Staging the Studio. Enacting Artful Realities through Digital Photography

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As part of a larger project on visual knowing around databases of images on the web (pursued together with Anne Beaulieu during 2009-2011), this chapter discusses results from fieldwork at the Rijksakademie for the visual arts in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. It addresses the production, handling, and dissemination of digital photographs of artworks, and the ways in which photographic documentation relates to the complex experience of making and seeing art. In the chapter, I analyze how artists and employees invest themselves in these practices of representation and documentation. In two ethnographic vignettes, in which the artists’ and the photographer’s studio take central stage, I explore the fruitfulness of a redefinition of the relation between the epistemological - a perspectival approach to visual knowing, and the ontological - where photographs of artworks also enact realities. I propose that these photographs do not merely ‘represent’ the works of art, but are part of a situated continuum of intermediate interaction (cf. Barad 2007). In other words, one of the goals of the chapter is to examine some of the implications of multiplying not only different versions of the real, but also of reality itself, for theorizing photography. Conceptually, the chapter draws on scholarship from Science and Technology Studies on the understanding of images as a situated, embodied practice (cf. Alac 2011; Alac and Hutchins 2004; Lynch and Woolgar 1990), and on empirical ontological analyses that problematise the epistemological dominance of representation in capturing the complex empirical world (Kember 2008; Mol 2002; Jensen and Rodje 2009; Verran 2001). Taken together, these approaches enable an analysis of processes of image-based signification, and the performative dynamics involved in the enactment of digital photographs of artworks.

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