575.20 fields of photography: aerophotography, aerial photography; astrophotography; candid photography; chromophotography; chronophotography; cinematography; cinephoto-micrography; cystophotography; heliophotography; infrared photography; macrophotography; microphotography; miniature photography; phonophotography; photogrammetry; photomicrography; photospectro-heliography; phototopography; phototypography; phototypy; pyrophotography; radiography; radiophotography; sculptography; skiagraphy; spectroheliography; spectrophotography; stroboscopic photography; telephotography; uranophotography; X-ray photography.
-from Roget's International Thesaurus, Third Edition
"I cannot hide the fact that I am burning with desire to see your experiments from nature."
-- Daguerre, in a letter to Niepce, 3 February 1828
"We didn't trust ourselves at first to look long at the first pictures he developed. We were abashed by the distinctness of these human images, and believed that the little tiny faces in the picture could see us, so powerfully was everyone affected by the unaccustomed clarity and the unaccustomed truth to nature of the first daguerreotype."
-Dauthendey, qtd. in Walter Benjamin, "A Small History of Photography"
from Louis Daguerre, in a notice circulated to attract investors (1838)
The daguerreotype is not merely an instrument which serves to draw nature. . . [it] gives her the power to reproduce herself.
from Kierkegaard (1854), qtd. in Sontag, On Photography (1977)
With the daguerreotype everyone will be able to have their portrait taken-formerly it was only the prominent; and at the same time everything is being done to make us all look exactly the same-so that we shall only need one portrait.
from Walter Benjamin, "A Small History of Photography" (1931)
The fog that surrounds the beginnings of photography is not as thick as that which shrouds the early days of printing; more obviously than in the case of the printing press, perhaps, the time was ripe for the invention, and was sensed by more than one-by men who strove independently to capture the images in the camera obscura, which had been known at least since Leonardo's time. When, after about five years of effort, both Niepce and Daguerre simultaneously succeeded in doing this, the state, aided by the patent difficulties encountered by the inventors, assumed control of the enterprise and made it public, with compensation to the pioneers. This paved the way for a rapid ongoing development which long precluded any backward glance. Thus it is that the historical or, if you life, philosophical questions suggested by the rise and fall of photography have gone unheeded for decades. And if people are starting to be aware of them today, there is a definite reason for it. The latest writings on the subject point up the fact that the flowering of photography-the work of Hill and Cameron, Hugo and Nadar-came in its first decade. But this was the decade which preceded its industrialization.
With photography, however, we encounter something new and strange: in Hill's Newhaven fishwife, her eyes cast down in such indolent, seductive modesty, there remains something that goes beyond testimony to the photographer's art, something that cannot be silenced, that fills you with an unruly desire to know what her name was, the woman who was alive there, who even now is still real and who will never consent to be wholly absorbed in art. "And I ask: how did the beauty of that hair, those eyes, beguile our forebears: how did that mouth kiss, to which desire curls up senseless as smoke without fire.". . . Immerse yourself in such a picture long enough and you will recognize how alive the contradictions are, here too: the most precise technology can give its products a magical value, such as a painted picture can never have for us. No matter how artful the photographer, no matter how carefully posed his subject, the beholder feels an irresistible urge to search such a picture for the tiny spark of contingency, of the Here and Now, with which reality has so to speak seared the subject, to find the inconspicuous spot where in the immediacy of that long-forgotten moment the future subsists so eloquently that we, looking back, may rediscover it. For it is another nature that speaks to the camera than to the eye: other in the sense that a space informed by human consciousness gives way to a space informed by the unconscious. . . . It is through photography that we first discover the existence of this optical unconscious, just as we discover the instinctual unconscious through psychoanalysis. Details of structure, cellular tissue, with which technology and medicine are normally concerned-all this is in its origins more native to the camera than the atmospheric landscape or the soulful portrait.
The first people to be reproduced entered the visual space of photography with their innocence intact, uncompromised by captions. . . . The human countenance had a silence about it in which the gaze rested. . . .The low light-sensitivity of the early plates made prolonged exposure outdoors a necessity. . . . "The expressive coherence due to the length of time the subject had to remain still", says Orlik of early photography, "is the main reason why these photographs, apart from their simplicity, resemble well drawn or painted pictures and produce a more vivid and lasting impression on the beholder than more recent photographs." The procedure itself caused the subject to focus his life in the moment rather than hurrying past it; during the considerable period of exposure, the subject as it were grew into the picture, in the sharpest contrast with appearances in a snap-shot. . . .
