Writer Conversations #6

Daniel C. Blight

Daniel C. Blight is a writer based in London and Lecturer in Photography (Historical & Critical Studies) at University of Brighton. Recent work includes “Ways of Seeing Whiteness” in George Yancy: A Critical Introduction, eds. Kimberley Ducey, Joe R. Feagin and Clevis Headley (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021) and The Image of Whiteness: Contemporary Photography and Racialization (SPBH Editions/Art on the Underground 2019). He is currently working on a monograph, Photography’s White Racial Frame (Bloomsbury 2024), and slowly completing a PhD in the faculty of Social Science and Public Policy at King’s College London. In April 2022, he will be Visiting Scholar, Department of Art and Art History, University of Utah, Salt Lake City.

At what point did you start to write about photographs? 

I developed an interest in photography via post-rock and “electronica” album covers. The cityscape on the front of Fugazi’s End Hits (1998), the obliquely angled road sign on Hoover’s The Lurid Traversal of Route 7 (1994), or the pixelated “terrain” on the cover of Autechre’s Incunabula (1993) LP, which I took to be extra-terrestrial Swindon as I walked its streets, mashed at night, strangely under-stimulated. 20 years ago in that place, I made digital photographs and electronic music as part of a photography foundation course at Swindon College because, having quit my A Levels to become a pizza chef, it was the only route to university, an overdraft and a student loan.

My work then involved software editing digital photographs into CD artwork for the glitchy music I was making. I recorded the mechanical sounds of analogue camera shutters, cutting them up and sequencing them into drumbeats, and then manipulating tonally-inverted photographs of lightning to visually represent the glitches. It was as bad as it sounds. One of the compositions I completed then was titled Just take the fucking photo. This was the first time I wrote about photographs – or should that be “photography”? – eventually repeating the phrase into a microphone and layering the recorded voice track over camera shutter rhythms constructed in Fruity Loops, an audio sequencer of sorts.

My first experience of writing about photography is a species of repetitive song lyric: “Just take the fucking photo”, I wrote aggressively, over and over, on a piece of note paper in my teenage bedroom. In a sense, all my writing about photography since then has been born from the frustration captured in that phrase. Although I like to think I’m able to work with more “complex” forms of writing nowadays, there is a large part of me that appreciates teenage quotidian writing, an adolescent poetic writing, a writing apart from the perceived maturity of scholarly aptitude and normative citation practices.

On reflection, I feel there is something to learn from my frustration. What if my writing is frustration? What if I was supposed to be a writer not because I had anything interesting to say, but so that I could enjoy all the other things I do because my frustrations were absorbed by and confined to my writing? I count myself lucky that I have figured out how to confine frustration. I’ve sealed it into a sort of literary defeat.

What is your writing process?

‘Process’ sounds like such a clinical and serious word to describe how I write, although I like the sound of one of the word’s synonyms — ‘unfolding’. A procrastinatory unfolding. I enjoy reducing myself to a state of under-stimulation over a period of two or three days. Eventually, boredom compels me to write. At that point the smallest thing feels new, wakes me up and gets me excited again. Often cooking, or fixating on a particular image in a book.  

I spend most of my time not writing. I find this a necessary part of the process leading up to the act itself (which is both a struggle and a performance to myself – can I do it? Should I do it? Will it work?). Things don’t unfold this way deliberately. Most of the time, I just can’t write. It seems too hard, too difficult. I think coming to terms with this is the most important part of my writing in a philosophical sense. I like the idea, more and more, of slow writing, and of selective writing.

The rest is practical: reading, mostly on a screen, apart from poetry which I tend to read on paper. Looking at pictures in printed books. Making mental notes. Forgetting things. Then eventually I write something when I feel I can. I collect quotations when I’m reading. When I’m writing essays, I often use these to structure text. I write before them, after them, in the middle of them to disrupt them, and to see what happens. I largely write in incoherent, broken fragments which I call paragraphs. I can’t always be clear because I don’t really know what I mean. I call this writerly honesty. I’m trying to describe a feeling using words that are always wrong.

