All young photographers who are at work in the world, determined upon the capture of actuality, do not know that they are agents of Death.
"The necessary condition for an image is sight," Janouch told Kafka; and Kafka smiled and replied: "We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds. My stories are a way of shutting my eyes."
Photography is a kind of primitive theater, a kind of Tableau Vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead.
The Photograph belongs to that class of laminated objects whose two leaves cannot be separated without destroying them both: the windowpane and the landscape, and why not: Good and Evil, desire and its object: dualities we can conceive but not perceive... Whatever it grants to vision and whatever its manner, a photograph is always invisible: it is not it that we see.
When we define the Photograph as a motionless image, this does not mean only that the figures it represents do not move; it means that they do not (i)emerge(i), do not (i)leave(i): they are anesthetized and fastened down, like butterflies.
What the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.
The Photograph is violent: not because it shows violent tings, but because on each occasion (i)it fills the sight by force(i), and because in it nothing can be refused or transformed (that we can sometimes call it mild does not contradict its violence: many say that sugar is mild, but to me sugar is violent, and I call it so).
In an initial period, Photography, in order to surprise, photographs the notable; but soon, by a familiar reversal, it decrees notable whatever it photographs. The 'anything whatever' then becomes the sophisticated acme of value.
For me the noise of Time is not sad: I love bells, clocks, watches — and I recall that at first photographic implements were related to techniques of cabinetmaking and the machinery of precision: cameras, in short, were clocks for seeing, and perhaps in me someone very old still hears in the photographic mechanism the living sound of the wood.
The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star.
A paradox: the same century invented History and PHotography. But History is a memory fabricated according to positive formulas, a pure intellectual discourse which abolishes mythic Time; and the Photograph is a certain but fugitive testimony; so that everything, today, prepares our race for this impotence: to be no longer able to conceive duration, affectively or symbolically: the age of the Photograph is also the age of revolutions, contestations, assassinations, explosions, in short, of impatiences, of everything which denies ripening.
What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence. In front of the photograph of my mother as a child, I tell myself: She is going to die: I shudder… over a catastrophe which has already occurred. Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe.
The Winter Photograph was my Ariadne, not because it would help me discover a secret thing (monster or treasure), but because it would tell me what constituted that thread which drew me toward Photography. I had understood that henceforth I must interrogate the evidence of Photography, not from the viewpoint of pleasure, but in relation to what we romantically call love and death.
Usually the amateur is defines as an immature state of the artist: someone who cannot — or will not — achieve the mastery of a profession. But in the field of photographic practice, it is the amateur, on the contrary, who is the assumption of the professional: for it is he who stands closer to the (i)noeme(i) of Photography.
Hence the detail which interests me is not, or at least is not strictly intentional, and probably must not be so; it occurs in the field of the photographed thing like a supplement that is at once inevitable and delightful; it does not necessarily attest to the photographer's art; it says only that the photographer was there, or else, still more simply, that he could not (i)not(i) photograph the partial object at the same time as the total object (how could Kerész have 'separated' the dirt road from the violinist walking on it?). The Photographer's 'second sight' does not consist in 'seeing' but in being there. And above all, imitating Orpheus, he must not turn back to look at what he is leading — what hi is giving to me!
...The editors of (i)Life(i) rejected Kerész'a photographs when he arrived in the United States in 1937 because, they said, his images 'spoke too much'; they made us reflect, suggested a meaning — a different meaning from the literal one. Ultimately, Photography is subversive not when it frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes, but when it is (i)pensive(i), when it thinks.
It is by studium that I am interested in so many photographs, whether I receive them as political testimony or enjoy them as good historical scenes: for it is culturally (this connotation is present in studium) that I participate in the figures, the faces, the gestures, the settings, the actions.
I feel that the Photograph creates my body or mortifies it, according to its caprice (apology of this mortiferous power: certain Communards paid with their lives for their willingness or even their eagerness to pose on the barricades: defeated, they were recognized by Thiers's police and shot, almost every one).
