The relationship between the photographic image and text has been problematized since the beginning of the 19th century. Walter Benjamin has argued for the image as a sensuous force that captures the meaning of our existence and later, in in his reconceptualization he shows how images have a revolutionary power. Roland Barthes described how texts may anchor images to avoid ambiguity and that text and images produce relay-relations of meanings. This exchange has played and continues to be an urgent enquiry in documentary photography. In the present, when “fakes news” has put the certainty of the image in crisis, the connection between the image and the text is all the more pressing to address.
What role does text play in the interpretation of a photograph? Documentary photographers have by tradition frequently worked with writers, a relationship which has often come to be disputed. Text – formulated by a writer or by the photographer herself – frames the meaning of an image but also open up further interrogation and enquiry.
The relationship between photography, truth and the potential of images as sociopolitically powerful is the topic for the conversation between Kerstin Hamilton, curator of the exhibition Dear Truth (accompanied by a catalogue for download here), Louise Wolthers and Niclas Östlind. Wolthers and Östlind are curators of the exhibition The New Eye (together with Mats Jönsson) and co-editors of the book Thresholds – Interwar Lens Media Cultures 1919–1939.
Kerstin Hamilton is a doctoral student in practice based artistic research at HDK-Valand at the University of Gothenburg. Her field of research is photography, with a main interest in experimental documentary photography. The exhibition Dear Truth: Documentary Strategies in Contemporary Art, curated by Hamilton, is on view at Hasselblad center in Gothenburg until 9 May, 2021.
Louise Wolthers, PhD in Art History, is Head of Research and Curator at The Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg. She leads and participates in collaborative research projects resulting in publications, symposia and exhibitions One of her main research interests is photography and surveillance. She publishes widely on photography, contemporary art and visual culture in books and journals.
Niclas Östlind,PhD in Photography, curator, researcher and senior lecturer at HDK-Valand. He is currently engaged in a research project on interwar lens-based cultures, and his most recent book is Published: Photobooks in Sweden (Koenig Book, 2019)