Since 2013, I’ve been making visual cues to aid my writing. I call these Image Reconstructions and they are collages comprised of visual symbols that summarise the subjects of texts I am working on. I collect images in folders as I research and read: the QAnon “logo”, a photograph of some weed, a Creative Commons image of oil burning on the surface of the sea, a .png of a pizza held up by a white hand. I then group them together into meaningful compositions (see the image nug, 2021). The rest is a weird form of visualisation in which images come to life through speculation, appropriation, trying things out to visually represent meaning. Sometimes I can’t finish the essay, or the poem, and it instead becomes an image reconstructed from the practice of writing. Sometimes I can’t finish the image. Most of the time nothing is finished, and nothing gets made, and that’s OK too.  

It sounds a cliché – and I hate the empty verbosity of the conceptual framing – but I prefer to write with photographs rather than about or, in the oft-repeated phrase, on them. I produce an essay plan using images and quotations in close and strange juxtapositions. I look for resonances, contradictions, parallels. My habits have been reformed by The Virus and by family life, particularly children. I no longer feel a need to write all the time. Most of the time I just don’t want to. I’d rather read or listen. I write towards happiness and in the direction of freedom. I’m much more comfortable with that cliché.

Can you expand on what draws you to slow writing? Is there an act of refusal, a determination to take time, in this? You’ve begun to focus much more on longer form writing over the short form.

In a sense, this isn’t true because I write many more short poems than I do long essays. Perhaps a poem a month, and two or three essays a year? I politely decline most invitations to write short form for magazines and newspapers nowadays. There are other people much better placed to comment on new projects and exhibitions than I am. There are certain spaces I don’t wish to occupy any longer. I am also disillusioned with the way badly paid short form essay writing for magazines and newspapers forces me to focus on some specious idea of right now, responding to “current practice”. Slow writing is something that the world of photography magazines can’t contend with, but they need it badly. Slow writing is a needed practice in academia too, in which scholars are forced to produce at pace to satisfy the various “excellence frameworks” they are compelled to adhere to. How many journal articles do I need to get a promotion? Are we talking 10 mediocre articles, or one bad boy one? Who gets to decide whether I’m any good or not?

If “right now” is both a fashionable position culturally speaking, and a global catastrophe unfolding in strikingly visual terms (images of the sea on fire, shamanic QAnon fascists storming the Capitol, Boris Johnson talking shit on the BBC), I’m looking to respond more slowly certainly. Part of what capitalism’s recently rejuvenated intersection with fascism requires of us is that we keep up. Move fast and stay relevant! I’m not the first person to say we should refuse that. I want to go back to a time when I could walk the streets stoned at night slowly with nowhere to be. I want to make pizzas for minimum wage again. But this time they’re texts, and I get to bake them for longer than four minutes. Unfortunately weed makes me puke now, so I can’t smoke, and I earned more money working as a waiter at Pizza Express than I do as an academic.

Slow writing is a form of epistemic protest. It says to me: stop producing knowledge habitually until you understand your own epistemic standpoint. Or: work to produce a kind of counter-knowledge that supports other people. Slowing down is me trying to be less selfish. Perhaps the “knowledge” I possess is a form of what Charles W. Mills called ‘white ignorance’ before he recently passed. I have thought about this in more detail in a chapter for a new book on the philosopher George Yancy. In that essay, I consider his work, his excellence, and myself, as I am.

What are the questions or problems that motivate your writing? 

I write to edge away from the disappointment of my social self. To be white, and to be a man, is in two interlinked ways to be a problem. Therefore, the superficial problem of my work is me, and by extension the fundamental problems are white supremacy and the elite white male dominance system. I write in the hope that I can become someone else, someone better. I am in my own way, tripping over my own feet. This is a process of discovery in which my social self is cracked open; breached to form a sort of aperture. I want to write despite myself. I have come to understand this more recently as a willingness on my part to become vulnerable, to fail publicly, to not care about the consequences of doing so. It’s only through a kind of risk that anything meaningful can come of my writing. The trouble is risk is predominantly about failure. My process is just that, then: attempt to escape myself; fail. A strangely productive failure.

