“Such is the photograph: it cannot say what it lets us see.”
The aim of this project is to write about photographs; about those things they let me see but which they cannot say. I will select, mostly at random, photographs from some of my books, as well as those in my own collection and write whatever comes to mind as I look at them. From time to time I might discuss them in light of the work of writers like Roland Barthes and Susan Sontag, but my aim is to keep things simple, insofar as I will write about my own personal experience of looking at, and on occasion, holding each of the images.
Photographs are like the night sky, or as Susan Sontag writes – ‘the delayed rays of a star.’ They show us something that was and is, but which at the same time isn’t any longer. Each one is a paradox where the act of looking creates a space in which the observer and observed (as regards photographs taken before we were born) are both absent and present at one and the same time. A whole new dimenison is opened up, where the presentness of the past becomes most apparent. It’s as if the act of photographing slows the light from the photographed being or beings to the point of being still, without it actually coming to a complete stop.
Looking at a photograph is not only a visual thing, but something which brings into play our embodied imagination. The term ‘kinaesthetic empathy’ is often used to describe the phenomenon of watching dance on stage, where members of the audience feel with their bodies what is happening in front of them. And while photographs might seem like static images, the image itself, like the light which caused it to be made, is merely slowed rather than stilled. With our embodied imaginations, we can speed the light up and see, indeed participate in what came next in the seconds which followed.