Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I point the camera at the train as it approaches the platform.
The camera, the seeing machine, is set to “infinite capture;” it takes pictures in rapid succession until either I remove my finger from the shutter button or its storage mechanism reaches full capacity.
The train’s arrival at the platform is captured as a rapid succession of images. In some of these images the train is still, in others the train is ethereal, not still; it is as though the image is an image of the train-motion itself, perhaps an image of a train train-ing; it is a train after all.
Whether the camera has captured the still train, or the train-motion is a matter of adjusting the shutter on the camera. I increase the shutter speed and all it captures is still.
I slow the shutter speed and all it captures is motion.
But could it be that this is not an image of anything at all? Could it be that this is not even an image, but is instead a happening? Is this really a capturing? Is this really an image that points to something outside of my encounter with the photograph in a perception-event? Or does something wholly new come to presence in my encounter with the photograph?
To capture, to hold captive, to captivate, these hardly speak to the perception-event of my encounter with the photograph. To capture, to hold captive, to captivate all speak to something other than a belonging. To capture something is to hold it somewhere against its will, as if it should be or would be somewhere else. But the photograph is precisely where the movement of the train shows itself anew; the movement of the train in this particular inflection of train movement belongs here and only here. Were it not here in precisely this photograph it would not be in this way at all. My encounter with the photograph is where I may, for the first time, encounter the movement of the train in this peculiar particularity, in this particular peculiarity. The photograph brings the movement of the train to the encounter. The photograph is train movement. Nothing is captured, but a gathering is taking place that becomes a new presentation—not a representation—of train movement. The photograph is one way in which train movement can go. My encounter with the photograph at the site of the perception-event is where I actually see train movement as it presents itself anew in the photograph that gathers as it presents.
And gathering is not a pointing. We may interpret the photograph as representing a train, and that the blurry resolution of the photographic image points to the fact that at the time the photograph was taken, the train of which this image is a representation was in motion. But this interpretation would not be an encounter with the photograph as photograph; this treats the photograph as a sign that points to something outside of the encounter in the perception-event. At the site of the encounter with the photograph I perceive what is gathered together in this particular photograph. The movement of trains is something so familiar to us that we don’t think on what this movement is. If we give it any thought at all we assume that the movement is a quality of the train, not something in and of itself, but to attend to the photograph in the encounter with it as a perception-event is to see the train movement as the thing that it is, brought to presence for the first time. In the photograph there is not a train in motion, the photograph has gathered and brought to the site of the perception-event train movement to be encountered as such.
To perceive the train movement requires a participation. I may participate in the perception of train movement only if the photograph has included me in its gathering. But more than that, the gathering of the photograph is the weaving together of the site of the perception-event. The photograph gathers together a particular configuration of world and things that encounter one another in this gathering. To perceive the photograph is to dwell in the gathering of this photograph and to be attentive to what is gathered. Certainly some photographs are more interesting than others, but the interest of a viewer is indecisive in the gathering of a photograph. Most of the photographs we come across in our daily comings and goings are photographs that have certain demands placed upon them. Photographs are challenged forth to point, to document, to instruct, etc. We edit, crop and resize photographs so that our demands are fulfilled. These demands attempt to turn a photograph into equipment that is put to the task that is demanded of it. In this putting to task of a photograph the gathering can often withdraw. The photograph as photograph withdraws. But insofar as the gathering of a photograph is not decided by the interests of its viewer-demanders, the gathering still occurs and a careful attending to this gathering is still a perception-event. What is gathered at the site of the perception-event in some cases is the peculiarity of the demands put upon the photograph. Often what is presented in the photograph is the photograph’s playful resistance to these demands. The photograph calls attention to the way in which a demand to point, or to document was placed upon it. And when we see the photograph resisting these demands the equipmentality of the photograph in turn withdraws, as the photograph presents what is most essential to it: its gathering together of world and things to the site of an encounter in the perception-event.
Photo says light. Graph says write. To perceive says to take in, to attend to what lies before you as the thing that it is. The light-writing is a creative gathering. To perceive a photograph is to attend to an encounter with the light that is written in its own particular way. But when we attend to a photograph as photograph, the light writing does not remain static; the writing continues. The perception-event itself is a creative event; the perception-event with the photograph is free of determinate delimitations in a careful, attentive encounter that allows the light to keep writing. The careful, attentive encounter with a photograph brings what is written in the light to light in a perception-event.