Isn’t it true that writers can’t name themselves? My writing began with frustration, and its continuation now involves wondering whether what I write next will result in another “race traitor!” death threat via email. Yet, with this violence in mind, how can I not name myself? I am a white writer coming to terms with what it’s like to unravel in words. I think all white writers should try this. This is not a melancholy unfolding though, and it is not one that requires any emotional sympathy, nor undue attention. I am deeply happy. I am filled with love for other people’s writing, other people’s poetry, other people – for the first time in a long time.

What kind of reader are you? 

I read long essays quickly and short poems slowly. Then I read the same essays slowly and have no time left to read poems. I read with admiration, curiosity, frustration. I read searching for something I never find.

What do you go looking for in your reading?

I look for a mix of deep exegesis and personal reflection. Often one leads to the other. It’s sort of like asking what I go looking for in food. How much time do I have? Am I in the mood to cook? Do I have a Tesco lasagne I can put in the microwave, squirt extra ketchup on top of, and dip chunks of garlic bread into? Or am I in a Michelin Star pub for my birthday rinsing it hard on my credit card? When I read, I gorge uncertainly, and its often done in such a way that makes me feel I’m avoiding rather than looking for things. I’m avoiding writers like me. I do think “What do I want to read?” before I read sometimes, but it’s not like I always have much choice when one article takes me via a hyperlink to another, over and over again. I’ve read so much, partially. I keep trying to read in print again, and then I start missing all the hyperlinks, the distractions on Wikipedia, the stopping and searching for things I don’t understand in journal articles on the University of Brighton’s online library.

I enjoy reading my student’s essays. They teach me how to read and they teach me how to write. It’s a wonderful thing, teaching. I used to conceptualise it as something I did to feed myself so I could concentrate on my writing, but now it’s a thing I do to actively learn. I read with pleasure in a community of student-scholars. This year, I will work with students to encounter racial whiteness in reading photographs. This is a process in which we “let go” of the white logic and white racist visual foundations that underpin the western colonial history of photography and instead turn our attention to forms of white uncertainty. Irrespective of our individual racial identifications, we all work together in a white university. In a white space. In white complicity pedagogy, this involves de-centring forms of “knowing” and instead centres notions of white humility (“I do not know”/”I am not sure”) and white listening – learning to listen while giving up on needing to feel like a “good” white scholar. I take my lead here from educators such as Barbara Applebaum, Stephen Brookefield and Zeus Leonardo.

Reading should always be paired with writing. This doesn’t necessarily mean essay writing, but perhaps a simpler form of writing notes, questions or incomplete fragments. I encourage students to read in such a way that excites them to produce fragments of text, as roughly as they like. We then work through those texts together and make sense of them in critical relation to scholarly conventions. What results is a form of photo-textual essay practice; a manner of writing with photographs in order to produce literary essays that respond both to a history of the essay form in photographic cultures, and importantly, embodied, reflexive and phenomenological approaches to images derived from methods in visual sociology. It sounds technical, but it’s exciting, in practice, in the classroom.

How significant are theories and histories of photography now that curation is so prominent? 

The sort of canonical history of photography taught in British Higher Education is undergirded by the white logic of European settler colonialism. This isn’t discussed nearly enough, and it has a huge impact on what is often falsely named the history of photography and how we theorise its structures and meanings (in this way history and theory go hand in hand). We desperately need new historical and theoretical frameworks because the European invention of photography from the 1830s – which is not the first invention of photography, but rather the most convenient white inauguration – is founded upon the same intellectual traditions that justify the genocide of Indigenous, Black and Brown people the world over. After Gerald Horne, let’s call this tradition the apocalypse of settler colonialism, and, after Charles W. Mills, let’s call it the white ignorance of epistemological individualism in the historical project of racial liberalism. In short, white supremacy continues to govern the world at large, and all cultural phenomena including photography falls within its scope and power.

