Monday, April 14, 2014

The Temporal Dialectics of Photographic Viewing

An idea that I located in several different places could be reduced to the instruction: “create a photo that initiates a temporal tension between the past and the present.” To clarify this point a little and provide some dialectically fruitful disparities, I will list a few of the places from The Cinematic that seem to orbit around this larger point.

The essay which explores this concept most explicitly is Thierry de Duve’s “Time Exposure and Snapshot: The Photograph as Paradox” in which de Duve inverts Barthes description of photographic time as the juxtaposition “the here and the formerly” to the “now and there.” While Barthes’s conceives the present of the photograph (here) as spatial and its past (formerly) as temporal, de Duve merely inverts this description in order to emphasize the temporality of the photograph's present (now) and the spatiality of its past (there).

I think the important thing to remember about this parsing of the experience of photographic temporality is that neither de Duve nor Barthes are interested in an imposition of analytical dissection onto phenomenological continuity but are rather focused on displaying the generative conceptual capacity of image logic in reformulating our relationship to time.

In addition, the image itself functions as the material means of reformulating this relationship. Although it is important to describe how images do this, the unique trauma of photography allows the viewer to be intuitively saturated into this relationship and inhabit the ontological dimension of time that language cannot reach in the same way. This is what de Duve describes as the difference between “reading” an image and “relating” to an image.

I’m not sure if this is the image of the soldier to which de Duve refers, but I think it works as one example of the kind of “paradoxical conjunction” of a past that has already/never will happen. Perhaps a specific instruction from de Duve on this point would be to create an image that brings you to the point of action and then stalls, allowing the imagination’s invocatory nature to carry you into the here and now of the present only to have the image pull you back to the precipice from which you threw herself. This is the “unresolved oscillation” of viewing experience (60).

Another good instruction on this point comes from Susan Gaensheimer in her description of the dialectical struggle between narrative and image in Bill Viola’s slow motion film The Greeting. The time in this film is slowed to the point that the viewer is caught in an internal struggle between viewing sequences of single shots and the complete action of the piece. Although it might be technically difficult, it would make for an interesting felt to create a film such as Viola’s which is designed for slow motion viewing. Gaensheimer writes that Viola filmed The Greeting at 300 fps in order to “produce extreme slow motion and at the same time maintain the pristine pictorial quality of a film made at the normal speed of 24 fps” (70-71).

Finally, Raymon Bellour writes in his essay "The Pensive Spectator" that when a photograph is present within a film "two kinds of time blend together, always and inextricable, but without becoming confused" (123).

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