The relationship between photography and death has been discussed throughout the history of the medium, most notably in Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes. This connection may seem fundamental and intrinsic, due to the seemingly unbreakable link between photography and reality. A photograph always “present” something, bearing witness to a moment. However, as Roland Barthes proposes, inevitably, this “present” moment already belongs to the past, “That-Has-Been”. So in this presence, there is an implied “absence”. “That-Has-Been”, but not anymore. A photograph is a trace, it confirms both presence and absence of the subject. The absence which is the fundamental result of the passage of Time. Through this absence, photography is related to death, since death is the ultimate and the last one. Photography is both our tool to protect ourselves from death by recording our lives and at the same time, it reminds us the inescapability.
Christian Metz, on his famous article “Photography and Fetish”, explains this connection by the concept of fetish. The fetish, too, means both loss (symbolic castration) and protection against loss. Photography is not just a way to recall memory, to survive it from fading. It is not against death, but works in a same principle. it captures a moment, stills it, shoots it, kills it. It kills a moment in order to save it from its death. It affirms death.
Photography has a third character in common with death: the snapshot, like death, is an instantaneous abduction of the object out of the world into another world, into another kind of time
When taking a photographs, in a moment that we decide to press the shutter, we mourn for the moment we are about to shoot, we looks at it for the last time. instead of experiencing that moment we decide to take a step back and place the camera between the world and ourselves. By distancing ourselves, we already killed that moment, what is recorded is only a shadow of it.
However, what will happen when we don’t take photographs in order to save them, to look at them later. What will happen when we share it instantly and never take a look at it again. When it never became a fetish “object” since it remains virtual forever. In this case, we may wonder if photography is liberated from death.