More precisely, the European invention of photography, which is to say the “fixing” of images by such figures as William Henry Fox Talbot in the middle of the 19th century (some 200 years after the invention of racial whiteness), is a visual project that inherits the social dynamics of what Joe R. Feagin calls the white racial frame and extends this into particular types of “image-schema”. This image-schema, which I am theorising in a new book, Photography’s White Racial Frame, can be described in several ways. It is first and foremost a mental frame, or what has been described differently as the colonial gaze by Frantz Fanon and Edward Said. More precisely, this mental frame is named white scopophilia by George Yancy, and a regime of seeing by Kalpana Seshadri-Crooks. These concepts share a common truth: that with the invention of racial whiteness came what might be called a psychology of colonial picturing. This is a form of white imaginary, which is of course etymologically to say white imagery. We white people look at the world through what Stuart Hall called a white eye, and we do so full of an often-unconscious desire for power, wealth and knowledge. Photography is the great inheritor of this perceptual frame, this image-schema and its false narrative of white violence then and white innocence now. Thus, I theorise the European history of photography as a white racist visual dynamic full of emancipatory potential in the hands of those artists that choose to work against it. Like racial whiteness, photography can be abolished.

Understanding the significant violence of this visual framework should result in nothing less than seeing the world in an entirely new way, and as I have contended, seeing one’s white self in an entirely new way. If curation is the care and organisation of cultural phenomena, then in a white supremacist world it either stands within or without the white racial frame. The practice of curating is an historical and theoretical positioning which takes place in relation to the history of the western museum defined as (what Dan Hicks calls) ‘white infrastructure’. So, the question becomes, why is curating now so prominent? And for me, the answer has to do with the false choices racial whiteness continues to offer curators (remember, everyone is a curator, but it is most often white people that declare themselves so or who are awarded the title institutionally). To curate is first to possess knowledge, and then to make choices based on that knowledge resulting in some objects getting attention and others not. Possession is privilege. Knowledge is racialised, gendered, made bodily. Which curatorial bodies are most prominent? Ones like mine. Like racial whiteness, white curators can be abolished too.

Your book The Image of Whiteness, examining photography’s construction and perpetuation of racialised hierarchy, felt like it could have been an exhibition, but existed in book form. Was that a choice you made, or does it reveal something about the spaces of writing and display?

The Image of Whiteness is visually intrusive and conceptually shocking for lots of white people – certainly if encountered as an exhibition, in a public museum space (white infrastructure). I owe this to the artists featured. They have done the work and I have brought it together. I think it would be interesting if there was an accompanying events programme in which people could thrash out some of the ideas in the project. George Yancy might deliver the keynote on the question of symbolic white death – he’s an excellent public speaker – and I could be available as white visitors feel more and more uncomfortable, just like I do every day as I try to learn about my white self. I would be there to care for them (the curator’s role), not to make them feel good but to make them understand that it’s OK to feel uncomfortable and confused by something we are only just coming to understand: that being white is to embody a violent lie; that the exhibition is teaching us that we have been lied to, and that we are upholding that lie and that what we need do is look, and then see differently, and listen attentively. That’s what I hope The Image of Whiteness is about: rendering white people uncomfortable so that we can be challenged and then learn. We white people need to learn to feel – to racially empathise – and then to self-disclose. I’m not interested in books or exhibitions that revive whiteness or make it “good”. That is an impossibility. A paradoxical space of both white projection and display.

White self-disclosure starts from the position that there is ‘no contradiction in whites working as anti-racists and their being racist,’ as Stephen Brookefield writes. So, I start from that position in my own work, and when I encounter white denialists – those individuals socialised white that have unfortunately still not realised their racial whiteness has very little to do with their skin colour – I seek to help them through a form of creative care. Imagine if that could be communicated to an exhibition audience? This is not to say white viewers should be told they are racist upon entry to the museum, but that they will surely come to realise to be white is to be racist by the time they leave. The exhibition becomes a form of white abolitionist narrative disclosure in which white people are prompted to learn through a process of looking and seeing differently.