For Death must be somewhere in a society; if it is no longer (or less intensely) in religion, it must be elsewhere; perhaps in this image which produces Death while trying to preserve life. Contemporary with the withdrawal of rites, Photography may correspond to the intrusion, in our modern society, of an asymbolic Death, outside of religion, outside of ritual, a kind of abrupt dive into literal Death.
Once I feel myself observed by the lens, everything changes: I constitute myself in the process of 'posing', I instantaneously make another body for myself, I transform myself in advance into an image.
When we look at a photograph of ourselves or of others, we are really looking at the return of the dead.
Certainly the image is not the reality but at least its perfect analagon and it is exactly this analogical perfection which, to common sense, defines the photograph.
The photographer, like an acrobat, must defy the laws of probability or even of possibility; at the limit, he must defy those of the interesting: the photograph becomes surprising when we do not know why it has been taken.
The failure of photography seems to me to be flagrant in this connection: to reproduce death or birth tells us, literally, nothing; ... [it] only make[s] the gestures of man look eternal the better to defuse them.
Looking at a photograph, I invariably include in my scrutiny the thought of that instant, however brief, in which a real thing happened to be motionless in front of the eye. I project the present photograph’s immobility upon the past shot, and it is this arrest which constitutes the pose.
Formerly, the image illustrated the text (made it clearer); today, the text loads the image, burdening it with a culture, a moral, an imagination.
. . . observing that many of the men photographed by Nadar have long fingernails: an ethnographical question: how long were nails worn in a certain period?
...the age of Photography corresponds precisely to the explosion of the private into the public, or rather into the creation of a new social value, which is the publicity of the private.
Nothing would be funnier (if one were not its passive victim, its plastron, as sade would say) than the photographers’ contortions to produce effects that are "lifelike".
The realists do not take the photograph for a "copy" of reality, but for an emanation of past reality, a magic, not an art.
Ultimately, Photography is subversive, not when it frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes, but when it is pensive, when it thinks.
What I feel about these photographs derives from an average affect, almost from a certain training... it is studium... whether I receive them as political testimony or enjoy them as good historical scenes: for it is culturally that I participate in the figures, the faces, the gestures, the settings, the actions. The second element will break, or punctuate, the studium. This time it is not I who seek it out... it is this element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me. A Latin word exists to designate this wound, this prick, this mark made by a pointed instrument... punctum.
What the photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.
Ultimately — or at the limit — in order to see a photograph well, it is best to look away or close your eyes. 'The necessary condition for an image is sight,'Janouch told Kafka; and Kafka smiled and replied: 'We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds. My stories are a way of shutting my eyes.
It is as if the Photograph always carries its referent with itself, both affected by the same amorous or funereal immobility, at the very heart of the moving world: they are glued together, limb by limb, like the condemned man and the corpse in certain tortures; or even like those pairs of fish (sharks, I think, according to Michelet) which navigate in convoy, as though united by an eternal coitus.
The Photograph is an extended, loaded evidence — as if it caricatured not the figure of what it represents (quite the converse) but its very existence ... The Photograph then becomes a bizarre (i)medium(i), a new form of hallucination: false on the level of perception, true on the level of time: a temporal hallucination, so to speak, a modest (o)shared(i) hallucination (on the one hand 'it is not there,' on the other 'but it has indeed been'): a mad image, chafed by reality.
I want a History of Looking. For the Photograph is the advent of myself as other: a cunning dissociation of consciousness from identity. Even odder: it was before Photography that men had the most to say about the vision of the double. Heautoscopy was compared with an hallucinosis; for centuries this was a great mythic theme.
One day, quite some time ago, I happened on a photograph of Napoleon’s youngest brother, Jerome, taken in 1852. And I realized then, with an amazement I have not been able to lessen since: ‘I am looking at eyes that looked at the Emperor.’ Sometimes I would mention this amazement, but since no one seemed to share it, nor even to understand it (life consists of these little touches of solitude), I forgot about it.
