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introduct io n

Each answer remains in force as an answer only as long as it is roo ted in

Heidegger, "The Or igin of the Work of Art"

J have always liked photog rap hy, and in a low- key way I was always intereste d in ir. I
bough t a Berenice Abbott prim of an Arget bedroo m ar rhe Willard Ga llery in New York
Cit y more t han rhirry years ago, and have lived for a long rime with photog rap h s by
Evans, Baldus, Frith, and O'S u llivan (a part icular fa vorite). Ove r rhe years, too, I
attende d numerous ex h ibit ions of pho to gra phy, th ough rarely wit h rh e sense of urgency
rhar I felt with respect to ex hib itions of modern painting or sc ulptur e. Bur unril recen tly
I did nor have any strong int u itions abo ut pho to gra phy, an d without such an intuition
- some sort of ep iphany, real or imag ined - I have never been mot ivated to write o n any-
t hing. Th en several things happene d. First, I got ro know J am es Welling and his work
because frie nd s in Ba ltimo re wa lked inro his first show at Metro Pictures and bough t
seve ral o f the " Diary" photographs; soo n they became close to him . l found t ha t I liked
his p hotographs eno rm ously, an d we, too, became friends . And t hen about ten years
ago, by sheer chance, I mer J eff Wall at the Boymans Museum in Ro tterdam and dis -
covered that, to put it mild ly, we were int erested in many of rhe sam e p ictorial issues .
I had been aware o f Wall's work for years an d had even had an in k ling of our share d
co ncerns, bur meet ing him and excha nging rhoughrs was galvanizing for me. Fro m that
moment on I starred look ing seriously at recent photog rap hy, a process grea tly aided b y
major exhibitions of work by figur es s uch as Welling, Wall, Andr eas Gursky, Tho m as
St ruth, Bernd and H illa Becher, Tho m as Demand, Rineke Dijkst ra, Ca ndida Hofer,
H iroshi Sugim oto, and Luc Delahaye, among orhers. To my surpri se I fairly quick ly
b ecame gr ippe d by the though t rhat a ll rhar work, and m uc h else b esides, hung together
artistica lly in ways rhat it seeme d to me no one else writi ng ab out the to pic had qui te
recognized . At t hat poinr, I bega n dra fti ng whar J hoped woul d be a short book on
recen t art photogra p hy that would convey rhe gist of m y think ing . Prett y soo n, though,
ir became clear t hat no suc h short book was in the cards . Rather, if I wan ted to do
jus t ice to my sub ject, I would have to de a l with the work of more th a n fifteen photo-
gra p hers (and, ir rurne d o ur, video and film makers) in suf fic ient deta il to co nvey a sense
of wha t eac h was up to and at rhe same rime to allow th e co n nectio ns I saw among
rheir ind ividual projects ro emerge. Thi s is what I have trie d to do in Why Photo-
graphy Matters as Art as Nev er Before.

The basic idea behind whar follows is simple. Srarr ing in rhe lare , 970s and 1980s,
arr phorographs began ro be made nor on ly ar large sca le bur a lso - as rhe French crir ic
J ca n -Fran ~ois Ch ev rier wa s th e firsr ro po inr our - for th e wall; this is widely known
an d no one will conresr ir. What I want ro add is rhar the momenr rhis rook place - I
am thinking, for example, of Ruff 's passporr-sryle porrrairs (wh ich begin modesr in scale
bur are marked fro m the srarr by rhe for-rhe-wa llness thar Chevr ier rightl y regards as
decisive), Wall's firsr lighrbo x transparencies, and Jean -M a rc Busramanre's Tableaux -
issues concerning rhe relationship berween rhe pho rograph and rhe viewer sranding
before it became cru cial for phorography as they had ne ver previous ly bee n. M o re pre-
cisely, so I wanr ro claim, such photography immediarely inherited rhe enrire problem-
aric of beholding- in rhe rerms defined in my previous wri t ing, of rhearricaliry and
an rirhe atrica liry - rhar had been cenr ral, first, to rhe evo lution of painr ing in France from
rhe middle of the eighteent h cenrury unril rhe advenr of Edoua rd Maner and his gene r-
arion around 1860, an evo lurio n explo red in my books Absorption and Theatricality,
Courbet 's Realism, and Manet's Modemism ; and second, co rhe opposition between high
modernism and minim a lism in rhe mid- a nd lare 1960s, as expounded in, and perhaps
exacerba red by, my "infamo us" essay "Arr and Objecr hood. 1
Whar rhis has meant in indi vidual cases will become clear in rhe course of rhis book,
bur I might as well acknowledge at the outser rhat my mor ivation for wr iti ng abour
recent arr photography has every thin g ro do wirh my be lief that issues of rhe sort I have
jusr named rhar mig hr hav e seeme d (rhar did seem, ro me as muc h as ro anyone else)
quir e po ssibly forever inva lidated by the eclipse of high mode rn ism an d th e t riump h of
posrmodernis m borh arr isrically and rheorerically in the 1970s and 'Sos have returned,
may I say dialectically, to rhe very cenrer of advanced phorographic pracrice. Pur slightly
diff erentl y, I shall rry ro show rhar the mos r characteristic pro ducti o ns of all rhe photo-
graph e rs jusr mentione d (and ot hers as we ll) belong ro a single photographic regime,
which is ro say ro a single com plex srrucrure of rhemes, co ncerns, and represenra riona l
srra regies, whic h on rhc one hand repr esents an epocha l develo pment w irhin rhe hisrory
of art phorography and on th e othe r can only be unders tood if it is viewed in the context
of issues of beholding and of what I rhink of as rhe ontology of pictures rhar we re first
th eo rized by Deni s Diderot wirh respect to stage dram a and painting in rhe lare 1750s
and '6os . This means, among other things, thar rhe chapters that follow co nsta nt ly refer
ro my own earlier writings; I declare rhis up front, ro preempt the facile cr iticism rhar
I am excessively preocc upi ed wirh my ow n ideas . I am pr eoccup ied wirh those ideas, for
the sim ple reason rha r rhey seem ro me ro hold the key ro much (far from every rhing,
much less rhan half of eve ryrhing, but srill, a grear deal ) in the picrorial arts of rhe pasr
2.50 years. The qu esrion, in orher words, is no r whe th er in rhis book I am ex plo ring
ropics and issues I have discusse d before bur rather whether Ill) ' interpretations of spe-
c ific works by a number of rhe leading phorographers of our rime, and beyond rhar my
account of the lar ger project of much conrempora ry arr ph otography, a re or are not per-
sua sive as rhey sran d. (I kn ow ir is roo much ro ask, bur it would be useful if reade rs
impatient wirh whar I have done were ro feel compe lled ro offer superior interprera rions
of rhe ir ow n.)

why photography matters as art as never before

T he organizat ion of Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Befor e is as follows .
Chapter One sketches three possible "beginn ings," each of which involves t hree terms,
by way of indicating something of t he scope of the issues to be dealt with in subse qu ent
chapters . C hap ters Two and Thr ee are co ncerne d wit h works by Jeff Wall; the first also
says some t hing abou t the concep t of worldhood as it is theor ized in Mart in Heidegger's
Being and Time {also ab out the not ion of techn ology as deve loped in his later essay
"The Quest ion Co ncerni ng Techn ology") and the second abou t the concep t of t he every-
day as it emerges in a remarkable ext ract from Ludwig Wittgenstein's note books for
1930, both o f these in relat ion to Wall's pictures . {For various reasons, Wall's work plays
a large r role in t his bo ok than t hat of any ot her photograp her.) Cha pter Four comprises
a reading of Ro land Bart hes's Camera Lucida, with partic ula r attent ion to his no tion
of the /Junctum; my aim is to show that Camera Lucida is everywhere driven by an
unacknow ledged antitheatr icalism and that it the refore bears a close relation ship to t he
larger argume nt of this boo k. C hapte r Five exam ines T homas Strut h's mu seum pictures,
and Cha pter Six a range of works by Thomas Ruff, Andr eas Gursky, and Luc Dela haye.
Chap ter Six also includes a br ief discuss ion of Chevrier's account of t he new "tableau
form, " on e of the few sign ificant co ntribm ions to a t heo ry of the new art photogra ph y
with whic h I am fam ilia r. Chap ter Seven, on photographic portra itur e, co nsiders Struth 's
fami ly port rait s, Rineke Dijkst ra's beach ph otog rap hs, Pat rick Fa igenba um's busts of
Roman emperors, Dela haye's L'Autre, a boo k of black-and -white photographs made
with a hidde n came ra o f passenger s on the Paris Metro, Roland Fischer's portra its of
monk s and nuns, and Douglas Gordo n and Phi lippe Par reno's film Z idane : A Twenty-
First Century Portrait . Ch apter Eight, organize d around the the me of st reet photo-
gra ph y, exa mines Wall's Mimic, Bear Streuli's videos and phorographs of crowds made
wit h a concea led ca mera, an d vario us pictures and a pho tobook by Philip-Lorca diCor-
cia. Chapte r Nine looks at wo rks by T homas Demand a nd Ca ndid a H ofer before closi ng
with bri ef remarks a bout Hiros hi Sugimoto's "Seasca pes," St ruth's " Paradi se" ph oto-
graphs, and two gat herings of pho togra phs of anim als in zoos by Garry Winogrand and
H ofer. C haprer Ten, the climax to t he boo k, begins with a few wo rds abou t James
Welling's ea rly Polaroid photograph, Lock, by way of sett ing the scene for an inter-
pretat ion of Bern d and Hilla Becher's Typolog ies, one of t he most orig inal and impr es-
sive - also, I sha ll t ry to show, philoso ph ically one of the most profound - artistic
achieveme nt s of the past fifty years. Noti on s o f " true " or "genuine" versus "bad" or
"spur ious" infini ty as pu t forward by G. W. F. Hegel in his Science of Logic an d Ency-
clopedia Logic are central to my arg ument, as is the theme of objec thoo d in "Art and
Objecthood ." The cha pte r ends wit h a bri ef read ing of Wall's Concrete Ball. Ther e
follows a Con clu sion, bea rin g t he sa me title as the book, that at onc e reviews and
extends my overall argum ent before closing wit h a discussion of one last work by Wall,
Aft er "Spring Snow" by Yukio Mish ima.
As t his su mmary sugges ts, philoso phica l texts by Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Hegel
(also by Stanley Cave ll and Rob ert Pippin) are vital to my pro ject; this is because the
new arr photography has fou nd itself compelle d to do a certa in amount of what I thin k
of as ontolo gica l wor k, and beca use the writ ings of t hose pa rt icu lar philosophers have