Whatever The Image of Whiteness is, I hope it is not a mere anti-racist declaration. I am interested in avoiding spaces of epistemic comfort for myself and other white people. I want to create thankful spaces in which abolitionist practice is uncomfortable and ongoing. An anti-white social ontology requires a complex theory of practice that understands the space between white agency and white social structure as a fissure in which a series of epistemic possibilities might be revealed. My writing, and any exhibition making that follows it, is about revealing in this way. I reject error avoidance as I will make errors as I go. In a sense to be white is to be a human error, so what would it be like to accept that glitch in the social matrix from the get-go? What if instead of conceptualising my work as “good” I call it an error – which is different from a mistake – and brings me all the way back to where I started: frustration, erratum, not writing until I have something to say, or rather, something to do.

What qualities do you admire in other writers?

I admire anyone who has the courage to write against themselves.    

What texts have influenced you the most?

Here’s what is influencing me this week: Simple Men (2019) by Rachael Allen; To Revive a Person is No Slight Thing (2016) by Diane Williams; White Self-Criticality Beyond Anti-Racism: How Does it Feel to Be a White Problem? (2014), edited by George Yancy; Weird Fucks (1980) by Lynne Tillman; Black Bodies, White Gold (2021) by Anna Arabindan-Kesson.

What is the place of criticality in photography writing now?

Criticism gets me in trouble. Always with white people in positions of power, which is reason enough to keep getting in trouble.♦

Further interviews in the Writer Conversations series can be read here.

Writer Conversations is edited by Lucy Soutter (University of Westminster) and Duncan Wooldridge (Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London), upon the invitation of Tim Clark (1000 Words and The Institute of Photography, Falmouth University). 


1-Portrait of Daniel C. Blight. © Idris Khan OBE

2-Book cover of Daniel C. Blight, The Image of Whiteness (SPBH Editions and Art on the Underground, 2019)

3-Daniel C. Blight, 010 (After Julia Margaret Cameron, The Echo, 1868 (2021), from A selection of white people’s expressions from the great period of realism organised into a grid and positioned in such a way that they can smell a lemon. Photographs on archival paper, walnut frame © Daniel C. Blight

4-Daniel C. Blight, nug (2021), from Image Reconstructions. Photographs on archival paper, walnut frame © Daniel C. Blight

5-LP cover of Autechre, Incunabula (1993) © Warp Records

Writer Conversations #3

Joanna Zylinska

Joanna Zylinska is an artist, writer, curator and Professor of Media Philosophy + Critical Digital Practice at King’s College London. She is an author of a number of books, including AI Art: Machine Visions and Warped Dreams (Open Humanities Press, 2020) and Nonhuman Photography (MIT Press, 2017). She also co-edited open-access works, Photomediations: An Open Book and Photomediations: A Reader, as part of the Europeana Space project funded by the European Commission. Her art practice involves experimenting with different kinds of image-based media. In 2013, she was Artistic Director of Transitio_MX05 Biomediations, the biggest Latin American new media festival, which took place in Mexico City. She is currently researching perception and cognition as boundary zones between human and machine intelligence, whilst trying to answer the question: ‘Does photography have a future?’.

At what point did you start to write about photographs?

I came to writing about photography (rather than just photographs) relatively late in my career. I had been working as a media academic at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching the philosophical and cultural aspects of digital media for many years. I had also had an active research interest in art, particularly new media art. But photography had been my secret love, something I had practiced “on the side”, so to speak, but that I hadn’t brought into any of my more “proper” academic work. It all changed in 2007, when, still working at Goldsmiths, I decided to enrol on a practice-based MA in photography at the University of Westminster. I did that a little bit in secret too! Doing that MA changed everything. It encouraged me to start incorporating practice into my written work, to change the way I write and to address photography more comprehensively as a key medium of our times. It also led me to develop a new philosophy of photography, culminating in my book, Nonhuman Photography (2017). (Analysing photographs that were not of, by or for the human, that book looked at the photographic medium across the scale of so-called ‘deep time’. It positioned various ‘impressioning’ practices, from fossils through to tanning, as forms of photographic practice, alongside its more conventional forms such as photograms, analogue film frames or digital snapshots.)

