Tag camera

{ Chance Meetings } Celebrating Lautréaumont’s Birthday & the Spaces Between Things & Ideas…*

“As beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table.”
– Comte de Lautréamont

Today is Isidore-Lucien Ducasse, aka Comte de Lautréamont’s birthday. Lautréaumont is best known for his splendid story, The Songs of Maldoror, which was a major influence on the Surrealists. The quote above, which comes from The Songs of Maldoror has deeply shaped my sense of aesthetics. I often write about the immense potential for rethinking …* that connecting different ideas and disciplines can produce. In honor of Lautréaumont’s birthday I have compiled a little collection of projects and ideas, which I feel reflect this desire to translate, connect and blur ideas, mediums and spaces to produce something new, fresh and bursting with questions and possibilities. As I was trying to put this post together, I realized that I had lots of projects that I would love to include so I’ve decided to make Lautréaumont’s birthday a week-long celebration here on rethinked* Today, you will find a little selection of projects that cut across all boundaries and medium. On Tuesday I will share some cool “Music Machines” and on Thursday “Drawing Machines.” I hope you will find these projects and artists as fascinating and inspiring as I have. And please share with me your favorite “chance meetings.”

Delight, blur & rethink …* 

– Geese, Myth & Astronomy –

{ The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility (MGA) Agnes Meyer-Brandis } Agnes Meyer Brandis’ poetic-scientific investigations weave fact, imagination, storytelling and myth, past, present and future. In “THE MOON GOOSE ANALOGUE: Lunar Migration Bird Facility (MGA)” the artist develops a narrative based on Godwin’s The Man in the Moone, in which the protagonist flies to the Moon in a chariot towed by ‘moon geese’. Meyer-Brandis has actualised this concept by raising eleven moon geese with astronauts’ names and imprinting them on herself as goose-mother. They live in a remote Moon analogue operated from a control room within the gallery.

THE MOON GOOSE ANALOGUE – documentation from Agnes Meyer-Brandis on Vimeo.

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– Graffiti & Stop Motion –

{ BIG BANG BIG BOOMBLU }

An unscientific point of view on the beginning and evolution of life … and how it could probably end.

BIG BANG BIG BOOM – the new wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

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– Garbage trucks & Cameras – 

{ Trashcam Project – Christoph Blaschke, Mirko Derpmann, Scholz & Friends Berlin and the Hamburg sanitation department }

Hamburg´s garbagemen portrait their city in the Trashcam Project – with their garbage containers. Standard 1.100 litre containers are transformed to giant pinhole cameras. With these cameras the binmen take pictures of their favourite places to show the beauty and the changes of the city they keep clean every day.

The Trashcam Project was developed by Christoph Blaschke, Mirko Derpmann, Scholz & Friends Berlin and the Hamburg sanitation department. Special thanks to Hamburg based photographer Matthias Hewing (www.matthiashewing.de/) for his professional advice and the challenging lab work with the giant negatives.

Trashcam Project

The fun fair “Dom” in Hamburg photographed with a garbage container by
garbageman Bernd Leguttky, Christoph Blaschke and Mirko Derpmann. Shot on a 106×80 cm sheet of ilford multigrade with ten minutes exposure time.

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– Tattoos & Music – 

Reading My BodyDmitry Morozovа sound controller that uses tattoo as a music score – this is a special instrument that combines human body and robotic system into a single entity that is designed to automate creative process in an attempt to represent the artist and his instrument as a creative hybrid.

::vtol:: “reading my body” from ::vtol:: on Vimeo.

 …*

– Scent, machines & Memories –

{ The MadeleineAmy Radcliffe } an analogue odor camera.

Based on current perfumery technology, Headspace Capture, The Madeleine works in much the same way as a 35mm camera. Just as the camera records the light information of a visual in order to create a replica The Madeleine records the chemical information of a smell.

If an analogue, amateur-friendly system of odour capture and synthesis could be developed, we could see a profound change in the way we regard the use and effect of smells in our daily lives. From manipulating our emotional wellbeing through prescribed nostalgia, to the functional use of conditioned scent memory, our olfactory sense could take on a much more conscious role in the way we consume and record the world.

HOW TO SUCCEED WITH YOUR MADELEINE from AMY RADCLIFFE on Vimeo.

[Hat tip: Scentography: the camera that records your favorite smells via The Guardian, published June 28, 2013.]