introd uction 3
pr oved indispensable ro my efforts ro mak e clear exactly what this has involved. Othe r
writer s who figure in thi s book in tex t and not es (apart from numerou s co mm entato rs
on my photographer -subjec ts) are C hevrier, Bart hes, Brassa"i on Pro ust an d Prou st
himself, the anonymous author of a French eighteenth-century conte, Susa n Sonta g,
Clement Greenbe rg, Gertrude Stein in her essay " Pictur es," Heinr ich von Kleist, Robert
Musil, Brian O'Doherty, Walter Benn Michaels (whose writing s on photo graph y bear
closely on my arguments), and , per haps most surpri singly, Yukio Mishima in several
pa ssages in his great terralogy , Th e Sea of Fertility. H oweve r, my focus will be over-
whelmingly on th e photograph s I ha ve chose n to discuss.
Two more point s. First , in my introduction to Art and Objecthood: Essays and
Reviews, I insist that "be tween m)self as histor ian of the French antirh eati ca l tradition
and the crit ic who wrot e ' Arr and Objecrhood ' there loom s an unbridgeable gulf . ...
11see J no way of nego tiating th e differen ce between the priorit y given in [my earl y arr
crir icismJ to judgment s bot h po sit ive and negat ive and the princ ipled refusa l of all such
jud gme nt s in rhe pur suit of historical und erstanding Jin Absorption and Theatricality,
Courbet's Realism, and Manet's Modernism]." 2 This seemed ro me a mat ter of some
imp ort anc e, if onl y beca use I did nor want to be unde rsto od as end orsing Diderot's views
of individual artist s (for example, deprecatin g Watteau ). Well, as the reader of Why
Photography Matt ers as Art as Never Before is about to discove r, th e gulf in qu estion
no longer loo ms as it pr evio us!)' did; pu t slightly differentl y, th e pr esent book turn s our
to be generica lly mix ed - at once crit icism and history, jud gme nt al and non-judgm ental ,
engage d and detached - in ways that would hav e been inco mpr ehensible ro me only a
short rime ago .J
Second , a word about my epigraph . Th e citat ion from Heidegger, " Eac h answe r
rem a ins in force as a n answer onl y as long as it is roo ted in ques t ioning ," was previ-
ously used by me as t he epigraph ro rhe introductor y essay, " About my Arr C rit icism,"
to th e 1998 anthol ogy of 111)' arr crirical writ ings, Art and Objecthood: Essays and
Reviews. Whe n I plac ed it there , 1 meant to signal an aw a rene ss that th e issues grap -
pled with in my arr criticism of the 1960s were no longer burnin g topi cs in conte mp o-
1ary a rr (the introdu ct ion dar es from 1995-6 ), and that I ought nor rob e ima gined as
standing behind each and eve ry claim in my ear ly writings as if nothing significa nt had
happened in th e intervening years . By using it ag ain here, however , I mean to signal
som ethin g almost exac tly op posite: rhar the issues of rhearri ca liry and objecrhood rhar
were cru cia l to my arr criticism in J 966-7 a re once aga in, in Heidegger's tremendou s
phr ase, "roote d in que stio nin g," nor least ques ti oning conducted with great force and
brilliance by the photographers them selves. Inde ed the questioning had begun well
befor e I wrote that introduc tory essay, bur I did nor know it then. Now I do.

4 why photography matters as art as never before

three beginni ngs
There are rhree b eginni ngs to rhis book, eac h of which in irs own way pre pares rhe
grou nd fo r t he chapt ers th ar follow.
The firsr rakes off from a consi deration of rhe Ja pan ese ph otograp her Hiro shi
Sugimoto's widely ad111ired black-and-whire photographs of mov ie rhearer s in different
ciries in rhe Unired Srares, w hich he began 111 aking in rhe 111id- , 97os, while he was srill
phorograph ing di ora111asin 111u se u111
s of natura l histo ry- his firsr m arure body of wo rk
(Figs. , an d 2.). (Sug i111oto, born in Japan in 1.948, came to rhe Uni red Srares in 1970
to srudy arr. Since rhen he has rraveled widely bur lives mainly in New York. I shall
have some thin g ro say abour his "Seascapes" larer in rhis book .) He went on mak ing
rhe movie rhearer phorogra ph s for another rwe nt y-five years : in the cara logu e to his
2005 - 6 trav elin g ret rospective exhib itio n rhey a re dated 1975 - 2.001. In char catalogue,
too, Sugimoto prov ides rhe fol lowing brief intro ductory sra rem enr ro rhose pictures :

I am a habirual se lf-inte rlocu tor. O ne even ing whi le raki ng p hotographs fof dioramas ]
ar rhe American Muse u111of Na tur a l H isrory, I had a near-hall ucinatory visio n. My
internal ques t ion-and-a n swer session lead ing up to rh is vision went so meth ing like
rhis: "Su ppose yo u sh oo r a whole movie in a single fra111e?"Th e answer: " You ger a
sh ining screen." Immediately I began ex per iment ing in or der to realize rhis vision .
One afterno on I wa lked in ro a c heap cine ma in rhe Easr Village wit h a large-formar
camera . As soo n as rh e mov ie sta rted , I fixed the s hutt er ar a wide-o pen ape rtur e.
When rhe m ovie finished rwo hou rs later, I clicked rhe shurrer clo sed. Thar evening I
deve loped the film, and m y vision ex ploded befo re m y eyes.'

In orher words, the dazzl ing blank ness, rhe sheer whireness, o f che scree ns in rhe mo vie
rhearer photographs are rhe resulr of leav ing rhe shurre r ope n chroug hour an enti re film;
by th e same token , there was jusr enough cum ulati ve reflected ligh t fro m the scree n ro
make poss ible rhe relative ly dark bur a lso m ar velous ly detai led registrat io n of rhe rhearer
interio rs themse lves.
Now, I have no wish to challenge the veracity of Sugimoto's accou n t of how he came
ro make rhe movie theat er pho tog rap hs. Bur ir s ho uld be noted t har he presents his doing
so as rhe ourco me o f a so lita ry brill iant int uirion, as if rhe photographs spran g full y co n -
ceived ou r of his q uest ioning mind and thus had nothi ng wharever to do wirh any rhing
else rakin g place in photography at approximately t he same mo m ent. Maybe thi s rea lly
is how t hey ca m e to be m ade. Yer th e facr remains rhar rhe seco nd half of t he 1970s
saw ar leasr rwo orhe r n orable iniriarives in "a rt " photography rhar engage d head-on
with the quesrion of cinema, and I want to sugges r rhat unless rhose init iat ives are ta ken

three beg,nnings 5
1 Hir os hi Sugimoto, U.A. Walker, New York, 1978 . Gelatin silver print.
u9.4 x 149.2 cm, Negative 213

2 Hir os hi Sugimoto, Ohio Theater, Ohio, 1980 . Gelatin silver print. 1 19.4 x
149.2 cm, Negative 205
into conside rarion, one's sense of Sugimo ro's achieve ment in rhe movie theate r photo -
graphs risks being curio usly abstract, cut off from the contem pora ry histo ry of which
it was a part. l refer to the early work of Cindy Sher man and Jeff Wall.
Sherman first. The works I have in mind are her famous Untit led Film Stills, modesr-
sized black-and-w hite photographs which she made between r977 and 1980 .2 T hey are,
of cour se, not actua l film st ills but ph otographs imita t ing t he look of film st ills, and in
all rhe images (a tota l of eighty-four) t he protagonist is Sherman herself, or rather one
or ano t her female "c har acter" who m Sherman is play ing or imp ersonat ing (in a ll the
photographs she is alone, no one else appears). There is by now a vast critical lirerarure
on Sherm an's work, muc h of it in my op inio n t heo retica lly overblow n,3 bur here are
some interes t ing remar ks by Sher man herself:

I liked rhe H itchcock look, Anto nion i, Neo realist st uff. What I didn't want were pic-
tures showing st rong emot ion . In a lor of movie photos rhc actors look cute, impish,
allurin g, d ist raught , frighrene d, rough , ere., bur what I was int eresred in was wh en
they were almost express ion less. Whic h was rare to see; in film stills there's a lot of
overac t ing because th ey're trying ro sell rhe movie. Th e movie isn't necessa r ily funny
or happy, bu r in those pub liciry photos, if there's one cha racte r, she's smiling. Ir was
in Europea n film st ills that I'd find wome n who were more neutral, and maybe the
origina l films were ha rder to figure our as well. I foun d thar mo re mysterious. I looke d
for it consc iously; I didn't want to ha m ir up , an d I knew rhat if I acted too hap py,
or too sad, or scared - if rhe emotio nal quot ient was too high - t he photograp h would
seem campy. 181
O ne way of gloss ing rhis might be to say that by her own account, despite rhe fact t hat
she was in effect "pe rformi ng" for the camera - dress ing up, mak ing up, arranging rhe
scene, and finally playing a role - Sherman at the same time felt impelled to avoid
displays of emorio n and by imp licat ion entire scenes t hat might stri ke rhe viewer as
theatrica l in rhe pejorative sense of the rerm. (The wo rd is mine, no t hers. T his is nor
to say rhar a ll the Untit led Film Stills are eq ually restrained. I need hardly add rhat the
issue of t heat r icality looms large bot h in my art critical essay of 1967, "Art and Objecr-
hood," and in my histo rical studi es of the evol ution of paint ing in Fra nce bet ween the
middle of rhe eighteenth cent ury and the adve nt of Ma net and his genera tion in the early
, 86os .4 ) Acco rdingly, in most of the Stills Sherman depicts characte rs who app ear
absorbed in thoug ht or feeling (Fig. 3); or who look "offscreen" in a man ner that sug-
gests t hat their attentio n has been dra wn, fleetingly or ot herwise, by somethin g or
someone ro be fou nd there (Fig. 4); or who gaze close up at their own image in a mirror
(Fig. 5); or who are viewed from the rear or the side, from an elevated or "depressed"
viewpoi nt, from a co nsidera ble distance, or unde r orher circumstances that ru le out the
possibi lity of any implied commu nicat ion between t he per sonage in t he photograph and
rhe viewer (Fig. 6). Thro ugho ur the series the bas ic movies co nventio n (or diegeric law )
of never depicting the subject looki ng directly ar the camera is in force,' and in general
the cinematic characte r of the photographs co uld hardly be more emp hatic. But there
is also a convergence bet ween a numb er of the actional and structural mot ifs char one

three beg innings 7

3 Cin dy Sher ma n , Untitled Film St ill, #53, 1980 . Ge lat in silver print . 16 .2 x 24 cm. M useum
of Mod ern Arr, New York . Grace M. Ma yer Fun d

4 Cindy Sherman , Untit led Film Sti ll, #9, 1978 . Ge la tin silver print. 18 .9 x 24
cm . Mu seum of Mo dern Art, New York. Purchase

5 Cin dy Sher man , Untitled Film Still, #56, r980 . Gela tin silver print. r6.2 x 24 cm . Mu seum
o f Mod ern Art, New York. Acqui red throu g h th e genero sity of J o Carole a nd Rona ld S. Laude r
in memor y o f Mr s John D. R ocke fe ller 111

