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.
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.
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.