Unreal Nature

November 28, 2014

The Net’s Shadow

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:35 am

… most people ended up believing in it, finding peace in which to produce.

This is from Writings in Art by Per Kirkeby, edited by Asger Schnack (2012):

… The pole vault. We were like pole vaulters already at speed in our approach, seeing the record height in front of us: it comes toward us, looming. We run faster and faster, yet lack the pole by which to overcome the hindrance. We knew from the beginning that we had no pole, but there was no choice: we had to launch the attack or else be overwhelmed, rooted to the spot. And in the final phases of the approach a pole is suddenly thrust into the hands of the poor athlete: that was Pop Art. And with its aid we soared over the crap in the blink of an eye.

To land with a sinking feeling of nothingness amid foam rubber. And then great structures appeared in a glaring vision. Minimal Art was the opportunity of a new art. Beuys played a part in showing us that this great endeavor was not without soil and organic root. The chance of creating art was fully unfolded. At least for the primitives who saw things as works and not as the demonstration-objects of some or other concept.

… I shall never escape a first and foundational experience of art in the work of Turner: that it was possible to produce art in such a depraved manner. To paint pictures that so unambiguously sought an embracing Mood, by demonstrating the entire machinery. That “inner coherence” was but a superficial trick. For me that was my true loss of innocence. And a first understanding of the World: the paradox of the precious “inside” only coming to expression by purely “external” means.

What nevertheless in my view makes it all hang together as art in Turner’s case is the pain with which his pictures live with this insight. And that the pain remains warm, the insight never giving rise to cold manipulation. Even though there is no reason for illusion. The warm pain and insecurity is for me the “inner imperative” of painting pictures.

The warm pain is in no way better or morally more correct than cold manipulation.

[ … ]

… Pop Art gave us a brilliant opportunity to paint pictures again. Maybe not painting as such. But to make pictures because all of a sudden modern society’s entire pictorial body was available to art. To be manipulated. And it was liberating and fun. But mostly rather harmless compared to Warhol’s disasters. And that is why Andy Warhol has always enjoyed such status and respect among colleagues. Regardless of how much crap he produced later.

Much of what was done in the sixties was just a smoothing out and dismantling of the desperate beatnik model of the hard decades. Making approachable that which could not be endured. And most people ended up believing in it, finding peace in which to produce. Warhol of course also endeavored to find a model, but he never forgot how thin the ice was, always holding out the absurdity and the dark pointlessness of it all.

And for that reason there is also a cold logic about his later existence as a media celebrity.

[ … ]

The net
(is the ornament)
that seeks to capture the collapse of texture
But try to stop a lava flow
with chicken net
Only in time will it stiffen
the cracks
are the net’s shadow




November 27, 2014

The Whole Jigsaw

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… The director is ultimately the immune system of the film.

… The editor is the only one who has time to deal with the whole jigsaw. The director simply doesn’t.

This is from The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje (2002):

[ … ]

Murch: … The fact is that there is always much more film shot than can ever be included in the finished product: on average, about twenty-five times too much — which would mean fifty hours of material for a two-hour film. Sometimes the ratio is as high as a hundred to one, as it was on Apocalypse Now. And films are almost always shot out of sequence, which means that on the same day the crew could find themselves filming scenes from the beginning, the end, and the middle of the script. This is done to make the schedule more efficient, but it means that someone — the editor — must take on the responsibility for finding the best material out of that great surplus and putting it in the correct order. Although there is a universe of complexity hidden in those short words “best” and “correct.”

When it works, film editing — which could just as easily be called “film construction” — identifies and exploits underlying patterns of sound and image that are not obvious on the surface. Putting a film together is, in an ideal sense, the orchestrating of all those patterns, just like the different musical themes are orchestrated in a symphony. It is all pretty mysterious. It’s right at the heart of the whole exercise.

[ … ]

Ondaatje: What’s the distinction of roles between editor and director — in the way a scene is finally cut or the way a plot is possibly altered from a script? We know the editor has a very intimate relationship to the material. Does this give him or her a finer sense than the director of subliminal details and hidden structures in the film? …

M: A talented director lays out opportunities that can be seized by other people — by other heads of departments, and by the actors, who are in effect heads of their own departments. This is the real function of a director, I believe, And then to protect that communal vision by accepting or rejecting certain contributions. The director is ultimately the immune system of the film.

