Unreal Nature

June 14, 2017

The Person Herself

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:28 am

… “This is [a photograph of] Jane, but it doesn’t look like her,” illustrates the problem of matching surface, or “reality,” to experience, or mental picture.

This is from The Photograph: A Strange Confined Space by Mary Price (1994):

… the authenticity of the real is one aspect of the photograph, the other is the story implicit in the condition of every man, with its individual variations so limited in invention, so acute in experience. The story is the magic because it is unstated, not withheld but not expressed, and because it requires language to complete the photograph’s expression. The evidence and authentication are in what is shown; the magic is in the language, which any abstraction and any degree of abstraction requires, which any story requires.

… Language is a system in which words refer to objects or to each other in complicated but ruled relationships. The world of visible objects, the world that can be photographed, has no such structure. It is transcribed only as surface. Surface will transcribe structure (everything that can be seen has a name), but it will be a structure belonging to a system other than the photograph.

[line break added] The photograph itself has physical properties and is made with technical, physical, and chemical resources, but these, though unique to the photograph, are not what is meant when someone describes what he sees in the photograph: this is a person, this is Jane Doe, this looks like Jane Doe at here wedding. In this ostensive use of language, “This is my cat” has the same meaning as “This is a picture of my cat.” The comment, “This is [a photograph of] Jane, but it doesn’t look like her,” illustrates the problem of matching surface, or “reality,” to experience, or mental picture.

[line break added] “It doesn’t look like her” expresses a belief, an attitude, a stance toward the photograph vis-à-vis the actual person indicating a slippage between the two images. “It doesn’t look like her” conveys in addition to the slippage a clear premise that the true right image is not the photograph but the experience or memory of the person herself. Every photograph is in this way a test for the viewer’s imagination.

Some aspect of the real is transcribed, like it or not. The question is not whether, not even how, this occurs, but how the viewer is to think and imagine a description and interpretation that will make sense and that will correspond to what can be seen and named in the photograph.

My most recent previous post from Price’s book is  here.

-Julie

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