from the series Swanskin, 2014 
pigment print on Hahnemuhle, 34 x 34cm

collection of the ACT Legislative Assembly

from the series Harken, 2015,
pigment printson Hahnemuhle, 34 x 34 cm

from the series Harken, 2015,
pigment printson Hahnemuhle, 72 x 36 cm

Transfixed, 2015, 
pigment print on Hahnemuhle, 72 x 36 cm

Ecstacy, 2015, 72 x 36 cm
pigment print on Hahnemuhle, 72 x 36 cm

from the series Light Work, 2013
pigment print on Hahnemuhle,  34 x 34 cm

Echo and Narcissus, 2014
pigment print on Hahnemuhle. 42 x 84 cm

from the series Swanskin, 2014 
pigment print on Hahnemuhle, 34 x 34cm

collection of the ACT Legislative Assembly

from the series Swanskin, 2014 
pigment print on Hahnemuhle, 34 x 34cm

collection of the ACT Legislative Assembly

Breast, 2014
pigment print on Hahnemuhle, 42 x 84 cm

Poetic Lens, 2015,
pigment print on Hahnemuhle, 42 x 84 cm

Her Glass Skin | Photography and the Sense of Touch
The photographic works that are the outcomes of my practice-led research feature a series of composites: pairs of black and white photographs printed together so as to evoke visual resonances and harmonies between disparate imagery. Bringing these works together reflects the processes through which significant relationships are established between individual works of art. In this way my thesis, my photographic works and the exegetical writings that support them, became an intricate tapestry through which practice, process and materiality has been interwoven with theoretical and historical considerations.

The premise of my research seeks to establish an approach towards photography that is acutely conscious of the material interaction between light and the lens as an object made of glass.
The Glass Skin, an exhibition of contemporary studio glass curated by Helmut Ricke, Susanne K. Frantz and Yoriko Mizuta in 1994, explored the surface properties of glass as a constellation of unique physical characteristics that extend beyond the malleable, transparent and refracting qualities that allow glass to operate as an optical device. Within the context of this exhibition and the accompanying catalogue essays 1, the surface or skin of glass is discussed as having a surface depth that troubles the clear demarcation between an interior and an exterior space 2, a "transition point" that allows for a "third phenomenon" or simultaneous perception both of an inside and an outside 3. The glass skin is described not simply as a surface but "also a wrap," a boundary, many layered like human skin, "where everything comes together" 4. The material traits inherent to the glass skin can be describes as raw, opaque and serene 5, a constellation of surface properties that may be perceived simultaneously activated and obscured by subjectively experienced reflections of light:

"There is a strange allure to a material that is a mere carrier of light and that must be violated in order to be exploited... Any shift in plane – a scratch or bruise, a bulge, or a smudge of oil – is sufficient to bend and scatter the light, pulling attention back to the dermis and to light itself"

Borrowing from contemporary glass theory to inform my approach towards the camera, the glass skin of the lens takes on the capacity to "sensitise and evoke" sensations of light 7. Raw, opaque and serene, these material properties evocative of corporeality may then be taken further as metaphors of vulnerability and illusion 8 to disrupt conventions of photographic representation such as objectivity, transparency and the invisibility both of the camera and of the photographer.

My project is informed by a dovetailing between such material thinking and Cathryn Vasseleu’s writings on the tactility of light via evocations of the sensations of vision such as penetration, dazzlement, ecstasy and pain 9.  Embodied by the constellation of properties inherent to the glass skin, this concept of light’s tactility became something of a technical guide to the operation of a camera; a methodology through which a heightened sense of the material properties of light might inform the making of my photographs. Concerned with Luce Irigaray’s feminist engagement with the philosophies of vision of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Emmanuel Levinas, Vasseleu’s text figures light as a fabric or texture woven from the visible and invisible qualities of lux and lumen: the visibility of light as it illuminates the material world and the invisibility of light as it travels through air and space. On visible and invisible light, Vasseleu writes that the distinction between lux and lumen:

"is an ancient one.
lumen refers to the physical movement of invisible rays of light whose perfect linearity is the essence of illumination and requires no organ of sight. The passage of lumen is transparent and imperceivable. On the other hand, lux refers to the the phenomenon of light, or as light as it is experienced in sight, composed of colour, shadow and visible qualities. Generally speaking lux is the subjective experience of light" 10.

Understood as such, light becomes inseparable from things that are seen, from the embodied perception of vision and from the circumstances of light’s cultural and historic meanings. In this way Vasseleu figures light as the language and materiality of visual practices and an historic site within which active intervention is called upon

Establishing a concept of light as an exquisite tactility informed by
The Glass Skin and the Textures of Light, my research asks: What are the implications of the sensations of vision to the materiality, language and history of photographic practice?
1. Helmut Ricke, Susanne K. Frantz and Yoriko Mizuta, The Glass Skin, (Corning Museum of Glass, Kunstmuseum Dusseldorf, Hokkaidoritsu Kindai Bijutsukan, 1999).
2. Ricke, Ibid. 9.
3. Frantz, Ibid. 12.
4. Ricke, Ibid. 9-11.
5. Ricke, Frantz, Mizuta, Ibid. 7.
6. Frantz, Ibid. 12.
7. Ricke, Ibid. 10.
8. Ibid. 7.
9. Cathryn Vasseleu,
Textures of Light; Vision and Touch in Irigaray, Levinas and Merleau-Ponty,
(London: Routledge, 1998). 12.
10. Ibid. 129.
11. Ibid. 128.

From Her Glass Skin, Photography and the Sense of touch, by Genevieve Swifte, 2016, Doctoral Thesis, Australian National University, pages 14-17.
Back to Top