Schematic Traces:
Systems of Making

September 1, 2018

Contstructed Image cover

Constructed: The Contemporary History of the Constructed Image in Photography Since 1990. Edited by Marni Shindelman and Anne Massoni (Routledge, 2018).

Focusing on work created in the past twenty-five years, this volume is divided into sections that address a separate means of creating photographs as careful constructs: Directing Spaces, Constructing Places, Performing Space, Building Images, and Camera-less Images. Introduced by both a curator and a scholar, each section features contemporary artists in conversation with curators, critics, gallerists, artists, and art historians.

I have a chapter in this new book about constructed photography! It’s called “Schematic Traces: Systems of Making” and addresses the work of Ed Ruscha, James Bridle, Mishka Henner, Taryn Simon & Aaron Swartz, Dina Kelberman, Hasan Elahi, Miranda July & Paul Ford, and The Hereafter Institute.

Here’s an excerpt:

Contemporary culture today is governed, more than ever, by pervasive, yet largely unseen, networks of code that measure, automate, chart, and predict aspects of individual and collective lives, from helping us to fill online shopping carts to tracking the intimate details of our bodies to determining airfare on a Tuesday morning to populating our social media feeds with just the news we want to consume. Many such processes are run by highly sophisticated and closely guarded algorithms: at root, sequences of action directed by code to produce a particular result. These are systematized yet responsive sequences of code, developed by humans and set into automated motion to provide organization, details, and shape to individually lived experience.

This chapter identifies a strand of contemporary photographic production that we have characterized as schema: a loose way of collating together artists whose interests draw our attention to the systems, patterns, and codes – broadly identified – that shape and contour multiple dimensions of lived experience, from the textures of daily rhythm to the deep fissures of disrupted social and public exchanges. The word “schema” appears with somewhat different meanings through multiple fields – including logic, philosophy, and psychology – and is increasingly predominant in language around data and its organization. In the present context, it is useful for its association with methods of visualizing abstract networks of information and mapping relationships among patterns of both knowledge and behavior.

Through its attention, this type of work evokes, at its best, productive departures from newly ingrained ways of seeing, imagining, and operating. Within this conceptual mode of thinking about the newly evident dynamics that characterize human experience are several primary areas of photographic interest and activity. These areas, which structure the chapter, include photographic work made in the realms of mapping and location; in engagements with online search engines; in critiques of widespread systems of surveillance and image gathering from the public realm; in decoding and disrupting newly articulated codes of social and interpersonal exchange; and, finally, in imagining an algorithmic beyond.