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Botany Bay of photography

April 2, 2012

Benjamin quotes Nadar’s self-characterization in The Arcades Project: “Formerly a maker of caricatures …, ultimately a refugee in the Botany Bay of photography.” A penal colony where convicts were sent from Britain, but also an unknown place (for the new settlers), a place open for definition and interpretation and colonization conceptual and perceptual. In another passage, in Little History of Photography, Benjamin asks: “Isn’t the task of the photographer—the descendant of the augurs and haruspices—to reveal guilt and to point out the guilty in his pictures?” Benjamin compares the photographer to the reader of signs of nature—the flight of the birds and the entrails of sacrificed animals—who reveal the unknown, who shed light to obscurities, just as the traces of light on the sensitive emulsion.

Johannes David’s Orbita probitatis ad Christi imitationem, shows Christ carrying the cross over the mound surrounded by nine painters seated at their easels each depicting the event as it is talking place. Photography redistributed this burden of representation and extended it to a greater populace, thus maybe Nadar’s Botany Bay alludes to the Mount of Olives as a site of representation and visual dissemination. While the painters in David’s drawing are all looking at the same event, each draws a different interpretation of it, with only the one who occupies the central view-point, the vantage point of linear perspective, draws the most loyal representation of the event. However, simultaneously the depicted multiplicity further comments on the primary diffusion of semiotics of the visual from an ontological position, where image functions similar to the word, and meaning is produced through the continuous process of ‘difference.’

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