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If the plastic arts were put under psychoanalysis, the practice of embalming the dead might turn out to be a fundamental factor in their creation.
The process might reveal that at the origin of painting and sculpture there lies a mummy complex. The religion of ancient Egypt, aimed against death, saw survival as depending on the continued existence of the corporeal body. Thus, by providing a defense against the passage of time it satisfied a basic psychological need in man, for death is but the victory of time. To preserve, artificially, his bodily appearance is to snatch it from the flow of time, to stow it away neatly, so to speak, in the hold of life.
It was natural, therefore, to keep up appearances in the face of the reality of death by preserving flesh and bone. In achieving the aims of baroque art, photography has freed the plastic arts from their obsession with likeness. Painting was forced, as it turned out, to offer us illusion and this illusion was reckoned sufficient unto art. Photography and the cinema on the other hand are discoveries that satisfy, once and for all and in its very essence, our obsession with realism. No matter how skillful the painter, his work was always in fee to an inescapable subjectivity.
The fact that a human hand intervened cast a shadow of doubt over the image. Again, the essential factor in the transition from the baroque to photography is not the perfecting of a physical process photography will long remain the inferior of painting in the reproduction of colour ; rather does it lie in a psychological fact, to wit, in completely satisfying our appetite for illusion by a mechanical reproduction in the making of which man plays no part.
The solution is not to be found in the result achieved but in the way of achieving it. So, rather than supplanting painting and sculpture by doing their jobs more effectively, photography took on those aspects which plastic arts could perform less efficiently.
This always precipitates the most common criticisms of Bazin, that he posits film as an objective medium of record, whose truth claims hinge upon a privileged link to reality. It forms this link by having a direct, indexical relationship between image and referent. When the shutter on a camera opens to let light in, the light reflected from the object in front of the lens causes a chemical change in the light-sensitive material of the film itself.
The point for Bazin is that photography and film are distinct as art forms because of their very basis in mechanical processes which take away the element of human activity. On this issue, Bazin has been superseded by decades of critical theory and criticism that have demolished notions of an objective reality that can be represented truthfully. Regardless of the photochemical relationship between the image and the represented object, the image is always selected. It does not give the viewer a window into an extant, continuous reality, but instead offers a limited perspective, around which meanings and inferences will be generated by viewers with varying frames of reference and intertextual knowledge bases.
I may be defeating my own purpose here. That residual belief in an inherent difference between, for instance, live action footage and computer-generated characters might be a holdover from Bazinian ideas of the fundamentally objective ontology of the photographic image. In each case, a sense of engrossing access to a continuous space is generated by the impression that the camera is present to capture, rather than construct, a moment in its entirety. I have been pondering the same issues over the last year because my original work during my MA and PHD studies was about Documentary film and although flawed I still love Bazin.
I think that the indexicality and meaning of the image are still important as far as spectatorship is concerned. We believe in what seem to be photographic images — even when we know that images can be tampered with, altered, or completely created without the idexical chemical process. I am interested in anyone discussing these topics if there is a group out there doing so. Thanks, Heather. In a platonic world it is Forms formulas, ideas, classifications, structures, blueprints that are real whereas specific objects are just instances copies, reproductions, images, impressions of the real.
But for the Stoics there is a functional relationship between an image impression and reality, irregardless of whether we are aware of that relationship or not. A process shot, for example, may appear to an observer to be an impression of a giant ape astride a skyscraper but, in reality, it is no such thing.
It is an impression of what the artists thought that such a thing would look like. There is no functional relationship between Platos Forms and the Stoics Impressions. For the surrealists this something rather than nothing was an example of what they otherwise understood as the unconscious. The machine automaton became important in such. Machines are not capable of consciousness, or rather, the consciousness they are otherwise given eg.
Realism and surrealism are very closely related. The gun in the bushes of Blow Up, represents the unconsciousness of an otherwise conscious fashion photograph. Realism does the same thing would keep the gun but otherwise maintains the fashion codes that are in operation.
While Bazin is probably not someone up on quantum physics, it is nevertheless quantum physics which demonstrates an important disjuncture between the comprehension of a real as prior to an image and the image itself as a reality.
A comprehension takes place in relation to a given image and one may or may not project that comprehension as the cause of the image. Bazin certainly leverages that formula and it is a common understanding or misunderstanding , that the photographic image is an image of that which is understood to have caused the image. But of course that is impossible.
What Bazin is tapping into is what an incredibly weird thing photography is, or does. Trying to characterise this weirdness is very difficult. Not even quantum physicists have worked out how to explain the existence of a photographic image. Nobody does. Not yet anyway. So what chance does Bazin have of explaining it. But he knows there is something there. He gets the difference between photographic images and other types of images. He is that great advocate of the photographic image.