There was an aura about them, an atmospheric medium, that lent fullness and security to their gaze even as it penetrated that medium. And once again the technical equivalent is obvious; it consists in the absolute continuum from brightest light to darkest shadow. . . . For that aura was by no means the mere product of a primitive camera. Rather, in that early period subject and technique were as exactly congruent as they become incongruent in the period of decline that immediately followed. For soon advances in optics made instruments available that put darkness entirely to flight and recorded appearances as faithfully as any mirror. . . . What is aura, actually? A strange weave of space and time: the unique appearance or semblance of distance, no matter how close the object may be.
Every day the need to possess the object in close-up in the form of a picture, or rather a copy, becomes more imperative. And the difference between the copy. . . and the picture is unmistakable. Uniqueness and duration are as intimately conjoined in the latter as are transience and reproducibility in the former. The stripping bare of the object, the destruction of the aura, is the mark of a perception whose sense of the sameness of things has grown to the point where even the singular, the unique, is divested of its uniqueness-by means of its reproduction.
from Wittgenstein (n.d.), qtd. in Sontag, On Photography (1977)
. . .we regard the photograph, the picture on our wall, as the object itself (the man, the landscape, and so on) depicted there.
This need not have been so. We could easily imagine people who did not have this relation to such pictures. Who, for example, would be repelled by photographs, because a face without colour and even perhaps a face in reduced proportions struck them as inhuman.
from André Bazin, "The Ontology of the Photographic Image" (1967)
The decisive moment undoubtedly came with the discovery of the first scientific and already, in a sense, mechanical system of reproduction, namely, perspective: the camera obscura of Da Vinci foreshadowed the camera of Niepce. The artist was now in a position to create the illusion of three-dimensional space within which things appeared to exist as our eyes in reality see them.
Perspective was the original sin of Western painting.
It was redeemed from sin by Niepce and Lumière. In achieving the aims of Baroque art, photography has freed the plastic arts from their obsession with likeness. Painting was forced, as it turned out, to offer us illusion and this illusion was reckoned sufficient unto art. Photography and the cinema on the other hand are discoveries that satisfy, once and for all and in its very essence, our obsession with realism.
Originality in photography as distinct from originality in painting lies in the essentially objective character of photography. For the first time, between the originating object and its reproduction there intervenes only the instrumentality of a nonliving agent. For the first time an image of the world is formed automatically, without the creative intervention of man. The personality of the photographer enters into the proceedings only in his selection of the object to be photographed and by way of the purpose he has in mind. Although the final result may reflect something of his personality, this does not play the same role as is played by that of the painter. All the arts are based on the presence of man, only photography derives an advantage from his absence. Photography affects us like a phenomenon in nature, like a flower or a snowflake whose vegetable or earthly origins are an inseparable part of their beauty.
The objective nature of photography confers on it a quality of credibility absent from all other picture-making. In spite of any objections our critical spirit may offer, we are forced to accept as real the existence of the object reproduced, actually re-presented, set before us, that is to say, in time and space. Photography enjoys a certain advantage in virtue of this transference of reality from the thing to its reproduction.
A very faithful drawing may actually tell us more about the model but despite the promptings of our critical intelligence it will never have the irrational power of the photograph to bear away our faith. . . .
Only a photographic lens cam give us the kind of image of the object that is capable of satisfying the deep need man has to substitute for it something more than a mere approximation, a kind of decal or transfer. The photographic image is the object itself, the object freed from the conditions of time and space that govern it. No matter how fuzzy, distorted, or discolored it may be, it shares, by virtue of the process of its becoming, the being of the model of which it is the reproduction; it is the model.
Hence the charm of family albums. Those grey or sepia shadows, phantomlike and almost undecipherable, are no longer traditional family portraits but rather the disturbing presence of lives halted at a set moment in their duration, freed from their destiny; not, however, by the prestige of art but by the power of an impassive mechanical process: for photography does not create eternity, as art does, it embalms time, rescuing it simply from its proper corruption.
The aesthetic qualities of photography are to be sought in its power to lay bare the realities. It is not for me to separate off, in the complex fabric of the objective world, here a reflection on a damp sidewalk, there the gesture of a child. Only the impassive lens, stripping its object of all those ways of seeing it, those piled-up preconceptions, that spiritual dust and grime with which my eyes have covered it, is able to present it in all its virginal purity to any attention and consequently to my love. By the power of photography, the natural image of a world that we neither know nor can know, nature at last does more than imitate art: she imitates the artist.
Photography can even surpass art in creative power. . . . The photograph as such and the object in itself share a common being, after the fashion of a fingerprint. Wherefore, photography actually contributes something to the order of natural creation instead of providing a substitute for it.
