Shifting Relations of Still and Moving Photographic Images | Martin Jaeggi | Tuesday, 12.02.2013

A Look Back (Part II)

In my post from two weeks ago, I pointed out that, despite their shared characteristics, film has been traditionally associated with artifice and fiction, whereas photography was supposed to have a preferred access to reality. This is, of course, due to the fact that in mainstream cinema film is used to create primarily narrative works, i.e. it defined the temporality of film as essentially narrative. This has shaped the relation of the two media. It sometimes seems that photography is haunted by its very limited narrative capacity in comparison with film. Staged photography and a large number of photo books testify to this. If narrative is conceived of as the essential nature of film, however, a genuine dialogue between film and photography is difficult since photography will always be at a disadvantage, turning this framework into a one-way street.

Quite another way of reading photography and film in dialogue would emerge, which is very rarely done, if the focus were not on mainstream film, but on experimental film, which for the most part is hardly concerned with conventional narratives, but with image making. The camera is not made invisible as in mainstream film, but often becomes the main actor. The experiments with exposure, shutter speed, film stock, color, and light common in experimental film betray a thinking about film and the camera that is very close to photographic practice. Further, it seems to me, the interest in duration and temporality, not glossed over by narrative, that is characteristic for many experimental films, allows for a much closer examination of the essential difference between still and moving images.

An astonishing number of correspondences and differences opens it self up here, that are rarely examined.

Who would not think of Walker Evans when watching the countless shots of lettering and signs in Hollis Frampton's Zorns Lemma? And isn't the interest and love for the beauty of the everyday evinced in the films of Jonas Mekas very close to what Stephen Shore and William Eggleston were celebrating in their photographs, not to speak of diaristic photographers such as Nan Goldin? Isn't the almost alchemical treatment of camera and film stock evident in Stan Brakhage's work hauntingly close to the photographic experiments of someone like Sigmar Polke? And would the work of many queer photographers have been possible without the groundbreaking films of Kenneth Anger and Jack Smith?

These are just a few examples to outline a field where a genuine dialogue of photographic still and moving images could take place, where much about their respective natures, commonalities and differences, could be discovered. And I believe if photographers are increasingly beginning to use moving images, experimental film could provide them with models on how to pursue concerns arising from photographic practice in the medium of the moving image within a framework beyond the strictures of narrative.