… modern vision has been separated to a great extent from the sense of immersion in the incalculable which I associate with “liquid intelligence.”
This is from the essay ‘Photography and Liquid Intelligence’ found in Jeff Wall: Selected Essays and Interviews (2007):
… This archaism of water, of liquid chemicals, connects photography to the past, to time, in an important way.
… the echo of water in photography evokes its prehistory. I think that this “prehistorical” image of photography — a speculative image in which the apparatus itself can be thought of as not yet having emerged from the mineral and vegetable worlds — can help us understand the “dry” part of photography differently. This dry part I identify with optics and mechanics — with the lens and the shutter, either of the camera or of the projector or enlarger.
[line break added] This part of the photographic system is more usually identified with the specific technological intelligence of image-making, with the projectile or ballistic nature of vision when it is augmented and intensified by glass (lenses) and machinery (calibrators and shutters). This kind of modern vision has been separated to a great extent from the sense of immersion in the incalculable which I associate with “liquid intelligence.”
Jeff Wall, Milk, 1984
… [With the advent of digital photography, water] will disappear from the immediate production process, vanishing to the more distant horizon of the generation of electricity, and in that movement, the historical consciousness of the medium is altered. This expansion of the dry part of photography I see metaphorically as a kind of hubris of the orthodox technological intelligence which, secured behind a barrier of perfectly engineered glass, surveys natural form in its famously cool manner.
[line break added] I’m not attempting to condemn this view, but rather am wondering about the character of its self-consciousness. The symbolic meaning of natural forms, made visible in things like turbulence patterns or compound curvatures, is to me, one of the primary means by which the dry intelligence of optics and mechanics achieves a historical self-reflection, a memory of the path it has traversed in its present and future separation from the fragile phenomena it reproduces so generously.
[line break added] In Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Solaris, some scientists are studying an oceanic planet. There techniques are typically scientific. But the ocean is itself an intelligence which is studying them in turn. It experiments on the experimenters by returning their own memories to them in the form of hallucinations, perfect in every detail, in which people from their pasts appear in the present and must be related to once again, maybe in a new way. I think this was a very precise metaphor for among many other things, the interrelation between liquid intelligence and optical intelligence in photography, or in technology as a whole. In photography, the liquids study us, even from a great distance.
still from Solaris