So, photography is clearly the most important event in the history of plastic arts. Simultaneously a liberation and a fulfillment, is has freed Western painting, once and for all, from its obsession with realism and allowed it to recover its aesthetic autonomy.
from Rudolf Arnheim, "On the Nature of Photography" (1974)
When a theorist of my persuasion looks at photography he is more concerned with the character traits of the medium as such than with the particular work of particular artists. He wishes to know what human needs are fulfilled by this kind of imagery, and what properties enable the medium to fulfill them. For his purpose, the theorist takes the medium at its best behavior. The promise of its potentialities captures him more thoroughly than the record of its actual achievements. . .
Photography reaches into the world as an intruder, and therefore it also creates a disturbance, just as in the physics of light the single photon at the atomic level upsets the facts on which it reports. The photographer takes a hunter's pride in capturing the spontaneity of life without leaving traces of his presence. . . . . [But] inevitably the photographer is a part of the situation he depicts. A court order may be necessary to keep him away, and the more skillfully he hides and surprises, the more acute is the social problem he creates.
In photography, there is no geographical escape from the conflict. The photographer must be present where the action is. . . . This is what I meant to suggest in the beginning: the detachment of the artist becomes more of a problem in the photographic media precisely because they immerse him bodily in situations that call for human solidarity. . . .but at the same time it enables a person to be busy in the midst of things without having to take part, and to overcome alienation bodily without having to give up detachment. Self-deception comes easy in the twilight of such ambiguous conditions.
If. . .we look attentively at the texture of a typical photographic image we find, perhaps to our surprise, that the subject matter is represented mostly by visual hints and approximations. In a successful painting or drawing every stroke of the pen, every touch of color, is an intentional statement of the artist about shape, space, volume, unity, separation, lighting, etc. The texture of the pictorial image amounts to a pattern of explicit information. If we approach photographs with an expectation trained by the perusal of handmade images we find that the work of the camera lets us down. Shapes peter out in muddy darkness, volumes are elusive, streaks of light arrive from nowhere, neighboring items are not clearly connected or separate, details do not add up. The fault is ours, of course, because we are looking at the photograph as if it were made and controlled by man and not as a mechanical deposit of light. As soon as we take the picture for what it is, it hangs together and may even be beautiful.
When the viewer looks at the world around him, these shapes are delivered to him entirely by the physical objects out there. In a photograph, these shapes are selected, partially transformed, and treated by the picture taker and his optical and chemical equipment. Thus, in order to make sense of photographs one must look at them as encounters between physical reality and the creative mind of man-not simply as a reflection of that reality in the mind but as a middle ground on which the two formative powers, man and world, meet as equal antagonists and partners, each contributing its particular resources. What I described earlier in negative terms as a lack of formal precision must be valued positively from the point of view of the photographic medium as the manifest presence of authentic physical reality, whose irrational, incompletely defined aspects challenge the image-maker's desire for visually articulate form. This unshaped quality of the optical raw material exerts its influence not only when the viewer recognizes the objects that have been projected on the sensitive coating of the film but is actually more manifest in highly abstract photographs in which objects have been reduced to pure shapes.
Perhaps the same is true of photography. Wedded to the physical nature of landscape and human settlement, animal and man, to our exploits, sufferings, and joys, photography is privileged to help man view himself, expand and preserve his experiences, and exchange vital communications-a faithful instrument whose reach need not be extend farther than that of the way of life it reflects.
from Susan Sontag, On Photography (1977)
In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing.
To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge-and, therefore, like power.
Photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can make or acquire.
Photographs, which fiddle with the scale of the world, themselves get reduced, blown up, cropped and retouched, doctored, tricked out. They age, plagued by the usual ills of paper objects; they disappear; they become valuable, and get bought and sold; they are reproduced.
Still, there is something predatory in the act of taking a picture. To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as the camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a sublimated murder-a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.
Photography is an elegiac art, a twilight art. Most subjects photographed are, just by virtue of being photographed, touched with pathos. An ugly or grotesque subject may be moving because it has been dignified by the attention of a photographer. A beautiful subject can be the object of rueful feelings, because it has aged or decayed or no longer exists. All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person's (or thing's) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time's relentless melt.
Unlike fine art objects of pre-democratic eras, photographs don't seem deeply beholden to the intentions of an artist. Rather, they owe their existence to a loose cooperation (quasi-magical, quasi-accidental) between photographer and subject-mediated by an ever simpler and more automated machine, which is tireless and which even when capricious can produce a result that is interesting and never entirely wrong.
