Unreal Nature

November 19, 2014

Supervision

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.

-Julie

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