Light, intermediality, and sensory perception in Francis Bruguière's abstract photographs and films (1921-1936)
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Abstract photographs were a key site of the re-evaluation of photography’s ontology between the First and Second World Wars, bringing to the forefront questions of objectivity, legibility and the photograph’s essential nature. Bridging avant-garde art practices with literature, philosophy, and new technologies, artists sought to articulate and explore the boundaries of traditional modes of sensory experience by employing synaesthesia, “intermedia,” and the creative capacities of light. This study explores art practices in which abstraction interrogated the formal qualities and theoretical conceptions of photography, through an examination of Francis Bruguière’s (b. San Francisco, 1879-1945) photographs and films made between circa 1921-1936. Bruguière used a wide range of techniques to undermine the verisimilitude of the photographic medium, and frequently used his images in intermedial collaborations, which drew upon techniques and theories from the fields of theatre, film, psychology, and literature. Through a detailed examination of examples of Bruguière’s photographs and collaborative projects, this dissertation demonstrates the ways in which abstract photography was implicated in a broader desire amongst the avant-garde to re-evaluate modes of embodied perception and multi-sensory experience. Chapters examine the reception of Alvin Langdon Coburn’s (1882-1966) abstract “vortograph” series (1917), the light art of Thomas Wilfred (1889-1968), the history and historiography of abstract photography, and the broader spectrum of intermedial experiments with light. Bruguière’s collaborative projects, which paired abstraction with theatre, literature and film, and his exploration of the plastic qualities of light are scrutinised. Archival materials and primary sources inform the analysis of Bruguière’s work and the channels of dissemination of these new modes of expression. This revised and more inclusive contextualisation of abstract photography moves the discussion away from formalist interpretations of the medium, instead focussing analysis on broader practices of artistic production across media in the modern era.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2022-08-01
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 1st August 2022
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