Cadava, Eduardo. ‘Origins’ Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History (Chichester: Princeton University Press, 1997) 5-7


Photography prevents us from knowing what an image is and whether we even see one. It is no accident that Benjamin’s 1931 essay ‘A Short History of Photography’ begins not with a sudden clarity that grants knowledge security, but rather with an evocation of the ‘fog’ that he claims surrounds the beginnings of photography – a fog that, although not so thick as the one that shrouds the early days of printing, nevertheless serves as an obstacle to both knowledge and vision.


This inaugural haze, this luminous mist – a figure Benjamin often uses to allegorize the atmosphere within which memory works – covers nothing that we might understand or encounter in memory. Immediately different from itself, always taking another form, the fog spreads its mist throughout the essay, and in so doing interrupts the dream of knowing and seeing that structures the history of photography, that informs the desire of the photographic event – even before it begins.

If a fog encircles the childhood of photography […] it is in part because, as in the experience of the photograph, it is as if we cannot see a thing.

In the twilight zone between seeing and not seeing, we fail to get the picture.


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