The Staging of History: photogenesis of times past

Burleigh, Peter. (2014) The Staging of History: photogenesis of times past. In: Memory Lab: photography challenges history. Győr, pp. 60-65.

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In the photograph, we are often confronted with a surficial veracity, a picture of something in the world . Governed by the generality that the photograph is always of something , this supposed something appears real; real to varying degrees: a set of specifically photographic codes seems to condense, then reproduce the conditions of our ocular perception so skilfully that we fail to abstract the image back into the realm of its mechanical mimesis. These astute operations that lead to the automated suspension of disbelief follow a tradition of realism back to the very appearance of photography, indeed beyond the nineteenth century to much earlier representational mechanisms which already existed before the advent of the Daguerreotype or Talbot’s Photogenic Drawings. The mimetic paradigm of realism that has so dominated photography, is born out of the trace , the photographic record , the bearing witness. It exclaims incessantly: photography is hard evidence of a that-has-been [1] . Yet this clear cropped rectangle is a blunt disguise, a stiff cover for a much more flexible condition. Indeed, the sorcerous elasticities in photography become apparent when we reflect less on what the image is and more on what it does . We need to counter-intuitively un-see photographs as material outcomes. Retaining in mind their visual nature, let’s suspend, if only temporarily, the assumption that what’s in or what’s on a photograph looks like what its generator, the apparatus, “looked at” and then fixed at a certain, uncertain point in time. For it is precisely this index, agent of camouflage, that misleads our attention away from what photography might do intensively for itself, towards the extensive surface of the image which it provides for us. The techno-trick of the image as illusionist is to make the angles of its 2D print disappear, to make us look into the image rather than onto it. An automated process within our perception is triggered that inhabits a scene. Something like pictorial empathy envelops stiff contours with imaginary timelines and kinetic potential. Rather than expand the image, this process curtails its potential as an expansive and paradoxical dialogue between its existence as material entity, in-the-world itself, and a portico to a point in space and time so unique its only existence was marked by the sound of the shutter. The surface resemblance in photography is a blessing and a curse and most certainly only a small part of the visuality that inheres in it. We can understand the photographic event as an actualization of two very different virtualities: On the one hand, photography actualizes light and produces visible forms of energies, flows, and fluxes, that although real would remain only virtual without the photogenic making of an image. In other words, photographs tell us about light; they make actual what would otherwise remain invisible. And indeed in this respect early photographers were perhaps right to conjecture photography as nature’s hand drawing itself, as some kind of self-reflexive operation. While in the very least a prosthetic instrument that enhances our ways of seeing the world , it is perhaps better to think photography as a way to generate visions of world or worldness which don’t merely reveal nature, but reveal the nature of nature. So let’s accept a drawing in its own likeness as a serendipity of by-products—a happy chemical accident that has subsequently led to much confusion and chaos within our paradigm of visuality Whereas that first operation has to do with the spectral, in a second virtual operation, photography engages with the multiple registers of duration which construct our experience of time. While recording history —the contingent moment of a particular constellation of space-time coordinates, of participants and their relations, of objects and their arrangements—the photographic event essentially breaks with the coherent continuity of chronology, and is a staging, an intervention, a rupturing of time. It cuts open the potency of actuality, laying life bare as an intensity that we can repeatedly re-experience in the suspension of the passage of time: an optico-chemical illusion that nonetheless allows us to re-enter or rather construct all sorts of stages of memory through affect disguised as hard fact. [1] Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida—Reflections on Photography . Translated by Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1981.
Faculties and Departments:04 Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > Departement Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaften > Fachbereich Englische Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft
UniBasel Contributors:Burleigh, Peter Robert
Item Type:Book Section
Book Section Subtype:Book Chapter
Publisher:Palatia Print House
Note:Publication type according to Uni Basel Research Database: Book item
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Last Modified:11 Jan 2018 13:24
Deposited On:11 Jan 2018 13:24

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