Photography After Capitalism

Ben Burbridge


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In Photography After Capitalism, Ben Burbridge makes the case for a radically expanded conception of photography, encompassing the types of labor too often obscured by black-boxed technologies, slick platform interfaces, and the compulsion to display lives to others. His lively and polemical analysis of today's vernacular photographic cultures shines new light on the hidden work of smartphone assembly teams, digital content moderators, Street View car drivers, Google “Scan-Ops,” low-paid gallery interns, homeless participant photographers, and the photo-sharing masses. Bringing together cultural criticism, social history, and political philosophy, Burbridge examines how representations of our photographic lives—in advertising, journalism, scholarship and, particularly, contemporary art—shape a sense of what photography is and the social relations that comprise it. More precisely, he focuses on how different critical and creative strategies—from the appropriation of social media imagery to performative traversals of the network, from documentaries about secretive manual labor to science fiction fantasies of future sabotage—affect our understanding of photography's interactions with political and economic systems.

Drawing insight and inspiration from recent analyses of digital labour, community economies and post-capitalism, Burbridge harnesses the ubiquity of photography to cognitively map contemporary capitalism in search of its weak spots and levers, sites of resistance, and opportunities to build better worlds.

Ben Burbridge’s exceptional writing, and insightful articulation of the conditions and collisions of contemporary photography, invites us to sit up straight and pay attention. Photography After Capitalism is a prescient book that re-imagines the idea of photography as a medium that is always relational.

Charlotte Cotton, author of The Photograph as Contemporary Art and Public, Private, Secret: Photography and the Configuration of Self

At a time when many long-established practices are being reassessed, within art and the academy, Burbridge’s sharp analysis opens up a vital field of enquiry: photography’s complex relationships to global capitalist systems. A necessary, compelling, inspiring book.

Elisa Medde, Editor-in-Chief, Foam magazine

In this lucid and timely book, Ben Burbridge provides the reader with an overview of photographic labours performed by diverse subjects. Offering a searing critique of the monetisation of photography at the level of both image and data, he also identifies affirmative photographic moments whose value escapes the incessant logic of capital. There can be a future for photography after capitalism, but, suggests Burbridge, it may need to involve rage against the machine.

Joanna Zylinska, author of Non-Human Photography and Professor of New Media and Communications at Goldsmiths College, London


Ben Burbridge

Ben Burbridge is a writer, curator and academic. A former Editor of Photoworks magazine, he has edited two books about photography and art and written numerous articles, chapters and essays for publications including Photography and Culture, Philosophy of Photography, and FOAM. Recent curatorial projects include Revelations: Experiments in Photography (Science Museum, London and National Media Museum, Bradford, 2015-6) and the 2012 Brighton Photo Biennial, Agents of Change: Photography and the Politics of Space. He is Senior Lecturer in Art History and Co-Director of the Centre for Photography and Visual Culture at the University of Sussex, UK.