‘Photo Graphy’ is Latin for’ writing with light’. A process of drawing with light in an act of ‘enlightenment’ in a camera obscura – a dark room. I like to connect this to the European idea of Enlightenment which was also seen to be bringing light into the dark corners of the world- as the great European Civilizing Mission..
The concept of a godlike Enlightenment promised to give the world modernity and progress in the form of Reason, an objective and superior science, universal human rights, democracy, morality and a superior humanistic Law. And an autonomous Art, cut off from its religious roots and cultural connections, as a matter of just better taste and style. A purer art for art’s sake. Art.
All seen and sold as the products of a progressive, Western Mind. A mind that ignored the fact that the roots of these ideas and its own progress lay in some of the lands they were trying to ‘civilize’.
If what was promised was Progress with superior ‘human’ laws and Democracy what we were given was colonialism.. Colonialism that used the idea of ‘progress’ and ‘modernity’ to obtain from us, the colonized, our consent to be ruled. We were seen and defined as the lesser “other’ in need of and asking for, ‘civilization’. A Modernism that successfully hollowed out our cultures even as it haloed its own forms.
Photography was a major player in the Colonial Project. A project which used the credibility and veracity of the photographic image -its realism – to create and sell the idea of the white mans’ civilise-the-world burden.
Realism was a weapon for the colonial powers who used it to produce their version of the reality of the lesser ‘Other’. An ‘Other’ constructed and fabricated to substantiate a superior ‘self’.
The Orient was seen/shown as underdeveloped world, not able to represent itself . It had to be represented and shown as a homogeneous anonymous mass. Not populated by individuals or sometimes even humans.
The realist discourse of photography believes that photographs capture the world as it is. As scientific, empirical knowledge. It is the Camera’s mechanical nature, which is supposed to give us the unchallenged, unassailable ‘reality’ of photography. It presents us with the image of photography as a mechanized form of perception. The idea of Photography as mechanical reproduction that forms the image of the world without the intervention of human creativity is supposed to present us with a world ‘drawn by its own pencil’ – The Pencil of Nature. A Pencil that cannot have personal biases and political agendas.
The camera then, is thought to reveal not just the essence – the rasa of the objects it depicts but the reality of what it ‘captures’ shoots, snaps and shows.
Reality and image, though, are separate and only combined by the mind. It is the mind that through interpretation and analysis moves indeterminate perception, a surface glance, into determinate knowledge.
And it is the light bouncing off a surface that makes a photograph. Photographs, then, are indeterminate inscriptions, delusionary descriptions of surfaces. Avidya? Maya!
Shankara , I read, holds phenomenal existence as beyond description for it is neither real not unreal.
The collapse of the Berlin wall marked, as Francis Fukoyama put it, ‘The End of History”. The end of any multiple truths, multiple histories, multiple economies and pluralistic points of view. It marked the beginning of a Super power point of view of the world. One super power. One world image -the official American one. A Super Power point of view of the world that has brought us a system intent on fabricating and pushing pseudo realities. Manufactured, mediated realities that are’ constructed not reflected by the ‘mirror with a memory” or mechanically manufactured and revealed reality.
Photography these days is formed/informed by the manipulative methods of those in power. Realism is a weapon of control for powers elites pushing their version of reality.
Governments and media corporations are run by ‘information warriors’, spin doctors and perception managers like the Republican pollster Frank Luntz who realize the value of photography. “Americans like a good picture, he said before the beginning of the Gulf war,” and one photograph of an Iraqi child kissing an American soldier is more powerful than two months of debate on the floor of Congress”.
Photography around the world is considered to be an American Art form and the America we know is built by photography. The US is a nation made by its Hollywood movies and T V industry. Media that have taught the world to prefer pictures to facts. From a society that saw photography as a social catalyst for change a la Jacob Riis & Lewis Hine, it has become a nation that now sees it as a system of fabricating pseudo realities. Especially after 9/11.
Sept 11, 2001 was about the creation of a instant history. A collective history that filled the world with unforgettable, iconic images that successfully sold us a simplistic world view Them and Us. Of Good against Evil.
Photographs capture and make memories. Memories which easily become material hard to deny history in individual/collective thought which feeds notions of identity. As a desired and imagined self.
Advertising as avidya.
AVIDYA CREATES DESIRE, FEEDS EGO, ENGENDERS A FALSE SENSE OF SEPARATENESS FROM OTHER BEINGS AND THINGS.
Mass advertising has become a site of representational politics.
Advertising is a cultural mapping. It creates a cultural landscape of needs and desires. It constructs identity- the I as a conscious consumer. Looking for social standing . status. Consumerism is seen as liberation. Creation of a culture of distraction that captivates audiences by distracting from reality. Creating a reality that will shape lives . replace resistance with complacency.
Realism lies at the heart of propaganda and Advertising.
Like propaganda is the art of wrapping the truth in imagination . it is a seduction. A two dimensional reality- manufactured consumer reality that again relies on the reality of the camera image.
Creating informational economies with fluid boundaries of domination.
Thru strategies that alienate, anonymize people – atomizing society by creating pseudo selves in pseudo communities.
Image as tool of persuasion. media constructed pictures in their heads contribute to their understanding of reality. A Mediated Manufactured reality.
Globalised advertising Images have invaded all our spaces. Our public spaces and even our architecture seems to exist as supports for them… culture has been reconsitituted by commerce – as commerce.
We want to be individuals but don’t question the world of Advertising when what is called for is independent thinking. Exploration, invention.
An oppositional post modernism of resistance, reaction, counter interference. a critique of official representations.
Alternative uses of photography. a recovery of other histories of photography.
Creating and preserving an anti archive.
“By reducing all social issues to matters of perception , it is on the perceptual level that social issues are addressed instead of social change there is image change” – Stuart Ewen.
We need a Seeing that is not paternalistic and does not pre-empt others rights/fights to scrutinize protect recall, forget or EXPLOIT THEIR OWN PAST AS THEY THEMSELVES SEE FIT.
Perception that is deep intuitive knowledge, wisdom that is not personal wisdom but wisdom that belongs to the universe. A higher, extraordinary yogic knowledge of yogic intuition that apprehends reality as it is –in its fullness, harmony. And is brought about through psychic means by the transcending of mind processes and perception of subtle thus ness of an object.
What would a documentary photographer have to do with all these esoteric ideas from the past. ——– you may wonder.
I did too until I read about Zen. Its connection to archery for example. About zens roots in dhyan. And realized in practice that photography is a medium particularly suited to such an exploration.
One can control every element in a picture. Arrange what is before the camera and compose what is in the frames very carefully and find that the pictures may become great illustrations for the advertising world or even pictorially perfect that follow all the rules about horizons on thirds etc. but find that they lack a certain magic. The magic of a moment that seems to present itself. Reveals a world that is beyond the limits of a conscious controlling mind.
EXISTENTIAL REALITY OF SUFFERING IS THE STARTING POINT OF THE SEARCH FOR KNOWLEDGE. KNOWLEDGE INDEXED TO SALVATION.
THE KNOWLEDGE INDUSTRY IS CREATING INFORMATIONAL ECONOMIES WITH COMPLETELY FLUID BOUNDARIES OF DOMINATION.