On [still/moving] photos

Being photographed is being consumed

There is something predatory in the act of taking a picture. Taking a picture is an event in itself in which the picture taker has more rights than the average person.

The photographer can invade, interfere with, or ignore whatever is happening around them. The camera frees the photographer from any responsibility toward the people inside the photo.

To photograph people turns them into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Through being photographed, the subject becomes part of a system of information, fitted into schemes of classification and storage.

Film directors are not obligated to treat actors with care. In acting, the actor offers not only their labor but their whole self.

For screen actors, the audience’s identification with the actor on screen is actually an identification with the camera. Unlike stage actors, the screen actor does not actually interact with the audience. The audience is interacting with the image of the stage actor as captured by the camera. The audience is interacting with the camera. The audience empathizes with the camera.

You empathize with the camera.
“The feeling of strangeness that overcomes the actor before the camera is basically of the same kind as the estrangement felt before one’s own image in the mirror. But now the reflected image has become separable, transportable. And where is it transported? Before the public.”

Photos as consumption

Making many reproductions of a tangible scene by photographing it substitutes a plurality of copies for its unique existence. Quantity has been transmuted into quality.

Photography converts the world into a museum-without-walls in which every subject is an article to be consumed. Through the camera, you become a customer of reality.

Photography expresses the American impatience with reality.

“...the hundredth of a second caught so precisely that the motion is continued from the picture indefinitely...”
“Speed is at the bottom of it all.”

The ultimate reason for the need to photograph is consumption itself. To consume means to burn, to use up - and so to need to be replenished. As we make images and consume them, we need more.

Photos as knowledge

Photographs claim authoritative knowledge of the world in a way that other mediums do not. Photographs claim to package the world inside themselves. Because of this unique claim, photographs are useful tools of surveillance.

A photograph passes for objective proof that something happened. There is a “presumption of veracity that gives all photographs authority” (Sontag). The industrialization of photography led to institutions of control like the police using photos as symbolic objects.

Television shows the viewer what they already believe. TV news provides packages for consciousness - frameworks for interpreting reality. Criticism of television is absorbed into television’s “sophisticated” way of telling jokes on itself.

Paintings invite the spectator to contemplate. Moving pictures prevent the spectator from thinking.

“I can no longer think what I want to think. My thoughts have been replaced by moving images.”

Further reading