L’aventure d’un photographe / The writing of light

”Il rassemblait les photos dans un album : on y voyait des cendriers pleins de mégots, un lit défait, une tache d’humidité au mur. Il lui vint l’idée de composer un catalogue de tout ce qui existe dans le monde de réfractaire à la photographie, ce qui est laissé systématiquement hors du champs visuel non seulement des appareils photo, mais de l’humanité. Sur chaque sujet il passait des journées, épuisant des rouleaux entiers, à quelques heures d’intervalle, de façon à suivre les changements de la lumière et des ombres. Il se fixa un jour sur un coin de la chambre complètement vide, où il n’y avait rien d’autre que le tuyau du radiateur : il eut la tentation de continuer à photographier cet endroit et seulement celui-là jusqu’à la fin de ses jours.”

— Italo Calvino, L’aventure d’un photographe.

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Pour faire entrer tout cela dans une photographie, il fallait acquérir une habileté technique extraordinaire, mais alors seulement Antonino pourrait s’arrêter de photographier. Toutes les possibilités ayant été épuisées, au moment où le cercle se refermait sur lui-même, Antonino comprit que photographier des photographies était la seule voie qui lui restait, et même la vrai voie qu’il avait obscurément cherchée jusqu’alors.

— Italo Calvino, L’aventure d’un photographe.

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… Because once you’ve begun, there is no reason why you should stop. The line between the reality that is photographed because it seems beautiful to us and the reality that seems beautiful because it has been photographed is very narrow.   The minute you start saying something, ‘Ah, how beautiful! We must photograph it!’ you are already close to the view of the person who thinks that everything that is not photographed is lost, as if it had never existed, and that therefore, in order really to live, you must photograph as much as you can, and to photograph as much as you can you must either live in the most photographable way possible, or else consider photographable every moment of your life. The first course leads to stupidity; the second to madness.

— The Adventure of a Photographer by Italo Calvino, from Difficult Loves

Perhaps true, total photography, he thought, is a pile of fragments of private images, against the creased background of massacres and coronations.

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In photography, we see nothing. Only the lens “sees” things. But the lens is hidden. It is not the Other 5 which catches the photographer’s eye, but rather what’s left of the Other when the photographer is absent (quand lui n’est pas la). We are never in the real presence of the object. Between reality and its image, there is an impossible exchange. At best, one finds a figurative correlation between reality and the image. “Pure” reality – if there can be such a thing – is a question without an answer. Photography also questions “pure reality.” It asks questions to the Other. But it does not expect an answer. Thus, in his short-story “The Adventure of a Photographer,”6 Italo Calvino writes: “To catch Bice in the street when she didn’t not know he was watching her, to keep her in the range of hidden lenses, to photograph her not only without letting himself be seen but without seeing her, to surprise her as if she was in the absence of his gaze, of any gaze…It was an invisible Bice that he wanted to possess, a Bice absolutely alone, a Bice whose presence presupposed the absence of him and everyone else.”7 Later, Calvino’s photographer only takes pictures of the studio walls by which she once stood. But Bice has completely disappeared. And the photographer too has disappeared. We always speak in terms of the disappearance of the object in photography. It once was; it no longer is. There is indeed a symbolic murder that is part of the photographic act. But it is not simply the murder of the object. On the other side of the lens, the subject too is made to disappear.

Jean Baudrillard – excerpt from Photography, Or The Writing Of Light
Translated, CTheory, 2000.

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