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– Clothes & Poetry – 

{ Poetry BombingAugustina Woodgate } Clothing labels with poems printed on them are sewn clandestinely in local Thrift Stores. 2011

Places and Objects are alive, we make them alive, they tell our stories and tales. Sewing poems in clothes in a way is giving the garments a voice. We are in relation — with others, with things, with the world. This being-in-relation, is a way of perceiving, a mode of moving, a narrative of global truths designed by cultural fictions. Sewing poems in clothes is a way of bringing poetry to everyday life just by displacing it, by removing it from a paper to integrate it and fuse it with our lives. Sometimes little details are stronger when they are separated from where they are expected to be.

Poetry Bombing With Agustina Woodgate for O, MIAMI, published  April 27, 2011

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– Architecture & Music –

{ Dithyrambalina: The Music Box and Beyond – an experiment to create Musical Architecture }

dith·y·ramb, noun: A chant of wild and abandoned nature sung by the cult of Dionysus to bring forth their god.

A host of international artists, musicians and inventors are creating Dithyrambalina – a landmark village of musical, playable houses. Invented instruments embedded into the walls, ceilings, and floors of Dithyrambalina’s architecture will support boundary-breaking musical performances and inspire wonder, exploration and invention in visitors of all ages. This New Orleans Airlift project is the evolving brainchild of artists Swoon, Delaney Martin, Taylor Lee Shepherd and Jay Pennington in collaboration with over 100 more artists and musicians to date. Last year they debuted THE MUSIC BOX, as a proof-of-concept for their vision.

Dithyrambalina: The Music Box and Beyond from TungstenMonkey on Vimeo.

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– Blood, Resin & LIGHT –

{ Blood & Resin – Jordan EaglesJordan Eagles is a New York based artist who preserves blood to create works that evoke the connections between life, death, body, spirit and the Universe…

Blood, procured from a slaughterhouse, is the primary medium in Eagles’ works. Through his experimental, invented process, he encases blood in plexiglass and UV resin. This preservation technique permanently retains the organic material’s natural colors, patterns, and textures. The works become relics of that which was once living, embodying transformation, regeneration, and an allegory of death to life.

Jordan Eagles – Blood & Resin from Jordan Eagles on Vimeo.

[Hat Tip: Preserved Blood Paintings Seem To Glow From Within via PSFK, published June 18, 2013.]

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– Biology & Architecture –

{ Bloom – Doris Kim Sung } Metal that breathes

Modern buildings with floor-to-ceiling windows give spectacular views, but they require a lot of energy to cool. Doris Kim Sung works with thermo-bimetals, smart materials that act more like human skin, dynamically and responsively, and can shade a room from sun and self-ventilate.

Doris Kim Sung: Metal That Breathes via TED published May 2012

[ Hat Tip: Biologist-Turned-Architect Invents “Breathing” Metal Building Skin via Architizer, published October 30, 2012.]

 …*

– TREES, WIND, CHance & INK –

{ Conversation With Trees – Shih Yun Yeo } a collaboration between artist Yeo Shih Yun and trees across Singapore.

A collection of tree drawings at different intervals over the two months( 01-11-2010 to 31-12-2010) , Conversation with trees is a collaboration between artist Yeo Shih Yun and trees across Singapore. In this exhibition, there is a multi-media presentation of drawings, photographs, silk-screen paintings and video installation.

In this latest series of works, Shih Yun tests the influence of external physical and metaphysical forces- wind and chance on the glorious mark-marking process. At random intervals, she attaches Chinese brushes dipped in Chinese ink to the tips of branches of trees in various settings across Singapore and allows the chance movement of the wind to create the marks. Each brush stroke created by the tree and wind is spontaneous, without the constraints of a limited visual vocabulary, creating drawings of absolute freedom and honesty. The resulting ‘tree drawings’ are then selected and transferred onto silk-screens. The silk-screens are then used by Shih Yun to create abstract paintings on linen of various sizes.

Coversations with trees from shih yun yeo on Vimeo.

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– Robots & Movie Scripts –

{ Do You Love MeCleverbot & Chris Wilson } a movie written by a machine.

Cleverbot.com has been touted as one of the most advanced artificial intelligences ever. The website allows users to chat with the A.I. Cleverbot. But how good is it, really? I sat down with Cleverbot and collaborated on a movie script.

I tried to talk to Cleverbot just like I would with a human writing partner. I set up scenarios and Cleverbot provided all of the dialog content for the scene.

[Hat Tip: Watch A Hilarious Movie Written By A Machine via FastCoDesign, published February 14, 2013.]

