My next constellation of instructions begins to tie together Lacanian psychoanalysis with specific filmic techniques from The Cinematic. This will be an important post to return to in formulating my poetics.
Instruction: represent the objet petit a by creating circuitous images of displacement while keeping in mind that to “get at” what is “not-get-at-able”you do not actually “get” there, you can only circle it.
Gaensheimer writes that the blurred movement between images in a photo montage plays the role of “that which is not representable in the concrete idiom of the medium” (74). Its self effacement simultaneously reproduces and conceals the object of its mediatic desire, which is perhaps the same tension between motion and stasis which unites the essays in this collection. This is reminiscent of my previous post about how media betray their innate desires by traumatically obsessing over their representational barriers. Thus, it becomes clear what Gaensheimer means when she writes that this transition from image to image is the thing (the limit) which is “present only in the form of absence.”
Likewise, Wim Wenders discusses how the lack of interpretive clarity in certain films creates potentiality in her essay “Time Sequences, Continuity of Movement.” She writes that the enumeration of “little details” can be utilized to create “images that don’t come complete with their interpretations” (88). Although the unreflective sustenance of ambiguity can lead to the worst kind of post modern abstractionism, one could take Wenders’ instruction as “don’t force literacy onto the electrate.” Or, more simply, don’t do the speaking for your images because they need to be given space (and time) to communicate in their own language.
A more practical instruction comes from Christian Metz’s “Photography and Fetish” in which he isolates the distinction between off frame displacement in film and photography. Using Pascal Bonitzer’s terms, Metz claims that filmic off frame space is “substantial” while photographic off frame space is “subtle.” Essentially, the distinction is that filmic off frame elements always hold the potential of entering the frame (either visually or auditorily) while photographic elements are held in perpetual abeyance. For Metz, this perpetual absence marks photographics as more explicitly fetishistic than films. Although Metz doesn’t offer much in terms of technical application of this theory, he does allude to Barthes’ notion of the punctum as “the only part of a photograph which entails the feeling of an off-frame space,” thus emphasizing the point that the absence of the off frame element must be evoked by a feeling that is within the image’s frame. Similar to the temporal tension between past and present that I discussed earlier, this punctum propels the viewer outside the frame of the photo only to discover that the “thing” she is in search of was always already the lack initiated by an element within the image itself. This is Lacan’s image of the rim as a diagram of the movement of desire, entering into the gap only to return from where you came.
David Campany explores the notion of absent presence (or present absence) in our current media ecology in his discussion of “late photography” in “Safety in Numbness.” Campany defines late photography as the “trace of the trace of an event,” referring to Joel Meyerowitz’s photographs of the World Trade Center wreckage as a paradigmatic example. He refers to these traumatic images as “remnants of activity.” These are images that arrive late on purpose because the rise of motion in our visual economy has forced photography to relinquish certain claims to knowledge dissemination to other forms of media, thus forcing it to negatively redefine itself in terms of its unique capacity to invoke a contemplative return.
In part, Campany’s goal in this piece is to locate the unique function of photography in our increasingly visual-digital culture and how it has (or will) restructured our subjective relationships to memory. He writes, “The structure of memory is in large measure culturally determined by the means of representation at our disposal. As our image world shifts in character, so do our conditions of remembrance” (187). Continuing, Campany claims that the new position of late photography is less a reaffirmation of a photographic’s affinity with remembrance than a “nostalgic wish that it still has such power.”
In many ways, Campany’s essay reveals how the photograph's search for the thing (the objet petit a) that is missing is the search for photography itself, which is always a position in a constellation of competing media.I think Campany’s essay is instructing me to discover the new role of photography by returning to those sites of wreckage that are passed over every fifteen minutes or so in the media blitzkrieg of instant access and take some late photographs.