What is your writing process?

Because I try to maintain that dual track of having an image-based practice as well as working on photography philosophically, I am very mindful that writing about photography shouldn’t use photographs just as illustrations. Rather, in recognition of photography’s agency, I would say that I write with photographs. Often these will be projects by other people (artworks, social media practices) or social and technical networks in which photographs play an active role (Internet search engines, image databases for training AI algorithms). But I also try to develop some aspects of my theoretical argument from photographic practice. So I often start with an idea and a project – like with Active Perceptual Systems, where I wore a necklace-like Autographer camera for two years whilst writing about nonhuman vision, or when I hired workers from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk labour platform to take a photo from the window of the room they were in with a view to creating a collective portrait of invisible ‘undigital’ global workforce, as part of my work on AI and art. So, in my work, I try to get writing and image-based practice to speak to each other, to push each other and then also, inevitably, to converge.

What are the questions or problems that motivate your writing?

The primary concern of my work over the years has been the constitution of the human as both a species and a historical subject. Adopting this geological probe of ‘deep time’ mentioned earlier, I have looked at the emergence of the human in conjunction with the surrounding technologies, such as tools and other artefacts but also communication in its various modes – be it everyday language, storytelling, ethics, art and, last but not least, photography. In an attempt to challenge human exceptionalism without giving up on my own curiosity about my phylogenetic kin (i.e., other people), in my writing, I zoom in on the signal points of the human such as intelligence, consciousness and perception. With this, I aim to explore the entanglements of human and nonhuman forms of intelligence, including the promises and threats offered by AI and machine vision. Currently, I am working on perception as arguably the key mode of engagement with the world in different species. This project involves looking at the reconfiguration of ‘the eye’ in the digital age and at the humanist blind spot in machine vision. As part of this work, I am investigating the role played by images, especially mechanically-produced images such as photographs, in human becoming. Looking at the transformation of photography by computation – and the transformation of human perception by algorithmically-driven images, from CGI to AI – I am also trying to figure out what it means to live surrounded by image flows and machine eyes. This radical transformation of the photographic medium is currently leading me to explore a question which is also a provocation: ‘Does photography have a future?’

Does your concern for writing about positions beyond anthropocentrism impact on how you write? Is there a way to write beyond our human positionality?

My work is produced from within the theoretical standpoint recognised as critical posthumanism, a position that does not mean any straightforward overcoming of the human (were such a thing even possible), but that rather involves a rewriting or re-enactment of the human under the conditions of the planetary crisis resulting from the nexus of colonialism, globalisation, technoscience, late capitalism and climate change. You could say that I’m trying to write myself out of the conceptual and political strictures of humanism, with its constitutive forms of violence. I’m trying to accomplish this both in the content of my writings and in its style – which is often hesitant, minimal as well as ironic. This attempt also involves mixing different genres, different modes of enquiry and different media. At the same time, I’m aware that, even though many animals are known to leave traces – i.e. surface marks which could be seen as forms of inscription – grammatological writing is a specifically human practice; a practice that both makes sense to and is valued by humans. So, I’m also writing in full recognition of writing being a species-specific behaviour to which we humans have assigned a particular cultural value (a value which I of course also hold dear).

What is the role of writing in relation to what you have described as photography’s proximity to extinction, to climate transformation? Is this, in part, a recognition that photography’s industrial conditions feed into extinction whilst representing it?

