Unreal Nature

May 25, 2016

In View of Unanticipated Futures

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… Photographs are archival objects insofar as they can be ripped out of some archives and placed in other ones, insofar as they migrate from one archive to another … which they always already do.

This is from the essay ‘I decided to take a look, again’ by Thomas Keenan found in The Itinerant Languages of Photography edited by Eduardo Cadava and Gabriela Nouzeilles (2013):

… From the beginning, without any extra intervention, it is claimed, the photo belongs to the realm of the depository.

You might wonder whether this means that the photograph is securely placed, even trapped, in the historical moment that it has, as one sometimes says, “captured.” Does every photograph thus belong, in a settled way, to a given archive from its very inception? Is this an argument for an “original context,” for the power of an orignating present or an organizing interpretation to fix and file the image?

No, the thesis is more radical than that. Not only is the archive born with the photograph itself, coeval and inseparable, but — strangely — this condition is an invitation to mobility.

… far from the ritual privilege of the “original context,” we are here called upon to rethink history on the basis of mobilization, recontextualization, instability. So the archive, and the archivality of the photographic image, would be tied not to its stability or fixity but to its detachability, its capacity to move and be moved, its tendency, even, to abandon the circumstances of its creation in view of unanticipated futures. In this sense, the archive is not a place where images are deposited but a place where they are found … and possibly lost.

Bringing together the archive and the image in this way is not an argument for contextual determination but something rather different, an insistence on the weak hold of context, the failure of any context or any archive to capture the photographic image. The “re-appropriation and re-contextualization of images” has to imply, in fact, dis-appropriation and de-contextualization as the very structure of the interpretation and the action of images.

[line break added] Becoming archival, for an image, does not mean being placed in an archive; on the contrary, it means not staying put, exiting, being taken out or taken over by some force other than the ones organizing the moment of its inscription. Photographs are archival objects insofar as they can be ripped out of some archives and placed in other ones, insofar as they migrate from one archive to another … which they always already do.

[ … ]

… My suffering is my own, my injuries harm only me, and my needs are personal. But as soon as I claim redress for such wounds as wrongs, as soon as I demand a response to them as unjust, then they are not just mine any longer: if they are violations of something I claim as a right, then that protection cannot belong only to me.

[line break added] We see this most forcefully when photographs are exhibited to document injustice: the image can function only to the extent that it breaks the absolute hold of its origins, migrates, provokes equivalences and parallels. No matter how singular the image and what it represents might be, this movement of abstraction and separation is essential to its operation.

In this sense, an archive, particularly a photographic one, is a laboratory for experimentation with unanticipated possibilities. The archive, which bears the imprint of history and is so often entrusted with the solemn task of memory, is also fundamentally oriented toward the future.

… A second look [at a later time] lets us see something else in the image, other photographs in the photograph; it opens the photograph as an archive, a set of unexpected possibilities and unpredicted futures.

My previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

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