Those images you are talking about from The Conversation are images that Francis shot. He chose to shoot them, and in ninety-nine percent of the cases I chose to use them deliberately — I recognized their power and put them in the order you see in the finished film. Francis would then of course see my work and accept or reject the approach I was taking.

There are many other possible alternatives: the structure of a film is created out of finding those harmonies we were talking about earlier — visual harmonies, thematic harmonies — and finding them at deeper and deeper levels as you work on the film.

Sometimes it happens in purely accidental ways, but I don’t think an editor — except in certain kinds of documentaries — can impose on a film a vision that wasn’t there to begin with. All the things you talk about were in Francis’s head, in some form. I may have found things that worked along with his vision in a unique way, orchestrated it more fully in certain areas perhaps, but I doubt whether that would have happened had Francis not already written the melody, so to speak.

I become tuned to see things in a certain way when I’m working on a film. One of your obligations as an editor is to drench yourself in the sensibility of the film, to the point where you’re alive to the smallest details and also the most important themes. This also applies to the head of every department. It’s very similar, I’m sure, to how a conductor relates to the performers in an orchestra.

The practical aspect of what you were talking about though is very potent. The editor is the only one who has time to deal with the whole jigsaw. The director simply doesn’t. To actually look at all the film the director has shot, and review it and sort through it, to rebalance all of that and make very specific notes about tiny details that are sometimes extremely significant, this falls to the editor.

My previous post from Ondaatje’s book is here.




November 26, 2014

Caused to Function as True

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… How is photographic discourse related to those privileged discourses harbored in our society and caused to function as true, and to the institutions which produce them?

This is from The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories by John Tagg (1993):

… We must pinpoint those strategic kinds of intervention which can both open up different social arenas of action and stretch the institutional order of the practice by deploying or developing new modes of production, distribution and circulation; by exploiting different formats; by evolving different formal solutions; by cutting different trajectories across the ruling codes of pictorial meaning; and by establishing different relationships both with those who are pictured and those who view the pictures. There is no center to such a strategy, only a multiplicity of local incursions in a constantly shifting ground of tactical actions — specific contests which link up with others in all sorts of ways, which may hold significance for a chain of related struggles, and which are the precondition for any more concerted confrontation.

… How is photographic discourse related to those privileged discourses harbored in our society and caused to function as true, and to the institutions which produce them? What are the mechanisms or rules operative in our social formation by which truth and falsehood are to be distinguished and how do they bear on photography? [ … ] What would it mean in photography to struggle not for ‘correct consciousness’ but to change the political, economic and institutional regime of the production of truth, to detach its power from the specific forms of hegemony in which it now operates, and to project the possibility of constructing a new politics of truth?

… Realism offers a fixity in which the signifier is treated as if it were identical with a pre-existent signified and in which the reader’s role is purely that of consumer. It is this realist mode with which we are confronted when we look at the photograph as evidence. In realism, the process of production of a signified through the action of a signifying chain is not seen. It is the product that is stressed, and production that is repressed. The complex codes or use of langauge by which realism is constituted appear of no account.

… What lies ‘behind’ the paper or ‘behind’ the image is not reality — the referent — but reference: a subtle web of discourse through which realism is enmeshed in a complex fabric of notions, representations, images, attitudes, gestures and modes of action which function as everyday know-how, ‘practical ideology,’ norms within and through which people live their relation to the world. It is by the routes it opens to this complex sphere that the realist text trades with that generally received picture of what may be regarded as ‘real’ or ‘realistic’ — a picture which is not recognized as such but rather presents itself as, precisely, the Reality. It is a traffic which brings into circulation not a personal and arbitrary ‘association of ideas’ but a whole hidden corpus of knowledge; a social knowledge, that is called upon through the mechanism of connotation and which gives the encounter with the regime of sense its solidity.

My most recent previous post from Tagg’s book is  here.




November 25, 2014

He Often Danced By Himself

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

This is from ‘Obituary of Mondrian’ (1944) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 1, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

… Perhaps Mondrian will be reproached for the anonymity with which he strove for the ruled precision of the geometer and the machine in executing his paintings: their conceptions can be communicated by a set of specifications and dimensions, sight unseen, and realized by a draftsman. But so could the conception of the Parthenon. The artist’s signature is not everything.