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Henri Cartier-Bresson on The Mind’s Eye & The Decisive Moment…*

In photography there is a new kind of plasticity, the product of instantaneous lines made by movements of the subject. We work in unison with movement as though it were a presentiment of the way in which life itself unfolds.

Our conversation about the essence of photography began yesterday with excerpts from Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. While Barthes is interested in the essence of photography itself, his methodology for uncovering and articulating this essence is driven by his own experiences of photography, most often as spectator. To round out the conversation, I thought it would be nice to hear from Henri Cartier-Bresson, photographer, one of 5 founding members of Magnum Photos, and the father of the decisive moment– “the moment at which the elements in motion are in balance. Photography must seize upon this moment and hold immobile the equilibrium of it.” Here is Cartier-Bresson’s 1976 essay, The Mind’s Eye, transcribed in full as well as numerous (but each so glorious) excerpts from The Decisive Moment (1952). Because photography, like most other art forms, is about looking, subjectivity and experience, Cartier-Bresson’s reflections on the profession and medium, like Barthes’s, are about much more than the technicalities of photography and perspective and touch on the essence of being human. Enjoy & rethink…*

 

 (photo via The Guardian)

 

THE MIND’S EYE 

Photography has not changed since its origin except in its technical aspects, which for me are not a major concern.

Photography appears to be an easy activity; in fact is a varied and ambiguous process in which the only common denominator among its practitioners is their instrument. What emerges from this recording machine does not escape the economic constraints of a world of waste, of tensions that become increasingly intense and of insane ecological consequences.

“Manufactured” or staged photography does not concern me. And if I make a judgment it can only be on a psychological or sociological level. There are those who take photographs arranged beforehand and those who go out to discover the image and seize it. For me the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously. In order to “give a meaning” to the world, one has to feel oneself involved in what one frames through the viewfinder. This attitude requires concentration, a discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry–it is by great economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression. One must always take photographs with the greatest respect for the subject and for oneself.

To take photographs is to hold one’s breath when all faculties converge in the face of fleeing reality. It is at that moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.

To take photographs means to recognize–simultaneously and within a fraction of a second–both the fact itself and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that give it meaning. It is putting one’s head, one’s eye, and one’s heart on the same axis.

As far as I am concerned, taking photographs is a means of understanding which cannot be separated from other means of visual expression. It is a way of shouting, of freeing oneself, not of proving or asserting one’s originality. It is a way of life.

Anarchy is an ethic.

Buddhism is neither a religion nor a philosophy, but a medium that consists in controlling the spirit in order to attain harmony and, through compassion, to offer it to others.

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from THE DECISIVE MOMENT  

 

THE PICTURE-STORY

I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung-up and ready to pounce, determined to “trap” life—to preserve life in the act of living. Above all, I craved to seize, in the confines of one single photograph, the whole essence of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.

I have traveled a good deal, though I don’t really know how to travel. I like to take my time about it. Leaving between one country and the next an interval in which to digest what I’ve seen. Once I had arrived in a new country, I feel almost like settling down there, so as to live on proper terms with the country, I could never be a globetrotter.

Twenty-five years have passed since I started to look through my view-finder. But I regard myself still as an amateur, though I am still no longer a dilettante.

Sometimes a single event can be so rich in itself and its facets that it is necessary to move all around it in your search for the solution to the problem it poses—for the world is movement, and you cannot be stationary in your attitude toward something that is moving.

Things-As-They-Are offer such an abundance of material that a photographer must guard against the temptation of trying to do everything. It is essential to cut from the raw material of life—to cut and cut, but to cut with discrimination. While working, a photographer must reach a precise awareness of what he is trying to do. Sometimes you have the feeling that you have already taken the strongest possible picture of a particular situation or scene; nevertheless, you find yourself compulsively shooting, because you cannot be sure in advance exactly how the situation, the scene, is going to unfold. You must stay with the scene, just in case the elements of the situation shoot off from the core again. At the same time, it’s essential to avoid shooting like a machine-gunner and burdening yourself with useless recordings which clutter your memory and spoil the exactness of the reportage as a whole.

Memory is very important, particularly in respect to the recollection of every picture you’ve taken while you’ve been galloping at the speed of the scene itself. The photographer must make sure, while he is still in the presence of the unfolding scene, that he hasn’t left any gaps, that he has really given expression to the meaning of the scene in its entirety, for afterward it is too late. He is never able to wind the scene backward in order to photograph it all over again.