6 C ind y Sherman, Untitled Film Still, #48, r 979 . Gelatin silver print. 16.2 x 24
c m. Mu seum of Mo d ern Arr, New York. Acqu ir ed throug h th e gene rosity of J o
Caro le a nd Ron a ld S. Laud er in memory of Eug ene S. Schwartz
7 (righ t and faci ng /Jnge)
Jeff Wall, M nuie Aud ience,
1 979. Seven transpa rencies
in thr ee lightboxcs. Eac h
tra nsparency 10 1. 5 x 105 cm

finds in the Stills an d mot ifs deployed by eighteenth - and nin eteenrh-cenrury French
pa int ers in the inrerest of what l have called a nti t hea trica lit y (as Regis Durand recog-
nizes aprop os o f the t rea tment of the subj ect's gaze in Sherman 's Rear Scree11Projec-
tio11 s of 1980) .6 I sha ll ha ve much mor e to say ab out thi s issue furth er on in t his chap ter
a nd in tho se that follow, but I wa nr to stop shore o f characteri zing the Stills as ant ithe-
atric a l pur e a nd simple for tw o reason s. First , it is not clear - at least not at this pre-
lim inar y point in rhe la rge r argumen t of this boo k - w hat such a claim can mean in the
rea lm o f ph otograph y or indeed th at of cinema (a sepa rat e topic) and therefore, 11 for-
tiori, in t he rea lm o f a co nce pti on of ph otograp hy th at o penly presents itself as para-
sit ic if not on cinema itself t hen on a part icula r cinemat ic a rt ifact, the film st ill. Second ,
Sherm an 's Stills both individually an d (even more exp licitly) as a group present them-
selves as having been delib erat ely staged by the photogra pher - and is not ''s tagedn ess"
such as one find s in these images a marker o f t hea trica lity, nor its ant ithesis? Th e answer
to thi s question, which will eme rge as I proceed, is fairly comp lex, but rhe poinr I want
to und ersco re is t hat Sherm an's Stills raise rhe qu estion in a particula rly pressing form
{they are not simpl y t heat rical, in ocher wor ds), w hich is also to say that t here is more
to them as works of a rt tha n br illiant visua l deco nst ructi ons of fictions o f feminity, which
is mostly ho w t hey have been und ersto od .7
Jeff Wa ll, the ot her key figure I want to cite in this co nn ection, made The Destroyed
Room, his first lightbox pictur e - a C iba chrom e t rans pa rency illumin ated fro m behind
by fluoresce nt bulb s, thro ugh out almost all his ca reer his preferred medium - in 1978.k
Fro m the o ut set, his art has involved t riangulat ing ben vcen photog raphy, paint ing, and
cinema, as he himself has repeated ly stated in essa ys and interview s. (A pa rtic ularly
splend id exa mple of such t riangulatio n, Momi11g Cleani11 g, Mies van der Rohe Fou11 -
datio11 , Barce/o11a f r999 J, w ill be the pr incipal wo rk d iscu ssed in C hap ter T hree.) In
fact, in Wall's rece ntly publ ished cata logue raiso nne all his work s ar e chara cterized by
him either as " docu mentary " or " cinematograp hic" pho togra phs, the latt er rerm imply-
ing some meas ur e of preparat ion of t he motif - some meas ur e of "s taging," in other

10 why photography matters as all as never before

words. As in Sherma n's case, the larger q uestio n of the exact scope and n ature o f Wall's
exp loitatio n of movies and the thought of movies lies beyond the scope of this in tro -
duction - in fact la m aware of scan ting the subjec t in my chapters o n Wall and for that
matter in this book generally . However, one early work by Wa ll is especially relevant to
Sugimoto's Mov ie Theaters : Movie Audience o f 1979 (Fig. 7), which co mprises seven
lightbox portraits of pe rsons seen slig htly fro m below, all of whom gaze towa rd the lcfr
as if towa rd a movie screen on wh ich a film is being pro jected, their faces illum inated
from the lefr as if by reflected ligh t fro m that screen. Each portrait is abou t one meter
high and wide, and the seven have been grouped in three un its depict ing o ne "fa m ily"
(" mot her," "ch ild ," and "fa t her" ) and two youthful couples. By cla imi ng that Movie
Aud ience is especia lly relevant to Sugimoto 's Movie Theaters l mean tha t whereas the
latter with their blan k sc reen s are in almost all cases co mplete ly devoid of an aud ience,
Wall's Movie Audience purports ro be a representatio n of members o f such an au dien ce

three beginnings 11
(tho ugh we as viewers do not for a moment im agine that his personages are act ually
watc hing a movie und er ordinary co nd itio ns; for one thin g, the light falling on their
faces is muc h too stro ng for that to be cre dible). In 198 4, to accompany an exhi bition
of t his wo rk in Base l, Wall wrote a text of several pages in a tort uous, post-Adorno
idio m t hat contra sts st r ikingly with the exce ptional lucidity of his other wri t ings abou t
pho tograp hy (the most disting uished body of writing on the to pic of the past thirty
years, in my opi nion). One paragraph suffices to convey the teno r of the whole:

W hen we go to the cinema, we enter a t heat re (or what remains of a theatre) which
has been re-insta lled in a monume nral isi ng mac hine. Th e hu ge fragmented figures pro-
jected on the screen are the magnified sha rd s of the o utm oded thespia ns. This implies
that the film spectator has also become a fragment of society which acquires ident ity
throu gh its repetitio us accumulat ion ; in thi s process it beco mes an "au dience." The
audience is not watch ing the prod uct of t he action of a machine; iris inside a machine
and is expe riencing the phantasmagoria of t hat interio r. T he audience knows t his, but
it knows ir t hrough t he labour of trying to forget it. Thi s amnes ia is w hat is known
cul tur a lly as pleasure and happ iness. On t he other ha nd, the utopia of the cinema
consists in the ideal of happy, pleasan t lucidity which wo uld be created by the revo-
lutionary negation and transfo rm at ion of amnesi ac and mon um ent alising cultural
forms. Cinemat ic spectarorship is a somnamb uli stic approa ch toward utop ia. 9

At the risk of simplify ing Wall's thought, T might note, first , that the top ic of theater,
hence of t heatricali t y, is definitely in play, and second, that Wall is struc k by the fact
that a movie au dience (as one might say) " loses itse lf" or, per ha ps more accura tely,
"fo rgets itself" in the experie ncing of a mo vie, or rather is led or induced by the appa-
ratus and the situatio n to seek to do so (Wall : "Th e aud ience knows !that it is inside
the exper iencing mac hinej, bur it kn ows it t hrough the la bour of tryi ng to forget it").
Thus the " utopia of t he cinema" - which presumably has not been achieved - would be
to convert this trop ism toward forgetting into a kind of "happy, pleasant lucid ity" abo ut
the whole expe rience, a lucidity that wou ld nor simply be a form of distanci ng and alien-
at ion. (Wall associa tes the latter condit ions, dista ncing and alienatio n, wit h what he calls
"crit ical modernism" jsee below] - Ben oit Brecht and Jean-Luc Godard wou ld be the
models here, not Morris Louis or Ant hony Caro.) As for Movie Audience it self, Wall
goes on to say that he trie d to make it

anticipate, even evo ke, its own mom ent of trial and occl usion as modernist arr, its
o wn transfo r mation into tyran nical decor. [In ot her words, its own conscri ption to
an experie ntial regime of imme rsion and forgett ing.] T his is greatly facilitated by the
lighting techn ology used to make the piece, wh ich itself induces a kind of pri mal spec-
ular fascinatio n o r absorpt ion which is in some ways ant ithetical to the cond itions of
reflective and artificia l est rangement indispensa ble to the un happy lucidity of critical
mode rni sm. [28 11
At the same time, the fact that Movie Audience has been hun g unusua lly high by Wall
himself is on the side of est rangemen t rather than fascination - it is har d to lose oneself
in an image conside rably above one's head.

12 why photography matters as art as never before

Here it is wort h gla ncing at some remarks a bou t movies that appear in "Art and
Objec t hood":

lt is the overco ming of theater t hat modern ist sens ibilit y finds most exa lting an d that
it experie nces as the ha llma rk of high art in our time. There is, howeve r, one art rhar,
by irs very narure, escapes t heate r ent irely - rhe mov ies. This helps explain why movies
in gene ra l, including frank ly appa lling ones, a re acce ptab le to mod ernis t sensibi lity
whereas all but the most succesf ul paint ing, sculpt ur e, music and poet ry is not.
Because cine ma escapes theater - automa tically, as it were - ir provides a welcome and
absorbing refuge ro sensibilitie s at war with theater and rhear ricaliry. Ar t he same
rime, rhe auto matic , guaranteed chara cter of th e refuge - more accu rately, the fact that
what is prov ided is a refuge from theater and nor a triumph ove r ir, absorption no r
conviction - means rhat rhe cinema, even ar its most experimental , is nor a modern ist
arr. 10

Today I per haps want to qua lify rhe fina l co ncl usion, but my ba sic claim, char rhe absorp-
tion or engross ment of rhc movie audience sidesteps, auro marically avoids, the question
of thea rricaliry, st ill seems to me - very broa dly-c or rect. It has much in co mmon, I
t hink , with Wall's characre rizarion of t he movie aud ience as ar once "i nside a machi ne"
an d as "experienci ng the phantasmagor ia of rhar inter ior," though his emphas is on the
au dience's " labor" of forgett ing int roduces a note of complex it y ab sent from my cruder
form ulat ion. (l shou ld add rhat rhe adverb " autom atic ally" w as not mea nt by me to
impl y that rhe avoidance of rhea t rica liry I associate wirh mov ies results simp ly from rhe
natur e of rhe appara t us - the camera and pr ojector - as distin ct from t he dep loyment of
a hosr of techni ques of acting , directing , scene-settin g, light ing, photogra phin g, sou nd
recordin g, editin g, and so on. T he whole q uesti on w ill ha ve to be taken up again o n a
futur e occasion.)
All rhis leads me to suggest rhat one way of understanding Sugimoto's Movie The-
aters, Sherm an 's Untitled Film Stills, and Wall's Movie Audience is as responding in dif-
ferent ways ro rhe pr ob lematic stat us of mov ies in thi s regard by making pho tographs
which, althoug h mobil izing one or anot her conve nt ion of movies (or the rhoug hr of
movies), also provide a certa in essenti a lly photographic distance from the filmic expe-
rience, a distance by virt ue of w hich rhe automaticity of the avo idan ce of theat ricality
l have just evoke d is foresta lled or undone. By t his I mean t hat th e issue of theatrical-
ity is allowed to come into focus, as a lmost neve r in narrative film as such, and even to
be eng aged with as a problem - though not, I sugges t , unambiguously defeated or over-
come. (That had to wai t for Do uglas Gordon's brilliant Deja 1111 [2000), nor discussed
in this book. I sha ll have a littl e more ro say abour rhe relat ion of film to pho tograp hy
as theorized by Roland Barthes in Camera Lu cida in Chapter Fo ur.) In Sherman's Stills,
as seen, this is acco mp lished in part through motifs of absorption, distract ion, look ing
"offscreen," distance from rhe camera, and the like. In Wall's Movie Audience, it is done
by dep ict ing members of an oste nsibly or rather no t ion ally immersed aud ience from a
point of view that virtually ass ur es a cert ain crit ica l distance on the pa rt of rhe viewe r
but thar at rhe sa me t ime (accordi ng ro Wa ll) seeks at least somewhat to entra nce rhat
viewer by means of rhe sheer allur e of the ba ck lit t ransparenc ies. Viewed in rhis context,