Piet Mondrian, Composition No. 10, 1942 [image from WikiArt]

Mondrian was of the type of artist-hero who immolates himself for his work, sacrificing the customary amenities of life, or making his art carry desires frustrated in other directions. He never married — he expressed a desire to but complained that he could not afford it — and he seems to have had few friends. He gave the impression of being inarticulate in conversation, and said once that he preferred not to argue about the problems of art viva voce but to read and write about them. His appearance was as dry and ascetic as a superficial acquaintance with his work might lead one to expect. But there were in both the artist and the art an intensity and passion which it needed only a second glance to discover. His one great diversion, surprisingly or not, was dancing, and I am told he liked it so much that he often danced by himself in the studio.

Piet Mondrian, Self Portrait, 1900 [image from WikiArt]




November 24, 2014

Immediacy and Vitality

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… it goes where the most ingenious artists of the moment take it and where the culture’s barriers against change are most vulnerable.

… Art’s primary value does not reside in where it came from or what it leads to, but in what it is.

This is from the end of Modern Art Despite Modernism by Robert Storr (2000):

… Although theorists long ago consigned some of the art in this book to the dustbin of history, in reality it resides in the dust-free storage spaces of The Museum of Modern Art. Bringing this work to light not only offers us the chance to decide for ourselves whether, in spite of its exile, a given painting, sculpture, drawing, or print retains some measure of its former vitality or has gained unanticipated currency because of art now being made. [ … ] Some may flinch at the thought that painting “has come to that” once again, but artists feel no obligation to respect what art lovers desire from habit or art historians foretell. Art does not go where it “should” go; it goes where the most ingenious artists of the moment take it and where the culture’s barriers against change are most vulnerable.

At the present, the fences, walls, and glass houses around modernism are down. Wildflowers have invaded its gardens and conservatories; hothouse flowers are trying their luck in the open fields. Hybrids abound. Someday, no doubt, new structures will be erected, and a sorting out will take place. In the meantime, the myriad strains of modern art flourish, cross-pollination, die back, compost, mutate, and blossom again. If I have taken the risk of employing an organic metaphor for historical process at this juncture, I have done so in order to extend the usual bell-curve model of rise and fall into a cosine oscillation closely resembling the life cycle of most species. A striking difference can be seen between past uses of this basic trope and current circumstances. For in contrast to the sense of decay that characterized the mood of the nineteenth-century fin de siècle, the twentieth century came to an end in an explosion of chaotic fecundity.

… If the history of modern art has taught us anything, it is that, whatever art’s temporary form and relative strength, immediacy and vitality matter more than pure or impure origins and probable outcomes. Art’s primary value does not reside in where it came from or what it leads to, but in what it is. In this regard, Picasso, arguably the greatest modernist of the twentieth century and incontestably its greatest antimodernist, shall have the final say:

I also often hear the word evolution. Repeatedly I am asked to explain how my paintings evolved. To me there is no past or future in art. If a work of art cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all. The art of the Greeks, of the Egyptians, of the great painters who lived in other times, is not an art of the past; perhaps it is more alive today than it ever was. Art does not evolve by itself, the ideas of people change and with them their mode of expression. … Variation does not mean evolution. If an artist varies his mode of expression this only means that he has changed his manner of thinking, and in changing, it might be for the better or it might be for the worse. The several manners I have used in my art must not be considered as an evolution, or as steps toward an unknown ideal of painting. All I have ever made was for the present.

My previous post from (the beginning of) Storr’s book is here.




November 23, 2014

We Owe It Our Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… The poet exists only after the poem.

This is from the essay ‘René Char’ found in The Work of Fire by Maurice Blanchot (1949):

… “Inspiration” and “reflection” are terms of an illegitimate analysis, stemming from one of the most unimaginative of all dichotomies. One can put the most possible distance between these two operations, the most unequal sharing of privileges; one can see in them, on one side, an excess of awareness, on the other, a fruit of unawareness, the happiness of passivity and the grace of work. But these differences are only the awkward sketches of a difference of a kind completely other than more or less aware activity measures. Inspiration means nothing other than the anteriority of the poem in relation to the poet, the fact that the poet feels himself, in his life and his work, yet to come, still absent in the face of the poetic work that is itself all future and all absence. This dependence is irreducible. The poet exists only after the poem. Inspiration is not the gift of a secret or a word granted to someone already present; it is the gift of existence to someone who does not yet exist.

… Language speaks wrongly of poetry in general; this word, “poetry,” refers poetic works to a form, ideal or abstract, that might surpass them to explain and judge them. But the poem does not look to poetry as a to a power that might be anterior to it and from which it should await its justification or its existence: it is not the reflection lit up by a star; it is not even the momentary manifestation of an ability always superior to its works. To understand that the poem is creator and prime is to understand that it is always in this order: what is general depends on what is unique.

