Camera scribens


All the hours spent at a desk are as many hours stolen from wandering with a camera towards new “fortuituous encounters of words and sights.” Let us allow this self-quotation to develop into a sort of meta-reflexion on what it is that is being done on this website. Being trapped inside, having as only (and cherished) companions a gang of clouds, which bring motion to the static landscape of an interior yard, it occurred to me that, in a way, I was, if not at the core of the photographic activity, at least digressing towards its origin.

Photography allows one to become completely permeable to the world, and to aim at a perfectly transparent representation. Yet its production through this tiny – more or less sophisticated – box with lenses recalls the position in which the first optical experiments placed the knowing subject. Objects reflected on the screen of the camera obscura displayed interrelations more easily, along with their belonging to a fragment of reality which suddenly manifested unity and required autonomy. They nicely convened into a manageable abstract of reality, easier to understand and reproduce, more pleasing to look at. I’m taking here an illustration from Jean Levrechon’s Récréation mathématique composée de plusieurs problèmes plaisants et facétieux (the 1627 edition, available on google books). Quite apart from the technical details, which a historian of science could explain better than I can, I am struck by the peculiar division between the “chambre close” (enclosed room) and “tout ce qui se passe par dehors” (“everything that is going on outside”): there is no fear here, no epistemological worries resorting to the myth of the cave. What speaks here is the genuine pleasure of playing and the joy of capturing the world even when it is not entirely accessible, possibly of even having it closer to the self, since it can be enclosed in one’s own interior space. Rather than emphasize, in what would sound like an ode to technological progress, the freedom of the modern photographer to subject only his or her instrument to darkness and confinement, I will ask whether we are not more or less in the same position: our camera collects images into something conceivable as a domestic space, and our obsessive aspiration to exhaustivity (given the freedom offered by digital photography), our aim at clarity and detail, take us closer to our private yearnings than to an objective representation of the world.

So what to do when trapped in a room, with a wall to look at, but also, thankfully, a portion of blue sky? Write over the clouds.

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