The photographic Activity of Postmodernism

The photographic Activity of Postmodernism

This is an interesting paper and is a postmodern approach to the image in visual culture (Crimp, 2014).

  1. POSTMODERNISM: Like Benjamin writing in the 1930s Crimp is discussing postmodern approach to photography as a rupture or “breach” with traditions of the past and in particular the influence of institutions (Benjamin, 1968). He names the institutions under fire; “the museum; then art history; and finally…,photography.” 
  2. PRESCENCE AND ABSENCE: (Page 93) This idea of presence and absence is important. The three notions of presence are A. being there or in front of, or B. “not there” as in a ghostly figure AND C. “a kind of increment to being there, a ghostly aspect of a presence that is its excess, its supplement.” I think that a lot of my photography is oblique and is composed of absences of ‘not there’ and of objects in the frame that signify other things. Indeed, Crimp talks about engagement with a subject being “only through absence that we know to be the condition of representation.” He is talking about postmodernism where a film or image reproduced has the original subjects absent, yet they still have a presence. “There is distance from the original;” this contrasts with the modernist notion of aura which has to do with the “presence of the original and its authenticity. See the ‘aura’ of the National Portrait images of ‘Lockdown’ versus the personal work of other photographers like Victoria Sorochinski; the well packaged images of an institution and gallery versus the personal and visionary images open to interpretation (NPG, 2020) (Zhang, 2020). The museum legitimises and controls what is produced. 
  3. SEEING: I like the idea that he discusses that “The extraordinary presence of their work is effected through absence (he is talking about his reaction to a film), through its unbridgeable distance from the original” (page 94). This made me think about consulting online by video and all technology, algorithms and distance from the person who is on the screen. Hopefully there is a reality that someone authentic is present, “being there,” albeit a geographical distance but there is a new order of interaction ‘a ghostly aspect’ and phenomenological distance as we are seeing a new order of seeing. This reminds me of Derrida’s viewing of a film where the actress had died where the woman was viewed as a ghostly presence (Stigler, 2002). 
  4. AURA: Like Benjamin there is a similar discussion about aura as a condition of the traditional view of art and “withering” away of aura as a result of the mechanical reproduction and mass media. 
  5. PHOTOGRAPY: Crimp started off this paper by pointing the finger at institutions, the art world and, surprisingly, photography “conferring upon it an aura”. This is about photography marking some images as ‘special’ because they are ‘authentic’ and collectable, particularly by the “connoisseur.” He sees it as hearkening back to the modernist view of institutional art while most image making is multiple “purloined, confiscated, appropriated.”

How might I apply this to my work

I think that this is building up my visual culture knowledge. I like the ideas of presence and absence as a framework for seeing images although I am uncertain if Crimps third way of seeing is actually ‘aura’ i.e. specialness!


Benjamin, W. (1968) ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ In: Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books. At:

Crimp, D. (2014) ‘The photographic activity of postmodernism’ In: October 15 pp.91–101. At:

NPG (2020) Hold Still. Directors choice: ‘Helpers and heroes’. At: (Accessed  14/10/2020).

Stigler, B. (2002) ‘Spectographies’ In: Derrida, J. (ed.) Echographies of television. Cambridge: Polity Press pp 113-134.

Zhang, I. R. (2020) ‘Viktoria Sorochinski’s dream-like lockdown project reconnects with the inner-self.’ In: British Journal of Photography – on line At: (Accessed  04/10/2020).