Agnieszka Kozlowska’s recently completed practice-led research project is entitled ‘Taking Photographs Beyond the Visual: Paper as a Material Signifier in Photographic Indexicality’, and explores the status of photographs as physical traces rather than purely as images. Despite the fact that photographs come into being as material objects imprinted with light reflected off the subject in front of the camera, and therefore possess a decidedly physical connection to their referent, the materiality of photographs tends to be overlooked in favour of apprehending them as primarily visual signs independent of their physical support. In an attempt to find ways in which remote natural locations could be expressed more fully than it is possible by means of purely visual representation, papermaking and image-formation were combined in this project in a single process executed entirely on-site. The making of each work involved an absurdly laborious and time-consuming process of hiking to an alpine location, making paper on-site from local plants and – using only the inherent light-sensitivity of plant substances – exposing it for many days in a camera built there partly from found natural materials. The resulting photographic objects function as pure indices in the semiotician Charles Sanders Peirce’s understanding of the term – as traces that point to their causes without necessarily revealing anything about the nature of the latter. They are artefacts testifying primarily through their presence, rather than through pictorial representation, to the exposure having taken place. Such process of signification requires the viewer’s active, haptic and imaginative response. The work proposes a way of photographically representing place as elemental – that is, existing outside the human schema of production, consumption and meaning – instead of through such cultural constructs as ‘landscape’ or ‘the scenic’. It also posits photography, a natural phenomenon that takes place essentially independently of human intervention, as a tool for representing what some cultural geographers have termed the more-than-human, sensuous dimensions of our interaction with the surrounding world.
Header image: ‘Fuorcla Radönt, towards Vadret da Radönt, Engadin, Switzerland, 2700m a.s.l., 22 Aug – 4 Sep 2013’, photographic object – grass paper made on-site and exposed photographically in a camera built there largely out of natural found materials, using light sensitivity of plant pigments present in the paper