Cadava, Eduardo. ‘Ghosts’ Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History (Chichester: Princeton University Press, 1997) 11-13


Like an angel of history whose wings register the traces of this disappearance, the image bears witness to an experience that cannot come to light.

Although what the photograph photographs is no longer present or living, its having-been-there now forms part of the referential structure of our relationship to the photograph. Nevertheless, the return of what was once there takes the form of a haunting.

Suggesting that it is from the ghost of Atget that we will be able to make innumerable, poetic prints of Paris, Desnoes [Robert Desnoes, ‘Spectacles of the Street’] here evokes the irreducible relation between life and death that structures the photographic event.


We could even say that the lesson of the photograph for history – what it says about the spectralization of light, about the electrical flashes of remote spirits – is that every attempt to bring the other to the light of day, to keep the other alive, silently presumes that it is mortal, that is is always already touched (or re-touched) by death.


The survival of the photographed is therefore never only the survival of its life, but also of its death. It forms part of the ‘history of how a person lives on, and precisely how this afterlife, with its own history, is embedded in life’. [quoting Benjamin]

In photographing someone, we know that the photograph will survive him – it begins, even during his life, to circulate without him, figuring and anticipating his death each time it is looked at.


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