2015 - 2017 David Bergé: "What is an imprint?"

David's 20 minute presentation for Maelstrom Slow Dance - DAI's 3 day graduation lectures marathon, June 2017 was entitled

Photography’s medium unspecific perceptual and navigatory relations to urban environments


David Bergé’s lecture performs key chapters from his thesis, using a slide presentation and short videos to guide the audience in his thinking. Employing careful timing in the delivery of his talk, coordinated with the texts he projects, he offers the idea that “an imprint is a mark and physical trace, a footprint in sand, bedsheets in skin, a clear mark as a referent to the imprinted.” He talks about the basis of camera-based photography and optics, which have been developed beyond their initial use by the military. In opposition to optics in photography is chemics, he explains, “not military chemics, even not darkroom chemics,” but “chemics mutating surface matter.” What this results in is matter making another matter appear on the surface. For him, this is how photography becomes tactile. In the lecture, David speaks about a few of his own pieces and connects them to the theory of the imprint he proposes.

Ray Brassier saw David’s lecture performance as “a theoretical intervention, constitutive of the work itself” and recapped by saying that “a transformation of photographic practice is being proposed.” Going back to the question, he would ask further, what are the terms of the relationship of imprinting? For Brassier, the first question “opened up in an attempt to transform or reconceive photographic practice.” Adding to that, “because the structure of modernity is encoded in photography [...] photography practice is not just a passive registering of modernity but is an engine of modernization. It is a consequence of a fundamental restructuring of experience. The urban environment is also transformed.” He interpreted David’s proposal as a way for us to think about what photography is and does, our relationship to the built environment, and what happens in an urban environment (and how it might be inhabited by human subjects). Brassier found it very compelling and informative and said that the idea of photographic practice beyond optical concerns “sounded like a very bold proposal for an outsider.” Recalling the video featuring the glare of a welding torch, he remarks that the image is transformed and something is being imprinted. If we were looking at this event without a camera, we would not see it the same way. If photography only exposes, Brassier ventures, then we haven’t really abandoned the reproductive  notion of photography. Wrapping up his comments with a question, he asks, “is it possible that photography is actually making that absence (like Gordon Matta Clark did)?”

Gabi Ngcobo remarked that we tend not to think about the photo because the power of witnessing lies with so many people. She liked how David brought this out with descriptions of the works. She said she couldn’t help but think of Sojourner Truth, the abolitionist who said “I sell the shadows to sustain the substance”. The lecture performance also prompted her to recall the series “Chasing Shadows” by Santu Mofokeng, where the photograph becomes a way of chasing shadows. The word “seleti” plays with how we think of shadows, and means something akin to dignity. “Photography has taken away a lot of people’s dignity so these artists I mention come to mind.” Ngcobo asks what this practice could bring to David. Could it be the idea that the print takes something away?

Marina Vishmidt found it very insightful and wide-ranging in the way that it “grapples with the ontology of photography, and more generally image and mediation.” It questions the status of materialization, and the materialization of time and history. She talked about how “eliminating the device from the process of importing takes us to a pre-or meta-photographic moment” and   how that is “not just a process but a mediation of the device itself.” Thus, “an elimination or rejection of mediation corollary to that question’s materialization.” Also, “the role of device sets a third set of conditions - the flash of light and engineering work, where the imprint is registered through publicity and billboards (in the case of Felix Gonzalez-Torres)” or with David Hammons, where “skin is a conducting surface for representation of mediation.” Vishmidt was interested in how the concept of index wasn’t mentioned but was evoked, and is linked to imprint. For her, the most striking element of the lecture performance was the materiality of the mediation in both a philosophical and technical sense.

Rachel O’Reilly began by pointing out the relationship between affect imagery and informatics in this lecture performance. For her, the “theoretical part of the thesis was retracted to make space for all the aspects of the argument.” O’Reilly thought that the lecture performance or darkroom could have been more dramatized. She also remarked that the depth of some sections of the lecture and thesis were significant and thus warranted more talk of David’s motivations. She enjoyed the video pieces, and the “false formal effect of networked aesthetic experience” that came forth.

Learn more about David Bergé’s written MA thesis: Practicing Photography, without taking pictures

Learn more about  David Bergé’s "life after DAI" by means of his website