I know a little about photography... but not very much. I came to it as a diversion or a hobby and yet at the same time, it was also something serious, in the sense that it offered an alternative to writing—it was a completely different activity which came from elsewhere and had no connection with writing.
... the age of simulation thus begins with a liquidation of all referentials—worse: by their artificial resurrection in systems of signs, a more ductile material than meaning... It is no longer a question of imitation, nor of reduplication, nor even of parody. It is rather a question of substituting signs of the real for the real itself.
Reality itself founders in hyperrealism, the meticulous reduplication of the real, preferably through another, reproductive medium, such as photography. From medium to medium, the real is volatilized, becoming an allegory of death. But it is also, in a sense, reinforced through its own destruction. It becomes reality for it own sake, the fetishism of the lost object: no longer the object of representation, but the ecstasy of denial and of its own ritual extermination: the hyperreal.
The silence of the image is equalled only by the silence of the masses and the silence of the desert. The dream would be to be a photographer without a lens, to move through the world without a camera, in short, to pass beyond photography and see things as though they had themselves passed beyond the image, as though you had already photographed them, but in a past life. And perhaps we have indeed already passed through the image phase, in the way we pass through different animal phases, the mirror phase being a mere reverberation of all this in our individual lives.
For one can no more live without leaving tracks than one can without casting a shadow. S., as his eminence grise, is stealing his tracks, and he cannot fail to sense the magic to which he is being subjected. He is being photographed incessantly. The photograph here has neither a voyeuristic nor an archival function. Its simple message has the form: at this location, at such and such a time, in this particular light, someone was present. But at the same time it conveys the following: there was no point in being here, in such and such a place, and at such and such a time - and in fact no one was here; I was the one who followed him, and I can assure you that no one was here. It is of no interest to know that someone is leading a double life. It is the tailing itself that supplies the other with a double life. The most ordinary of lives may be transfigured in this way; likewise, the most extraordinary of lives may be rendered trite. In any case, life thus succumbs to a strange attraction.
Lichtenberg speaks, in one of his aphorisms, Of a tremor: any act, even an exact one, is preceded by a trembling, a haziness of gesture, and it always retains something of it. When this haziness, this tremor, does not exist, when an act is purely operational and is perfectly focused, we are on the verge of madness. And the true image is the one that accounts for this trembling of the world, whatever the situation or the object, whether it be a war photo or a still life, a landscape or a portrait, an art photo or reportage. At that stage, the image is something that is part of the world, that is caught up in the same becoming, in the metamorphosis of appearances. A fragment of the hologram of the world, in which each detail is a refraction of the whole. The peculiar role of photography is not to illustrate the event, but to constitute an event in itself. Logic would demand that the event, the real, occur first and that the image come after to illustrate it. This is, unfortunately, the case most of the time. A different sequence demands that the event should never exactly take place, that it should remain in a sense a stranger to itself. Something of that strangeness doubtless survives in every event, in every object, in every individual. This is what the image must convey. And, to do so, it must also remain in a sense a stranger to itself; must not conceive itself as medium, not take itself for an image; must remain a fiction and hence echo the unaccountable fiction of the event; must not be caught in its own trap or let itself be imprisoned in the image-feedback.
When the real is no longer what it used to be, nostalgia assumes its full meaning. There is a proliferation of myths of origin and signs of reality; of second-hand truth, objectivity and authenticity. There is an escalation of the true, of the lived experience; a resurrection of the figurative where the object and substance have disappeared. And there is a panic-stricken production of the real and the referential... a strategy of the real... a strategy of deterrence.
It is very difficult to photograph individuals or faces. It is impossible to bring someone into focus photographically when you are so little able to get them into focus psychologically. Human beings are such sites of mise-en-scéne, such complex (de)construction, that the lens strips them of their character in spite of themselves. They are so laden with meaning that it is almost impossible to separate them from that meaning to discover the secret form of their absence.
Photography is obsessive, temperamental, ecstatic and narcissistic in character. It is a solitary activity. The photographic image is discontinuous, selective, unpredictable and irreparable, like the state of things at any given moment. Any touching up, second thoughts or staging assumes an abominably aesthetic character.
The miracle today is that appearances, which were long reduced to voluntary servitude but have now gained their independence, are turning around on us, turning against us, through the very technology we use to drive them out. They now come from somewhere else, from their own place, from the heart of their banality; they are bursting in on us from everywhere, joyously multiplying on their own.
Whatever the noise and violence around them, photographs return objects to a state of stillness and silence. In the midst of urban hustle and bustle, they recreate the equivalent of the desert, a phenomenal isolation. They are the only ways of passing through cities in silence, of moving through the world in silence.
What I bemoan is the aestheticization of photography, its having become one of the Fine Arts, culture having taken it to its bosom. The photographic image, by its technical essence, came from somewhere beyond, or before, aesthetics, and by that token constitutes a substantial revolution in our mode of representation. The irruption of photography throws art itself into question in its aesthetic monopoly of the image. Now, today, things have turned around: it is art which is swallowing up photography and not the other way about.
The most beautiful of all photographs are those taken of savages in their natural surroundings. The savage is always confronting death, and he confronts the lens in exactly the same manner. He does not ham it up, nor is he indifferent. He always poses; he faces up to the camera. His achievement is to transform this technical operation into a face-to-face confrontation with death. This is what makes these pictures such powerful and intense photographic objects. As soon as the lens fails to capture this pose, this provocative obscenity of the object facing death, as soon as the subject begins to collude with the lens, and the photographer too becomes subjective, the 'great game' of photography is over. Exoticism is dead. Today it is very hard indeed to find a subject - or even an object - that does not collude with the camera lens. The only trick here, generally speaking, is to be ignorant of how one's subjects live. This gives them a certain aura of mystery, a savagery, which the successful picture captures. It also captures a gleam of ingenuity, of fatality, in their faces, betraying the fact that they do not know who they are or how they live. A glow of impotence and awe that is completely lacking in our tribes of worldly, devious, fashion-conscious and self-regarding people, always well-versed in the subject of themselves - and hence devoid of all mystery. For such people the camera is merciless.
Perhaps the desire to take photographs arises from the observation that on the broadest view, from the standpoint of reason, the world is a great disappointment. In its details, however, and caught by surprise, the world always has a stunning clarity. The secret form of the Other is what has to be reconstituted, as in anamorphosis, starting with the fragments and tracing its broken lines, its lines of fracture.
This is why, where art is concerned, the most interesting thing would be to infiltrate the spongiform encephalon of the modern spectator, For this is where the mystery lies today: in the brain of the receiver, at the nerve centre of this servility before 'works of art'. What is the secret of it? In the complicity between the mortification 'creative artists' inflict on objects and themselves, and the mortification consumers inflict on themselves and their mental faculties. Tolerance for the worst of things has clearly increased considerably as a function of this general state of complicity. Interface and performance - these are the two current leitmotifs. In performance, all the forms of expression merge - the plastic arts, photography, video, installation, the interactive screen. This vertical and horizontal, aesthetic and commercial diversification is henceforth part of the work, the original core of which cannot be located. A (non-) event like The Matrix illustrates this perfectly: this is the very archetype of the global installation, of the total global fact: not just the film, which is, in a way, the alibi, but the spin-offs, the simultaneous projection at all points of the globe and the millions of spectators themselves who are inextricably part of it. We are all, from a global, interactive point of view, the actors in this total global fact.