The photograph and les temps


Lomax, Yve. ‘The photograph and les temps‘ Writing the Image (London: I.B.Tauris, 2000) 121-134


A body can be anything – an animal, an idea, a body of sounds, a mountain, a liguistic corpus, a child, a photographic body of images or a wind. A body, we might say, is never separable from its relations with the world.

It is the affects that bodies have upon one another which come to constitute the photographic image or indeed make the child. It is the relations entered into which come to define a body.

[…] have our Western bodies become so accustomed to following a single linear time that to intuit a multitemporality seems a little difficult? Yet as our bodies enter into different relations and changing contexts, perhaps it is not so difficult to accept that a body is of all times.


[refers to Barthes’s and other writer’s ideas that a photograph freezes time]

It seems to me that we have become fixed upon fixing the photograph as a segment of frozen time.

The idea that the photograph is a segment of immobilized time seems to  exhibit all signs of an idee fixe.

An idee fixe is by definiton an idea which has become fixed, immovable; by definition there is no movement or warmth towards other ideas.  There is no thinking that things could be otherwise..

What sort of touch makes a fixed idea warm to other ideas? I don’t have an exact idea of what the requisite touch would be; like a love that comes upon one when least expected, perhaps it is all a matter of being taken by surprise.


I had been considering the idea that any single photographic image has the potential to priduce a diversity of effects, that more than one story/time can be told. Sometimes a laughter effect. Sometimes an economic story…

I began thinking that with any still photographic image there isn’t just one time, on the contrary there is a plurality of times, not all of which are happy to consort with each other. The picture was becoming more turbulent than I had expected. Different cultural times. Different social practices of time. Different models and images were competing with each other. Circles. Lines. Spirals. Jewish time. Christian time. Islamic time. Capitalism’s time. Animal times. Clockwise time. Asking ‘what is the time?’ suddenly took a different slant. What conception of time has imposed itself as the one and only time, the correct time, by subbordinating and negating other times.


Questioning the idea that the photograph immobilizes time, and equally concerned to ask if one conception of time imposes itself as the only one, I began to consider the idea that time flows.


[discussion of changing understanding of time since Ancient Greeks]


It may well be said that it is a Western myth that time flows the same, universally. Yet would we agree that such a myth is purely innocent? I cannot help but ask if this myth, this deeply ingrained conception of time, has not been part of Western culture’s drive to universalize itself, to make its world view the only world view. To make, that is, its conception of time the one and only time to the detriment of others.

Snap: I may not be able to photograph it all, but the idea of a universal present allows me, for a moment,to envisage the ‘universe as a whole’.

A planet spinning.
A bee humming.
A worm dying.
A human sighing.
I think of these lines and the individuality of their times and I ask myself: could it be that the [Einstein’s] Theories of Relativity took up with the question, is time one or multiple?


[discussion of Michael Tournier’s novel Gemini]


In French, and other languages derived from latin, time and weather are ‘one and the same’.

The very idea of the photograph freezing time may be said to be a myth, yet perhaps this myth recognizes, if only in a glimpsed manner, that the photograph has as many times as les temps of the weather.

[frozen/frost, still moment/still air]


Perhaps it is a myth that time ‘itself’ flows and an illusion that the photograph freezes this flow.


Most certainly, a life time can be divided into points. Yes, one can always proceed in this manner. One can go from point to point and determine from this procedure a succession of distinct segments. Chronology proceeds in this manner, as does often the writing of autobiographies, and the sequences of family snapshots albums.

My life is never at a certain point, and the photographic image is a body which is continually becoming. To speak of points or segments in time is to concede to the language of geometry and to spatialize time. Perhaps, in doing so, we come to miss the time of our lives.


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