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The Big Picture: On the Politics of Contemporary Photography

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This article investigates the politics of contemporary art photography, specifically the work of those photographers who produce characteristically large images (eg, Edward Burtynsky, Andreas Gursky, Jeff Wall). In a context in which the politics of the aesthetic has been repeatedly challenged, these photographers carve out a new political space by employing both an older notion of the aesthetic and newer ideas of activist art beyond aesthetics. The photo-image forms a ubiquitous part of social life as a result of the popular use of digital imaging. Instead of trying to separate themselves from these images either in form or content, contemporary art photography makes use of the indexical power of photos while reframing and redefining them through their physical size. These big pictures constitute powerful attempts to map the big picture - to render visible those zones where power moves and possibilities are both generated and shut down.

Keywords: Andreas Gursky; Edward Burtynsky; Gerald Raunig; Jeff Wall; Photography; activist art; aesthetics; avant-garde; cultural theory; globalisation; politics; scale; vernacular photography

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: September 1, 2009

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