A Relational Ecology of Photographic Practices

Jacqui Knight


This paper proposes a relational history of media artifacts, which decentralizes the dominance of the photographer or filmmaker as the absolute author of the work. It adds an alternative account to understanding the creative process and the subsequent study of media forms by discussing film and photographic practices as the reciprocal affective relationship between the maker, their intentions, materials, technologies, non-human agents and the environment. By reorganizing the anthropocentrism of art historical narratives, which typically exclude corporeality and materiality as drivers of human history, we are able to discuss the complex dynamic meshwork of determinants that bring photographic artifacts into existence: the lived, animate, vital materialism at once emergent and mixing of different causalities and temporalities. Within this position, I will provoke discussions of cognition and photography by recalibrating the moment of acting to a model that recognizes a distributed nature of human action into the material world of things. This new materialist position has repercussions for the way we understand processes of creativity and the emergence of media artifacts—seeing these as always already entangled and enmeshed across various corporeal and material, platforms and scales. This paper uses photography as a case study to discuss the broader theme of co-creation between humans, machines and the environment. Using documentary evidence from the archive, I sustain this argument by making a close reading of a particular photographer’s contact sheet, which shows up some of the dynamics of the relational meshwork playing upon the photographer in the field. Through this reading we can begin to think about the implications for the way we understand the emerging aesthetic discourse of technological photographic practices and, more broadly, the cocreative domains of all human activity.


decisive moment; distributed cognition; entanglement; new materialism; relational ecologies

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