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Looking from a distance

July 31, 2012

Reiterating a fact: everything is equal before the lens. A burned body of a child, an impressionist painting, a mobile phone, a tropical landscape, a tank, anyone, anything, anywhere, the lens captures it all without discrimination. Looking through the camera, humans see the whole world as subjects, they “see but not touch,” as Benjamin puts it, or have developed a second “cold consciousness” in words of Ernst Jünger, a mode of distant [non]engagement with their surroundings. The human ability to scan the world indiscriminately, to assume the position of a sole observer, the true objective unethical eye of man, is nurtured through the viewfinder and assumed a seemingly camouflaged position, an illusion of a “democratic eye,” while at the heart of democracy lies a notion of agency, a form of commitment that ensues action. Thus the search for an interior image that illustrates the position of the person behind the camera within the image’s coordinates, a desire to challenge the exteriority of the lens.

In a parenthesis on Bob Adelman’s Down Home, Susan Sontag writes about the characteristics of the liberal sympathies that purport to have no point of view at all, “that is, to be an entirely impartial, non-empathic look at its subjects.” One wonders whether that the liberal sympathies that Sontag talks about are themselves in fact the direct effect of the camera and the kind of phenomenological relations that it ensues? Assuming one of the fundamental conditions of the critical position is establishing a distance between the subject of study and the observer, this distance is not unsimilar to that of the eye behind the camera and the photographed subject. It is the difference between being a part of a performance, or stepping outside of it and analyzing it/photographing it. The position that the liberal media wants to assume, to provide the whole picture, form all sides, without passing judgment, letting the audience to take their own position, the desire to look at an event from all possible sides, to capture a panoramic view that represents the whole of the event in its entirely, is the position of the lens.

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