The true believer. While he does invoke some melodramatic flourishes of a destiny in the birth of photography, the various works with which he identifies are not about the construction of self enclosed totalities. The universe starting from scratch again. But what occurs the second time around is not the Lord who taketh away but the mother who giveth. She gives her child to God. In that act she becomes the equal of God.
When these theories are put into practice, as you suggest, they have to flex to take account of all the variations and modes to which filmmakers can apply the apparatus. Bazin, like the Stoic philosophers, does not see any disconnect between an impression eg.
The relationship is one of equivalence. Plato goes further. What is real is the Form the formula. What is an image, on the other hand is the Imaginary.
An instance. In Platos version of the world it is the relationship between things that is real whereas the things themselves are not.
The instances themselves are not real. It is the Form which is real because eternal, universal, infinite, etc. Now Bazin is not interested in the relationship between shots but in the shots themselves. The difficulty we might have with Bazin is treating the equivalence he sees between objects and images as a figure of speech, and the ontological frame of reference as not so.
What is at stake in both camps is not necessarily which is preferable: the Real or the Imaginary. Both prefer the Real. For example, we might say that in reality a mirage is not of water on the horizon, but something that looks like water, due to the refraction of light in very hot air. It refers to the image as of something.
Now interestingly enough, what is signified by a mirage, is actually water. If what we saw was not misleading we would not call it a mirage. So a mirage is simply a misleading image. And in most debates the image, in itself, is not an issue. Rather, it is in what the image signifies that is at issue: for example, water or hot air? Or indeed, whether this should be an issue. But how do we know a mirage is a mirage?
It is, of course, knowledge and context. We learn this from them, or we learn it ourselves, through investigation. The experience is the image. Reality is not given in the image but through a conception. A theoretical position. An idea. From tests we create an idea of reality to which the signified conforms or does not conform. The image itself is not really at issue. This is not in dominant usage but it has historical currency and it is the sense in which Bazin uses the word.
For example, if we see a shimmering on the horizon then this shimmering is an image. We do not need to know yet what it signifies. We can recognise it as an image, but not yet what it signifies.
In the Logic of Sense, Deleuze elaborates a fourth aspect of the proposition which the Stoics first discovered , and that others have rediscovered at different times and epochs. When one indicates something. There is a tree. There is a dog peeing on the tree. The speaker.
“Ontology of the Photographic Image” by André Bazin
First, I showed Sam Marlowe realizing with befuddlement that the shape in the weeds he has been sketching is actually the feet of a corpse. Keeping those clips in my back pocket, so to speak, I next turned to the essay itself. This next bit remained consistent across both times I taught the course. The claims of the opening pages are, for the most part, art-historical: ambitious, to be sure, but still somewhat grounded. The four main movements of his argument I pull out are this:. Bazin goes on to expand on this final claim in the fifth section.
Back to Bazin Part 1: The Ontology of the Photographic Image
I would like to begin by outlining a problem that I hope will resonate with your own experiences of reading Bazin. The central task of my reading is to recover the crucial but generally-neglected distinction outlined in the following quote:. Though the full sense of this connection has yet to be unpacked, as stated it allows me to preview the basic point at which my account will diverge from the standard views of the ontological argument. As Andrew puts it:. For Bazin the situation was clear: either a filmmaker utilizes empirical reality for his personal ends or else he explores empirical reality for its own sake. In the former case the filmmaker is making of empirical reality a series of signs which point to or create an aesthetic or rhetorical truth, perhaps lofty and noble, perhaps prosaic and debased. In the latter case, however, the filmmaker brings us closer to the events filmed by seeking the significance of a scene somewhere within the unadorned tracings it left on the celluloid MFT,
Re-reading Bazin’s Ontological Argument
If the plastic arts were put under psychoanalysis, the practice of embalming the dead might turn out to be a fundamental factor in their creation. The process might reveal that at the origin of painting and sculpture there lies a mummy complex. The religion of ancient Egypt, aimed against death, saw survival as depending on the continued existence of the corporeal body. Thus, by providing a defense against the passage of time it satisfied a basic psychological need in man, for death is but the victory of time.
Though his ideas have been foundational, they still offer room for reflection and debate. The image, then, lets us remember the subject in a certain context: how either we or the subject would want to be remembered. What photography does do that painting cannot is create an exact mechanical reproduction of three dimensional space that does not rely on an artificial creation of perspective. Though the photograph is subject to many an artistic decision framing, angle, etc.