I allow my eyelids to open. I see and feel through my skin. By way of my tongue, it emerges from my mouth. I feel a vibration down my body.
Today, our epidermis, the mask we wear, and the air we breathe, have become the new established boundaries. By revisiting the basic choreography of the mouth and the physiology of the female body, I mediate historical gestures, questioning the violation of bodily boundaries, the kinetic and the tangible in the image. My body is frozen in gesture, between one bodily movement and another.
Although from its inception photography promised to be a democratic medium, circumventing the hierarchies of skill, style, or culture, this potential, like that of a latent image, remained unrealised. The necessary knowledge of chemistry and optics, the prohibitive cost of equipment, the laboriousness of the process, and, finally, the skill required to operate the entire apparatus were the initial stumbling blocks. Over time, such obstacles became less of a hindrance, while the photographic gesture became more and more commonplace. One could argue that it was only after 2007, with the invention of the smartphone—a miniaturised, pocket-sized computer equipped with a phone and camera module—that photography became truly ubiquitous. The parallel development of photo-processing software, including advances in machine learning, colloquially known as artificial intelligence (AI), led to the fact that today everyone is not only capable of taking technically correct pictures, but actually does so on a daily basis.
If photography really does have democratic potential, that potential does not necessarily lie in the photographic gesture itself, in its universality or ease. It should rather be sought in contemporary image-distribution networks. It has never been easier to reach thousands or even millions of other people with your message. This ecstasy of communication, however, is accompanied by ever-increasing anxiety, triggered by the awareness that this ease of participation in the global circulation of images is concomitant with ever more draconian attempts at controlling, curtailing, and censoring it. And, what’s more, with the knowledge that an increasing number of images are not only not made for people, but also not made by people. Images, in their multitude, are establishing apace an autonomous, global republic of their own.
In Why Pictures?, we aim to, in concert with contemporary theorists and practitioners, explore this global republic of images in search of the democratic potential of photography. In the sphere of social media, where and how is a common cause established, and a community formed around it, through the sharing of images? When is a collective good felt to be at stake? Is the autonomous character of the republic of images analogous to that of the current modalities of capitalism? If so, could such autonomy, paradoxically, empower the agency of images? And, to take this further, can photography play the role of a universal language in a contemporary world increasingly dominated by particularisms? Can it be a common space for dispute, iconoclash? These, among others, are the questions we would like to ask.
The Why Pictures? platform was designed by Kaja Kusztra .
Programming by Stanisław Rojek.
The series is co-organised by the Krakow Photomonth Festival ; View. Foundation for Visual Culture ; Jasna 10. The Warsaw Cultural Centre of Political Critique as a part of ‘Centrum Jasna,’ financed by the Municipality of Warsaw ; and the Visual Narratives Laboratory at the Film School in Łódź .