From Today, Cinema is Dead


“From Today, Cinema is Dead”

Dai Vaughan

in For Documentary: Twelve Essays. By Dai Vaughan, University of California Press, London, 1999.


The point of photography is not that it mimics definitively the experience of seeing an object, but that its relation to that object is a necessary rather than contingent one.


The visual idiom of the photograph reassures us not only that it is a nonarbitrary transformation of the thing represented but, more fundamentally, that an object of which this is a representation must have existed in the first place.


The likeness guaranteed by photography is more ontological than iconic. [comparing paintings and photographs]


[on manipulated photographs] There is no point in tampering with the facts unless people are going to assume – in spite of their well-founded suspicions – that you haven’t.


What concerns me is that we shall wake up one day and find that the assumption of a privileged relation between a photograph and its object, an assumption which has held good for 150 years and on which ciné-actuality is founded, will have ceased to be operative.


A photographic idiom will continue to exist, and will perhaps for a long time retain a residual connotation of photochemical process. Scientists and the agencies of surveillance will continue to use photography, knowing – as with infrared and other exotic data – precisely the nature of the information it encodes. But for most people, and in most cultural contexts, a kind of fog, a flux, will have intruded between the image and our assumptions about its origins.


A sense of the effort and impediment of the represented world is one thing lost when we cease to see the world as necessary to its representation.


In spite of constant attempts to accommodate or recruit it, cinema has always represented an impediment to the word of authority by virtue of its ultimate appeal to something prior to that word.


It is surely not fortuitous that the age of the chemical photograph has broadly coincided with that of mass democratic challenges to entrenched power.