The consequences of lying have to be more central for photography than they ever can for painting, because the flat, usually rectangular images which are photographs make a claim to be true that paintings can never make. A fake painting (one whose attribution is false) falsifies the history of art. A fake photograph (one which has been retouched or tampered with, or whose caption is false) falsifies reality.
from Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida (1980)
So I make myself the measure of photographic "knowledge." What does my body know of Photography? I observed that a photograph can be the object of three practices (or of three emotions, or of three intentions): to do, to undergo, to look. The Operator is the Photographer. The Spectator is ourselves, all of us who glance through collections of photographs-in magazines, in newspapers, in books, albums, archives. . . And the person or thing photographed is the target, the referent, a kind of simulacrum, any eidolon emitted by the object which I should like to call the Spectrum of the Photograph, because this word retains, through its root, a relation to "spectacle" and adds to it that rather terrible thing which is there is every photograph: the return of the dead.
Posing in front of the lens. . . . I experience it with the anguish of uncertain filiation: an image-my image-will be generated. . . . The portrait-photograph is a closed field of forces. Four image-repertoires intersect here, oppose and distort each other. In front of the lens, I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am, and the one he makes use of to exhibit his art. . . . . In terms of an image repertoire, the Photograph (the one I intend) represents that very subtle moment when, to tell the truth, I am neither subject nor object but a subject who feels he is becoming an object: I then experience a micro-version of death (of parenthesis): I am truly becoming a specter.
For me, the Photographer's organ is not his eye (which terrifies me) but his finger: what is linked to the trigger of the lens, to the metallic shifting of the plates (when the camera still has such things).
As Spectator I was interested in Photography only for "sentimental" reasons; I wanted to explore it not as a question (a theme) but as a wound: I see, I feel, hence I notice, I observe, and I think.
My rule was plausible enough for me to try to name (as I would need to do) these two elements whose co-presence established, it seemed, the particular interest I took in these photographs.
The first, obviously, is an extent, it has the extension of a field, which I perceive quite familiarly as a consequence of my culture. . . . Thousands of photographs consist of this field, and in these photographs I can, of course, take a kind of general interest. . . . What I feel about these photographs derives from an average effect, almost from a certain training . . .I did not know a French word which might account for this kind of human interest, but I believe this word exists in Latin: it is studium. . . . 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.
The second element will break (or punctuate) the studium. This time it is not I who seek it out (as I invest the field of the studium with my sovereign consciousness), it is this element which rises out 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: the word suits me all the better in that it also refers to the notion of punctuation, and because the photographs I am speaking of are in effect punctuated, sometimes even speckled with these sensitive points, these marks, these wounds are so many points. This second element which will disturb the studium I shall therefore call punctum; for punctum is also: sting, speck, cut, little hole-and also a cast of the dice. A photograph's punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).
Since every photograph is contingent (and thereby outside of meaning), Photography cannot signify (aim at a generality) except by assuming a mask.
Having thus reviewed the docile interests which certain photographs awaken in me, I deduced that the studium, insofar as it is not traversed, lashed, striped by a detail (punctum) which attracts or distresses me, engenders a very widespread type of photograph (the most widespread in the world), which we might call the unary photograph. In generative grammar, a transformation is unary if, though it, a single series is generated by the base: such are the passive, negative, interrogative, and emphatic transformations. The Photograph is unary when it emphatically transforms "reality" without doubling it, without making it vacillate (emphasis is a power of cohesion): no duality, no indirection, no disturbance.
In this habitually unary space, occasionally (but alas all too rarely) a "detail" attracts me. I feel that its mere presence changes my reading, that I am looking at a new photograph, marked in my eyes with a higher value. This "detail" is the punctum. . . . In order to perceive the punctum, no analysis would be of any use to me (but perhaps memory sometimes would, as we shall see): it suffices that the image be large enough, that I do not have to study it (this would be of no help at all), that, given right there on the page, I should receive it right here in my eyes. . . . However lightning-like it may be, the punctum has, more or less potentially, a power of expansion.
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 he is giving to me!
A detail overwhelms the entirety of my reading; . . . . This something has triggered me, has provoked a tiny shock, a satori, the passage of a void. . . .A trick of vocabulary: we say "to develop a photograph"; but what the chemical action develops is undevelopable, an essence (of a wound), what cannot be transformed but only repeated under the instances of insistence (the insistent gaze). This brings the Photograph (certain photographs) close to the Haiku. For the notation of the haiku, too, is undevelopable: everything is given, without provoking the desire for or even the possibility of a rhetorical expansion. In both cases we might (we must) speak of an intense immobility: linked to a detail (to a detonator), an explosion makes a little star on the pane of the text or of the photograph: neither the Haiku nor the Photograph makes us "dream."
