In Walter Benjamin’s ‘a short history of photography’ he points out that the first daguerreotypes were long exposures and that the sitter and the photographer came together in an encounter of time, a duration shared between them, which could be seen in the image. Together sitter and photographer would make the picture, and the photograph, rendered through long exposure, would show us a subject living into the image.
With the increased speed of lenses and film emulsions this living into the image became the instant image. Benjamin believed that technology engaged human consciousness and that this new instant image cut us off from that which the image was to represent. The image now would simply point to itself, not something we could sense as a slowly evolving experience.
This odd contraction between the positivism of the photograph as data and material fact and its unreality is inherent to the photographic. Photography turns on this liminal tension ‘between the death of reality in the photograph and the reality of death in the mnemonic image.’*
Whereas we have become the spectacle of each other it would be easy to argue that we don’t live into the image, we live to be imaged. But perhaps this is no longer the case. Perhaps the anomie, commodity fetish, reification, the voyeuristic gaze – these criticisms of the post modern no longer apply. Perhaps as Benjamin tells us, as technology engages and alters consciousness, maybe the network image and the putting on of ourselves is a new kind of sociality a new mode of living into the image.
*Gerhard Richter’s Anomic Atlas, Benjamin Buchloh *In Visible Touch Modernism and Masculinity, ed, Terry Smith