Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Squier: response to Troy's comment

From: Susan Squier
Date: Wed, 7 Mar 2007 14:27:20 -0500 (EST)

Troy’s post made me think about some images I’ve been looking at, and thinking a lot about, recently: photographs of chickens. Because I’m writing a book on poultry science and chicken culture, I’ve spent time looking at three types of chicken photographs: 1) breed photos, the kind of idealized images of specific chicken breeds that have long been important to purebred chicken raising, and that appear in the Standard of Perfection book on breeds, as well as on posters from feed stores; 2) photographs of chickens either taken by, or taken with, the farmers that raise them (for example, a photo I have, circa 1910, of a woman sitting in a long black dress holding on her lap two chickens that she has raised); 3) photographs of chickens taken by professional photographers (including the photos in Stephen Armitage’s book Extraordinary Chickens, among other such photographs.) So: what relationship exists between each image and scientific authority? The first category is pretty clear: the eugenic gaze of the photographer situates authority in the role of the purebred chicken breeder, and secondarily in the eye of the judge at the chicken exhibition. In the second category, authority (particularly scientific authority) is more amorphous: the farmer has a kind of authority over the chickens she/he raises, and yet in the early days of the twentieth century that authority was arguably not specifically scientific. Of course with the rise of the discipline of poultry science in the 20s and 30s in the USA, a kind of scientific authority increasingly came to the fore. In the third kind of chicken photograph, there is the scientific authority of photographic process­from questions of aperture and film speed to questions of exposure and printing. But what interests me most about that third category is the way other kinds of disciplinary (or compositional / epistemological) authority intervene there.

I am thinking in particular of a show by photographer Jean Pagliuso, up last year at the Marlborough Gallery in NYC, and now up currently (I believe) in Madrid, called “Poultry Suite.” These exquisite black-and-white photographs of chickens, in a larger-than-life format, printed on hand made Thai mulberry paper, invoke a number of different modes of authority simultaneously. Many photos recall exhibition breed photographs, one even recalls the psychiatric photography supplementing Charcot’s work in the Saltpetriere. . . and yet when I interviewed the photographer she found the most explicit relationship between photographer and image that of fashion photography. In addition to drawing on the grammar and techniques of the first two modes of photography, in other words, she explicitly found herself drawing on the grammar, design techniques, and even the vocabulary of fashion photography. I will try to post some of Pagliuso’s prints here (or at least links to them); my interview with Jean Pagliuso is forthcoming.

Best to all, and now on to the grad. Program committee meeting!

Susan Squier

P.S. This is the one that seems like the "Charcot chicken" to me.
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