But it is also to be understood why the poem is division, vexation, torment. It does not come from a higher reality, capable of guaranteeing it; it does not refer to a truth that would last longer than it; it is not rest, for it does not rest on anything, and the poet receives only the anxiety of a movement without beginning or end from it. “Magician of insecurity,” says Char, “the poet has nothing but adopted satisfactions. Ash always unfinished.”

… First, the poem does not belong to the easy world of used things, of words already spoken.

… The poem is never present. It is always just short of presence, or just beyond.

It escapes us because it is our absence rather than our presence and because it begins by making emptiness, and takes things from themselves, and substitutes endlessly what cannot be shown for what it shows, what cannot be said for what it says.

… The poem is this movement toward what is not and, even more, the enjoyment of what has not been granted, the appropriation, in the most substantial presence of This is not yet there, This will be there only if I myself have disappeared. (“It happens that the poet in the course of his researches runs aground on a shore where he was expected only much later, after his annihilation.”)

… The image in a poem is not the designation of a thing but the way in which the possession of this thing, or its destruction, is accomplished, the means found by the poet to live with it, on it, and against it, to come into substantial and material contact with it and to touch it in a unity of sympathy or a unity of disgust.

… From the poem the poet is born. It is born before us and in front of us, as our own future, as the unexpected that torments and fascinates us. At each instant, we owe it our life …




November 22, 2014

It Disappears As It Goes Along

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… — a funny out of the past suggestive noise –

This is from The Diary of James Schuyler edited by Nathan Kernan (1997). [Background info is found in the note* that the editor has added to the beginning of the book.]:

January 3, 1968

“Up all night, Asleep all day” or so I hope I will. But the end of an insomnia bout is no time to write about it. It’s 7:30, and after a cold moon-bright night — the snow neither blue nor green but moon color — it’s warm enough to snow. A flurry, no doubt.

Am sending poems to Mark Strand for perhaps the anthology John [Ashbery] says he’s doing for Athenaeum:

“Master of the Golden Glow”
“Buried at Springs”
“Milk,” about which I have doubts — as Kenneth [Koch] would say, what does it mean? Of course it’s sexual, but not merely phallic, and it’s something else too. I think it sounds happy, which is reason enough to send it. But I haven’t yet really quite decided about the last line:

Tremblingly? the milk? (no — fancy Dan stuff). into its own again? The line seems to need that “again” and so I go on leaving it out. I won’t be bossed around and yelled at by a bunch of sounds.

[ … ]

April 24, 1968

The horses next door are rolling on the ground like dogs. So it must be spring. An overcast day with the ocean making a dull distant freight train roar — a funny out of the past suggestive noise — prairies at night, or trying and not succeeding to sleep on a shut-up cottage porch somewhere by Lac St. Jean (’45? ’46?) or “the terrible boxcars rolling East.”

From here I can see just one daffodil, standing in its dark spears by the flat stone (really, concrete) which is a lid for the cesspool. And a grackle (maybe) flies down out of the buttered sunshine — to you, the forsythia — and lands beside it. Then a whole lot more land on the grass and go marching about —

The depths of the forsythia are brown as pancakes. But the prettiest is the weak bush under the elm and a copper beech. A transparent lemon mist — “transpicuous light.”

Last Friday riding out with John on the 4:19 I watched for and missed whichever station (Westhampton? Or a couple of stops before) has a lot of forsythia but just one bush that is clear acid sulphur yellow, the best.

[ … ]

June 9, 1969

… Last night I finished Arthur Randell’s Fenland Railwayman, of which it might be possible to say it contains not one memorable word, and therefore has a pleasant clarity, like a clear glass of water. Of course there is no such book: “During a long dry spell we often ran out of water, so a supply was sent to us from Wisbeck in old engine tenders which were put opposite the railway cottages so that the water could be run through canvas pipes into our cisterns. The water was not very clean — it sometimes had a dead bird in it or little wriggling creatures — but as our cisterns already housed a few worms and snails we took no notice. Each house had a charcoal filter and once the water had passed through this it was as clear as gin.” And there is the clarity, a superior one.

[ … ]

Summer, 1969

How to begin?
And now I have.


The sun was about to set. So it did — no fuss, no feathers, just plop.

[ … ]

August 1, 1969

I just read [the unpublished poem] “Shrine Exit” to Fairfield.