three beginn ings 13

in imp licit dialog ue wit h the work of Sherman an d Wall, rhe blank radiance of Sugi-
rnoto's movie screens present s it self as an abst ract image of spectatorly fascinatio n {think
o f t he shiny objects trad itionally ernpl oyed by hypno t ists to fixate a subject 's att entio n),
while the fac t t hat in all bu t rhe ear liest Movie Theaters the seats in rhe theate r are empty
- there is no audience to be seen - co mes to seem a brilliant figure for, very nearly a rep-
resent a tion of, the fascina ted or hypnotized {that is, ab sorbe d or imrnersed) rnovie aud i-
ence's charac terist ic forge tt ing of itsel f and irs positio n w ithin the cinematic "mach ine,"
to adopt Wall's ter min ology. {The absence of ca rs in Sugimoto's photographs of Drive-
Ins has a co mp ara ble sign ificance .) Ar rhe sarne time, howeve r, the viewer of rhe Movie
Theaters and Drive-Ins has no sense of be longing ro t hat {at o nce presen t and absent)
movie audience: rather, he or she stan ds conscio usly apart frorn the images in question,
and peru ses t heir con t ents in a detached or say disinte rest ed man ner, which in t urn
a llows the cornplex relati on to t he filmic ex perience I have tried ro descr ibe to become
available on rhe pla ne of critical or t heoret ica l reflection. That pla ne coexists with
anot her, shee rly sensu o us one, which conce rn s only the und enia ble and uncanny beauty
of t he ph otographs . What I am sugges t ing is that we as viewers oug ht nor ro ler the
seco nd ent irely eclipse the first, as of ten ha pp ens in co mrnentaries on Sugimoro's arr;
rather, here as elsewhere the case for his irnportance requ ires rhat we take into account
the relation of his work to t ha t of his co ntemporaries, a relario n t hat he himse lf in his
pub lished st aremen t s seerns conte nt to leave un ack nowledged .

M y seco nd beg inn ing cen ters on t he protracted rnomenr between 1978 and 1981 when
three yo un g art ists in d ifferent parts of the wo rld - Wa ll in Vancouver, Th omas Ruff in
Diisseld o rf, and Jean -Ma rc Bustamante in P ro vence and nort hern Spain - mo re or less
sirnulr aneous ly started to make ph otographs that I am not the first to see as exernplify-
ing a new regime of "art" photography (from now on 1 sha ll drop t he quota tion rnarks),
one that the learn ed and acute French cr itic Jean-Fran~o is C hevrier has character ized as
the "tableau form." 11 I shall cons ider Chevrier's ideas in greate r deta il at t he start of
Chap t er Six, whe re I sha ll also say more about Ruff's breakt hroug h works, his frontal,
deadpan, "passport-style" co lor portrai ts of fellow stu dents and ot hers in his immed i-
are milieu . For prese nt purposes, however, t he t wo distinctive and closely related char-
acter istics of rhe new regirne are, first, a tende ncy t owa rd a considerably large r
image-size tha n had prev iously bee n thought appropriate to art photogra ph y; and
seco nd, an expectatio n or, pu t more stro ngly, an intention that t he pho tograph s in ques-
tion wou ld be frarned and hun g on a wa ll, to be looked a r like pa intings {hence Chevrier's
ter m "ta bleau" ) rather t ha n merel y exami ned up close - pe rhaps even held in the hand
- by one viewer ar a rime, as ha d hithe rt o been the ca se. Not that pr evious arr photo-
graphs - wo rk s by Carneron, H ill and Adamson, Nadar, Le Gray, Baldus , Emerson,
Steic hen, Coburn, Stiegl itz, Strand, Westo n, Eva ns, Rodc henko, Sande r, Carrie r-Bresson,
Kert esz, Brassa'i, Wo ls, Levitt, Ada ms, Frank , Calla han, Winogrand, Fr iedland er, Arb us,
Brandt, et al. - had no t lent rhernselves perfectly well to being matted, fra med, and

14 why pho t ography matters as art as never before

exh ibited on the wa ll - obv iously t hey did. Yet co mpar ed to the new work, the re had
always seemed so methin g a littl e arb itra ry abou t such a mode of display, as if material
images tha t had not been made for the wa ll - which often app ear ed to have been mad e
to be reproduced in books an d cata logues, w here they co uld be stud ied in private by
individual viewers - co uld not be certified as wor ks of arr unless they were so displayed ,
usually in gallery or mu seum environm ent s w hich furthe r ma gnified their "est hetic "
cac her.
T he new work, in con t rast, had its desti nation on the wa ll in view from the first on
the level of "form," to use the ot her of Chevrie r 's key word s. It is imm ediately appa r-
ent what t his mean s in the case of Jeff Wall' s early lighrbox pict ures such as The
Destroyed Roo m (T978; Fig. 8) and Picture for Women ( 1979; Fig. 9) : not only are both
works far larger than pr evious art phot ograp hs bad been (roug hly five feet high by seve n
and a half feet wide) , they also co ntain a wea lth of minu te derail tha t is cru cial to t heir
content but tha t wou ld effectively be lost if the images were sign ifican tl y reduced in size
- which is what happe ns when the y are illust rat ed in books or catalog ues. So for example
t he ar t historian Ralp h Ubl ha s based a readin g of the role of "co ntinge ncy" in The
D estroyed Room on th e place men t of a cluster of gleaming tac ks in th e wa ll near t he
" w indow " at the right of the picture; 12 the racks a re all but indis cernible in rep rod uc-
tion but , like t he small pieces of jewe lry on th e carpe ted floo r, at t ract one's gaze when

8 Jeff Wall, Th e Destroyed Room, 1978 . Tran spare ncy in lighr bo x. , 50 x 234 c m

three beginnings 15
9 Jeff \Xlall, l'ic ture for \Y/0111eu,1979. Transparency in ligbtbox. 150 x 234 cm

one sta nds before the actual tran sparency. Derai l as such matters less in l'icture for
\Y/ome11but the issue of size is even more cruc ial: eve rything depen ds on the viewer's
abili ty to respo nd not just intellectually but p unctua lly, in the mo ment of viewing, ro
t he int ernal complexi ties of the life-size image as a who le, in part icular ro its carefu lly
eng ineered struct ure of reflected gazes - th at of t he young wo man "mo d el" ro t he left;
that o f the photogra p her, Wall, operat ing t he sh utter attac hment ro the right ; and chat
of t he camera on its tri pod at the exac t cent er of the picture. (As near as one can tell:
the mirror in which everyt h ing is reflected is identified with the picture plane; t he actual,
not the reflected you ng wo man gazes at a reflect ion o f the camera lens, whi le the actu al,
no t the reflected p hotog rap her gazes at a reflection of the young woma n . The actua l
camera a lone rakes in the enti re m irrored scene.) Fu rthe rmo re, bo th The Destroyed
Room and Picture for \Y/ome11 all ude ro major pa intings in the mode rn French trad ition
- the forme r ro Delac ro ix's Destructio11of Sarda11apa/11s, the latter to Manet's Bar at

16 why photography matters as art as never before

the Folies-Bergere - the reby underscoring both works' specifically pictor ial ambitions as
well as their adherence ro an essent ially rableau- like mode o f presentation. 13 (More on
Wall's use of pictorial "sources" in Chapters Two and T hree. ) As for Ruff's ear ly co lor
head-s hots of students an d others (Figs. ro an d , 1 ), they arc espec ially int erest ing in
this con nection beca use they d id nor begin large (t hat is, a ll those made between 1981
and 1986 were 24 x 18 centimeters); only from 1986 d id he dramatically increase their
dimensions (ma ny to 210 x I65 centi meters), no do ubr part ly in response to Wall's light-
box p ictures and per haps the work of ot hers as well. 14 Never theless, there is an impor -
tan t sense-on which I shal l expand in Chapte r Six - in which on the level of "form"
they were fro m the first imagined for the wall, by wh ich I mean that by virtue of their
fronrali ty (with some profi le views a nd obl ique angles thrown in), repet it ive srructure,
and psych ic blankness - also of their colored backgrounds - they implied a part icular
mode of relat ion to the viewer, one of mu tual facing, indeed con frontation , tha t
some how exceeded, in effect subtly negated, the conventions of the tradi tiona l fronta l

TT Thomas Ruff, Portrait /K. K11e((el},1984. Chromo-

10 T homas Ruff, Portrait /8. }ii11ger/,1981. Chromoge nic
gcnic process print. 2.4 x 18 cm
processprint. 24 x 18 cm

three beginnings 17
photograph ic portra it . T heir subsequent increase in sca le therefore seems right, as if only
then did rhey assume rhe dimensions and sheer "visual presence" (Valeria Liebermann's
phrase) prope r ro rheir idea. 15 Indeed ir was rhen rhat rhe portra its became rigorously
frontal and cons istentl y dea dpan . In contrast, Sugimoto's Dioramas or Movie Theaters
lose intensity when rhey are printed ar a larger scale, as is sometimes done. (Ler me be
clea r: I consider bo rh the Dioramas and Movie Theaters to be early instances of the new
art photograp h y, wirhour t heir adhering to the tab leau form as suc h. Sherman's U11ti-
tled Film Stills' srarus w irh respect ro t he new art photography featured in this book is
a trickier matter, in part because of he r own subsequent development; I find almost all
her work after rhe "centerfolds" I 198 1i to be of relative ly little artistic interest.)
M ain ly, rhough, I wanr to say somet hing abour Busrama nte's ea rly Tableaux (the des-
ignation is his), a series of large color photographs that he made in the outskirts of
Barcelona and in various places in Provence between 1978 and 1982 . (Bustamante, born
in 1952 in Tou louse to a n Argentine father and a British mother, had worked in Paris
as an assistant to the American stree t photogra pher William Klein, a leading figure in
the previous generation.) According to Jean-P ier re Criqui, organizer in 1999 of a ret-
rospective exhib ition of Busrama nte's arr, the photogra pher rook the Tableaux wirh a
cum bersome 8 x 10-inc h box camera, "whic h, need less to say, ha d to be fixed to a tripod
for the me rest shot ." 16 T his was far from standard working procedure for a young
photographer at rhar time, but even less so was Bustama nre's decision to print his
photographs at the maxim um size then possible . Cr iqui beg ins his introduc tory essay
with a brief discussion of an exemplary wor k, Tableau no. r7 ( 1979; Fig. 1 2), which

shows, in its foreground, an expanse of trodden earth littered with pebbles and criss-
crossed by tire marks . A narrow, dusty road comes to an encl here, hemmed wit h rrees,
scrub and some building mater ials - breeze-b locks, stones - waiting for who knows
whar. On either side of the strip of earth, two paltry signs announce "Avda de
Catalunya ." In rhe distance, hills beneath a lowering sky. In contrast with the any-
t hing bu r grandiose characte r of t his scene, the exac tness of t he visua l dara offered
by this photograph is notewort hy. This kind of "sharpness" makes the eye waver
between afocality and the identificat ion of discrete points, and the roing and froing
between these two facto rs presupposes a duration that greatly exceeds any mere
ass umption of aware ness . Simply because of the absence of any spectacle and evenr,
you have to look for a long time here. T his is how I understand Busramanre's words
desc ribing t he Tableaux as "ki nds of slow snaps hots ." [ 163 l

