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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.

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February 6, 2012 Comments off

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The technical image,[1] that from its advent became an obsession with the time bygone, the time of the past, has now become an obsession with the present. It is a form of documentation of now, the documentation of the present for the present. Not a “having-been-there,”[2] but a “being here,” an assurance and reassurance of being present in time. The development of digital technologies of representation has shortened the gap between the production and reception of the image, and image production has become an instantaneous act. The camera is no longer only a device that would freeze a moment in time for the future, but a device that freezes every passing moment into fragments of now; it is almost as if time stands still. It is as if we are living and experiencing life with a short delay, the instant image is a visual echo of the present, of our presence. From dinner tables to mass demonstrations, through this visual echo of the livestreaming of life, we instantaneously review the living moments, or we live through the instantaneous broadcasting of life.[3]

This livestreaming of life has given the image some of the properties of speech. While before the kind of absence that the mechanically produced image represented was more similar to that of the text (that is if we only consider temporal categories of presence as absence and the formal properties that arise). The image that had already complicated the temporal relationships has now further complicated our relation to time, to being present in time. It could be said that we are becoming spectators of our presence as we live and watch simultaneously and constantly, as we document our togetherness and consume it at the moment, even though it sets a record for the future, a future that we continuously postpone as we are becoming more obsessed with now.


[1] I am not differentiating between still and moving images in this essay, instead the focus is on the incentive to make a record in any possible way.

[2] The type of consciousness the photograph involves is indeed truly unprecedented, since it establishes not a consciousness of the being-there of the thing (which any copy could provoke) but an awareness of its having-been-there. What we have is a new space-time category: spatial immediacy and temporal anteriority, the photograph being an illogical conjunction between the here-now and the there-then. (Roland Barthes, Rhetoric of the Image)

[3] In February 2011, in Tahrir Square in Cairo, the protestors set up a screen and watched the projection of Al Jazeera’s live coverage of the Egyptian revolution. The images were broadcasted in real-time from the square to the square and the participants could see themselves as they formed the crowd.