… We seem to experience a loss of our own reality; … we are invited to dream in the ideological space of the photograph.
This is from The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories by John Tagg (1993):
… They can be taken as evidence. They can incriminate. they can be aids to masturbation or trophies of conquest. They can be emblems of a symbolic exchange in kinship rituals or vicarious tokens of a world of potential possessions.Through that democratized form of imperialism known as tourism, they can exert a power to colonise new experiences and capture subjects across a range never envisaged in painting. They are on our tables at breakfast. They are in our wallets and stood on our desks and dressing tables. Photographs and photographic practice appear as essential ingredients in so many social rituals — from customs checks to wedding ceremonies, from the public committal of judicial evidence to the private receipt of sexual pleasure — that it has become difficult to imagine what such rituals were like and how they could be conducted before photographs became widely available. It is difficult precisely because the internal stability of a society is preserved at one level through the naturalisation of beliefs and practices which are, on the contrary, historically produced and historically specific. It is in this light that we must see photographs and the various practices of photography.
… I was not trying to open up a rift in the complex process of constitution of individual images. What I am trying to stress here is the absolute continuity of the photographs’ ideological existence with their existence as material objects whose ‘currency’ and ‘value’ arise in certain distinct and historically specific social practices and are ultimately a function of the state.
Photography is a mode of production consuming raw materials, refining its instruments, reproducing the skills and submissiveness of its labor force, and pouring on to the market a prodigious quantity of commodities. By this mode of production it constitutes images or representations, consuming the world of sight as its raw material.
… The French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault has argued that there is a constant articulation of power on knowledge and knowledge on power. The exercise of power itself creates and causes to emerge new objects of knowledge and accumulates new bodies of information. [ … ] It is not a question of the struggle for ‘truth’ but, rather, of a struggle around the status of truth and the economic and political role it plays. What defines and creates ‘truth’ in any society is a system of more or less ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution and circulation of statements.
… I shall remind you again that we are not concerned with exposing the manipulation of a pristine ‘truth,’ or with unmasking some conspiracy, but rather with the analysis of the specific ‘political economy’ within which the ‘mode of production’ of ‘truth’ is operative: that is, not with something motivated on the personal plane, necessarily, but with relations and forces which are pervasive and diffuse throughout the social structure.
… [In this paragraph, Tagg is talking about FSA photograph(s) that he has used as examples throughout this chapter.] We may live the space of the picture, its ‘reality,’ its ideological field. But as the picture draws us in, we are drawn into its orbit, into the gravitational field of its ‘realism.’ There it holds us by the force of ‘the Past.’ If the majority of photographs raise barriers to their close inspection, making protracted analysis seem ‘excessive,’ then these photographs invite a closer and closer view. The further one penetrates, the more one is rewarded by the minutiae of detail suspended in the seemingly transparent emulsion. We seem to experience a loss of our own reality; a flow of light from the picture to us and from ourselves into the picture. Like Stryker, we are invited to dream in the ideological space of the photograph. It is now that we should remember that ‘dreams really have a meaning and are far from being the expression of a fragmentary activity of the brain, as the authorities have claimed. When the work of interpretation has been completed, we perceive that a dream is a fulfilment of a wish.’