Unsuspending Disbelief: The Subject of Pictures

 Nov 21, 2014, 3:30 PM – 11:00 PM
 Gray Center Lab in Midway Studios, 929 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637


Conceived and organized by Laura Letinsky, Unsuspending Disbelief: The Subject of Pictures, is a daylong symposium at the University of Chicago that will address questions regarding what a photograph pictures as opposed to what a photograph “means,” seeking out a more precise ontological mapping of the relationship between pictures and photography.

Despite our longstanding knowledge that what we see, how we see, and how we “picture” is not natural but rather a complex negotiation of physiological, psychological, historical, and social factors, the photograph’s ubiquity naturalizes its ways of describing. The fact that what was before the lens—be it person, place, or indistinct blob—imposed its reflection onto the receptive mechanism of the camera is taken as concrete evidence, a truth about the world even at a time when “truthiness” (to borrow comedian Stephen Colbert’s term) makes evident the irony of even this possibility. What is “pictured” in a photograph is regularly taken as evidentiary, and in identity discourse, what is pictured matters. However, like ink squiggles on a white page that form letters and words—creating a whole complex of signification subject to interpretation— what the photograph actually means is in fact rarely self-evident and equally relative.

Particular characteristics of photography that were once necessary for the medium’s inclusion within the cannon of high art—such as intentionality, control, specificity, and originality—are today utilized alongside spontaneity, accident, ordinariness, and quotation. These latter qualities were actualized through photography itself and are now synonymous with post-modernism. This symposium doesn’t propose a radical departure from the contemporary photographic discourse: its aims are at once more modest and precise. Rather than proposing the rhetoric of rupture, this symposium is conceived as an ongoing conversation with photographic artists and theorists across a wide range of approaches and methodologies.

With: Matthew Connors, Anthony Elms, Daniel Gordon, Shane Huffman, Martin Jay, Doug Ischar, Barbara Kasten, Deana Lawson, Laura Letinsky, Margaret Olin, Chris Mottalini, and Thomas Struth.


Panel 1: The Materiality of the Image


Panel 2: The Urgency of the Real


Panel 3: Slippage of Description


Closing Discussion




9:30-10a / Coffee & Opening Remarks

10-11:30a / The Materiality of the Image
Shane Huffman (moderator)
Barbara Kasten
Daniel Gordon
Anthony Elms
11:30a- 1p / The Urgency of The Real
Doug Ischar (moderator)
Margaret Olin
Deana Lawson
Chris Mottalini

1-2:30p / Lunch

*1-5p / video screening
Doug Ischar's recent videos Alone With Youcome lontano, and Tristes Tarzan will be screened next door at the Logan Center for viewing during the lunch break, as well as during the closing reception.  Total running time is about one hour.

2:30-4p / Slippage of Description
Laura Letinsky (moderator)
Thomas Struth
Martin Jay
Matthew Connors

4-5p / closing discussion & reception

Location:  Gray Center Lab in Midway Studios, 929 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL (enter through red door east side of courtyard next to Logan Center for the Arts).

Sponsored by the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry, the Department of Visual Arts, The Franke Institute for the Humanities, Logan Center Exhibitions, the Humanities Visiting Committee at The University of Chicago and the Office of the Provost for the Arts; with additional support from the Department of Art History, the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on German Literature and Culture, and the Goethe-Institut Chicago.