A lirtle furt her on, Criq ui rema rks that in the catalogue for a previo us exhi bitio n Tableau
110. 17 is immediately followed by Tabl eau no. 43 (198 1; Fig. 13 ), which makes an
arresting contrast wit h its predecessor:

T his is a contrast that is sw iftly perceived ra ther in rerms of comp lementarity, for [rhe
second of these!, organized around this metal enclosure thar splits the image in rwo
(in from, a lick of pa le gravel, like part of a bullring; behind, moved far back beyond
this wa ll whic h only lers part of their bodies show, a woman or girl with two chil-
dren, and a greyish mass of unsightly buildings), forms wirh what goes befo re a sort
of diptych in which the entire repertory of motifs explored by the whole series is

18 why photography matters as art as never before

12 Jean-Marc Busta1i1ante, Tableau 110. 17, 1979. Type C and Cibachrome. ro3 x 130 cm

summed up. Areas o f wastela n d, per ipheral zones, cons t ructions unfinished o r in the
process of being built (or unfinished), roads eng ulfed and faded, dead-ends: every-
where the signs of man, who nevertheless remains aloo f, withdrawn, an d o nly rarely
appea rs, blen d ing in with a set tha t he is forever redesign ing. A faint sen se of disaster
wafts u p from this paradoxica l comb ination o f invasion and aba ndonmen t. I163 I

Cri qui 's observatio n s seem ro me exactly right, as does his recognition that t he "thank-
less" nature of Bustaman te's motifs is such that the viewer is not invited ro engage with
them imagina t ively (the parallel with Ruff's pass po rt-style port raits is ev ident ), as well
as his further claim t hat the Tableaux therefore large ly leave it to the viewer to dec ide
what ro make of them - witho u t mor e t han a minimum of guidance by the works rhem-
selves, so to speak. (The t hanklessness of t he motif s is compounded b y what Tar o Amano
remarks was Bustamant e's tendency "to take his pho tographs at noon when he wi ll get

three beginnings 19
13 Jean-Marc Bustamante, Tableau 110. 43, 1981 . Type C and Cibachromc. 103 x 130c m

no shadows, so t hat no specific portion will stand out, nor one sub ject - be it a t ree or
a perso n ." 17) Interestingly, Bustamante himself describes the places in his Tableaux as
being "w itho ut q ualit ies," a reference to Robert Musi l's mo numenta l unfinished novel,
The Mau without Qualities (1924-42), 18 a text rhat turns our to have su rp rising reso-
n ance for several of the photogra phers discussed in this book . As Criq ui goes on to say:
"Bus tamante o ften a lludes to the t ype of re lationshi p he wo uld like to see introd uced
b y his wo rk - a no n-direct ive relatio nship, based o n a form o f fruitful indeterm inacy
that he calls 'in between' ('eutre-deux '), and which purs the onlooke r in t he positio n of
becoming 'e qually respo nsible for t he work '" (r64 - 5 ). In his images, Bustamante
exp lai ns, "t he evenr !more broadly, the mot if! is place d at suc h a dista nce, and con-
tained, t hat these imag es move beyon d the context in wh ich the y were made, t he geo-
grap hic sett ing an d so on, and engage the viewer in a one -to-o ne relat ionsh ip so lely
th rough t he ir phys ical prese nce" and "My aim is to make rhe viewe r becom e aware of
his or her resp onsibili ty in what he or she is looking at. " 19
A crit ical factor in achieving th e p hys ical presence Busra manre sought is of cou rse
size: the ea-rly Tableaux a re all 103 x r30 centi m etres, that is, more rhan th ree feet high

20 why photography matters as art as never before

by four feet wide, unus ually large for tha t moment, and his later ph otograp hs of
cypresses, also called Tableaux, a re even larg er (more on th ose sho rt ly). Another factor,
I suggest, is colo r, specifica lly the harshness of the early Tableaux's juxtapositio n s of
redd ish ea rt h with green foliage, often in fur t her cont ra st to whi te stu cco unfini shed
houses, orange-red ceramic rile roofs, ligh ter colored san dy soi l, a nd fresh ly cast greyish
wh ite concre te fou nda tio ns. A third is the sheer density of visua l information contai ned
in eac h pri nt , a factor th at far from drawing the viewer "i nto" the wo rk rend s to d is-
tance, in that sense ro "ex clud e," him o r her by virtue of its rnure , unin flecred, un mc-
rabo lizable chereness . As Ulrich Loock, along with Cri qui o ne of Busramante's most
astute co mm entato rs, observes, "The init ial reference o f the photograph co realit y is sec
to work in such a manne r char the !d epicte d ] th ings can and must be contemp lated in
their silent recessive ness, wit hout consideratio n for their 'mean ing' [signification I. T he
beholder is exclude d co rhe extent rhar Bu sra mante's icon ic strategy co nsists in present -
ing t hings in all their physica lity, as materia l realities, bur , because the gaze is n or allowed
to penetra te t he scene, deprived of all (imag inary) bod ily inte ra ctio n wit h them. Th is
exclusio n of rhe beholder . .. is one cond ition o f t he appearance of th ings in their intact
singularit y."'" (There will be more co say abo ur "excl u sio n " as an artistic st rategy
apropos of photographs by T ho mas Dema n d, Candida Hofer, Sugimoro, a nd T ho mas
Stru th in Chapter Ni ne. ) A useful contrast might be with any of rhe slightl y older Stephe n
Sho re 's su perb color photographs of a wide ran ge of American locales, almost all take n
with an 8 x TO-in ch view ca mera between , 973 and , 98 1 and in itially pu blished in t he
volume U11 co111111011Places in r982 a nd more recent ly in an expanded selectio n (Figs.
14 and , 5)." Altho ugh Shore's photographs, too, are su ffused wirh visual info rmatio n,

14 Srcphcn Shore, Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Ave11ue, 15 Srephcn Shore, Holde11 Street. North Adams, Mass-
Los A11geles.Califomia,J1111ezr, 1975, 1975. Ch romoge nic achusetts, July 13, 1974, 1974. Chromogcnic process prim.
process print. 50.5 x 6 1 cm 50 .5 x 61 cm

three beginnings 21
his choice of motifs, refined handling of co lor, canny use of "side lighting," as H illa
Becher ca lled it,u and met iculous composing of his images bo rh latera lly and- more ro
rhe point of the compa rison - in depth 21 combi ne to produce the opposite of the refusa l
of imag inary penetra t ion of the scene Loock associates wit h the Tableaux. "\Xlith Shore,"
Hilla Becher remarked in a conversa t ion with her husband Bernd and Heinz Liesbrock ,
"every th ing is rendered very affectio nately, it is genuinely gras ped. For me, his pho t os
have so mething chat I see as being an idea l in phorogra phy: that one ac tu ally ent ers into
the object, t hat one loo ks at in such a way t ha t afterward one has a genu ine love for
it" (27). To w hich Liesbrock added, "As a n author, as a perso n, he becomes absorbed
into what he is showing" (28). 14 It is worth no t ing t hat the o riginal pri nt s of the U11-
com111011 Places images were modes t in size; more broad ly, Shore's photograp hic vision
in that series belongs ro a historical mo ment im mediate ly pri o r to t he emergence of
the "tableau for m," above all in that Shore's photograp hs were not made for the
wa ll, a fact that does not prevent H illa Becher from pra ising them for their "pictorial
qua lit y" (27).
Fina lly, Bustamante affixed his prints to a flat plate of alumi n um and then framed
them wit hout surro undin g mats of any kind. 1 ; To quote Bustamant e once more: "I
wa nted not to mak e pho t ographs that would be art , but art t hat wo uld be phoro -
graphy. I refuse d the small for mat and t he craft aspect of black and whit e. I wan ted ro
move int o color, in a form at for the wall, in order to give to t he photograp h rhe dimen-
sions of a tablea u, tu trans fo rm it into an ob ject. " 16
There is ambigui t y in this last sentence. On the one ha nd, the not ion of a tableau
asserts t hat Bustamante wished to or ient his work to t he nor ms of pai nt ing. As Criqu i
writes: '' Th e powe r of such works as t hese" - N o. 9 ( 1978), No. 68 (1982 )- " resides
to a cons iderable degree in t he way they minimize [t he interest o f J the ir referents in
orde r to att ract our eye in an ex perience whic h can be calle d picto rial" ( 165). On the
other, Busta mant e's emphasis in t he remarks just quoted falls equally on t he notion of
an objec t and indee d aspects of rhe object-charac ter of h is images beco me only more
palpable as his caree r proceeds. So for example his next series of Tnblenux ( 199 1), com-
pr ising t wem y-rwo large photogra ph s of a cont inu ous curt ain of cypresses situated just
above and beyond a low scone wall (the latter inrcn n irten rly stepped upward from left
to righ t ), gives rhe pictoria lly inclined eye even fewer pa rt iculars ro dwell on t han the
earl ier works : virtuall y the ent ire sur face area of each image is taken up by rhe deep
green, close ly planted cypresses, and t he viewe r has to loo k hard ro ascertain that the
var ious photog raphs, structurally similar, are in fact subtly different from one anot her
- witho ur chose differences having the least meaning in themselves (Figs. r6 and 17) .27
The basic relation of one pictu re ro rhe nexr thus comes close to rhe "one t hing afrer
anothe r " st ructure of m inimalism (t he phrase is Dona ld Judd 's, cited by me in "Arr and
Objecrhood " [r50J) 28 while the cypress curtain itself nearly eliminates all sense of visual
dep t h in a manner t hat harks bac k ro t he non-illus ionistic painting t hat imm ediately
prece ded rhe a dvent of minima lism, notably Frank Stella's st ripe paint ings (Bustamante
has referred to the cypress photographs as " prac t ically monoc hro me" 29 ) . In the cyp ress
ser ies, in sho rt , the distancing and "excl usion " of the viewer reac h an apogee in his early

22 why photography matters as art as never before

16 Jean-Marc Bustamante, Tableau 110. 103, 1991. 17 Jean-Marc Bustamante, Tableau 110. 104, 1991 .
Cibachrome. 1 50 x 120 cm Cibachrome. 1 50 x 1 2.0 cm

wor k, without how ever the ph o tograp hs raking the fur ther step th at wo u ld fully iden-
tify th em wit h min imali st o bject hood , w hat ever tha t wou ld mean in this cont ext.Jo
Similarl y, Busrama nre's d esire to mak e the viewer "e qua lly responsi b le for the wo rk "
or, as he also says, to ma ke p icture s that woul d " engage t he viewer in a o ne-to-o ne rela-
tionship solely thro ugh rheir physica l p resence," wh ile comi ng close to minimalism's
insistence that th e view er's experience is the wo rk (mo re on t his in Ch ap ter N ine), nev-
erth eless stops well s ho rt of that insistence; simply put , his notion of " physica l pres-
ence" a ppea rs to have mor e in common w ith painti ngs b y C lyffo rd St ill, Barnett
Ne wma n, a nd Stella tha n wit h minim a lism itself." Wit ho ut so much as g la ncing here
at Busta manr e's sub sequ ent career, I thi nk it is fair to say that min ima lism has remai ned
a bas ic po le in his t hinkin g bur thar his wo rk in a vari ety of med ia has consistentl y
refused the minimalist op tio n in order to pursue a rang e of bro ad ly p hotog ra phi c aims.31
II am especiall y glad to in sist on Bustama nre's impo rtan ce beca use, of a ll t he photo-
grap hers t reat ed in this boo k, I am least a ble to d o him justice, for the simple reaso n
that I have seen on ly a limited sampl e of his oeuvre. N evert heless, I rega rd his Tableaux
as o ne of t he most ori g inal and imp ressive p hoto graphi c ach ievement s in rece nt deca d es.)

three beginnings 23
Othe r pho tograp he rs too 111ighthave bee n cited in connectio n with th e e111 erge nce of
th e n ew ap proach .33 Ho wever, the exa111plesof Wall, Ruff, and Busta111ant e show beyo nd
all question that the pe rt inent develop111ents ca111eabout as if of the ir own acco rd , rath er
than as t he ou tco 111e of a shared background, com m on educa tion, or uniform set of
art istic influences. Of course, all thr ee ph otograp he rs were awa re of certain maj or devel-
op111en ts in the a rt world during the p revious ten or fifteen years, includ ing t he rise of
mini111alis111,conceptua lis111, and a ffiliated 111oveme nt s. Throughout thi s book 111in imal-
ism in partic ular will be a constant term of reference for my observatio ns.

