The lateness of ‘Warm Photography’

Part of 'Male Rape' series
Part of ‘Male Rape’ series

Generally the notion of late photography concerns itself with the subject of war and conflict, with an objective of recording the aftermath of the event, a document of what is left behind. Somewhat scenic vistas are captured, typically with large format cameras to gather as much detail and clarity as possible; they are an aestheticized response to what has happened.

They allow for the viewer to gaze upon possibly beautiful scenes, which have been forged in the violence of death and destruction. Photographers like Simon Norfolk produce images with depth and grace; they draw you in to examine the scene, working through the clues to ascertain the reality of what has transpired.

Is late photography considered cold? As eloquently put in Peter Wollen’s essay, melted ice will put out fire like in ‘Superman III’, yet there is a moment of transformation, a transitional midpoint where there is water and steam. Moving image can and does indeed get into the thick of the action capturing the drama as it unfolds, transmitting live action whilst being dutifully reported by a seasoned journalist. Then after an unspoken amount of time, a cooling period as it were, a stills photographer visits these conflict sites and documents the remains in a picturesque approach, making something beautiful from the violence.

A photograph is a still image; its purpose is to freeze a moment in time, to archive the evidence for the viewer to establish its history. Yet, dependent on how the environment came to be and its governing thematic elements it may also contain clues as to another chapter or a direct continuation of its narrative. Now it is neither fire nor ice, but something in between that exhibits dramatic tension; although frozen in a single frame, the events that forged its narrative are still in play. It is therefore in a state of warmth, a discourse of instability.

Does the notion of a warm image influence the categorisation of late photography, could it be perceived that the scene is more than the aftermath, could it also freeze the inception of impending drama? For my MA work I photographed sites that had witnessed violence in the form of ‘Male Rape’. The image illustrating this post was taken in 2005; I have since then found out that another attack occurred in 2011. Although the duration between these events is great, there is a thought that the scene is in flux, no action, and no calm, only a state of disharmony.

A photographic technique that finds its way into this theory is that of long exposures. Look at the work of Sugimoto and Titarenko, through these long exposures a certain amount of drama has unfolded and been frozen in a single frame. They are not quite a still image, yet they do not move; they evidence a visual fluidity that entices you to examine the frame, you become an investigator, scrutinising the chaotic warmth of the scene.



  1. Vicki M 26 November 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Interesting and timely article [for me]. Ties up with my studies in late photography in Context & Narrative’ and links to Peter’s current discussion on Narrative on the student forum. And then, there’s that question of time in a photograph. More to think about. Thanks Russell.

  2. jsumb 26 November 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Adding Ackerman to Titarenko and Sugimoto of (many) photographers who incorporate time into their imagery (note I do not use the term photography) it is clear to me that time is an inexorable component of that imagery and in these instances overtly so – and not in an effort to “.. freeze a moment in time ..”?
    Isn’t the narrative element provided by the context provided, your ‘Male Rape’, Sugimoto’s seas, dioramas and theatres, Titarenko’s crowds, Ackerman’s personal sense himself? Without Sugimoto telling us it is for example the ‘Aegean Sea’ it could be any sea anywhere and that narrative is then developed by the viewer? The still scenes in the ‘Male Rape’ series are interrupted and made eloquent by the concept of the work provided, made especially more vital with your penultimate paragraph?

  3. Richard Brown 26 November 2014 at 11:59 pm

    As John says (i think) some photos give no visual clue to any underlying context or meaning. Its similar to the Shot at Dawn series (which arguably is very late) in that without knowing what the connection between the photos you would simply see them as shots of countryside/buildings without any visible reference points.

    On the other hand Norfolk’s photos give some direct idea of the violence that has occurred in the locations he is showing us. As he said in a talk I attended you can determine when the conflict took place by the type of damage to the buildings.

    Even if you knew the location of each of the Shot at Dawn photos, and possibly Russell’s series, you would still (unless you were maybe a WW1 historian in the former case) not get any connection with them. With the picnic tables above there again needs to be some context and with the knowledge that those two incidents have taken place there, it (like the knowledge of the deserters being shot in these locations) gives us, as the viewer, newer perspectives (“this is not a quaint family picnic area” “that isn’t simply a nice undulation in a field” and so on) and a different (deeper?) appreciation of the photos. In addition in the picnic table there would be possibly a different reaction to it knowing one incident had taken place, than there would be to viewing knowing that two had?

    I wonder if anyone has shown a series of the like of Russell’s series and Shot at Dawn with the narrative/context at the end of the series of shots (i.e. so you only get to know the connection after you have seen the photos) and then asked the viewer to start again armed with that increased knowledge?

  4. Russell Squires 28 November 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Indeed, work such as mine Sugimoto’s and Mathews’s rely heavily on supportive text for contextualisation purposes, without even a title the works could have multiple interpretations.

    The idea of placing the narrative/text panel at the end of an exhibition is good yet without a rigorous structural enforcement and guide of the order in which to view the work, it would be difficult to ensure continuity. Placing a linear narrative in an exhibition is done often, yet the viewer can easily walk to any image they wish, thus negating the discourse. Likewise with the placement and ideal moment to read the supporting text.

    Slide shows can work quite favourably for the purpose of showing a stringent narrative where the exact transition, duration and linear order of the work can be controlled to a high degree; with this mode of delivery the text could be placed as the end slide.

    1. Richard Brown 29 November 2014 at 2:09 pm

      I think you’d need a thin circular corridor Russell!

  5. Catherine 29 November 2014 at 4:57 pm

    This notion of warm and cold in late photography is new to me and makes me look at images in a different way. I appreciate the metaphor offered by Peter Wollen. Like Richard I too thought of”Shot at Dawn” having heard Chloe Dewe Matthews speak about it in Brighton. Those images have a sombreness about them that would speak to me even without knowing what happened there. I think I agree about this effect that large format work can have. A slide show in the way you describe sounds a good experiment Russell – how about it John and Richard!


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