Nothing surprising, then, if sometimes, despite its clarity, the punctum should be revealed only after the fact, when the photograph is no longer in front of me and I think back on it. I may know better a photograph I remember than a photograph I am looking at, as if direct vision oriented its language wrongly, engaging it in an effort of description which will always miss its point of effect, the punctum. . . . Ultimately-or at the limit-in order to see a photograph well, it is best to look away or close your eyes.
It is often said that it was the painters who invented Photography. . . . 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. A sort of umbilical cord links the body of the photographed thing to my gaze: light, though impalpable, is here a carnal medium, a skin I share with anyone who has been photographed. . . . What matters to me is not the photograph's "life" (a purely ideological notion) but the certainty that the photographed body touches me with its own rays and not with a superadded light.
Photography has something to do with resurrection.
The Photograph does not necessarily say what is no longer, but only and for certain what has been. . . . Perhaps we have an invincible resistance to believing in the past, in History, except in the form of myth. The Photograph, for the first time, puts an end to this resistance: henceforth the past is as certain as the present, what we see on paper is as certain as what we touch. It is the advent of the Photograph-and not, as has been said, of the cinema-which divides the history of the world. . . . The important thing is that the photograph possesses an evidential force, and that its testimony bears not on the object but on time. From a phenomenological viewpoint, in the Photograph, the power of authentication exceeds the power of representation.
The only way I can transform the Photograph is into refuse: either the drawer or the wastebasket. Not only does it commonly have the fate of paper (perishable), but even if it is attached to more lasting supports, it is still mortal: like a living organism, it is born on the level of the sprouting silver grains, it flourishes a moment, then ages. . . Attacked by light, by humidity, it fades, weakens, vanishes; there is nothing left to do but throw it away.
At the time (at the beginning of this book: already far away) when I was inquiring into my attachment to certain photographs, I thought I could distinguish a field of cultural interest (the studium) from that unexpected flash which sometimes crosses this field and which I called the punctum. I know now that there exists another punctum (another "stigmatum") than the "detail." This new punctum, which is no longer of form but of intensity, is Time, the lacerating emphasis of the noeme ("that-has-been"), its pure representation. . . . This punctum, more or less blurred beneath the abundance and the disparity of contemporary photographs, is vividly legible in historical photographs: there is always a defeat of Time in them: that is dead and that is going to die.
Ultimately a photograph looks like anyone except the person it represents. For resemblance refers to the subject's identity, an absurd, purely legal, even penal affair; likeness gives out identity "as itself," whereas I want a subject-in Mallarm('s terms-"as into eternity transforms it." Likeness leaves me unsatisfied and somehow skeptical. . . . But more insidious, more penetrating than likeness: the Photograph sometimes makes appear what we never see in a real face (or in a face reflected in a mirror): a genetic feature, the fragment of oneself or of a relative which comes from some ancestor.
The air of a face is unanalyzable. . . . The air is not a schematic, intellectual datum, the way a silhouette is. Nor is the air a simple analogy-however extended-as is "likeness." No, the air is that exorbitant thing which induces from body to soul. . . . Thus the air is the luminous shadow which accompanies the body; and if the photograph fails to show this air, then the body moves without a shadow, and once this shadow is severed, as in the myth of the Woman without a Shadow, there remains no more than a sterile body.
Mad or tame? Photography can be one or the other: tame if its realism remains relative, tempered by aesthetic or empirical habits (to leaf through a magazine at the hairdresser's, the dentist's); mad if this realism is absolute and, so to speak, original, obliging the loving and terrified consciousness to return to the very letter of Time: a strictly revulsive movement which reverses the course of the thing, and which I shall call, in conclusion, the photographic ecstasy.
Such are the two ways of the Photograph. The choice is mine: to subject its spectacle to the civilized code of perfect illusions, or to confront it in the wakening of intractable reality.
from Vilém Flusser, Towards a Philosophy of Photography (1983)
from "The Apparatus"
from "The Gesture of Photography"
The invention of the photograph is a historical event as equally decisive as the invention of writing. With writing, history in the narrower sense begins as a struggle against idolatry. With photography, 'post-history' begins as a struggle against textolatry.
Technical images are produced by apparatuses. In saying this, one presumes that the typical characteristics of apparatuses as such-in simplified, embryonic form-are also contained within the camera and can be derived from it. To this extent, the camera, as a prototype of the apparatuses that have become so decisive for the present and the immediate future, provides an appropriate starting point for a general analysis of apparatus. . .
