Cadava, Eduardo. ‘Mortification’ Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History (Chichester: Princeton University Press, 1997) 7-11


The incunabula of photography – its beginnings, its childhood, but also its burial place, its funereal plot its relation to printing and inscription flashes the truth of the photo. This truth says, if it can say anything, that what structures the relationship between the photographic image and nay particular referent, between the photograph and the photographed, is an absence of relation, what Benjamin calls […] ‘ a salutary estrangement between man and his surroundings’.

Rather  than reproducing, faithfully and perfectly, the photographed as such, the photographic image conjures up its death.


Reading against the grain of a certain faith in the mimetic capacity of photography, the photographic event reproduces, according to its own faithful and rigorous deathbringing manner, the posthumous character of our lived experience.


The experience of our relation to memory, of our relation to the process of memorialisation, is not at all accidental: nothing is more characteristic. We appear to ourselves only in this bereaved allegory, even before the moment of our death.

Subjects of photography, seized by the camera, we are mortified – that is, objectified, “thingified”, imaged.

We need only know that we are mortal – the photogrpah tells us we will die, one day we will no longer be here, or rather, we will only be here the way we have always been here, as images. It announces the death of the photographed.


[‘Man withdraws from the photographed image’] The withdrawal to which Benjamin refers here is not an empirical withdrawal, but rather a withdrawal that is fundamental to the temporal structure of the photograph. There can be no photographed without the withdrawal of what has been photographed.

A small funerary monument, the photograph is a grave for the living dead. It tells their history – a history of ghosts and shadows – and it does so because it is this history.

As its own grave, the photograph is what exceeds the photograph within the photograph. It is what remains of what passes into history. It turns in on itself in order to survive, in order to withdraw into a space in which it might defer its decay, into an interior – the closed off space of writing itself.


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