Just when I thought that I had understood what I was doing…….

…There have been significant shifts in the way that photography has been thought about in the last few years, because of the development of digital technologies. Harnessed by global capitalism, it has been cast as the bad-boy, but the story is much more complicated than this: you would think that the digital would make all things see-able, but this is not always the case. ‘The focus of today’s visual landscape is the indistinction between things…. the blur is the emblem of design in the 1990’s’ (Lurie 1998, p. 77). A strange thing can be seen in the return to a form of photographic pictorialism in the work of Andreas Gursky, through the practice of refining the image digitallyj. In this case the pictorialism still uses the language of realism, which is unlike the strictly unreal fantasy aesthetic of other digital products such as posters and club flyers. I find the former more interesting than the latter because it relies on the savvy of the consumer to be unbelieving of the real and yet still being half seduced by its fantasy of could-exist. The creation of virtual spaces has encouraged the formation of the layered, relational object. The increasing independence of the image from its referent has increased its truth authority, but opened the question of whether there is a potential for fracturing and falsification. Digital media have multiplied the spaces of reception, at the same time as they have destroyed the distinction of the original from the copyk. The space of the digital opens up questions of power, and shifts attention from the image to information and technology, at the same time as it destroys physical space: at the extreme, the local has been extinguished and the now/here has been created. Depth of space has been replaced by depth of time in 0/1 binary of the computer. Does this make walking into the image more difficult? Because we can manipulate our spaces, does this make the space of perception no longer authentic? Is my feeling of dissatisfaction with the photographs I am taking because of the depthlessness of the digital age?

The challenging condition of the digital has tickled me into reconsidering my understanding of the pause. The time of exposure has always existed, but the digital has made it more visible. We are now more aware speed of the eye moving and circling across the imagel. This has a consequence in my photography when the view is simplified because the object is broken down into parts, instead of a monolithic whole. Returning to the notion of seeing photographically Lurie (1998, p. 154) notes:

‘seeing photographically can both illuminated ‘loss’ and yet not itself be lacking. Seeing this way is not lacking because it is without gaps, for gaps are there, rather it is a way of viewing gaps as requiring a relationship with the viewer. It is a call for the value of the atopic here and now of situated knowledge, rather than the ubiquitous now/here of global culture…’

The here/now and there/then tension of the pause is more powerful than the global conditions of the now/here. Lurie highlights the expansion of the time of exposure (which she calls the time loop) as a way of creating liberative spaces.

‘…the image occupies spaces other than those of now/here…and attention to the particular, the here and now, the situated, is especially necessary since it is only in relation to particular spaces and times that the question of difference and its significance in prosthetic culture can be reintroduced without flattening it in diversity…[it] is… always a matter of context, of the familiar and the global, it is the particular that makes possible an exploration of the reiterations, the inclusions and exclusions, the displacements and replacements, the erasures and substitutions of the now/here of experimental individuals’ (Lurie 1998, pp. 99-100).

If you expand the time loop you give yourself time to reconsider decisions and the potential to experiment with your subjectivity. The greatest potential is in the experimental individual, who doesn’t seek to shore-up the gaps and re-create a unified individual again, but accepts that ‘what you see is not what you get.’ This is an acceptance of the unknown, co-habitation with the sublime.

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j The image I am thinking of is the one with the grassy banks, the river and the grey sky (which has been digitally smothered), but I haven’t been able to find a picture of this. This ‘pictorialism’ has functional similarity to the pictorialism of some early photography which imitated painterly techniques, but this form of photography had largely been replaced by realism by the end of the nineteenth century (Wells 1997). [back]

k For the original to cease to exist, there needs to be a shift from a Platonic concept of reproduction (where the copy is unaffected by repetition) to a kind of Nietzschean mimesis where repetition is grounded not in sameness but in difference. Simulacra (containing traces of an original (which itself never existed)) are generated, not copies. Lurie adapts Michael Taussig’s concept of mimesis (where imitation and copying of identities occurs but still with a connection to the original) to create a potential working space in digital photography:

‘Mimesis involves a copying or imitation, and a palpable, sensuous connection between the very body of the perceiver and the perceived making contact. This explication of mimesis comes close to explaining the magical, sticky or fair-tale realism of photography that Barthes seeks to describe; it explains the difficulty of distinguishing a photograph from its referent that is commonly taken as definitive of the camera’s aesthetic. It makes it possible to recognise the possibility of a relation of suggestion — of ‘objective’ motivation and ‘subjective’ intentionality of anticipation and hesitation — which occurs before the subject and object of representation are fixed. It is in mimesis, then that the photographic loop [the time loop] does not necessarily lead to annihilation’ (Lurie 1998, p. 91).


l But is this on the surface or inside the image? [back]