Accordingly, an 'apparatus' would be a thing that lies in wait or in readiness for something, and a 'preparatus' would be a thing that waits patiently for something. The photographic apparatus lies in wait for photography; it sharpens its teeth in readiness. This readiness to spring into action on the part of apparatuses, their similarity to wild animals, is something to grasp hold of in the attempt to define the term etymologically.
Apparatuses are part of a culture, consequently this culture is recognizable in them. . . . The basic category of industrial society is work: Tools and machines work by tearing objects from the natural world and informing them, i.e. changing the world. But apparatuses do not work in that sense. Their intention is not to change the world but to change the meaning of the world. Their intention is symbolic. . . . Therefore in cultural analysis the category 'work' must be replaced by the category 'information'.
With every (informative) photograph, the photographic program will become poorer by one possibility while the photographic universe becomes richer by one realization. Photographers attempt to exhaust the photographic program by realizing all their possibilities. But this program is rich and there is no way of getting an overview of it. Thus photographers attempt to find the possibilities not yet discovered within it: They handle the camera, turn it this way and that, look into it and through it. If they look through the camera out into the world it is not because the world interests them but because they are evaluating the photographic program. Their interest in concentrated on the camera; for them, the world is purely a pretext for the realization of camera possibilities. In short: they are not working, they do not want to change the world, but they are in search of information.
. . . The camera is not a tool but a plaything, and a photographer is not a worker byt a player: not Homo faber but Homo ludens. Yet the photographers do not play with their plaything but against it. They creep into the camera in order to bring to light the tricks concealed within. Unlike manual workers surrounded by their tools and industrial workers standing at their machines, photographers are inside their apparatus and bound up with it. This is a new kind of function in which human beings are neither the constant nor the variable but in which human beings and apparatus merge into a unity. It is therefore appropriate to call photographers functionaries.
The program of the camera has to be rich, otherwise the game would soon be over. The possibilities contained within it have to transcend the ability of the functionary to exhaust them, i.e. the competence of the camera has to be greater than that of its functionaries. No photographer, not even the totality of all photographers, can entirely get to the bottom of what a correctly programmed camera is up to. It is a black box.
As will be shown later, the programs of apparatuses consist of symbols. Functioning therefore means playing with symbols and combining them.
. . . No-one can own apparatuses in the sense that human beings program apparatuses for their own private purposes. . . .
It is true that many apparatuses are hard objects. A camera is constructed out of metal, glass, plastic, etc. But it is not this hardness that makes it capable of being played with. . . but the rules of the game. . . the program. What one pays for when buying a camera is not so much the metal or the plastic but the program that makes the camera capable of creating images in the first place. . . .
Power has moved from the owner of objects to the programmer and the operator. The game of using symbols has become a power game-a hierarchical power game. Photographers have power over those who look at their photographs, they program their actions; and the camera has power over the photographers, it programs their acts. The shift of power from the material to the symbolic is what characterizes what we call the 'information society' and 'post-industrial imperialism.'
from "The Photograph"
If one observes the movements of a human being in possession of a camera (or of a camera in possession of a human being), the impression given is of someone lying in wait. This is the ancient act of stalking which goes back to the paleolithic hunter in the tundra. Yet photographers are not pursuing their game in the open savanna but in the jungle of cultural objects, and their tracks can be traced through this artificial forest. The acts of resistance on the part of culture, the cultural conditionality of things, can be seen in the act of photography, and this can, in theory, be read off the photographs themselves.
. . .Criticism of photography should be able to reconstruct these cultural conditions from the photographs-not just in the case of documentary pictures and photojournalism, where the cultural condition is the prey to be snapped-because the structure of the cultural condition is captured in the act of photography rather than in the object being photographed.
Such a decoding of the cultural conditions of photography is, however, almost impossible since what appears in the photograph are the categories of the camera which ensnare the cultural conditions like a net with a limited view through its mesh. . . . The result is a mass culture of cameras adjusted to the norm; in the West, in Japan, in underdeveloped countries-all over the world, everything is photographed through the same categories. Kant and his categories have become impossible to avoid.
. . . These are the categories of photographic time and space. . . . These areas of time and space are distances from the prey that is to be snapped, views of the 'photographic object' situated at the center of time and space. . .
On the hunt, photographers change from one form of space and time to another, a process which adjusts the combinations of time-and-space categories. Their stalking is a game of making combinations with the various categories of their camera, and it is the structure of this game-not directly the structure of the cultural condition itself-that we can read off from the photograph.
The possibilities contained within the camera's program are practically inexhaustible. One cannot actually photograph everything that can be photographed. The imagination of the camera is greater than that of every single photographer and that of all photographers put together: This is precisely the challenge to the photographer. . . .