For photographers, there are two kinds of selection to be made, and either of them can lead to eventual regrets. There is the selection we make when we look through the view-finder at the subject; and there is the one we make after the films have been developed and printed. After developing and printing, you must go about separating the pictures which, though they are all right, aren’t the strongest. When it’s too late, then you know with a terrible clarity exactly where you failed; and at this point you often recall the telltale feeling you had while you were actually making the pictures. Was it a feeling of hesitation due to uncertainty? Was it because of some physical gulf between yourself and the unfolding events? Was it simply that you did not take into account a certain detail in relation to the whole setup? Or was it (and this is more frequent) that your glance became vague, your eye wandered off?

For each of us space begins and slants off from our own eyes, and from there enlarges itself progressively toward infinity. Space, in the present, strikes us with greater or lesser intensity and then leaves us, visually, to be closed in our memory and to modify itself there. Of all the means of expression, photography is the only one that fixes forever the precise and transitory instant. We photographers deal in things that are continually vanishing, and when they have vanished, there is no contrivance on earth that can make them come back again. We cannot develop and print a memory. The writer has time to reflect. He can accept and reject, accept again; and before committing his thoughts to paper he is able to tie the several relevant elements together. There is also a period when his brain “forgets,” and his subconscious works on classifying his thoughts.  But for photographers, what has gone is gone forever. Form that fact stem the anxieties and strength of our profession. We cannot do our story over again once we’ve got back to our hotel. Our task is to perceive reality, almost simultaneously recording it in the sketchbook which is our camera. We must neither try to manipulate reality while we are shooting, nor manipulate the results in a darkroom. These tricks are patently discernible to those who have eyes to see.

In whatever picture-story we try to do, we are bound to arrive as intruders. It is essential, therefore, to approach the subject on tiptoe—even if the subject is still-life. A velvet hand, a hawk’s eye—these we should all have. It’s no good jostling or elbowing. And no photographs taken with the aid of flashlight either, if only out of respect for the actual light—even when there isn’t any of it. Unless a photographer observes such conditions as these, he may become an intolerably aggressive character.

The profession depends so much upon the relations the photographer establishes with the people he’s photographing, that a false relationship, a wrong word or attitude, can ruin everything. When the subject is in any way uneasy, the personality goes away where the camera can’t reach it. There are no system, for each case is individual and demands that we be unobtrusive, though we must be at close range. Reactions of people differ much from country to country, and from one social group to another.

 

THE SUBJECT

There is subject in all that takes place in the world, as well as in our personal universe. We cannot negate subject. It is everywhere So we must be lucid toward what is going on in the world, and honest about what we feel.

Subject does not consist of a collection of facts, for facts in themselves offer little interest. Through facts, however, we can reach an understanding of the laws that govern them, and be better able to select the essential ones which communicate reality.

In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little, human detail can become a leitmotiv. We see and show the world around us, but it is an even itself which provokes the organic rhythm of forms.

There are thousands of ways to distill the essence of something that captivates us; let’s not catalogue them. We will, instead, leave it in all its freshness…

One kind of subject matter greatly derided by present day painters is the portrait. The frock coat, the soldier’s cap, the horse now repel even the most academic of painters. They feel suffocated by all the gaiter buttons of the Victorian portrait makers. For photographers—perhaps because we are reaching for something much less lasting in value than the painters—this is not so much irritating as amusing, because we accept life in all its reality.

People have an urge to perpetuate themselves by means of a portrait, and they put their best profiles forward for posterity. Mingled with this urge, though, is a certain fear of black magic; a feeling that by sitting for a camera portrait they are exposing themselves to the workings of witchcraft of a sort.

One of the fascinating things about portraits is the way they enable us to trace the sameness of man. Man’s continuity somehow comes through all the external things that constitute him—even if it is only to the extent of someone’s mistaking Uncle for Little Nephew in the family album. If the photographer is to have a change of achieving a true reflection of a person’s world—which is as much outside him as inside him—it is necessary that the subject of the portrait should be in a situation normal to him. We must respect the atmosphere which surrounds the human being, and integrate into the portrait the individual’s habitat—for man, no less than animals, has his habitat. Above all, the sitter must be made to forget about the camera and the photographer who is handling it. Complicated equipment and light reflectors and various other items of hardware are enough, to my mind, to prevent the birdie from coming out.

What is there more figurative and transitory than the expression on a human face? The first impression given by a particular face is often the right one; but the photographer should try always to substantiate the first impression by “living” with the person concerned. The decisive moment and psychology, no less than camera position, are the principal factors in the making of a good portrait.

