Unreal Nature

June 29, 2017

Caught Between

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… light, though impalpable, is here a carnal medium …

This is from the essay ‘In Camera: On Luisa Lambri’s Haptic Eye’ (2011) found in Walead Beshty: 33Texts: 93,614 Words: 581,035 Characters: Selected Writings (2003-20015) edited by Lionel Bovier (2015):

… While the frame defines the epic detachment of the picture, codifying it as an organizational tool and situating its contents in formal morphological relationships to one another, the screen brings us back to earth, puts us back in the site of viewership and back into the corporeal world. When acknowledged, it is palpable and is everywhere present in the picture, its surface never disappears, no matter how we might try to make it do so; it is always present right before us.

[line break added] While the screen also implies the infinite, its infinitude does not extend into its center, but along its surface; its visible edges are always provisional and indefinite. The screen speaks less of composition than of interference, of mediation, presenting us with a membrane that lies in-between the observer and his/her object. Rather than optical detachment, screens emphasize touching, points of contact between itself and its object.

[line break added] Pictorial concepts such as “in front” and “behind” no longer exist: it is only moments of contact, of touching that organize the pictorial field; everything not on this plane recedes from clarity as a smooth undulation of form and color. Consider the scanner, which sees only on a single plane, which charts what touches its surface, and that which does not.

Optical images, technical images, operate as screens, and are comprised of intersecting planes. The photographer is given the plane of focus, and the plane of film to work with. Photographers manipulate depth of field to simulate perspective, but in fact they are simply trying to cheat the screen by emphasizing the frame, synthetically linking this optical picture to that of the pre-optical synthetic picture, much as the paysagistes [aka landscapers] attempted to cheat paint with their brand of “realism.”

[line break added] Yet unlike the canvas, the camera’s multiple surfaces, its planes of attention, are regularized and industrial in origin, and when they produce interference, it cannot be taken as evidence of “artistic style,” as an errant brushstroke might be. Thus the camera-based photograph is caught between the opacity of the industrial screen and the transparency of the frame, and each photograph is a negotiation between these. All of this is to say that while we look through frames, we look at screens; we scan the screen for incidents, for points of contact.

[line break added] This emphasis on contact constitutes a distinctly bodily oppositional term to the detached transparency of the photographic frame and the virtuality of the eye. As Roland Barthes wrote, “A sort of umbilical cord links the body of the photographed thing to my gaze: light, though impalpable, is here a carnal medium, a skin I share with anyone who has been photographed.”

… it is this understanding of photography as a “skin” or screen that accounts for the photograph’s empathic power, its ability to create a counter-intuitive sense of connection across time and space through the proposition of a shared material intermediary that links the body of the viewer to that which is viewed.

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




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