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Modes of Play

This article will explore Photography, various forms of play—competition, chance, make-believe, and vertigo—are intricately woven into both historical and contemporary practices. 

Despite the prevailing perception that photography lacks joy due to the stern critiques it often faces, this art form possesses a magical allure rooted in technology.

Photography serves as a medium through which we inadvertently engage with the past, capturing moments that transcend the ordinary. 

It challenges the notion that memories are uniformly joyful or straightforward, instead presenting them in their raw, complex forms. 

This practice stands apart from activities driven by material interests or financial gains, operating within its unique temporal and spatial confines according to established protocols. 

It fosters the creation of social groups that distinguish themselves from mainstream society, often through creative disguises or other innovative methods.

Avoid preserving simplistic notions that memories are solely happy or straightforward through the photographic process. 

Photography (the action), an endeavor free from materialistic pursuits and financial incentives, operates within its own distinct temporal and spatial realms, following established protocols in an organized manner. 

This practice of photography encourages the emergence of social groups that emphasize their uniqueness by employing disguises or other distinctive methods.

Photography can captivate audiences deeply, even when the subject matter appears light-hearted. The influence of surrealism on photography is notable, utilizing unexpected pairings to create intriguing visuals. Consider exploring Moholy-Nagy’s “Eight Varieties of Photographic Vision” for insights into traditional photographic styles with deep roots.

Mia Fineman’s “Faking It: Manufactured Photography Before Photoshop” sheds light on the historical manipulation of photographs, illustrating how image alteration has been a part of photography since before digital editing tools were commonplace.

“Photographic Amusements” by Walter E. Woodbury (1896) offers a glimpse into the experimental phase of photography, detailing innovative camera effects achieved during the era. 

As photographers accumulate a variety of negatives, ranging from exceptional to merely adequate, they experience a journey of exploration and discovery, reflecting the pioneering spirit of early photography. There’s no such thing as failure, just information. But how does this relate to play?

Play is fundamentally an action, not a result; it’s about the process, not the product or the meaning derived from it. However, many critics and observers tend to focus on the final output rather than the actions and interactions involved in play.

Consider reimagining the term for cameras as “Spielzüge,” translating to “playthings” in German. This perspective invites us to see photography as either a ‘program’ or a ‘game,’ both of which serve to inspire the camera to capture images and allow the photographer to explore and manipulate the camera’s capabilities. Ultimately, photographers engage in a creative game of combining various features and settings of their cameras to produce unique images.

Photography clubs can be where individuals find pleasure in the intricate workings of cameras. These spaces foster a culture of continuous exploration and innovation, encouraging photographers to discover new ways of representing the world through their lenses.

Photography the action, is capable of innovating and experimenting, pushing the boundaries of what is considered conventional or expected. This spirit of innovation is central to the essence of play in photography, distinguishing it from mere work or labor.

So when we talk about the ideas of play, and photography what if we examined some examples of what that might look like. 

To illustrate the concepts of agon, alea, mimicry, and ilinx in the context of photography, let’s consider examples of each category and suggest corresponding photographic activities:

 Agon (Competition)

– Example: Chess

– Photographic Activity: Organize a photography contest where participants compete to capture the most compelling image based on a given theme or location. The competition could be judged by a panel of experts or the public vote, creating a competitive environment similar to chess.

 Alea (Chance)

– Example: Smiley Faces in things 

– Photographic Activity: Participate in a photo scavenger hunt where participants must photograph items or scenes based on a list of criteria. The challenge lies in finding and capturing these items, introducing an element of chance and unpredictability.

 Mimicry (Role-Playing)

– Example:  Themed Photo Shoot 

– Photographic Activity: Host a themed photography session where participants dress up and assume roles inspired by historical periods or popular culture. For instance, a Victorian-era costume party could encourage participants to capture photos that mimic the style and atmosphere of that era.

 Ilinx (Vertigo)

– Example: Super Hexagon

– Photographic Activity: Create a series of abstract, visually disorienting photographs using techniques such as double exposure, extreme close-ups, or distorted mirrors. The goal is to induce a sense of vertigo or disorientation in the viewer, similar to navigating a rapidly changing maze.

These examples demonstrate how photography can incorporate elements of play, competition, chance, role-playing, and disorientation, enriching the creative process and offering new ways to engage with the medium.

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