The sitter is suspicious of the objectivity of the camera, while the photographer is after an acute psychological study of the sitter.

It is true, too, that a certain identity is manifest in all the portraits taken by one photographer. The photographer is searching for identity of his sitter, and also trying to fulfill and expression of himself. The true portrait emphasizes neither the suave nor the grotesque, but reflects the personality.

 

COMPOSITION

Photography implies the recognition of a rhythm in the world of real things. What the eye does is to find and focus on the particular subject within the mass of reality; what the camera does is simply to register upon film the decision made by the eye. We look at and perceive a photograph, as we do a painting, in its entirety and all in one glance. In a photograph, composition is the result of a simultaneous coalition, the organic coordination of elements seen by the eye. One does not add composition as though it were an afterthought superimposed on the basic subject material, since it is impossible to separate content from form. Composition must have its own inevitability about it.

In photography there is a new kind of plasticity, the product of instantaneous lines made by movements of the subject. We work in unison with movement as though it were a presentiment of the way in which life itself unfolds.

But inside movement there is one moment at which the elements in motion are in balance. Photography must seize upon this moment and hold immobile the equilibrium of it.

The photographer’s eye is perpetually evaluating. A photographer can bring coincidence of line simply by moving his head a fraction of a millimeter. He can modify perspectives in a slight bending of the knees. By placing the camera closer to or farther from the subject, he draws a detail—and it can be subordinated, or he can be tyrannized by it. But he composes a picture in very nearly the same amount of time it takes to click the shutter, at the speed of a reflect action.

[…] if the shutter was released at the decisive moment, you have instinctively fixed a geometric pattern without which the photograph would have been both formless and lifeless.

Composition must be one of our constant preoccupations, but at the moment of shooting it can stem only from our intuition, for we are out to capture the fugitive moment, and all the interrelationships involved are on the move. In applying the Golden Rule, the only pair of compasses at the photographer’s disposal is his own pair of eyes. Any geometrical analysis, any reducing of the picture to a schema, can be done only (because of its very nature) after the photograph has been taken, developed and printed—and then it can be used only for a post-mortem examination of the picture.

 

COLOR

In talking about composition we have been so far thinking only in terms of that symbolic color called black. Black-and-white photography is a deformation, that is to say, an abstraction. In it, all the values are transposed; and this leaves the possibility of choice.

The operation of bringing the color of nature in space to a printed surface poses a series of extremely complex problems. To the eye, certain colors advance, others recede. So we would have to be able to adjust the relations of the color one to the other, for colors, which in nature place themselves in the depths of space, claim a different placing on a plane surface—whether it is the flat surface or a painting or a photograph.

 

TECHNIQUE

Technique is important only insofar as you must master it in order to communicate what you see. Your own personal technique has to be created and adapted solely in order to make your vision effective on film. But only the results count, and the conclusive evidence is the finished photographic print; otherwise there would be no end to the number of tales photographers would tell about pictures which they ever-so-nearly got—but which are merely a memory in the eye of the nostalgia.

In any case, people think far too much about techniques and not enough about seeing.

During the process of enlarging, it is essential to re-create the values and mood of the time the picture was taken; or even to modify the print so as to bring it into line with the intentions of the photographer at the moment he shot it. It is necessary also to re-establish the balance which the eye is continually establishing between light and shadow. And it is for these reasons that the final act of creating in photography takes place in the darkroom.

 

THE CUSTOMER

We photo-reporters are people who supply information to a world in a hurry, a world weighted down with preoccupations, prone to cacophony, and full of beings with a hunger for information and needing the companionship of images. We photographers, in the course of taking pictures inevitably make a judgment on what we see, and that implies a great responsibility.

I have talked at some length, but of only one kind of photography. There are many kinds. Certainly the fading snapshot carried in the back of a wallet, the glossy advertising catalog, and the great range of things in between are photography. I don’t attempt to define it for everyone. I only attempt to define it for myself.

To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that even its proper expression.

I believe that, through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us, which can mold us, but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between these two worlds—the one inside us and the one outside us. As the result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to form a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate.

For me, content cannot be separated from form. By form, I mean a rigorous organization of the interplay of surfaces, lines, and values. It is in this organization alone that our conceptions and emotions become concrete and communicable. In photography, visual organization can stem only from a developed instinct.

Source: Cartier-Bresson, Henri. The Mind’s Eye: Writings on photography and photographers. New York: Aperture, 1999. Print.

