Ilka Becker

Unfathomable Substances.
Photographic Atmospheres in Contemporary Art

Lecture: 14 May 2009

We talk about them constantly, because they form an integral part of the symbolic capital of images, spaces, situations and people and are rarefied on the surfaces of art, architecture, and pop culture: atmospheres and the various forms they take (mood, aura, ambience, glamour). But as naturally as we can seem to agree on what the word "atmospheric" seems to denote, so little is clear as to which forms of visibility it should take. And yet for the most part, the logic of atmospheres seems to consist exactly of that - as producing something incomprehensible or nondescript. In contemporary art, the visibilities and the performative notion of the atmospheric seep, in a specific way, into photographic practices as embracing of it as they are critical: at first glance, photographs seem only to depict or capture atmospheres. But in what role to they themselves play as agents of atmospheric production? How significant is whiteness and the Western epistemology of light in photographic penchant for atmospheres? And what correlations can be drawn between contemporary art’s critical image practices and historical discourses reaching as far as the history of painting and film to meteorology?