Tuesday, February 08, 2005

A History of Supplements

As everyone writing about photography eventually does (and as I did in a recent post), McQuire tries to reckon with photography's liaisons with reality, the real, with life outside of the camera (whatever is left of it). In doing so, and far more than most authors, he notices the way that photographs, precisely because of the promise that they can perfectly, mimetically represent reality, vitiate that very effort. In other words, however compelling their link to a that-has-been (Barthes, Camera Lucida), photographs also inevitably point to themselves as versions, fakes, and therefore imperfect-as-representations (no more or less fallible than painting). So McQuire comes to talk about Marey and Muybridge and ultimately film in terms of photographic seriality (one after another), where he thinks about seriality as an attempt to recuperate photographic technology's ability to represent reality (if one photo alone can't quite get us there, then certainly 24 per second can). No mere game, this. There was a lot at stake in the effort. Biology, physics, criminology, and medicine were four fields which had put a lot of faith in the capacity for photographic technology to solve their most vexing problems, to advance them into the new century and newly perfect forms of knowledge.

This helps me think about the various ways in which photographs have been (McQuire loves this word, so, in homage) entrained in systems of meaning—placed in contexts that are meant to, or have the effect of supplementing what and how photographs mean. Captions are a strategy of long standing. Newspapers. Serial forms (time-lapse, cinema). Eventually, art galleries. Books. Etc. Etc. And now blogs.

Not that anyone thought it would be possible or desireable to think about online photography without giving some serious thought to what blogs do to the experience of viewing photographs. But to see blogs as part of a history of supplements (systems of meaning) is a more specific task.
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