05 September 2009

The Magical Image Brought Back From Imprisonment, part one

"A photograph is both a pseudo-presence and a token of absence. Like a wood fire in a room, photographs--especially those of people, of distant landscapes and faraway cities, of the vanished past--are incitements to reverie. . . all such talismanic uses of photography express a feeling both sentimental and magical: they are attempts to contact or lay claim to another reality."

from, Susan Sontag's On Photography

In the essay "The Image World" from her essential book On Photography, Susan Sontag supposes a spiritual unity between reality and the artistic graven image for primitive peoples. Images had, through shamanic cohesion, been fused with the reality they sought to represent. In more advanced civilizations, after that core Platonic myth, the image has been divorced and sundered further and further away from the material, both physical and spiritual, becoming only a darkened shadow in the deepest, most pathetic dreams of something more sublime, more unfailing and more real.

As mere witnesses to the unfolding of such diluted dramas, to us, the audience, images have become more real than the event itself: "It is common now for people to insist about their experience of a violent event in which they were caught up--a plane crash, a shoot-out, a terrorist bombing--that "it seemed like a movie.""

Primitives have a tendency of to be "apprehensive," Sontag says, of the camera stealing parts of themselves; modern people of industrialized countries feel as though they "are made real by photographs." However, these statement only signify contrary emotional positions, either a desire to avoid or seek out, and not ontological suppositions of reality in relation to the image. It would seem Plato's myth of the cave has made an uroboros of itself with the advent of photography.

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