*a quasi-essay on meaning and photography.
When everything is taken away, nothing is left. That is false. ~J. Baudrillard
Something has disappeared and most of us aren’t aware of it. How come? because it’s now fully occupied with the substitutes or in Baudrillard’s term, the remainder, the simulacrum. So densely populated that we’re not even aware that the thing has already disappeared. As enigmatic as it may sound, the integrity of image as a representation of reality is going through a serious deficiency. We’re all suffering (consciously or not) from a crisis of meaning caused by the pervasive repressive influence of technology in this Information Age, when for instance, advertisement no longer becomes the medium of communicaton but the message, where the question towards advertisement’s credibility is no longer on everyone’s mind but how the ad represents itself is what counts. The experts know best that the clever technique is not to sell goods through advertisements but rather to sell the ad, you are no longer expected to create an ad that draws attention to your product, indeed the masses are drawn to their own prestige with a silent promise of solidity by owning a certain product or using a certain service that you sell. Nothing matters more than appearance.
There is no more hope for meaning. And without a doubt this is a good thing: meaning is mortal. But that on which it has imposed its ephemeral reign, what it hoped to liquidate in order to impose the reign of the Enlightenment, that is, appearances, they, are immortal, invulnerable to the nihilism of meaning or of non-meaning itself. This is where seduction begins.
Images. Everywhere you look, images are devouring meanings and the masses.
The point is I’m heavily concerned in trying to cope with my personal crisis of meaning in the small corner of my self-indulgence: taking pictures using a digital camera. I’m torn between a permanent helpless dependence and a silent disgust at the snazzy equipment.
Baudrillard divides the four successive phases of the image:
it is the reflection of a profound reality
it masks and denatures a profound reality
it masks the absence of a profound reality
it has no relation to any reality whatsoever; it is its own pure simulacrum.
Owing to computer technology, being given the ability to manipulate, we all would choose to do so. Photo manipulation is expected to mask and denature a profound reality, and at the same time it masks the absence of reality (Basically, the act of photography alone is to annihilate the object). I’ll try to simplify this:
A horse is photographed. The digital image of the horse is photoshopped or given a touch of Instagram in such a way that the image no longer bears any relation to reality whatsoever, it has become pure simulacrum. As the eyes tend to rather submit to what’s enticing, people would normally be pleased by the image of the horse better than the real because the processed image’s color has been enhanced and sharpened (in short, manipulated) to please the eyes. Next, even without being edited at all, the image of the horse can easily be copied in a single click creating the exact copy in size and each single details of bytes, just like how a clone derives from a single cell of each part of the human’s body. Now the image of the horse is multiple without one of them being the original one, they are now simulacra. The real has been murdered so that the new image contains no reference at all to it, for “these images were in essence not images, such as an original model would have made them, but perfect simulacra, forever radiant with their own fascination.”
The horse that I pass by doesn’t fascinate me as much as the image of the horse does. Deep in our hearts we still yearn for something real but the real never really has the capacity to be as enticing as the distorted image.
When the real is no longer what it was, nostalgia assumes its full meaning.
No wonder we yearn for nostalgia, a retrospective appetite for the past in which so many things were less fascinating, when imagination still ran freely without being materialized on the screens. No wonder after a while we have reached the peak of technology in image processing, everything reverses. We ache for times when pictures are only in black and white or less rich in colors, wealthier in all its scarcity.
That’s why I’ve been compelling myself to (very slowly) learn using old analog lens paired with my bulky digital camera. It’s a desperate attempt to give a modest meaning to what I love doing. As a friend said that these old lenses were mostly manufactured in those times when cameras could only produce black and white images, “that’s why you couldn’t expect much from the colors it (the lens) produces”. Little that he knew, that is to me where the attraction lies! Despite the difficulty compared to using automatic focus in a digital lens, I experience what’s gradually becoming extinct: human control.
A desire for the extension of power that technologies permit is accompanied by the concomitant fear of a loss of power and the weakening of human control in the Machine, Nuclear, and Information Age. -Scott Bukatman
… or in my term, mehr Mühe geben. Something might still be missing, but at least my left hand, my left eye and more extensive part of my brain are intensively striving in taking a single image. Currently I might interpret it as a way to grant myself with “punishment” for being a part of this easy-quick Coca Cola generation.
Ironically, it reminds me of a one fine afternoon when I was using my little fun toy camera LOMO actionsampler (far less than digital it doesn’t even use any batteries) for taking a photo of a 6 year-old girl. After the shot, the girl approached me and said “I want to see!”. “You can’t see the result now, it’s using roll film”, I told her. With disbelief read all over her face she confronted my cultural conscience by saying, “Huh? Das ist aber komisch!” In this liberating yet repressive digital era in which the idea of having to wait for the laboratory to process your pictures before you can view them appears to be comically absurd, I have to agree with Baudrillard.
Something has disappeared.