WHAT IS AN IMAGE WHEN THERE'S NO ONE TO SEE IT?: PHOTOGRAPHY AFTER THE HUMAN Keynote at the What Is an Image? conference, University of Copenhagen, 2015
Plus a full article, just published in the journal photographies, and also titled "Photography after the Human". Taylor & Francis have kindly made it openly available for 6 months.
ABSTRACT: How can we visualise and subsequently reimagine the abstraction that is the extinction of human species while there is still time? The article addresses this question by considering the existence of images — and, in particular, light-induced mechanical images known as photographs — after the human. The “after the human” designation does not just refer to the material disappearance of the human in some kind of distant future, but also to the present imagining of the disappearance of the human world as a prominent trope in art and other cultural practices. Such “ruin porn” has some historical antecedents: from the sublime Romantic landscapes of ruined abbeys through to paintings such as Rotunda by Joseph Gandy, commissioned by John Soane, the architect of the Bank of England, and depicting the bank as a ruin even before it was built. Yet the visualisation of ruins has gained a new inflection in the Anthropocene, a period that is said to be suffering from a dual eco-eco crisis: the current global economic crisis and the impending — and irreversible — environmental crisis. We can think here of the seductive and haunting images of Detroit, a financially bankrupt North American city with a glorious industrial and architectural past — but also of TV series imagining our demise as a species, such as History channel’s Life after People. By extending the temporal scale beyond that of human history and introducing the horizon of extinction into the discussion, the article denaturalises our political and aesthetic frameworks through which we humans see and understand ourselves. It also takes some steps towards imagining a post-neoliberal world here and now.