Me: That’s the end.
F: You seem to have put in bits of this summer and last summer.
Me: I always do.
longer pause.
F: The connecting comes out more and more clearly when you read it — comes out more immediately.
more pause
Me (slowly leaving): Can you tell me if you like it?
F: I can’t tell yet, It disappears as it goes along.

Too windy today but who cares so long as the sun shines.

[*” … James Schuyler’s Diary begins on January 1, 1968, when he poet was forty-four years old. For the past six and a half years he had been living with Fairfield and Anne Porter and their two daughters, Katherine (Katie) and Elizabeth (Lizzie) in Southampton, Long Island, and at their summer house on Great Spruce Head Island, Maine. The three Porter sons, John, Laurence and Jerry, had by then left home. The oldest child, John, known as Johnny, who was born with a developmental disability akin to autism, lived on a farm in Vermont and came to his family for regular visits several times a year.

Schuyler had come to stay with the Porters in June, 1961 to recuperate from a mental breakdown and hospitalization at Grace New Haven Hospital. “Jimmy came for a visit and stayed eleven years,” as Anne Porter said.”]




November 21, 2014

All That Has Been Gathered

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:37 am

… like music that cannot be argued against and which at bottom is a choice.

This is from Writings in Art by Per Kirkeby, edited by Asger Schnack (2012):

… The crystallization points in the painter’s spiral are the motifs. The nights that last a second or the afternoons in the studio or the ferry crossings or meaningless time spent in Italy, where all that has been gathered becomes part of the lattice and the crystal becomes radiant. And the motif is there, and in its completion of all that has gone before immediately pushes “forward” or “onward” (for everything is a spiral in which every movement leads to near-repetition, and where everything has no origin or cause, becoming just increasingly finer spiral coils striving “backwards” away from the horizon of the human eye). And this great crystal motif leaves behind it the visible motif, the immediate motif. They are left behind: this is palaeontology, the fossils. The crystal moment becomes a motif.

Therefore many painters will not talk about motif. It means nothing, says B., motif is pure accident. For only the painter knows how little the ornamental motif means in relation to the crystal motif, the great driving force. And the painter must despise and kick out at the ornamental motif. Kick it through the dirt, even if it should land on its head. This the painter must do, driven on in the eternal (and causeless) chain of crystallizations (for which he always is hoping). But the painter’s contempt for the ornamental motifs does not — paradoxically — mean that others cannot look through them and faintly see the outline of the great crystallization motif.

[ … ]

… Any attempt to say something meaningful about pictures, especially where the intention is to say something universal, applying to “what is German,” is basically doomed to end in civilized jargon and almost luminous commonplaces. If one as a reader, that is, does not accept a certain quality of being incomprehensible to outsiders, in the way of the reader of poetry, and allow the textural properties and the weight of the pictures to come forth and be present in the recollection. In such instances the trick may succeed: these banalities may fleetingly assume the kind of presence that bears the appearance of truth, like music that cannot be argued against and which at bottom is a choice.

My most recent previous post from Kirkeby’s book is here.




November 20, 2014

The Bones or Arteries of a Scene

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… And we, even if we don’t realize it as we sit in the theater, …

This is from The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje (2002):

… The most important considerations come with subtler problems. How to eliminate that slightly superior tone that has emerged in the central character, how to avoid a series of plot bottlenecks later, how to influence or “save” a scene in the fifty-third minute of the film by doing something very small in the seventh, how to double the tension by doubling the sense of silence or not cutting away to that knife at all. How, even, to disguise the fact that an essential scene was never shot. To watch Murch at work is to see him delve into almost invisible specifics, where he harnasses and moves the bones or arteries of a scene, relocating them so they will alter the look of the features above the skin. Most of the work he does is going to affect us subliminally.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] There is no showing off here. We tend not to discover how his devices are working on us. I remember seeing the film of The English Patient for the first time after he had mixed it [Ondaatje wrote the book]. I told him that I had heard a distant bell at the moment the Patient ate a plum. Aha, he said, quite pleased at my picking this up. Yes, we had put in the sound of a bell some distance away, about half a mile. It was to hint at a memory opening up. The Patient as he eats his plum begins to remember (in fact his first flashback comes a minute later). The bell we now hear signals the past for him; it takes over from the plum’s taste as the catalyst of that memory. Walter then also pointed out that the bell, hardly even heard by audiences, is the first positive sound of human civilization up to that point fifteen minutes into the film. Till then the only man-made sounds are of bombs and machine guns and crashing planes and trains.

