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addressed to an alternative future

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Cited at If:book, John Berger on the photograph:

[Susan Sontag’s] theory of the current use of photographs leads one to ask whether photography might serve a different function. Is there an alternative photographic practice? The question should not be answered naively. Today no alternative professional practice (if one thinks of the profession of photographer) is possible. The system can accommodate any photograph. Yet it may be possible to begin to use photographs according to a practice addressed to an alternative future.

. . . . For the photographer this means thinking of her or himself not so much as a reporter to the rest of the world but, rather, as a recorder for those involved in the events photographed. The distinction is crucial.

Berger’s riffing on Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” looks like. Not sure if I go along with the rest of the post on If:book, where the writer proceeds to apply Berger’s formulation to the sumptuous meals he eats at his summer retreat on Sardinia (pretty sure that’s not the sort of photography that JB was thinking of) nor of the final turn toward the consideration of flickr. But the distinction does seem to be crucial, if a bit opaque. It has to mean something more than a change in the direction of sympathies, as sympathetic images are no less adaptable to the reign of spectacle than unsympathetic ones. (“The production of images also furnishes a ruling ideology. Social change is replaced by a change in images.”)

Written by adswithoutproducts

July 21, 2006 at 10:57 pm

One Response

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  1. I wrote this in response the if:book post. Not sure it gets through, so may as well reproduce here, I guess.

    It’s an interesting question about flickr. I’m unconcinved that Sontag would have liked it very much, as predisposed to capitalist triumphalism and appropriation as it is. But there is no doubt our way of seeing images is changing, not least of all with the building of actual context and substance (albeit of a new sort, neither pure surface pleasure nor ponderous depth) almost inevitably, more or less. [Agamben comes to mind]

    Flickr seems to me a very consumer-driven, capitalist enterprise, in a practical (and profitable, primarily expansionist) form. And as opposed, say, to a site with a perhaps more ‘ethical’, orienting concept, like Found Photos, where a more powerful silence seems to be at work (recalling that this, too–silence–is an important theme for both Sontag and Berger).

    You might be interested in an earlier post I wrote on this very essay, here.

    Well, that was my stunning comment.


    August 1, 2006 at 10:35 pm

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