Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Photography is our exorcism. Primitive society had its masks, bourgeois society its mirrors. We have our images. We believe we can overpower the world with technology. But through technology, the world has imposed itself on us and the surprise effect generated by that reversal has been considerable.

You think you photograph a particular scene for the pleasure it gives. In fact it's the scene that wants to be photographed. You're merely an extra in the production. The photographing subject is just the agent of the ironic appearance of things. The image is the prime medium for this gigantic advertising campaign which the world lays on for itself, which objects lay on for themselves - overwhelming our imaginations, forcing our passions out into the world, breaking the mirror we held up - hypocritically as it happens - to capture them.

The miracle today is that appearances, which were long reduced to voluntary servitude but have now gained their independence, are turning around on us, turning against us, through the very technology we use to drive them out. They now come from somewhere else, from their own place, from the heart of their banality; they are bursting in on us from everywhere, joyously multiplying on their own. The joy of taking photographs is an objective delight. Whoever has not experienced the objective rapture of the image one morning in town or desert will never in any way understand the pataphysical refinement of the world.

If something wants to be photographed, that is precisely because it does not want to yield up its meaning; it does not want to be reflected upon. It wants to be seized directly, violated on the spot, illuminated in its detail. If something wants to become an image, this is not so as to last, but in order to disappear more effectively. And the photographing subject is a good medium only if s/he joins in the game, exorcizes his/her own gaze and judgement, revels in his/her own absence...

The desire to take photographs may perhaps arise from the following observation: looked at in general, from the angle of meaning, the world is distinctly disappointing. In detail, taken unawares, it is always perfectly self-evident.

The dizzying impact of the perpetual detail. The magical eccentricity of the detail. In photographs, things are conjoined by a technical operation which matches the way they interconnect in their commonplace reality. An image for another image and a photograph for another photograph are simply this: a contiguity of fragments. There is no „view of the world" here, no „approach" to things: merely the refraction of the world, in its detail, on equal terms.

The absence of the world in each detail, like the absence of the subject which shows in every feature of a face. You can achieve such an illumination of detail by mental gymnastics or by a subtle use of the senses too. But, here, technology brings it about as smoothly as can be. Perhaps it is a trap.

Objects are such that, in themselves, their disappearance changes them. It is in this sense that they deceive us, that they generate illusion. But it is in this sense too that they are faithful to themselves, and we must be faithful to them: in their minute detail, in their exact figuration, in the sensuous illusion of their appearance and connectedness. For illusion is not the opposite of reality, but another more subtle reality which enwraps the former kind in the sign of its disappearance.

Every photographed object is merely the trace left behind by the disappearance of all the rest. It is an almost perfect crime, an almost total resolution of the world, which merely leaves the illusion of a particular object shining forth, the image of which then becomes an impenetrable enigma. Starting out from this radical exception, you have an unimpeded view on the world.

It isn't a question of producing; it's all in the art of disappearing. Only what comes into being in the mode of disappearance is truly other. And yet that disappearance has to leave traces, has to be the place where the Other, the world or the object appears. This is indeed the only way for the Other to exist: on the basis of your own disappearance.

"We shall be your favorite disappearing act!"

The only profound desire is object desire (including desire for the sexual object). Not, in other words, desire for what one lacks, nor even for that which (or the person who) lacks me (which is more subtle), but for the person who does not lack me, for that which can quite happily exist without me. It's the one who doesn't lack me who is the Other. That is radical otherness. Desire is always the desire for that alien perfection at the same time as the desire to wreck or destroy it. You only get excited about those things whose perfection and impunity you want both to share and to destroy.

To take photographs is not to take the world for an object, but to make it an object, to exhume its otherness buried beneath its alleged reality, to bring it forth as a strange attractor, and pin down that strange attraction in an image.

It is, basically, to become again "a thing among things" - all foreign to each other, but collusive, all opaque, but familiar. To become this rather than a universe of subjects who are opposed, and transparent, to each other.

It is photographs which bring us closest to a universe without images, or in other words to pure appearance.

The dramatic quality of the photographic image comes from the struggle between the subject's resolve to impose itself in its discontinuity and immediacy. In the best case, the object wins and the photographic image is an image of a fractal world which has no summation, which is contained in no equation. In this way it differs from art and cinema, which, by way of ideas, vision or movement, always tend towards a totalizing pattern. Against the philosophy of the subject and the contemplating gaze - of stepping back from the world in order to grasp it - the anti-philosophy of the object, of the disconnectedness of objects, of the random succession of part-objects and details. Like musical syncopation or the movement of particles.

... Photographies, Jean Baudrillard

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