Unreal Nature

August 12, 2015

The Art of Dying

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am


Photographs turn the present into the past, make contingency into destiny. Whatever their degree of “realism,” all photographs embody a “romantic” relation to reality.

I am thinking of how the poet Novalis defined Romanticism: to make the familiar appear strange, the marvelous appear commonplace. The camera’s uncanny mechanical replication of persons and events performs a kind of magic, both creating and de-creating what is photographed. To take pictures is, simultaneously, to confer value and to render banal.

Photographs instigate, confirm, seal legends. Seen through photographs, people become icons of themselves. Photography converts the world itself into a department store or museum-without-walls in which every subject is depreciated into an article of consumption, promoted into an item for esthetic appreciation.

Photography also converts the whole world into a cemetery. Photographers, connoisseurs of beauty, are also — wittingly or unwittingly — the recording angels of death. The photograph-as-photograph shows death. More than that, it shows the sex-appeal of death — another instance of the Surrealist “bad taste” that is the most persistent motif of good taste in photography. The intrusion of still photographs in that remarkable sequence in Robert Siodmak’s film Menschen am Sonntag (1928) is like the intrusion of death. One minute we see ordinary folk milling, laughing, grimacing, yearning. The next moment — as, one by one, they step before the street photographer’s black box — we see them frozen, embalmed in a “still.”

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… We no longer study the art of dying, a regular discipline and hygiene in older cultures; but all eyes, at rest, contain that knowledge. The body knows. — Susan Sontag, 1976




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