There is the sense that those who make photographs are somehow less capable of engaging with the meaning of their act than those who do not, those who write about those who take photos.
Perhaps there is an instance of originary notions of Habitus and Doxa here? Here we can see the type of place where one might understand the impact of things we are doing which we do subconsciously (not unconsciously), in a kind of pre-thought state of distraction a la Benjamin?
A basic counter to which would be that we cannot imagine participating in pictures (as everyone does) without routinely excluding picture makers from the possibility of reflecting on the act in which they are engaged and its broader social history and projective consequences? In fact it would seem incredible to imagine that the people who are doing something are less capable of engaging intellectually with what they are doing than by people who are not doing it? Is it not rather like asking a priest for sex tips? And are the answers often roughly similar, the “critic” of photography (within the standard “schools” of critical thought - marxism, feminism, et al), very much in line with the priest qua sex, urging us, basically, not to participate?
Where Barthes is quite precise, initially at least, in defining his field as the advertising photograph, many other canonical photographic works take such enormous fields as “vernacular” or indeed merely all photography as their target. It is like reading a critique of “writing” as a critique of the entire enterprise of writing as such, not novels, not poetry, not anything, in fact, just writing, the writing down of anything about anything anytime ever. Which, then, really doesn’t amount to criticism at all, just floppy distaste.
It is fairer, is it not, to assume that those who make photographs might reasonably know what they know, and know that what they know is indelibly marked by the prejudices of having learned to know?
It will, in fact seem fairer to assume that those who make photographs will not only have understood the most basic prejudices one might pick up in learning a practice but also have, so to speak, bravely killed their fathers by having rejected some of what hey have learned.
Indeed they may well have, may well more importantly have, killed themselves, followed through not only on the act but on the attendant and obvious passage a l’acte presented by, in, of the photographic. To recognise by the photographic the conditions under which we live, now, to have used the photographic to illuminate the void and by having done so become aware of the void as such.
They may, then, have stopped. Or continued.
They may have died, or have been resurrected.
As reborn individuals having been rejuvenated, having reached a horizon and then passed it, gone beyond it. Transcended it.
We may, as a curator once advised me, “graduate” from being an artist into, up to, being a curator - having understood the shape, the conditions of the “real world” and “moved on” from all that. We could see two deaths here, and two resurrections. The death to the “real world”, which we might also imagine from the non-curators point of view as a pathetic failure and a total absenting of one’s responsibility as a speaking human - to join the bureaucracy rather than work at the face. We could see our fall into the depressing knowledge that the art world is quite as the “real” world, which is to say a savage, boring greedy bank, and then given in, – or we could have not. We could choose still to work in the Real “world”, instead. Not the “real world” but the Real “world. We could make in the face of our own utter powerlessness.
We can, if we choose, reject meaning and truth in favour of power and money. However this is unquestionably a sad death. Whether or not we actually believe in God, St Peter etc etc, the memory of us in the minds of others, the St Peter of the living, will judge us. And we should ask to be judged harshly.
There is a confusing line in Kempis’ Imitation of Christ…
“The more complete and better your knowledge, the stricter will be the judgement on you, unless you lead a holy life.”
Two. On Personal Humility.
(And others, less confusing, and more touristy…
“It is for this reason (to avoid temptation and remain accesible to grace) that the blessed Apostle Peter asks all the faithful in Christ to be as aliens in a foreign land.”
Fifty-three. God’s grace and worldly wisdom do not mix.
I would like to read both as I read the first chapter, which maybe is online somewhere? But I want to go outside and be an alien and learn things, so I can get the whip, later.)
The writer on photography knows about writing on photography. Which is not photography. Almost all writing on photography is unreadably dull.
The photographer knows something else, too. Something about something which is not written and not able to be written.
The photographer who also understands photographic writing may also accept more readily the notion of that which cannot be written as being also able to be known. (This is of course the central excuse of those photographers who fail to engage with writing of almost any sort and then apply this same lack of effort to their picture making - I am in no way advocating the sort of lazy mysticism of the “creative” advertising or fashion photographer, here.)
I say we must take the risk. Learn as much as you can. Think, die, act, reborn, think, die, act…
This may be what, for me, defines the practice of the artist?
The willingness to follow through each passage a l’acte, to sacrifice themselves over and over again, to the end, and the beginning, hoping that each time they are reborn they will still be able to act, again.