The Peripheral Space of Photography, Murat Nemet-Nejat
Green Integer, 2003
The Peripheral Space of Photography appears at first to be a straight-forward extended essay on a 1993 exhibition of early photography at the Metropolitan Museum and grows gradually into a fascinating work on poetics with a kind of philosophical novel hiding within, with the narrator Nemet-Nejat and the history of art in the last century vying for the lead roles.
The book starts with a disillusionment. Despite the writer's hopes, a show of the earliest photography would not reveal a new art form in a moment of raw revolutionary inception, but, rather, would show the first photographers to be lamely aping the conventions of middlebrow 19th century genre painting. This initial disappointment leads to an exploration of how the medium itself is able to defeat the photographer's own obfuscational ideas about art and procedure.
One central point Nemet-Nejat makes in the Peripheral Space of Photography is that photography is the first art where the subject of the art can look directly at the means of representation. This agency of the subject, the ability to look at the camera when someone is photographing you -- to make a decision independent of the artist where you are acknowledging the medium -- is taken here to represent a kind of radical democratic quality.
This point, and where the author takes it, is not an argument for photography as an artistically objective form. It is a cybernetics of photography, as such, also a poetics. Poetry that likewise acknowledges the medium, it is implied, shares this democratic quality. This quality of photography forces the reluctant artist to deal with sharing power with the subject.
The question of whether this acknowledgment of the medium likewise in a verbal art can bypass the artists unknowingly obstructionist ideas and allow life information to pass directly from the subject to the reader is one that Nemet Nejat will have to develop fully in his next book. But the implications here are exhilarating.
One of the other central ideas in the book is that photography and language are inherently fused. The spaces outside of the frame of a photograph one has to consider when looking at what is within the frame immediately generate language in the form of thoughts and questions. Photography is more of a poetic art than a plastic art.
Nemet-Nejat's equally thought-provoking essay, Questions of Accent, can be found here.