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The Photographic Oracle

The September 23rd Sunday Times Magazine (London) contained a story on this year’s winners of the International Photography Awards. I have to say that I found the collection very strange because so many of the images seemed soooo dated: two head shots of auteurs, two female nudes, a posed scene of the bourgeois family cracking apart in an elegant restaurant. Where have the judges been for the past fifty years? As I flipped through the pages, I was reminded yet again of why fine art photography is such a small thing among the fine arts, and why photography’s artistic vitality usually is found not there but in photojournalism. That was the set-up for this image:


Ok, now we are in the 21st century. Again, I see a possible future world of post-human species where androids dream of electric sheep. By contrast, the Magazine’s caption tries to pull it back into a familiar humanism: “Bagg’s 2006 self-portrait features shiny lips and ‘plumes of red smoke.'” Not to worry: this is an individual person engaged in an act of self-expression, and the only manipulations are a bit of lip gloss and some red dye no. 5.

I don’t think so. This is the image of a facial mask, a mouth, a species, a thing from another order of being, an oracle. What they call smoke may be some post-industrial fluid, blood, breath, bio-informatic desire, or visual speech carrying the one true Word of a new revelation.

What is most revealing, however, is that this is not something from a vat in the 22nd century. This is one part of human nature, now. It may be how we would look to anyone, artist or victim or alien or machine, who saw us as we are and not as we think we are. We might wonder what they would say.

Photograph by Farren Bagg.



The Photographic Oracle


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