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While were on the topics of glory & photography:  A Homemade Autochrome Camera Made with Lego, Cardboard, and Duct Tape ~ via Peta Pixel, published November 2, 2012. Photographer Dominique Vankan wanted to play around with the old Autochrome Lumière process from the early 1900s, so he built himself a custom large format camera using LEGO pieces, cardboard, and duct tape. Head over to Peta Pixel to find out more about the process & results. Delight guaranteed.

On Looking: Roland Barthes on the Difficulties of Naming the Essence of Photography

Roland Barthes‘ last book, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, published posthumously, was born out of his grieving the death of his mother. It was while sorting and looking at pictures of his mother, that this touching rumination on the essence of photography, affect, the self, perception and memory emerged. Barthes’ reflections on photography and perception are thought-provoking and essential to our understanding and appreciation of making the familiar unknown. Celebrate what would have been Barthes’ 97th birthday today with these excerpts from Camera Lucida.

  

(Roland Barthes, via TracesOfTheReal.com)

 

First of all, I did not escape, or try to escape, from a paradox: on the one hand the desire to give a name to Photography’s essence and then to sketch an eidetic science of the Photograph; and on the other the intractable feeling that Photography is essentially (a contradiction in terms) only contingency, singularity, risk: my photographs would always participate, as Lyotard says, in “something or other”: is it not the very weakness of Photography, this difficulty in existing which we call banality? Next, my phenomenology agreed to compromise with a power, affect; affect was what I didn’t want to reduce, being irreducible, it was thereby what I wanted, what I ought to reduce the Photograph to; but could I retain an affective intentionality, a view of the objects which was immediately steeped in desire, repulsion, nostalgia, euphoria? Classical phenomenology, the kind I had known in my adolescence (and there has not been any other since), had never, so far as I could remember, spoken of desire or of mourning. Of course I could make out in Photography, in a very orthodox manner, a whole network of essences: material essences (necessitating the physical, chemical, optical study of the Photograph), and regional essences (deriving, for instance, from aesthetics, from History, from sociology); but at the moment of reaching the essence of Photography in general, I branched off; instead of following the path of a formal ontology (of a Logic), I stopped, keeping with me, like a treasure, my desire or my grief, the anticipated essence of the Photograph could not, in my mind, be separated from the “pathos” of which, from the first glance, it consists. I was like that friend who had turned to Photography only because it allowed him to photograph his son. 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.

 

(Photograph by Koen Wessing: Nicaragua. 1979 via Stanford.edu )

 

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 knowledge, my culture; this field can be more or less stylized, more or less successful, depending on the photographer’s skill or luck, but it always refers to a classical body of information: rebellion, Nicaragua, and all the signs of both: wretched uniformed soldiers, ruined streets, corpses, grief, the sun, and the heavy-lidded Indian eyes. Thousands of photographs consist of this field, and in these photographs I can, of course, take a kind of general interest, one that is even stirred sometimes, but in regard to them my emotion requires the rational intermediary of an ethical and political culture. What I feel about these photographs derives from an average affect, 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, which doesn’t mean, at least not immediately “study,” but application to a thing, taste for someone, a kind of general enthusiastic commitment, of course, but without special acuity. 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 seeks it out (as I invest the field of the studium with my sovereign consciousness), 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: 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; precisely, 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 the Photograph is pure contingency and can be nothing else (it is always something that is represented)–contrary to the text which, by the sudden action of a single word, can shift a sentence from description to reflection–it immediately yields up to those “details” which constitute the very raw material of ethnological knowledge.

 

What I can name cannot really prick me. The incapacity to name is a good symptom of disturbance.

 

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. “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.” The photograph must be silent (there are blustering photographs, and I don’t like them): this is not a question of discretion but of music. Absolute subjectivity is achieved only in a state, an effort, of silence (shutting your eyes is to make the image speak in silence). The photograph touches me if I withdraw it from its usual blah-blah: “Technique,” “Reality,” “Reportage,” “Art,” etc.: to say nothing, to shut my eyes, to allow the detail to rise of its own accord into affective consciousness.

*

 

For the Roland Barthes buffs among you, head on over to UBU web for audio recordings of his lectures: Comment vivre ensemble” (“How to live together“), Lectures at the Collège de France, (1977); “Le Neutre” (“The Neutral“), Lectures at the Collège de France, (1978) and a free version of Barthes’ 1967 essay, The Death of the Author. Enjoy & Rethink…

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