The inertness that greets us in camera fodder from police superintendent Alphonse Bertillon's mug shots or Désiré Charnay's ethnographic forays in Madagascar survives to this day in passport Photos and security cards. They are little icons within a monitor system, unrelated to the idea that a human may possess anything as intrusive and irrelevant as a soul.
Though infested with many bewildering anomalies, photographs are considered our best arbiters between our visual perceptions and the memory of them. It is not only their apparent ‘objectivity’ that grants photographs their high status in this regard, but our belief that in them, fugitive sensation has been laid to rest.
We perceive and interpret the outer world through a set of incredibly fine internal receptors. But we are incapable, by ourselves, of grasping or tweezing out any permanent, sharable figment of it. Practically speaking, we ritually verify what is there, and are disposed to call it reality. But, with photographs, we have concrete proof that we have not been hallucinating all our lives.
No matter how physically faint, a photograph involuntarily whisper of something exquisitely carnal. The weeks, the years, whatever stretches of time separating our present from the photographs retire into the transparence of the shot and seem erased by it. We almost have to shake ourselves to overcome the feeling that we peer out at the other place, in that different age. Yet we are always aware of this illusory dislocation, for such is the ambiguity, in principle, that seduces us over and over again in the photographic experience.