Wednesday, August 20, 2008

this optical unconscious





"immerse yourself in such a picture long enough and you will realize to what extent opposites touch, here too: the most precise technology can give its products a magical value, such as a painted picture can never again have for us. no matter how artful the photographer, no matter how carefully posed his subject, the beholder feels an irresistible urge to search such a picture for the tiny spark of contingency, of the hear and now, with which reality has (so to speak) seared the subject, to find the inconspicuous spot where in the immediacy of that long-forgotten moment the future nests so eloquently that we, looking back, may rediscover it. for it is another nature which speaks to the camera rather than to the eye: "other" above all in the sense that a space informed by human consciousness gives way to a space informed by the unconscious. whereas it is a commonplace that, for example, we have some idea what is involved in the act of walking (if only in general terms), we have no idea at all what happens during the fraction of a second when a person actually takes a step. photography, with its devices of slow motion and enlargement, reveals the secret. it is through photography that we first discover the existence of this optical unconscious, just as we discover the instinctual unconscious through psychoanalysis. details of structure, cellular tissue, which with technology and medicine are normally concerned - all this is, in its origins, more native to the camera than the atmospheric landscape or the soulful portrait. yet at the same time, photography reveals in this material physiognomic aspects, image worlds, which dwell in the smallest things - meaningful yet covert enough to find a hiding place in waking dreams, but which, enlarged and capable of formulation, make the difference between technology and magic visible as a thoroughly historical variable."

walter benjamin, little history of photography, 1931

image: cabinet photo circa 1890 of a bridge being built, and enlarged details...

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