Judgement Day


Agamben, Giorgio. ‘Judgement Day’ Profanations translated by Jeff Fort (New York: Zone Books, 2010) 23-27


What quality fascinates and entrances me in the photographs I love? I believe it is this: for me, photography in some way captures the Last Judgement; it represents the world as it appears on the last day. the Day of Wrath.


[Agamben discusses the daguerreotype Boulevard du Temple the first photograph with a human figure.]


I believe there is a secret relationship between gesture and photography. The power of the gesture to summon and sum up entire orders of angelic powers resides in the photographic lens and has its locus, its opportune moment, in photography.


But there is another aspect of the photographs I love that I am compelled to mention. It has to do with a certain exigency: the subject shown in the photo demands something from us. The concept of exigency is particularly important and must not be confused with factual necessity. Even if the person photographed is completely forgotten today, even if his or her name has been erased forever from human memory – or, indeed, precisely because of this – that person and that face demand their name; they demand not to be forgotten.


Benjamin must have had something like this in mind when, referring to the photographs of David Octavius Hill, he wrote that the image of the fishwife gives rise to an exigency, a demand for the name of that woman who was once alive.

It is partly because they could not bear this mute apostrophe that the viewers of the first daguerreotypes had to turn away – they felt they were being watched by the people portrayed.

Dondero once expressed reservations about two photographers he admired; Henri Cartier-Bresson and Sebastiao Sagado. In the first he saw an excess of aesthetic perfection. He opposed both of them with his own conception of the human face as a story to be told or a geography to be explored.

I feel the same way: the photographic exigency that interpellates us has nothing aesthetic about it. It is, rather, a demand for attention.

The photograph is always more than an image: it is the site of a gap, a sublime breach between the sensible and the intelligible, between copy and reality, between a memory and a hope.


[To Proust] On the back of the photograph, Auber wrote, by way of dedication (and in English): Look at my face: my name is Might Have Been; I am also called No More, Too Late, Farewell. A pretentious dedication, certainly, but it perfectly expresses the exigency that animates every photograph and grasps the real that is always in the process of being lost, in order to render it possible once again.

Photography demands that we remember all this, and photographs testify to all those lost names, like a Book of Life that the new angel of the apocalypse – the angel of photography – holds in his hands at the end of all days, that is, every day.

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