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Daguerreotypomania

March 25, 2012 Comments off

In his cartoon La Daguerreotypomanie (1839), Théodore Maurisset shows how the industrialization of photography and its mass availability transformed people’s lives in Paris. The camera has turned the city into a spectacle that is simultaneously being captured by it. Maurisset’s image suggests that from then on “life will never be the same.” The engravers are hanging from the gallows—they might as well—and their tools, inks, pens and paper, are thrown on the ground on the front right side of the picture. The train in the back is carrying cameras in place of its cars, horses are loaded with them, people are schlepping them on carts and everywhere itinerant photographers have set up their tripods. There is a group of people dancing around a large smoking camera. Businesses have all put cameras on their rooftops, balloons are flying over the city taking photographs, and loads of cameras are being shipped overseas. The city is has become a set that is posing for the cameras, everything and everyone is waiting to be photographed and photograph others. The sun has turned into the watcher, the ever-present, all-seeing eye that draws the images of life on the sensitive plates of the camera. The image suggests that the mania for representation is inseparable from the phantom of surveillance, seeing and being seen are two sides of the same coin. Maurisset “depicts photography as a commercial product and a microcosm of industrialization itself” suggests Roberta McGrath. It is with the mass availability of photography that industrialization becomes integrated into everyday life. The camera, unlike other commodities, turned the consumer into a producer whose production expands the margins of industry and the market. Mechanical production now expanded beyond the walls of factories and became a tool in the hands of citizens. In the center of the image stands the Susse Frères’ commercial studio/showroom, that cuts the image in half, it suggests that the studio has become a site of production, at the “center of the cartoon and at the heart of modern life” in McGrath’s words. The camera on top of the studio is also a clock that tells the time, perhaps commenting on the synchronization of the time of the life and that of labor with the introduction of the cameras.

La Daguerreotypomanie, Theodore Maurisset, December 1839, Lithograph

In Johannes David’s Orbita probitatis ad Christi imitationem (1601), crucifixion, its representation and dispersion are concurrent and form a single entity, similarly, La Daugerrotypomanie sets the urban life, its documentation and representation as parts of a single body.

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crucifixion as a photo-op

February 29, 2012 Comments off

David Feedberg’s The Power of Images is a book on images and affect, exploring the kind of responses they provoke and their various uses in religion, magic and art. It is art history in reverse: from the position of viewer’s response rather than critical reading of the works. In the chapter invisibilia per visibilia: Meditation and Use of Theory, Freedberg writes about the practice of meditation where images were used for the production of mental images. He mentions the “aim of this kind of meditation is to grasp that which is absent, whether historical or spiritual.” Images are used to prevent the mind from wandering and help in the process of ascent from the physical, to the mental to the spiritual. Feedberg quotes Thomas Aquinas’ threefold reasons for the institution of images in the Church, first for the instruction of the unlettered, second for better memorizing the mystery of Incarnation and the examples of from the lives of the Saints, and lastly “to excite the emotions which are effectively aroused by things seen that by things heard.” Further in the chapter, Freedberg quotes a passage from the preface of Pseudo-Bede’s Little Book on the meditation on the Passion of Christ divided according to seven hours of the day:

 It is necessary that when you concentrate on these things in your contemplation, you do so as if you were actually present at that at the very time when he suffered. And in grieving you should regard your-self as if you had our Lord suffering before your very eyes, and that he was present to receive your prayers.”

An example of this “presence” at the time of suffering is a plate in Johannes David’s Orbita probitatis ad Christi imitationem, where he shows Christ carrying the cross over the mound surrounded by nine painters seated at their easels. They are painting the event as it is taking place, but they are each painting it from a different “perspective.” It is only the “bad imitator” who is painting Christ as the devil in guise of the woman. The drawing suggests that crucifixion does not only include the event itself but also includes the historia, that the painters are each painting different scenes of which. Curiously, it is only the painter in the center, who is looking at from the axel point directly at Christ is drawing the representative image. This further emphasizes on the position of both the painter and the viewer in the pyramid construction of the linear perspective. The image also implies the fragmentation of the event as it is happening, the very wandering of the mind that the practice of meditation claims to prevent.

Orbita probitatis ad Christi imitationem, Johannes David

The meditative aspects of the drawing aside, it shows how the event and its representation form a single entity. The representation does not follow the event, nor it is based on the narration of the event through the words of the witnesses, but rather its integral to its conception. The crucifixion and its representation are inseparable. Fast-forward to the live coverage of the arrival of US soldiers to the Somalian beach of Mogadishu in 1992, where they were greeted not by clan fighters or starving children, but by flash lights of photojournalists. Fast-forward to Tahrir Sq, the army tanks are surrounded by civilians’ LCD’s, participating, witnessing and documenting the event as it is taking place. Johannes David’s drawing renders crucifixion as a photo-op.