My thi rd beginni ng wi ll mos tly be a consideratio n of t hree exemp lary tex ts: an anony-
mo us French conte or tale of just over two tho u sand words, Adelaide, ou la femme
morte d'amour, wh ich a ppeared in the m ont hl y journal Mercure de France in Janua ry
175 5; Yukio Mish im a's The Temple of Dawn, orig ina lly published in r970 {the English
tr ans latio n came out fo ur yea rs later); a nd Susan Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others,
published in 2003, a seque l of sorts to her On Photography of 1977. This seems {and
is) an odd selec tion , bur it has t he virtue of engag ing wi t h a set of issues th at will be
bas ic to m y a rgument in the chap ters t hat fo llow.
I first ca111eacross Adelaide, ou la femme morte d'amour (th e wo 111 an who died from
love) in the 1970s, in t he course of pursu in g the library research for Absorption and
Theatricality. In fact T t houg ht abo ut using it in that book, but quickly saw that it would
int roduce a level of com p licatio n that rea ders might find confusing. So I dec ided to set
it as ide un t il so111efuture date, which has now arrived, when it wo uld mak e strategic
sense to bring it into play. "Th is adve nture cook place in 1678," the first sentence reads,
"and will p erha ps app ear incredible in 1755 . Seventy-seven years have brough t about
suc h changes in our m oeurs, that conjugal love , w hich then was respected, has today
become ridicu lo us; it eve n passes for a chi111era, no one believes in it a ny more. Howev er,
the story of Ade la.ide is accom pani ed b y such natural circu111sta nces, it bea rs a charac-
ter of truthfu lness so striking and so na"ive that it must persuade th e 111 ost incredulous
intelligenc e, as surp r ising as it is. T he reader wi ll jud ge: here it is." 14
The plot is si111ple: t he wea lth y Marq ui se de Fe rval, widow of a 111anof qualit y and
ret ired to t he counr ryside to raise her famil y, decides co take a beaurifu l a nd virtuous
orphan, Adela "id e, into her house hold as a co m panion for her sixtee n-year -old daugh-
te r. Also in the fami ly is a so n ; the inevitable happe n s and h e declares his love to Ade-
la"ide, going so far as co speak of marriage; she, h owever, recognizes that the dispari ty
in the ir fo rt unes makes any futur e for the m inco n ceivable a nd does her best ro avoid
hi 111.Nevert heless , the ir feeli ngs cannot be concea led, and th e Marquise o n e day teases
her so n abo ut them. He is about to tell her the rrut h when she, realizing what is hap-
pening, preve nt s hi111fro111saying any th ing mo re by abso lute ly refusi ng to consider Ade-
la"ide in th at light. She goes further: France is a t war, th e Marq ui s is a musketeer, and
s he gives him ju st one day to leave for the ca 111 pa ign . He goes, bu t not b efore i111plor-
ing Adela"ide to re111aintru e to him .

24 why photog raphy matters as art as never before

D uring his ab sence a neighb or falls in love wit h Adela"ide and decla res his intentio ns
to the Marquise, who welcomes t he opp o rt un ity to pu t her son out of dan ger. The youn g
Ferval learn s of rhe plan, returns by post, and throws himself at his mother's feer. She
refuses his pleas, bur t he trouble at home reaches the ear of the neighbor, who breaks
off the marriage arrangeme nts. This infu r iates the Ma rquise, who expels Adela"ide from
her house , in effect d isgrac ing her. Th e Ma rquis mar ries Adela"ide and is at once disin-
herited; a boy is bo rn an d broug ht to the Ma rquise but she remains inexora ble, and ro
make matte rs even more tragic the infant dies. The lovers live three or four yea rs vir-
tually abando ned by the world, bare ly making do, until it becomes necessary for them
to separate. Adela 'ide enters a co nvent and the Mar quis goes to Paris to join an austere
religious order .
Yet forrune was not done persecuting Adela 'ide. Some of the wo men in her co nvent
learn her history and ca bal aga inst her so cleve rly t hat she is oblig ed to leave. One of
the older religieitses, touched by her state, gives her lett ers of reco mmendat ion to t he
religieuse's fathe r in Pari s, a high official who undertakes to seek anothe r retr eat where
Adelai'de can spend the remainder of her life. Ho wever, w hile she is wait ing for such a
retre at to be found, she sends a message t o the M arqu is annou ncing her arr ival, and
asking to speak to him. "The new disgrace that had co me t o Adela"ide is painfu l for him.
He conti nues to love her, he fears t he interview rhat she wishes, and asks her to spare
him an enco unte r [une vue ] which can be only har mfu l to the repose of each of t hem .
Adela'ide, altho ugh dera che d from t he wor ld, is no t detached eno ugh from a hu sband
whom she so loved; his refusa l only increases her desire t o see him" (57). Th ere follows
the paragrap h that l rak e to be the raison d'etre of t he rale (and one more, bringing the
tale to a close):

She goes t o the Monas tery, enters t he Church, and the first object that st rikes her is
the Marquis her husba nd, occupied in a pio us exerc ise with all his Communi t y. His
penitential ha bit tou ches her; she shows herself, he sees her, he lowers his eyes, and
no matt er what effort she mak es to at t ract his gaze, he doesn' t so muc h as glance at
her. Althou gh she unders tand s the motive behind the vio lence of his act , she finds in
it so mething so crue l, tha t she is seized wit h the most ext reme pain . She falls unco n-
scious; someo ne suppo rt s her, she recovers only to ask for her dear Ferval. Someone
runs to tell him t hat his wife is dy ing. H is Sup erior orders him to go an d co nsole her;
and she d ies from the force of her seizure, before he reaches her.35 [57-8 J

The Marquis wee ps, t hen falls into a profou nd reverie. Finally he return s to his
monaste ry, where by the practic e of auste r ities " he tries to make up for his passion,
alt hough legit imate, having had in it som ething too vio lent" (58) .
O n the face of it, Adelaide is an undistinguished specimen of the sentimenral contes
moraux that att racted an enrhu siastic readership amo ng the edu cated classes in France
in the 17 50s and 1760s (Marmontel's "novel" Be/isaire f1767J, barely readable today,
is the classic of t he genre) . Considered as ficti on, suc h tales are o f scanr interes t ; nothing
could be more differe nt from Adelaide, for examp le, than th e brilliant contes D iderot
was soon to wri te - Deux amis de Barbonne, Mme Carlier, Ceci n 'est pas u11 conte . The

three beg innings 25

co11tesmoraux' s interes t , I suggest, resides elsewhere: in their pictoria lism, whi ch is ro
say in their tendency to evoke literary "p ictur es" which themselves are mosr intere st-
ingly seen in the con text of the pictor ial issues of the rime. ' 6 In th e case of Adelaide, rhe
" pictur es" in qu estio n are those "pa inted " from Adela'ide's po int of view in rhe climact ic
paragraph just quo ted . I am inte rested mainly in the first and seco nd " pict ures" - the
Marqui s in mo nk's raime nt absorbed (th e French is occupe) in a religious exerc ise along
wit h all his commu nit y; an d the n, afte r Adela.ide ha s shown herse lf to him (we are nor
rold how), t he "pic tur e" of him refusing to look up despi te her efforts ro attract his
arrenrio n. Th e qu estion is how to visua lize the secon d " pict ur e," and my thought is rhar
although rhe tale do es nor spell rhis our, we are invited to ima gine the Ma rq uis seem-
ingly absorbed once more in his "pi ou s exercis e" along with ot her members of his com-
munity , with trag ic conseque nces that need no retelling. Moreove r, alt houg h the ta le as
much as states that Adela"ide dies beca use of her hu sband's (if no t just ified, ar least und er-
sta ndab le) "c ru elty" toward her, we are, I want ro sugges t , furt her invited to int uit rhar
- from what might be ca lled a srruc rural or the ore tica l rathe r than a stric tly narrative
point of view - the cause of her co llapse an d deat h is a pa rt icular cr isis of representa-
tion conce rni ng the rwo " pict ures" just glance d at. H ere some back gro un d is needed.
The backg round T have in mind is the central argu ment of my ea rlier books on
eighteenth- and nineteent h-century Frenc h pai nt ing. Briefly, starrin g in the mid-r 75os in
France a new con ceptio n of painti ng came to the fore tha t requ ired that the perso nages
dep icted in a canvas appea r genuinely absorbed in w hatever they were doing, thinking,
and feeling, which also meant that t hey ha d to appear who lly unaware of everything
other than the object s of t heir absorption , inclu ding - this was the crnc ia l point - t he
beholder standi ng before t he paintin g. Any failur e of absorpt ion - any suggestio n tha t
a paint ed personage wa s act ing for an audie nce - was co nsidered thea t rical in the pejo-
rati ve sense of the term and was regarded as an egreg ious fault . By th e same to ken, rhe
de mand that paint ing defeat t heatricali t y - that it establish what l have called the
su preme fict ion or ontologi ca l illusion rhar the behol der did not exist, t hat there was no
one standi ng before t he canvas - placed the art of pain ti ng under tremendous pressure
for rhe sim ple reaso n that paint ings, more intensively a nd as it were primord ially tha n
any oth er class o f art ifacts, are mad e to be behe ld. What this was to mean historically
is t hat, t hrough out the century t hat followed, one or another "so lution " to the new
requirements cam e so one r or late r to revea l its inadequacy, as the un derlying tru t h about
pa inting - that it had the behol der in view from the first - could no longer be denied .
(For an accou nt of some of those develop ments see my Courbet's Realism and Manet's
M odernism, or, Th e Face of Painting i11the 1860s .) As regard s pai ntin g alone, the new
conc eption was at least potentia lly in place in Chardin's genre pa int ings of the 1730s .
H owever, it was nor un til Didero t 's wri tin gs on dra ma and pain t ing of t he late 1750s
and '6os th at the double st ress on a bso rpt ion and antitheatricaliry received its full art ic-
ula t ion , alo ng with a new theo rizatio n of the tableau (itali cized ro mark its use as a
period conc ept ) as rhe instru ment of bot h, that is, a deliberate cons tru ct ion dir ected
towa rd the beholder w ithin which the individual personages appear ed not just abso rbed
in what eac h was doing bur also collectively absor bed in t he overa ll dramat ic act ion