Basically, therefore, photographers wish to produce states of things that have never existed before; they pursue these states, not out there in the world, since for them the world is only a pretext for the states of things that are to be produced, but amongst the possibilities contained within the camera's program. To this extent, the traditional distinction between realism and idealism is overturned in the case of photography: It is not the world out there that is real, nor is the concept within the camera's program-only the photograph is real.
The act of photography is divided into a sequence of leaps in which photographers overcome the invisible hurdles of individual time-and-space categories. If they are confronted by one of these hurdles (e.g. on the borderline between close-up and long shot), they hesitate and are faced with the decision about how to set the camera. . . . This type of jump-start pursuit is called 'doubt'. Photographers have doubts, but these are not of a scientific, religious, or existential sort; rather, they are doubts in the sense of a new sort of doubt in which stopping short and taking a decision are reduced to grains-a quantum, atomized doubt. Each time photographers are confronted by a hurdle, they discover that the viewpoint they have adopted is concentrated in the 'object' and that the camera offers any number of different viewpoints. They discover the multiplicity and equality of viewpoints in relation to their 'object'.
The act of photography is that of 'phenomenological doubt', to the extent that it attempts to approach phenomena from any number of viewpoints. But the 'mathesis' of this doubt (its deep structure) is prescribed by the camera's program. Two aspects are decisive for this doubt. First: Photographers' practice is hostile to ideology. Ideology is the insistence on a single viewpoint thought to be perfect. Photographers act in a post-ideological way even when they think they are serving an ideology. Second: Photographers' practice is fixed to a program. Photographers can only act within the program of the camera, even when they think they are acting in opposition to this program.
from "The Distribution of Photographs"
Photographs are ubiquitous: in albums, magazines, books, shop windows, on bill boards, carrier bags, cans. What does this signify? Thus far, reflection has suggested the thesis (still to be examined) that these images signify concepts in a program and that they program society to act as though under a secondary magic spell. However, for people who look at photographs naively they signify something different, i.e. states of things that have been reflected onto surfaces. For these people, photographs represent the world itself.
There cannot be black-and-white states of things in the world because balck0and-white cases are borderline, 'ideal cases': black is the total absence of all oscillations contained in light, white the total presence of all the elements of oscillation. 'Black' and 'white' are concepts, e.g. theoretical concepts of optics. . .
Black and white do not exist, but they ought to exist since, if we could see the world in black and white, it would be accessible to logical analysis. In such a world, everything would be either black or white or a mixture of both. The disadvantage of such a black-and-white way of looking at the world, of course, would be that this mixture would turn out to be not coloured but grey. Grey is the colour of theory: which shows that one cannot reconstruct the world any more from a theoretical analysis. Black-and-white photographs illustrate this fact: They are grey, they are theoretical images. . .
Black-and-white photographs embody the magic of theoretical thought since they transform the linear discourse of theory into surfaces. Herein lies their peculiar beauty, which is the beauty of the conceptual universe. Many photographers therefore also prefer black-and-white photographs to colour photographs because they more clearly reveal the actual significance of the photograph, i.e. the world of concepts.
In reality, however, the colours of photographs are at least as theoretical as black and white. . . . Colour photographs are on a higher level of abstraction than black-and-white ones. Black-and-white photographs are more concrete and in this sense more true: They reveal their theoretical origin more clearly, and vice versa: The 'more genuine' the colours of the photograph become, the more untruthful they are, the more they conceal their theoretical origin.
In short: Photographers' intentions are to inform others through their photographs to immortalize themselves in the memory of others. . . . In short: The camera's program provides for the realization of its capabilities and, in the process, for the use of society as a feedback mechanism for its progressive improvement. . . .
A comparison of the photographer's intention and the intention of the camera shows that there are points where both converge and others where they diverge. At the points of convergence they work together; at the points of divergence they conflict with one another. Every single photograph is the result, at one and the same time, of co-operation and of conflict between camera and photographer.
The task of photography criticism should therefore be to identify the way in which human beings are attempting to get hold over the camera and, on the other hand, the way in which cameras aim to absorb the intentions of human beings within themselves. Of course, we have been unable to achieve criticism of this type up to now for reasons still to be discussed.
from "The Reception of Photographs"
The photograph is an immobile and silent surface waiting to be distributed by means of reproduction. For this distribution there is no need of any complicated technical apparatus: photographs are loose leaves which can be passed from hand to hand. There is no need for them to be stored in technically perfect data-storage systems: They can be put away in drawers.