[ … ]

For instance, by cutting away from a certain character before he finishes speaking, I might encourage the audience to think only about the face value of what he said. On the other hand, if I linger on the character after he finishes speaking, I allow the audience to see, from the expression in his eyes, that he is probably not telling the truth, and they will think differently about him and what he said. But since it takes a certain amount of time to make that observation, I cannot cut away from the character too early. … I hold until the audience realizes he is lying. [Murch]

Watching Murch edit a scene between Willem Dafoe and Julliette Binoche — the summer after The English Patient shoot — I saw how he would remove one-fifth of the informatin and “bank” it, so extending the hook of this scene’s unspoken knowledge to a later point in the film. When I saw Washington Square — a film Murch had nothing to do with — I understood what he was up to. In that film the edit was so competent, the scenes so articulate and so fully expressed, that every episode was complete in itself. The film progressed in a series of well-made, self-sufficient moments, and so it felt as if there was a wall between every perfectly articulated scene.

[ … ]

… I remember one astonishing take [from The English Patient] where the camera remained on Dafoe’s face all through the [torture] scene and stayed with him while he pulled the table to which he was handcuffed all the way to the back of the room to avoid the razor. When I saw the dailies, this was the moment that I thought most remarkable. [The film’s director] Minghella had taken another step forwards from the [four pages of] written screenplay with the shooting of the scene. Now he gave it to Walter.

Well, he had been reading the Italian writer Curzio Malaparte on the “Nazi character,” and he plucked from his reading the fact that the Nazis hated any demonstration of weakness. This idea was certainly not in my original paragraph, not in Minghella’s script, nor in any of the hundred minutes of footage that had been shot and that somehow had to be cut down to a nerve-racking three or four minutes. Every scene, every film, for Murch, needs to have a larger science of patterns at work within it, and this would be the idea or concept that governed how he cut the scene.

At one point Caravaggio / Dafoe says, before he even sees the razor, “Don’t cut me.” He says it once. Walter has the interrogator pause in his questioning when he hears this, extending the time of his response. He has threatened the spy with the idea of cutting off his thumbs, but only in a casual, not serious way. When Caravaggio says, “Don’t cut me,” the German pauses for a second, a flicker of disgust on his face. The interrogation continues. Walter found another take of Dafoe’s line, this one with more quaver in the voice, and decided to put it in again, a few seconds later. So Dafoe repeats his fear. And now time stops.

We see the look on the German. And now we know he has to do what he was previously just thinking about. To emphasize this, Murch, at that very moment, pulls all the sound out of the scene, so there is complete silence. And we, even if we don’t realize it as we sit in the theater, are shocked and the reason is that quietness.




November 19, 2014


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… Histories are not backdrops to set off the performance of images. They are scored into the paltry paper signs, in what they do and do not do …

This is from The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories by John Tagg (1993):

… A vast and repetitive archive of images is accumulated in which the smallest deviations may be noted, classified and filed. the format varies hardly at all. There are bodies and spaces. The bodies — workers, vagrants, criminals, patients, the insane, the poor, the colonised races — are taken one by one: isolated in a shallow, contained space; turned full face and subjected to an unreturnable gaze; illuminated, focused, measured, numbered and named; forced to yield to the minutest scrutiny of gestures and features. Each device is the trace of a wordless power, replicated in countless images, whenever the photographer prepares an exposure, in police cell, prison, mission house, hospital, asylum, or school. The spaces, too — uncharted territories, frontier lands, urban ghettos, working-class slums, scenes of crime — are confronted with the same frontality and measured against an ideal space: a clear space, a healthy space, a space of unobstructed lines of sight, open to vision and supervision; a desirable space in which bodies will be changed into disease-free, orderly, docile and disciplined subjects …

… These are the strands of a ravelled history tying photography to the state. They have to do not with the ‘externals’ of photography, as modernists would have us believe, but with the very conditions which furnish the materials, codes and strategies of photographic images, the terms of their legibility, and the range and limits of their effectiveness. Histories are not backdrops to set off the performance of images. They are scored into the paltry paper signs, in what they do and do not do, in what they encompass and exclude, in the way they open on to or resist a repertoire of uses in which they can be meaningful and productive. Photographs are never ‘evidence’ of history; they are themselves the historical.

My previous post from Tagg’s book is here.




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