26 why pho tography matters as art as never before

represented by the co nstru ction as a whole. (Obv iously the Diderotian tabl eau ha s a dif-
ferent valence from Busramante's use of the term , thoug h both imply some thin g stro nger,
more claim ing of autonomy, than t he English "pic tur e"; I sha ll say more about Chevr ier's
notion of rhe "tab leau form" in Chapt er Six.)
ln a certa in sense, we as readers are ent itled to think of the enti re paragraph quoted
ea rlier as a success ion of tableaux in Did erot 's sense of the term , desp ite the fact that
the notio n is first developed in his Conversations on the Natural Son and Discourse on
Dramatic Poetry of T7 57 and '5 8 respectively (rhar is, a few years afte r the pu blicatio n
of Adelaide). By this I mean that everythin g t he reade r is given to visual ize, includin g e's act ions, co llapse, and death (with on e or more persons bending over her?)
and the gr ief-stricken Marq uis's falling int o a profound rever ie, is inten sely absorptive,
just as the settin g itself, a mon ast ic chur ch interio r, perfectly ex presses th e theme of sep-
arat ion from the wo rld of rhe rea der/beho lder. Yet if we co nsider only t he two tableaux
seen by Adela"ide, something else co mes into focus: the intim ation - I wo uld like to say
rhe "fact," but of course I am extrapolating rather freely from a t heoretically ret icen t
text - rhar from Adela"id e's poi nt of view no difference can be discerned between the
outward behavior of the Ma rquis whe n he is trul y a bsorbed in his religious observ ances
and when, after Adela.ide ha s shown herself to him, he has return ed with lowered eyes
to those obse rvances bur is now acutely aware th at his wife has her eyes fixed on him .
The abse nce of visible differe nce is what I meant by a crisis of repr esentat ion - thou gh
furthe r explanat ion is again called for. I say thi s because from the perspective of Diderot's
writ ings on drama , what l have ca lled a crisis is bound to seem illusory : what matter s
in his accou nt is not rhat the actor s in a play actua lly be unaware of the presence of the
audience - he later arg ued in the Paradox on the Actor that acto rs should not be so
deeply identifie d wit h th eir ro les as to lose t hemse lves in the m - but rather t hat t hey
deploy all the co nscious sk ills at their co mm and in order to creat e successfu lly th e dra-
mati c stage tableaux that w ill secure the overa rching illusion that th e aud ience has nor
been taken into account. Howeve r, what my readin g of t he clim ax of Adelaid e suggests
is tha t as early as 17 5 5 - significan tly, t he year wh en Jean-Bap t iste Gre uze's Father of
the family Readi11gthe Bible was shown at the Salon, ma rking the official deb ut of the
leading French pain ter of his genera t ion an d a key figur e in t he first stages o f the a ntithe-
atrica l dialectic the n getting un der way - t here was ab road at least a hint of bad co n-
science or more prec isely ontologica l uneasin ess abou t the "fa lseness" that t he very
stru cture of the tableau could be felt to imply, a "falseness" that it was beyond the power
of either paint ing or dra ma to themarize, but that fiction - a part icular genre of fictio n,
t he pictorial isr conte m oral - could give expression to in its own characteristically sen-
t imental or (the ano nymo us aurhor's term ) "na"ive" way. Adela.ide dies , in this reading,
because the absence of outwa rd difference mentioned above is int o lera ble ro her. This
is of course to attach a grear deal of significa nce ro an exceedingly slight literary work,
bur before leaving Adelaide I wa nt ro go one step furt her and propose that the issue of
" trut hfulness" versus "fa lseness" in t his conn ection alrea dy looks beyond stage drama ,
with respect to w hich it is essent ially a matter of techn ique, and beyond painti ng, with
respect to whic h it makes no sense to ask wha t a personage in a ca nvas is "act ually"

three beg inn,ngs 27

or "truly" doin g, th inking, or feeling, tow a rd the mechanical reprodu ctio n of reality in
ph orography, with respect to w hich such que st ions are inescapab le. (Or with respect to
which such q uestions have been inescapable; 1 am thinkin g of the adve nt of digitization,
the co nseq u ences of wh ich for pho rogr aphic practice an d theor y ha ve yet to become
fu lly clear. 37)
Th e second text 1 want ro cons ider, Mishima's The Temple of Dawn , belongs to the
a uth o r 's late tetra logy, Th e Sea of Fertility, publi shed in J ap an between r968 and '7 1.
By the latter date Mis hima was dead, ha ving led t he abo rt ive "u pr ising" that ende d as
plan ned wit h his commi tt ing seppu ku im mediately upo n comple t ing th e fin a l volume in
Nove m ber 1 9 70. l want ro focus on severa l passages, all of which co ncern the not ion
of voyeurism, which l shall go on ro sugges t ma y a lso be though t of as an essentiall y
photographic trop e. First, thoug h, I shoul d note th at rhe Diderorian ideal of the "fo r-
go tten ," in tha t sen se functiona lly abse nt , beho lder has somet imes been glossed in terms
of voye urism, but that has a lways seemed to me wrong. A voyeur of a scene is by defi-
nition p resent bu t hidden: fro m a place of secur ity, often of dark ness, he or she sp ies on
the scene, which typica lly is ero t ic in natu re, as in a c ruc ial episode in Mishima's earl ier
novel, The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. 38 It is of course nor impossi ble for
rhe a rr of paint ing ro convey rhe impr ession rhar a depicted scene has been represented
from the point of view of a voyeu r, bur ro do so requires particular means (there are
sma ll Fragonards of eroti c su bjects rha r seem as if witn essed th roug h a key hole or from
inside a s ligh tly ope n closer), and is nor at all what Diderot had in m ind in his writings
on dr ama a nd pai nt ing. Nor for rha t matte r d o voyeu rist ic points of view play a role in
the evol ut ion of eightee nth- a nd n ineteent h-centur y pa inting in France ; not hing co uld
be less vo yeur is tic , for example, than t he viewe r's implied relation ro David's Oath of
the Horatii, Ger icau lr's Raft of the Medusa, Co urb et's Burial at Ornans , or indeed
M anet's Olympia (a rguab ly rhe least voyeu rist ic n ude eve r painted). In Mis hima's nove l,
rhen, t he fifty-seven -yea r-old protagonist, Shigek uni Ho nda, has placed a peep hole in
th e back of a bookcase through which he plans to spy on a guest in his hous e, the beau-
t iful Thai princess Ying Chan, as she di sro bes in her bedro om . Honda , we read, "had
never crave d for any momen t so much as th is. ... [He ] was going to see Ying Cha n in
a sta te that as yet had been see n by no one. This was what he wanted more th an any-
thi ng else in the wo rld . By his act of watc hing, rhis unseen con dit ion was already
destroyed . Being seen by a bso lutely no on e an d being u nawa re of being seen were similar,
yet bas ica lly d ifferent." 39 (Th e flow of sentences, especially the transi t ion between "This
wa s what he wante d .. . " and " By h is ac t o f watchi ng ... , " sho uld bring us up short:
th ere seems ro be an importa nt " But" or " However" tha t t he novelist has deliberate ly
om itt ed, perhaps by way of suggest ing rh e destru ctiveness o f H on da's inmos t impul ses.)
La ter in the novel we are ro ld: " It was certain t hat the Ying Chan one saw was not
a ll t here was . For Honda, longing for the Yin g Chan he cou ld not see, love de pended
on the unknown; an d naturally per cep t ion was related to the known. If he drove his
percept ions on and wit h the m plunde red th e unk nown, t hereby inc reasing the area of
t he known, coul d his love be achieved? N o , it wo uld not work rhat way, because his
love st rove ro keep Ying Chan as far aw ay as poss ib le from rhe ralons of his percep-
tio n " (276). Thi s leads ro the followin g:

28 why photography matters as art as never before

Therefore his desire to see Ying C han in the nud e, a Ying C han un known to a nyone,
became an unatt ainable desire divided con tradicto rily into perceptio n and love. Seeing
alrea dy lay within the sphere of pe rcept ion , and even if Ying C han was no r aware of
ir, from t he moment he had peepe d th rou gh t he luminou s hole in the back of t he
bookcase, she had become an inh abitant of a wo rld crea ted by her fsic: the sense of
the sentence dictates t he pronoun " his" .I percep t ion. In her wo rld, contam inate d by
his t he moment he laid eyes on it, w hat he rea lly wanted to see wo uld neve r appear.
H is love could not be fulfilled . And yet, if he did not see, love wo uld forever be pre-
cluded . . . . fHonda's perception it self therefore] became a screen and was defect ive,
an infinitesimal obsr rn crion. Then how would ir be if he go r rid of rhe obst ruct ion
and cha nged rhe situ at ion? That wo uld mean t he removal of H onda from the wo rld
wh ich he shared wit h Ying C han, in ot her words, his own deat h.
It now beca me clear that Honda's ulrima re desire, what he really, real ly wanted to
see co uld exist on ly in a world where he did not. In order to see what he tru ly wishe d
to, he must die. Whe n a voyeur recognizes that he can rea lize his ends only by elim-
inating rhe bas ic acr of wa tch ing, this means his dea t h as suc h. [276 - 7]