As long as it remains attached to paper in the old-fashioned way, however, it can be distributed in the old-fashioned way as well, i.e. independently of film projectors or television screens. . . [Yet] photographs . . . can be distributed by means of reproduction. The camera creates prototypes (negatives) from which as many stereotypes (copies) as one likes can be produced and distributed-in which case the concept of the original, in the context of the photograph, has scarcely any meaning any more.
As long as the photograph is not yet electromagnetic, it remains the first of all post-industrial objects. Even though the last vestiges of materiality are attached to photographs, their value does not lie in the thing but in the information on their surface. . . . Until photographs become electromagnetic, they are a connecting link between industrial objects and pure information.
In the case of the photograph. . . the information sits loosely on the surface and can easily be conveyed to another surface. To this extent, the photograph demonstrates the defeat of the material thing and of the concept of 'ownership'.
But the photograph bound to paper nevertheless indicates the first step on the road to the devaluation of the material thing and valuation of information. . . . The photograph of the moon landing, for example, can slip from an astronomy journal to a US consulate, from there onto an advertising poster for cigarettes and from there finally into an art exhibition. The essential thing is that the photograph, with each switch-over to another channel, takes on a new significance.
from "The Photographic Universe"
Anyone who holds a camera in their hands can create excellent photographs without having any idea what complex processes they are setting off when they push the button.
People taking snaps are distinguishable from photographers by the pleasure they take in the structural complexity of the plaything. Unlike photographers. . . they do not look for 'new moves,' for information, for the improbable, but wish to make their functioning simpler and simpler by means of more and more perfect automation.
Cameras demand their owners (the ones who are hooked on them) keep on taking snaps, that they produce more and more redundant images. This photo-mania involving the eternal recurrence of the same (or of something very similar) leads eventually to the point where people taking snaps feel they have gone blind. . .
A permanent flow of unconsciously created images is the result. They form a camera memory, a databank of automatic functions. . . .A journey to Italy documented like this stores the times and places at which the person taking snaps was induced to press the button, and shows which places the camera has been to and what it did there. This goes for all documentary photography.
From "Why a Philosophy of Photography Is Necessary"
We no longer take any notice of most photographs, concealed as they are by habit. . . . One redundant photograph replaces another redundant photograph. . . . This is therefore also the challenge for the photographer: to oppose the flood of redundancy with informative images.
Apparatuses, meanwhile, these simulations of Cartesian thought, have succeeded. They are omniscient and omnipotent in their universes. . . . [C]ameras are omniscient and omnipotent in the photographic universe. But they also have to pay a high price for their omniscience and omnipotence, this price being the reversal of the vectors of significance. That is: Concepts no longer signify the world out there (as in the Cartesian model); instead, the universe signifies the program within cameras.
. . . [T]he camera will prove to be the ancestor of all those apparatuses that are in the process of robotizing all aspects of our lives, from one's most public acts to one's innermost thoughts, feelings and desires.
[A photograph] is an image created and distributed automatically by programmed apparatuses in the course of a game necessarily based on chance, an image of a magic state of things whose symbols inform its receivers how to act in an improbable fashion. . . .
Any philosophy of photography will have to come to terms with the ahistorical, post-historical character of the phenomenon under consideration.
The hypothesis proposed above, according to which we are starting to think in photographic categories, argues that the basic structures of our existence are being transformed. We are not dealing with the classical problem of alienation, but with an existential revolution of which there is no example available to us. To put it bluntly: It is a question of freedom in a new context. . . .
The task of the philosophy of photography is to question photographers about freedom, to probe their practice in the pursuit of freedom. . .
A philosophy of photography must reveal the fact that there is no place for human freedom within the area of automated, programmed and programming apparatuses, in order finally to show a way in which it is nevertheless possible to open up a space for freedom. The task of a philosophy of photography is to reflect upon this possibility of freedom-and thus its significance-in a world dominated by apparatuses; to reflect upon the way in which, despite everything, it is possible for human beings to give significance to their lives in face of the chance necessity of death. Such a philosophy is necessary because it is the only form of revolution left open to us.
from John Berger, "In a Moscow Cemetery" (1983)
Photography, because it stops the flow of life, is always flirting with death, but the temporary specialist of last pictures was only concerned that nobody in the group should b excluded by the frame. The photos were in black and white. The yellow daffodils surrounding the coffin would print out as pale grey, only the sky would be almost its real colour. She beckoned to the figures on the right to close in. . . . The specialist of last pictures had by now taken another dozen. A colleague had just phoned her, in her hut, to tell her that some raincoats had been delivered to the shop near the bridge over the canal. She would stop there on her way home tonight to see whether they had her son's size. The coffin she could see through the viewfinder was small, the child inside no more than ten years old. . .
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