5. A Photo of the Future
Published: 22.05.2018
in the series Photographic Futures
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“The image of man is always intrinsically chronotopic.” Mikhail Bakhtin 1Mikhail Bakhtin, “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel,” in The Dialogic Imagination, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985), 85.

A chronological image of time is the ideal image of a contemporaneity that implies all three time aspects and relates them to each other in a seamless form. In a chronological time image, the present was futural, is present, and will be past. This image of time privileges a present that is present, that in the future will have been, and that has yet to arrive in the past. For all its focus on the present, though, chronology cannot operate without the other two aspects. In a chronological time image, past and future are more complex than the present, in which the temporal noun, adjective, and verb simply seem identically present, in keeping with an implicit and apparently tautological motto: the present is present.

There is a widespread tendency in the philosophy of language and in literary theory to classify the present tense not as a tense but as a preliminary stage, a pre-tense. The reason given is that unlike past and future tense, the present ‘tense’ is incapable of operating a shifting of events and/or speakers. 2For a revision of this conception with regard to the present tense novel as it emerged in the twentieth-century and to an “asynchronous present tense” fashioned by the present-tense novel, see Armen Avanessian and Anke Hennig, Present Tense: A Poetics, trans. Nils F. Schott (London: Bloomsbury, 2015). In the context of the questions raised by photography, the novels of Claude Simon in particular deserve a closer look.

From Lucien Dällenbach, Claude Simon (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1988), 141.

In photography, the past is even more than complex: it is paradoxical. This paradoxical past allows us to hope that preemption, which parasitically inhabits any chronological image of time, will be worn down by the temporal complexity of photography’s future. The idea of fixing the future, however, is uncannily similar to the idea of taking a photo of the future. While something like a preemptive image seemed impossible in analog photography, the entanglement of photography in digital technology is so opaque as to give new life to the nightmare of a photograph of the future—at least as long as we hold on to a chronological time image. Fortunately, though, photographs time and again raise doubts about a chronological image of time because their present, already, is complex and cannot simply be present.

We were hesitating when we said of the camera that it detached the image of moment from the moment of its presence: whose present is more essential in photography, the present of the machine or the present of the others, the photographer, the model, and the viewer of the photograph? With regard to the present of the photograph, this hesitation cannot, fortunately, be resolved. The apparatus and the others are not present in the same way, and their coming together is much more mysterious than a purely machinic pictoriality, in which machines record images that can be read only by machines. This coincidence is also much more mysterious than a purely subjective moment of shared visuality, in which ego and alter ego behold each other. The mechanical eye of the camera opens up a gaze never seen before.

Reflections on photography have often stressed how much it estranges what is familiar, on the one hand, and to what extent it subjects seeing to an unyielding objectivism on the other. It does so by excluding from the image the one whose gaze it records. The photographer is present in the image only as absent—when she took the picture, she was present only as the one whose gaze was being cut off from what was seen by a machine. The role photography plays in processes of social alienation and technocultural reification give rise to the idea that photographic estrangement might serve as a means for analyzing alienation and that the technoimagination propagated by Vilém Flusser might show the way to integrating the apparatus into our thinking of photography. Photography has strengthened our expectation that seeing procures knowledge. The camera is a machine with which it is possible to think visually. Digital photography has brushed aside any lingering doubt about the cognitive character of photography. At the same time, however, photography also becomes the object of a critique of the algorithmic age, of posthumanism, and the anthropocene—at least for as long as no ophthalmological camera with a social conscience of global extension has been engineered. The objective as well as the subjective view of photography, however, agree that in photography, subjectivity and objectivity constantly clash and part ways again.

The camera constantly detaches the image of the future from the future.

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