My initial response to essential articles on photography (such as Benjamin, Santag, Barthes, etc) that had been written almost half a century ago is to re-evaluate them based on the current condition of photography (I prefer not to use the ambiguous term of contemporary). Not to simply reject them, but to point out the differences and to understand the underlying meanings of taking/making a photograph today. From this perspective, I would like to discuss two ideas in the Bazin’s texts supposed as ontological traits of photography and to suggest that the medium is now somehow liberated form these two presumedly innate qualities of it.
from the moments of its advent till now, the consequences of photography’s invention on painting had been exhausted by artists, critics and philosophers. Photography liberated the painting from the act of objective representing, allow it to take a look back into itself, to devote itself to its “modernist” essence. As Jan Francois Lyotard put it into words : “[to] present the unpresentable”. However, the objectiveness of photography, its’ spiritual bond with the Reality, the myth of capturing and saving a moment from the flow of time, from its death, is no more important. Not that it was true and now it has been falsified. The relationship between Reality and photography bear interest no more.
the crisis in this relation can be seen from each side. At one hand, postmodernist thinkers alerted that the Reality is not existing anymore. Photography and other lens-based media, image in general, swallowed it. Images no more refer a world out there, but to their own hyperreality. References without referents: Simulacra. On the other hand, the digital revolution fundamentally changes the ways photographs are produced, distributed and consumed. The photograph is no more consist of continuous grains of silver but discrete arrays of pixels which can be manipulated in an indefinite ways much easier than its analogue predecessor. The goal is no more to reach a representation exactly as the real one. Also, the product is no more an object belongs the same reality anymore. It is even possible to ask if a digital file is an object anymore?
The Photographic image is the object itself, the object freed from the conditions of time and space that govern it.
From this standpoint, it is possible to argue that photography is now freed from the task of representation, in a same vain that painting liberated more than a century ago. The new tendency toward abstraction in nowadays photography can be explained by this approach. Also it can be said that the photographic paper, the sensitive material that had to bear the weight of reality is also liberated from it. When the images lives in the digital world, the artist can explore the possibilites of a light sensitive material without worrying about reality. There is no wonder that the recent trend of abstraction is tied to the idea of exploration of the photographic material.
Still, we should not carelessly cry out the end of photography. In the last two decades of digital technology we have been observing the mutable nature of photography. Photography can still be a representation of one of the many realities. (Though there is many realities, there is no alternative facts). However, This representation is no more valid than a painting, or a video game. The documentary aspect of photography and its’ objectiveness can no more supersede the “conditions of the time and space that govern it”.
-P.S : The second part will be on the relationship between photography and death.