Burkkänslan: surrealism i Christer Strömholms fotografi : en undersökning med semiotisk metod
1999 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
This dissertation is mainly concerned with the photography of Christer Strömholm. In studying his work semiotics is used as a method in analysing the rhetoric of his photographs and their relations to the photographic world, the artworld and the lifeworld. Especially the phenomenologically based visual and cultural semiotics of Göran Sonesson is adopted.
The work of Strömholm is first understood in the context of surrealism; especially in the ”dark” surrealism of Georges Bataille´s. In relation to the I - here and nowposition of the lifeworld the surrealism of Bataille can be seen as a downwardgoing rhetoric on the Great Chain of Being, the hierarchy of the lifeworld, from stone, via object, plant and man, to society or God. Bataille´s highlighting of the material and animal nature of man is an opposition to the upwardgoing spiritualising rhetoric of André Breton´s. The main rhetorical device in Strömholm’s photography is a downwardgoing isolation of the object from the lifeworld, according to Jan-Gunnar Sjölin surrealism’s first maneuvre.
However, Bataille´s rhetoric and Strömholm´s photography may also be seen as a modern variant of the ancient grotesque degradation that according to Michail Bakhtin once took place in popular carnivals and marketplaces. The degradation of Bakhtin, George Lakoff and Mark Turner’s notion of conceptual metaphor suggests a rhetoric of the lifeworld itself, which may allow us to understand pictorial rhetoric without the help of the theories of the artworld, such as surrealism’s theories.
Strömholm´s work is studied in relation to Roman Jakobsons functions in the process of communication. The dominant function in the photographs is the metasemiotic, since pictures and other signs are depicted and commented on. Also the photographs of transsexuals depict and comment signs, men that are signs of women. His photographs of transsexuals has been interpreted as a social realistic documentary, but is better understood as a surrealist union of two terms as unlike as possible, femininity and masculinity.
Another important function in his photographs is the interpersonal function suggesting a conjunction of emotive and conative functions. Along with isolation concealment of the object is used, which makes the object difficult to identify. We are not allowed to complete the act of perception, we see only the point of view. In Strömholm’s photography, the point of view of the invisible ”picture-self” with its unique perspective replaces the customary photographic referential image supposed to show “reality.” The notion of ”picture-self” suggests a differentiation between photographer and ”picture-self”, a ready-prepared position for a subject, that the photographer or viewer can place him/herself in. In being placed in this position an existential particualrization occurs, which is termed ”la condition humaine”.
Walter Benjamin´s idea of ”the outmoded” and ”the ruins of the bourgeoisie”, Susan Sontag´s idea of the role of ugliness in modern photography, is seen in relation to Strömholms photography and the downwardgoing surrealist rhetoric. In Benjamin´s ”age of reproduction” there is in the photographic work of Strömholm, a tension between ”centripetality” and ”centrifugality”; of remaining in or departing from the artworld. His work is also discussed in relation to postvisualization as an opposition to the well known photographic notion of previsualization.
In order to explain different rhetorical maneuvres semiotically in relation to the spatial lifeworld, the notion of familiarization is used as an opposition to Victor Shklovskys well known notion of estrangement. In the model of “the Great Cross”, with its origo as the familiarity of the I-here-nowposition of the core of the lifeworld, a vertical axis is the Great Chain of Being, ending on both ends with what is considered strange. Also ending with what is strange is a horizontal axis with rhetorical relations on the same level. A similar cross is used to explain rhetorical temporal movements between past and present and present and future with the present I - here and nowsituation of the origo.
A conclusion is that visual and cultural semiotics is an enlightening tool for practical analyses even of an œuvre that is as enigmatic as that of Strömholm´s.
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet , 1999. , 396 p.
Art history, semiotics, cultural semiotics, visual semiotics, photography, semiotics of photography, surrealism, surrealist photography, rhetoric, photographic rhetoric
Research subject History Of Art
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-236ISBN: 91-7191-721-7OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-236DiVA: diva2:142769
2000-01-14, Aulan, Folkuniversitetet, Nygatan 43, Umeå, 10:15 (English)
Spolander, Roland, Professor