Unreal Nature

May 18, 2016

Like a Delirious God

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… Photography is both Medusan and Protean. It does congeal what it sees, but it also sets itself, and with it its referent, into motion.

This is from the title essay by Cadava, found in The Itinerant Languages of Photography edited by Eduardo Cadava and Gabriela Nouzeilles (2013):

Photography is mad, even insolent. It refuses to be fixed or to be defined in a determinate way.

… In reviewing the history of photography, the only thing we can say with any kind of clarity is that a photograph has never been a single thing, has never had a consistent form, has never remained identical to itself. Instead it has continually been altered, transformed, and circulated and is by definition itinerant.

… the image inscribes us into its nearly surreal space, into this strange photograph that, before our very eyes, ruins the distinctions it proposes and unites us in relation to this ruin. It bequeaths to us a space — the space of the photograph as well as the photographed space — in which we can no longer know what space is. It offers us a time — the time of the photograph and the photographed time — in which we no longer know what time is.

[line break added] The limits, the borders, and the distinctions that would guarantee our understanding of the image have been shattered by a madness from which no determination can be sheltered, by a “strategy that unites us” within a time-crossed space that joins the past, the present, and the future in such a way that none of them can exist alone.

The next is from co-editor Nouzeilles’s contribution to the collection, ‘The Archival Paradox’:

… Paradoxically, the compulsion toward archival accumulation reveals not the strengthening of memory, its mounting victory, but rather its silent vanishing. The withering away of memory is the negative outcome of a modernity obsessed with the new: “The less memory is experienced from the inside, the more it exists only through its exterior scaffolding and outward signs — hence the obsession with the archive that marks our age, attempting at once the complete conservation of the present as well as the total preservation of the past. … Memory has been wholly absorbed by its meticulous reconstitution. Its new vocation is to record, delegating to the archive the responsibility of remembering, it sheds its signs upon depositing them there, as a snake sheds its skin.” [Pierre Nora]

… Suspended on the surface of film, printed on sheets of paper, or projected on screens or fabric or glass, photographs make visible the ‘skin’ of memory, being both the spectral shadow of a trace and its physical materialization.

… In order to prevent things and events from disappearing by chance into an amorphous mass or from withdrawing into anomic space, the archive itself seems to operate as a photographic machine that regulates the production of archaeological insights through the manipulation and selective recording of traveling light, so that past events shine, as it were, “like stars, some that seem close to us shining brightly from far off, while others that are in fact close to us are already growing pale.” [Michel Foucault]

Every photograph is a priori an archival object. The camera’s capacity to link its act of mechanical inscription to the allegedly indisputable fact of the referent’s existence at a certain point in time constitutes the basis of the dominant understanding of photography as a mode of representation.

… The result is the production of a generalized “archive effect,” which gives the subject the sense that she or he can hold the whole world in her or his mind (or hands), as if it were an anthology of images: a picture-world.

… Through photographic excising and archivization, reality as such is redefined as “an item for exhibition, as a record for scrutiny, and as a target for surveillance.” [Susan Sontag]

… because it is itinerant, because it moves, there is always the chance that it will be unsettled, undermined, sabotaged, erased, or even smashed. The archive is caught in a kind of double bind: it is simultaneously defined as an inert, rational repertoire of historical artifacts ruled by a totalizing system of knowledge and power, and as an active, porous, senseless machine, always on the verge of collapse, disrupted by contradiction and irrelevance — a Borgesian labyrinthine library “whose vertical wildernesses of books run the incessant risk of changing into others that affirm, deny, and confuse everything like a delirious god.”

… The paradoxical condition of the archive — the hesitation between inscription and itinerancy — is intrinsic to photography itself. Photography is both Medusan and Protean. It does congeal what it sees, but it also sets itself, and with it its referent, into motion. It both mummifies and sets free.

-Julie

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