In Our Image

29Sep11

Morris, Wright. ‘In Our Image’ Time Pieces: Writing, Photography and Memory (London: Aperture, 1999) 1-10

[Originally published in The Massachusetts Review, Winter 1978]

p.4

The multifaceted aspect of reality has been commonplace since cubism, but we continue to see what we will, rather than what is there. Image making is our preference for what we imagine, to what is there to be seen.

With the camera’s inception an imitation of life never before achieved was possible.

In the decade the daguerrotype achieved its limited perfection, its uniqueness rendered it obsolete, just as more than a century later this singularity would enhance its value on the market.

[…] it is possible that daguerrotype uniqueness might return to photographic practice and evaluation. This counterproduction esthetic has its rise in the dilemma of overproduction.

p.5

What does it profit the photograph to be accepted as a work of art? Does this dubious elevation in market value enhance or diminish what is intrinsically photographic? There is little that is new in this practice but much that is alien to photography. The photographer, not the photograph, becomes the collectible.

p.6

The ever-expanding industry of critical dissertations has already put its interest in literature behind it and now largely feeds on criticism.

[Criticism] imposes a misleading order and coherence on the creative disorder of image-making.

Is it merely ironic that the rise of photography to the status of art comes at a time when the status of art is in question? Is it too late to ask what photographs have to gain from this distinction? On those occasions they stir and enlarge our emotions, arousing us in a manner that exceeds our grasp, it is as photographs. Do we register a gain, or a loss, when the photographer displaces the photograph, the shock of recognition giving way to the exercise of taste.

In the anonymous photograph, the loss of of the photographer often proves to be a gain. We see only the photograph.

p.7

These photographs clarify what is uniquely and intrinsically photographic. The visible captured. Time arrested. Through a slit in time’s veil we see what has vanished. An unearthly, mind-boggling sensation: commonplace yet fabulous. The photograph is paramount. The photographer subordinate.

p.8

At this moment in photography’s brief history, the emergence and inflation of the photographer appears to be at the expense of the photograph, of the miraculous.

If there is a common photographic dilemma, it lies in the fact that so much has been seen, so much has been “taken,” there appears to be less to find. The visible world, vast as it is, through overexposure has been devalued.

The photographer feels he or she must search for, or invent, what was once obvious.

p.9

Renewed interest in the snapshot, however nondescript, indicates our awareness that the camera, in itself, is a picture maker. The numberless snapshots in existence, and the millions still to be taken, will emerge as art objects. But it can be safely predicted that many will prove to be “collectibles.”

p.10

The moving picture, we know, is a trick that is played on our limited responses, and the refinement of the apparatus will continue to outdistance our faculties. Perhaps no faculty is more easily duped than that of sight.

If we were to choose a photographer to have been at Golgotha, or walking the streets of Rome during the sacking, who would it have been? […] For that moment of history, or any other, I would personally prefer that the photograph was stamped Photographer Unknown. This would assure me, rightly or wrongly, that I was seeing a fragment of life, a moment of time, as it was. The photographer who has no hand to hide will conceal it with the least difficulty. Rather than admiration for work well done, I will feel the awe of revelation. The lost found, the irretrievable retrieved.

Or do I sometimes feel that image proliferation has restored the value of the nonimage? Perhaps we prefer Golgotha as it is, a construct of numberless fictions, filtered and assembled to form the uniquely original image that develops in the darkroom of each mind.

Images proliferate. Am I wrong in being reminded of the printing of money in a period of wild inflation? Do we know what we are doing? Are we able to evaluate what we have done?

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