Sunday, September 9, 2012

And What If Not Silver

No, not in terms of currency.  Not exactly at any rate.  But for the photograph.  And I suppose it’s not so much about the silver, but about what stopped the silver from continuing to go dark – but I’m not fixated (no pun intended) on the technological evolution of the medium (support?) of photography/the photograph, but instead strangely fascinated by the very nature of what this particular kind of representation is and does, and why.  So, these silver salts get exposed to light and they form an image, a re-presentation of whatever was in front of the lens (modified though by various mechanical manipulations and operator decisions, and then further by the viewer who perceives/receives the image in a particular context, etc.).  At any rate, I’ll delve further into this in future posts.

But, I’ve been thinking around this stuff via a few books recently – among them is Francois Laruelle’s The Concept of Non-Photography, a complex read to be sure, but uses photography and the photograph as an interesting metaphor in (I think) discussing a shift from transcendental perspectives of thought that are tied to dichotomies and moving toward an understanding of “being” via science and ideas of radical immanence – and ultimately picking apart why photography is suited for negotiating this shift.  I tend to relate closely to passages that dwell on notions of an unmediated immediacy that might be experienced in various places within and throughout the act of making/taking a photograph and of being witness to the resulting representation (or not, as in the case of photographs not “taken”).  And speaking of photographs not taken, that brings me back to the title of the post.  This is what I love about Jonathan Crary’s Techniques of the Observer.  He argues against the linear evolution of perspectival tradition (at least as attached to technological progress) and locates the emergence of photography within cultural shifts in perception and in relation to the embodied observer that moves through space and experiences time (which was rapidly changing in the early 1800’s – not coincidentally). 

Anyway, Laruelle has this great opening bit equating “a legend of the birth of philosophy in the spirit of photography” and describes a “transcendental photographer…with no camera, and perhaps for that very reason destined ceaselessly to take new shots of that first flash – consigned to extinction – constrained thus to comment interminably on that first shot by taking yet more, to engage himself in an unlimited-becoming-photographic – so as to verify that the flash, the World, the flash of the World – that is to say, philosophy – really  has taken place, and was not just a trick of the senses” (Laruelle, p. 2).  And I just love this visual, or this suggestion of relating our experiential understanding of the world through images in a photographic manner – with OR without a camera, that this kind of photographic thinking has been ever-present, both before and after silver, and certainly WELL before the camera as a hand-held or even box-like apparatus.  The phenomena of the camera obscura has been observed for thousands of years, but Jonathan Crary warns against “conflating the meanings and effects of the camera obscura with techniques of linear perspective” and of understanding the world in terms of a two-dimensional representation.  “The camera obscura defines the position of an interiorized observer to an exterior world.  Many contemporary accounts…single out as its most impressive feature its representation of movement.  Thus, the phenomenological differences between the experience of a perspectival construction and the projection of the camera obscura are not even comparable…the movement and temporality so evident in the camera obscura were always prior to the act of representation; movement and time could be seen and experienced, but never represented” (Crary, p. 34).

Exactly.  Never represented.  So, I’d like to get back to recording slices and glimpses with my cameras – since in fact I can document ephemeral flickers (to an extent) using equipment and materials at hand, while remaining mindful of the photographic-ness of the world sans camera (and I don’t mean photogenic, although aesthetic concerns do drive my decisions – but that is true whether I am looking through the lens of the camera or with my own eyes).  Still sorting out what this all means (for me) of course.  I understand (as in the image that accompanies this post) that this will take more than a few pictures of some condensation on a window and its shadow, or that same dew made mobile in the form of a moving image, but it’s my starting point, for now.

This was rambly.  Such is the nature of thought and unedited journal writing.

Next week, some thoughts on the index from an essay by Tom Gunning included in an anthology edited by Karen Beckman and Jean Ma called StillMoving:  Between Cinema and Photography (and another image or two).

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