Representing the ineffable; or, the photograph as haecceity

Yet again. Still. Continuing a line… I seem to be stuck in this photographic line that will inform a key argument in my dissertation topic. Going into the dissertation, I knew that photography would be important to the topic. I mean, Google Street View is a veritable photographic plane. Within the last month or so, however, I’ve come to realize how important the history of the photographic discourse will be in relation to not only an organization of user practices, but also the conceptual framework in which to locate my own critical voice. Previously, I was trying to give the uses of GSV adequate attention, and I found that my voice got in the way. But keeping it out seemed like too much ‘reportage’. And while I appreciate Latour’s work and what it has to offer, I think I was too close to ‘letting the actors speak’, part of a larger problem of Methods. I still think it’s important, but I found myself sitting in front of pages and pages of text saying, ‘so?’, and unable to write anymore.

I think it was an article by Sekula that I happened to come across, along the line of ‘invention of photographic meaning’. I don’t know why I was reading it, but it was in a collection of essays in a book that needed to go back to the library. I was already thinking about the concepts that were being challenged by using GSV, the truth claims of the photograph, conducting research based on the photograph, who was the artist in the artistic uses of GSV, etc. Since I was already familiar with the history of photography, I knew that there has been persistent discussion of the veracity of the photograph, as well as its uncertain status as a ‘fine art’. So when I ran across this essay by Sekula- suddenly everything started to fall into place and how the user practices could be organized along the documentation line and the fine art line.

But then. What really helped things fall into place was recalling one of the dominant points of What is Philosophy, and the importance of the philosophical, scientific and artistic planes. Each discipline has its own unique plane and concepts, but each inform the other planes in different ways. The result is not a hybrid, of course, but rather points of intersection in which each of the planes takes up the problem in different ways. Both the scientific and artistic plane has taken up the problem of GSV in its own unique way. My project thus takes up the problem on the philosophic plane. In true fashion, this problem has no solution. Solutions can be found of course, but what fun would that be, and what would that say about the question posed?

Of course, I started this post thinking I would talk about a quote by Strand, in which he describes Stieglitz’s photographs, and his description has remarkable resonances with Deleuze’s articulation of pure difference, or the haecceity. But the problem: the photograph is a representation of that moment, not the moment itself. So instead, I’ll bookmark this thought and elaborate in part 2.

Down with doxa!

Continuing the historical journey of early photographic discourse, I’ve happened upon another gem which oozes with Deleuze’s (sorry- couldn’t resist…) thinking in chapter 3, “Image of Thought” in Difference and Repetition. I’ll not go into the details of D’s railing against common sense and good sense, presuppositions, representation and recognition, etc. Instead, I’ll just give a  few snippets of an article, “Hints on Art,” by Peter Henry Emerson. Writing in the 1880’s, Emerson was a strong proponent for photography as an art form- in a multiplicity of styles. He established himself both as a photographer and a writer, and often judged photographic exhibitions, quietly and subversively shifting the photographic plane.

“Never compete for prizes for ‘set subjects,’ for work of this kind leads to working from preconceived ideas, and therefore to conventionality, false sentiment, and vulgarity.”

“Remember that the original state of the minds of the uneducated men is vulgar, you now know why vulgar and commonplace works please the majority. Therefore, educate your mind, and fight the hydra-headed monster – vulgarity. Seize on any aspect of nature that pleases you and try and interpret it, and ignore – as nature ignores – all childish rules, such as that the lens should work only when the sun shines or when no wind blows.”

“Do not call yourself an ‘artist-photographer’ and make ‘artist-painters’ and ‘artist-sculptors’ laugh; call yourself a photographer and wait for artists to call you brother.”
“Pay no heed to the average photographer’s remarks upon ‘flat’ and ‘weak’ negatives. Probably he is flat, weak, stale and unprofitable; your negative may be first-rate, and probably his if he does not approve of it.”

of course, Deleuze would seize on Emerson’s own dogmatic image of thought that he puts forward, so eager to label, to identify, with a medium and presupposed attendant ontology and ideology; eager to dismiss the poor sense of the average public, so knowledgeable and superior in his own good sense of aesthetic judgement.