For the photograph's immobility is somehow the result of a perverse confusion between two concepts: the Real and the Live: by attesting that the object has been real, the photograph surreptitiously induces belief that it is alive, because of that delusion which makes us attribute to Reality an absolute superior, somehow eternal value; but by shifting this reality to the past ('this-has-been'), the photograph suggests that it is already dead.
We know the original relation of the theater and the cult of the Dead: the first actors separated themselves from the community by playing the role of the Dead: to make oneself up was to designate oneself as a body simultaneously living and dead: the whitened bust of the totemic theater, the man with the painted face in the Chinese theater, the rice-paste makeup of the Indian Katha-Kali, the Japanese No mask ... Now it is this same relation which I find in the Photograph; however 'lifelike' we strive to make it (and this frenzy to be lifelike can only be our mythic denial of an apprehension of death), Photography is a kind of primitive theater, a kind of Tableau Vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead.
Each photograph is read as the private appearance of its referent: the age of Photography corresponds precisely to the explosion of the private into the public, or rather into the creation of a new social value, which is the publicity of the private: the private is consumes as such, publicly.
One of the marks of our world is perhaps this reversal: we live according to a generalized image-repertoire. Consider the United Sates, where everything is transformed into images: only images exist and are produced and are consumes ... Such a reversal necessarily raises the ethical question: not that the image is immoral, irreligious, or diabolic (as some have declared it, upon the advent of the Photograph), but because, when generalized, it completely de-realizes the human world of conflicts and desires, under cover of illustrating it.
The unary Photograph has every reason to be banal, 'unity' of composition being the first rule of vulgar (and notably, of academic) rhetoric: 'The subject,' says one handbook for amateur photographers, 'must be simple, free of useless accessories; this is called the Search for Unity.
[Photography] allows me to accede to an infra-knowledge; it supplies me with a collection of partial objects and can flatter a certain fetishism of mine: for this 'me' which like knowledge, which nourishes a kind of amorous preference for it. In the same way, I like certain biographical features which, in a writer's life, delight me as much as certain photographs; I have called these features 'biographemes'; Photography has the same relation to History that the biographeme has to biography.
Painting can feign reality without having seen it. Discourse combines signs which have referents, of course, but these referents can be and are most often 'chimeras.
In 1850, August Salzmann photographed, near Jerusalem, the road to Beith-Lehem (as it was spelled at the time): nothing but stony ground, olive trees; but three tenses dizzy my consciousness: my present, the time of Jesus, and that of the photographer, all this under the instance of 'reality' — and no longer through the elaborations of the text, whether fictional or poetic, which itself is never credible down to the root.
Not only is the Photograph never, in essence, a memory... but it actually blocks memory, quickly becomes a counter-memory.
[The pornographic photograph] is always a naive photograph, without intention and without calculation. Like a shop window which shows only one illuminated piece of jewelry, it is completely constituted by the presentation of only one thing: sex...
It is often said that it was the painters who invented Photography (by bequeathing it their framing, the Albertian perspective, and the optic of the camera obscura). I say: no, it was the chemists. For the noeme “That-has-been” was possible only on the day when a scientific circumstance (the discovery that silver halogens were sensitive to light) made it possible to recover and print directly the luminous rays emitted by a variously lighted object. The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star.
The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me…. I am delighted (or depressed) to know that the thing of the past, by its immediate radiations (its luminances), has really touched the surface which in turn my gaze will touch…. [In the way] the photographed body touches me with its own rays.
In Photography, the presence of the thing (at a certain past moment) is never metaphoric... if the photograph then becomes horrible, it is because it certifies, so to speak, that the corpse is alive, as corpse : it is the living image of the dead.
Photography has something to do with resurrection... the survival of this image has depended on the luck of a picture made by a provincial photographer who, an indifferent mediator, himself long since dead, did not know that was he was making permanent was the truth—the truth to me.