My work, both written and image-based, is indeed produced within the horizon of extinction, which represents the awareness of the eventual expiration of the human species and other species alongside us, and of our planet as a whole. But it’s also driven by a sense of urgency prompted by the foreshortening of this horizon as a result of the destructive human impact on planet Earth. Photography has of course been part of this impact – from the extraction of minerals needed to produce cameras and the use of harmful photochemical materials through to photography’s participation in the extractive data economy which is extremely resource-heavy (even if it’s sold to us through images of immaterial flows and clouds). Yet photography, as you point out, has also been used to represent, record and challenge practices leading to this accelerated extinction. Last but not least, there’s an existential dimension to photography for me. Photography, a par excellence practice of imaging and imagination (i.e. a practice of copying, making likenesses, mapping, making mental pictures and ideating), can serve as a conduit for asking bigger questions about our own ‘thrownness’ in the world – of which we are only temporary inhabitants – and of imagining different futures for ourselves and our planet. This future-oriented horizon of extinction, beyond the death of singular humans (be it that of Roland Barthes’ mother or our own), makes photography into what Swedish philosopher Amanda Lagerkvist has called ‘an existential medium’.

What kind of reader are you?

Committed, engaged, playful – but also forgetful. You could say that I read for an experience of an idea rather than for the purpose of constructing world systems out of the previously existing ideas.

How significant are theories and histories of photography now that curation is so prominent?

My previous answer might signify that I don’t care much about historical unfoldings and coherent linear trajectories. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. I recognise that meaningful photographic curation requires expertise, which needs to involve familiarity with theories and histories of photography. We also have to remember that these theories and histories are already forms of curation – and that they can be rewritten, restaged, rearranged.

What qualities do you admire in other writers?

A mixture of rigour and vitality and a desire to say something interesting and new about the world. I appreciate writers who have an awareness of their own writerly task – and who take this task (but not necessarily themselves, under the guise of ‘Here I Am as a Great Writer Speaking to You My Dear Reader’) seriously. My ideal writerly voice would be Roland Barthes from A Lover’s Discourse (1977) – but not, for the love of God, Camera Lucida (1980) – hybridised with Donna Haraway and Rebecca Solnit, and then remixed through some postcolonial epistemologies and affects, such as those coming from Eduardo Viveiros de Castro.

What texts have influenced you the most?

There are so many – from texts on photography by writers such as Vilém Flusser, Geoffrey Batchen and Tina M. Campt, through to those whose authors have shown me the way with words and concepts: Jacques Derrida, Hélène Cixous, Tim Ingold, Juhani Pallasmaa, Stanisław Lem. The book I wish I had written myself is Pandora’s Camera: Photogr@phy After Photography (2014) by Joan Fontcuberta.

What is the place of criticality in photography writing now?

We now live in image flows – we are surrounded by photographs on screens large and small, and are mediating our relationships with others through images. Photographs and other images form a transparent layer through which we see the world. I am increasingly concerned about the fact that this layer remains largely unseen. So, for me, the function of criticality in photography writing would consist in drawing attention to that seemingly transparent photographic layer, to see it for what it is, for what it’s made of and for how it’s made. This would need to involve going beyond semiotic readings of individual images – although I believe there is still need for developing an image literacy of an interpretative kind. But it would also need to involve developing an understanding of image infrastructures and of the way those infrastructures are involved in shaping our socio-political reality today. With this, we could perhaps go so far as to argue not only that photography writing needs to include criticality but also that any form of critical theory and critical writing today needs to engage, seriously and profoundly, with photography.♦

Further interviews in the Writer Conversations series can be read here.

Writer Conversations is edited by Lucy Soutter (University of Westminster) and Duncan Wooldridge (Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London), upon the invitation of Tim Clark (1000 Words and The Institute of Photography, Falmouth University). 


1-Joanna Zylinska

2-Book cover of Joanna Zylinska, Nonhuman Photography (MIT Press, 2017)

3-Book cover of Joanna Zylinska, Minimal Ethics for the Anthropocene (Open Humanities Press, 2014)

4-Joanna Zylinska, Planetary Exhalation, 2021