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e-flux conversations

The Silence of the Lens

Photography is currently undergoing the sort of transformation that music went through roughly fifteen years ago. This transition was a major shift for musicians but was generally considered positive by the listeners. For those young photographers keen on knowing how their profession will evolve, I would suggest they look at the music industry of today, fifteen years later, to get a glimpse of the changes to come.

In the short term, these changes may seem merely technical: simply a strange melting together of image-making and image-seeing, of production and perception. It will be sometime before this process will be complete, if it ever is. Then there will be a disappearance of photography as we know it. Instead of choosing how we want to see the world, we will see the world the way it wants to be seen by us. There will be a perfect equivalence between our gaze onto the world and the signals emanating from it, with no gap between the two where we might locate definitively the specificity of our own contribution. The emancipatory, modern, human point of view—which includes lovers of contingency and the mythical magic of photography—will hate this terminus, because it so resembles what we understand to be utter and total madness. The problem, as we will see, is that it is in the nature of the phenomenon that the subject cannot possibly know when this moment has arrived.

I first started noticing this strange condition on the horizon five years ago when I started an intense practice working in pictorial 3-D animation. I spent fifteen years of my early life as a draughtsman and lithographer—I will leave painting out of this. My second interest in life was photography, a phenomenon without which the more traditional forms of art today would not be practiced. Photography saved magic in modernity, and thereby probably saved modernity as a whole.

Vilém Flusser explains that those moments in history when the balance between representation and linear thinking gets disturbed are moments of great danger. Especially when the varieties of linear thinking, like linear writing or the production of history, weigh heavier in the balance. Such a moment occurred during modernity. I understand from Flusser that photography and its apparatus allowed for a semi-automated production of contingency, and magic, prohibiting and preventing radical, fundamentalist ideas from maturing unchecked. The magic of photography produces a possibility of another, uncontrollable situation, restoring the nevertheless explosive balance between representation and linear thinking.

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