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there is no such thing as darkness (or silence)…

September 9, 2007

How am I to think what is photography, nonetheless good photography? I’m shown images every day, I turn my eyes to pictures everywhere, even if I close my eyes images do not disappear.

If I was to use a camera like an automatic machine producing blasts of pictures, indiscriminately capturing unique and single moments of light, time and viewpoints, would that be photography? If I combine these images and create new ones, (alas, they never remain static and fixed), would this qualify as photography?

Jon Austin polaroids © 2007

Jon Austin polaroids © 2007 (

Is it about its formal characteristics, its representational qualities, its communicative capacities, that makes a photograph as such; it must be. But then is every image also a photograph… and if not, why?

“There is no such thing as silence!” shouts John Cage under a veil of constant sound, in the end of a short film called ‘Sound’ that I saw recently online. In this film, John Cage’s endless enigmatic questions about sound are juxtaposed with Raashan Roland Kirk‘s musical jazz experiments in a shared exploration for music’s boundaries. And it strikes me how the same questions could be asked about photography within a symmetric and parallel framework challenging photography’s boundaries…

“Silence is not a question […] There’s no such thing as no sound. It’s simply a question of what sounds we intend and what sounds we do not intend” says John Cage. And later on he asks again: “But is this music?”

sound john cage roland kirk

And as long as darkness is also not a question, why isn’t every image a photograph? What more does it need? And in more pragmatic contemporary terms, why the vast majority of circulated images conform to a very restricted sense of what is a photograph, firmly tied to commercial norms and mainstream cultural ideals of beauty?

When Cage asks, why is it so difficult for so many people to listen, we could add: and to view as well. Is it possible that under the ubiquitous production of a certain kind of images we become less able to view?

Is it possible that we prefer and call ‘photography’ the images that look beautiful? And if we drop beauty, what are we left with, truth? But then again, would that be photography?…

Click at the video-picture above and you will be transfered to Ubu website to view that wonderful little gem video from 1966. Enjoy!

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 10, 2007 7:32 pm

    A very interesting and thought provoking read.

    I think to the eye of the public (i.e. the “non-photographer”) “Photography” is the capturing of beauty in a still frame.
    Helped by the constant pressure from society to strive for; the perfect life, perfect spouse and to look perfect. The more common, “ugly” photograph is dismissed as not worth society’s time to interpret because of it’s truthfulness; the world is not perfect and people make-do with what they have.
    These photographs cause the “social perfectionists” to confront the real world. A confrontation which can crush their pursuit for a perfect unreality and causes them to dismiss the “truthful” photograph.

    I would say that “photography” as an essence changes depending upon your social stance. There is no set rule for everyone which states what is and isn’t a photograph – the rules vary from person to person.

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