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Between Presence and Program: The Photographic Error as Counterculture

This book chapter contributes to debates on photographic representation, digital materiality and glitch aesthetics and identifies the unique position of the photographic error in contemporary digital practice.

The chapter is part of the larger practice-led project In Pursuit of Error (2014 – to date) which investigates the photographic error in practice and culture. The project contributes to debates in photography which centre upon materiality and embodiment in the digital age, problematising issues of representation and ‘truth’ which pertain to the digital and foregrounding performativity and the role of technology as key components of photography as a creative practice as a cultural phenomenon. The project includes several additional peer-reviewed publications; this publication represents the most significant to date.

The chapter advances the central research questions of the project: the ostensible disappearance of the error in digital photography; how the error challenges accepted standards of photographic representation; the nature of agency in photography and the value of the error as a developmental tool in creative practice.

The chapter is the result of an extended period of data gathering and analysis of the photographic error as it occurs in photographers’ everyday practice. Through regular open calls, amateur and professional photographers and artists in the UK and internationally contribute their photographic errors to the project, along with a narrative to explain how the error occurred and their perception of it. Contributions are analysed to identify significant characteristics of image and process. The image and narrative dataset forms an ethnographic account of contemporary photography as it is practised by amateurs and artists.

Using this database as a starting point, a range of theoretical frameworks have been applied to interpret the error, including aesthetics, epistemology and performance theory. The chapter builds on this methodology, using New Materialism and Critical Technology studies to articulate the error specifically in relation to technology.

Significantly, practice suggests that the photographic event extends before and after the moment of taking an image, casting ‘photographing’ as an extended time-based event which is durational and performative. In this context, the chapter critiques developments in camera technology as ideologically driven toward an ‘ideal’ photography informed by concepts of objectivity, disembodiment and the ‘instant’.

Using Actor Network Theory, the chapter reimagines the relationship between camera and photographer. It reveals how the error destabilizes hierarchies of control and agency established in camera design, and reasserts the material presence of both parties in the act of photographing. In so doing, it presents a revitalized concept of photography as an embodied practice that challenges accepted notions of photographic representation.

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