One way of cha racterizi ng Honda's pr edicam ent is as a radicaliz ing or meraphys ical-
izing of voyeurism, if nor of ant ithearrica liry as such; the cruc ial stat eme nt , from which
everyt hing else follows, is: "Being seen by ab solut ely no on e and being unaware of being
seen were similar, yet basically diff erent" - rhe word "bas ically" here car r ying onto lo-
gical weight . In Adelaide, ar rhe o utset of rhe pictorial evolu t ion that led t o modernism,
being tru ly absor bed, t here fore truly unaware of bei ng seen, and (merely) ap pear ing to
be thus absorbed and unaw are of being seen a lso prove d "simila r, yet basically diff er-
ent" (if my reading is believed). However, t he diffe rence in t he ea rlier case lay precise ly
in the beheld sub ject 's consciousness, which the reader is exp licirly told is not the dec i-
sive factor in the late r one - t he Pr incess will not be aware of being beheld and yet every-
thing w ill have been changed . The shi ft of empha sis between t he t wo tex ts, wr itt en more
than two hund red years apart, might be charact erized by sayi ng that in Mishima's novel
the situatio n with regard to beho lding has becom e muc h more dire : simply by virt ue of
being beheld the Prin cess's "world" (a fascinating not ion in t his context) w ill be fun-
damenta lly altered - Mis hima says co ntamin ated . Put slig hrly diff erenrly, whereas in
Adelaide t he sour ce of mortal di fficu lty is the possibility that being abso rbed and pre-
tending to be abso rbed (or represe nting being absor bed ) ca n be indistinguis hable from
each other, in The Temple of Dawn the source of difficult y is beholding it self, and the
only solution the tex t im agines is the preemp t ion of beholding through the deat h of the
My furt her suggestion, in t he sa me vein as my con cludin g remarks ab o ut Adelaide,
is that H onda's reflections ma y be read almost as if t heir u lt imate po int of reference
were not the figure of the voyeur so much as that of the photogra ph er, wh ose relat ion
to his o r her subjec ts has frequently been described in terms of voyeurism and on e of
whose tradi t ional a pproach es, in the int erest of t rut h of ex pr ession, has been to depict
perso ns who for one reaso n or anot her are unawa re of being photograp hed, often
because they are absor bed in wha teve r they are doing, thinking, or feeling. 40 As Susa n

three beginnings 29
Sontag puts it in a sta tement l shall return ro more rhan once, "Th ere is some t hing on
people's faces when they do n't know they are being obse rved that never ap pears when
they do. " 41 It is also tru e, however, that att itudes wit hin pho tography toward that
approach have shifted ove r the course of time (Sontag herself cites Brassai"'s " [denu nci-
at ions ofj pho tograp hers who try to t rap their subjects off-guard, in rhe erroneous belief
t hat something special will be reveale d abou t the m " 42 ), and I thin k it is fair to say char
by t he end of the 1970s - Sontag's views notwit hstanding - t here took place a wide-
spread reaction against all such practices, a reac t ion em blemat ized by the crisis of con-
fidence that seems ro have overtake n the brilliant Amer ican st reet pho tographe r Gar ry
Winogrand in the years shortly before his deat h in 1984 (Winogrand in t he !are 1970s
rook t housands of photograp hs rhat he never bothere d ro develop, and seems to have
been on the verge of giving up street photography entirely 43 ), as well as by some pas-
sages in Roland Barrhes's Camera Lucida (1980), to be discusse d in dera il in Chap ter
Four of t his boo k. In ot her words, l propose rhar t here exists an affinity between rhe
problemarizing of beholding in rhe cont ext of voyeurism in The Temple of Dawn and
certai n deve lopmen ts in photog rap hy and the t heory of photography in rhe 1970s and
early J 980s . Indeed I want to go beyond t hese considerations, which remain in rhe realm
of the sub ject 's, and by implicat ion t he artist's, puta t ive psychology and suggest that
rhere ex ists a more profou nd affinit y between rhe metap hysica l or ontological register
in whic h Mish ima's problemat ic of seeing and being seen is cast and some, tho ugh by
no means all, of rhe photographic work to be discussed in rhis book : as if what ult i-
mate ly is at stake in rhar work is prec isely the depiction or evocat ion of a separatio n of
worlds (" It now became clear that Honda's ultimate des ire, what he really, really wanted
to sec could ex ist on ly in a worl d where he did nor"). Mo re precisely, ir is as if some
such depic t ion or evocation tu rns ou t to lend itself especia lly well ro rhe construction
of rhe new relationship betwee n photograph and beho lder that in my account - also, ar
least up ro a po int, in Chevrier's - is at the hea rt of rhe "tab leau form." (The theme of
"exclusion" in the strongest com mentaries on Bustamante is a respo nse ro this state of
affairs .} Let me add that I shall return to Mishima's retralogy twice more in this boo k,
once in relat ion ro Sugimoro's Seascapes and once, more importantly, t owa rd the end
of t he Conclusion, in connect ion wirh a recent work by Jeff Wall t hat illustra tes a par-
t icular episode in the first novel in rhe rerralogy, Spring Snow.
Finally, I wa nt to glance ar certain passages in Susan Sontag's Regarding the Pain of
Others, a book -length essay in which she reconsiders some of the t hemes in On Photo-
graphy of almost thirty years before. In particula r she reflects in her new book on the
efficacy - even, at times, the legitimacy - of images of pa in, violence, suffe r ing, and death
as a means of promoti ng po lit ical aware ness, given the countless respect s in which such
images lend themselves ro ot her purposes as well, are pro ne ro becom ing overfamil iar,
hence polit ically ineffect ive, or risk appeali ng, by the ir very cont ent, ro pruri ent inter-
ests on the part of the viewer . So for exam ple she writes:

Tra nsforming is what arr does, but photography t hat bears witness to the calam itous
and the reprehe nsible is much criticized if ir seems "aesthetic"; that is, too much like
art. The dua l powers of photography - to genera re documents and to crea te works of

30 why pho tograp hy matters as art as never before

visual art - have produced some remarka ble exaggerations abou t what photographers
ough t or ough t not to do . Lately, rhe most co mm on exaggerat ion is one that regar ds
these powers as opposites. Photographs that dep ict suffer ing shouldn' t be beautiful,
as captio ns shouldn't moral ize. In thi s view, a beautiful photogra ph dra ins att ent ion
from rhe sobe rin g subject and turns it towa rd the med ium itself, the reby co mp ro-
mising the pict ur e's sta tu s as a docum ent . The photograp h gives mi xed signals . Stop
this, it urges . Bur it also ex claims, What a spectacle! 44


Ir used to be tho ught , when rhe candid images were nor co mm on, that show ing
some t hing t hat needed to be seen, bringing a painf ul rea lity closer, was bound to
goa d viewers to feel more. In a world in wh ich photography is brilliant ly at the service
of cosu merist manip ulat ions, no effect of a photograp h of a dole ful scene ca n be
taken for gra nted . As a conseque nce, mora lly alerr ph otogra phers a nd ideologues of
photogr aph y have become increasingly concerned with the issues of explo itation
of senti ment (pity, compassion, indigna t ion) in war pho tograp hy and in ro te ways of
provoki ng feeling. (79-80 J

O f an ex hibitio n in 2000 of "a trove of ph otogra ph s of black victims of lync hing in

small tow ns in the United States between the 1890s and t he 1930s, which provided a
shattering, revelato ry experience for the thousan ds who saw t hem in a ga llery in New
York in 2000," Sontag rehearses a series of questions t hat were raise d at t he time of the
exh ibitio n and when a boo k of rhe photograp hs, Without Sanctuary, was pub lished:
"W hat is the po int of ex hib iting these pictur es? To awaken indignatio n ? To mak e us
feel 'bad'; that is, to appall and sa dd en? To help us mourn? Is loo king at such pictur es
really necessary, given rhar these horro rs lie in a pas t remote enough to be beyond pun-
ishment? Are we the bett er for seeing these images? Do they act ua lly reach us anything?
Don't they rat her just confirm wha t we alread y kn ow (or want to kn ow)?" (91-2) .
Alt hough one senses rha r Sontag does nor share the negative attitude towa rd rhe exhi-
bition and book rhar rhe ques tions imply, she does no t quite co me out and say so, pre-
sumab ly because she also feels t he quest ions' mo re t ha n just rhetorical force . Simi lar ly,
al though in th e first passage quoted above she appar ently distan ces herself from the
"exaggerat ion" rha r would draw a shar p distinction between a photograph's dep iction
of suffering and its "aest het ic" q uality, she also wr ites towa rd rhe end of her book:

So far as pho tographs with rhe most sole mn or heartre nd ing subject matter are art -
and rhis is what they become whe n t hey ha ng on walls, whateve r rhe disclaimers -
rhey pa rtake of the fate of all wall- hung or floor-suppo rt ed arr displayed in publ ic
spaces. T har is, they are stat ions alo ng a - usually accom panie d - st roll. .. . Up ro a
po int, rhe weight and ser iousness of suc h photograp hs survive berrer in a book, where
one can look privat ely, linger ove r rhe pictures, wit hout talking. Still, at some mome nt
rhe book w ill be closed . The strong emotion will become a t ransient one. Event ually,
the specifici ty of rhe photographs' accusat ions will fade; t he denunciat ion of a par-
ticular conflic t and at t ribut ion of spec ific cr imes will become a de nu ncia tion of human

three beginnings 31
cruelty, hu man sav agery as suc h. The p hotogra ph er's inrent ion s are irrelevanr to this
larger pr ocess . I 121 - 2]

At o ne point Sont ag d oes state uneq uivocally:

There now exis ts a vast repo s ito ry of images that mak e it harde r to ma intain this kind
of mo ral d efective ness [Son tag has in min d someone who remains pere n nially sur-
pri sed th at de pravit y exists, tha r hu man beings are capable of great cruelt y to ward
one anot her, ere .]. Let t he atro cio us images haunt us. Even if t hey are only tok ens,
a nd can n ot possib ly encompass most o f th e reali t y ro which they refer, rhey still
perfo rm a viral function . T he images say: T his is wha t hum an bei ngs are capable of
doi ng- 111ayvo lunteer to do, enthusias tica lly, self-righteo usly. Do n 't forge r. [114- 15]

Howeve r, these sorts of assertions are few an d far betwee n; one of the stri kin g things
about Regarding the Pain of Others (fo r all its lack of a vecto red arg ument, a typical
feature of Son tag's wri ting) is its reluctance to take up a sim ple or co nsistent stance
towar d the diffic ult q uestions it contin u ally raises. l find it all the more un expected,
then, that in her book's final pages Sonrag sing les our o ne "an t iwar" imag e, Jeff Wall's
Dead Troops Talk {A Vision After an Ambush of a Red Army Patrol near Moqor,
Afgha nistan, Winter 1986 (1992 ; Fig. r8), as be ing "exe mplar y in its tho ughtf uln ess
and p owe r." She expla ins tha t t he pict ur e, "a Cibac h rome tr ansparency seven and a ha lf
feet high an d more rhan th irtee n feet w ide an d mo unted on a ligh t box, shows figu res
posed in a landscape , a blasted hillside, that was co nstru cted in t he pa inrer's stu dio"
( , 23 ).'' H er con clud ing paragraphs read:

Th e figur es in Wall 's visiona ry photo-work are "rea list ic" but, of co ur se, th e image is
nor . Dead sold iers don't ta lk. H ere they d o.
Thir teen Ru ssian soldiers in bu lky w int er unifor ms an d high boo t s are scattered
abo u t a pock ed , b lood -splashed slope lined wit h loos e roc ks an d the litter of war:
shell cas ings, cru m pled metal, a boot tha t ho lds the lower part of a leg ... A few still
have rheir helmets on. The head of o ne kn eeling figure, talk ing animated ly, foams w ith
his red brai n matter. The a tm os p here is warm, co n vivial, fra te rn al. Some slouc h,
leani ng on an elbow, or sit, cha tti ng, th eir o p ened sk ulls and des tro yed han ds on view.
One man bends over another who lies on his side as if as leep, perh aps encouragi ng
hi111to sir up. T hr ee men are h ors ing around: o ne wirh a huge wound in his belly
straddl es ano th er, lying prone, who is laughi ng at a third ma n , on his k nees, who
pla yfull y dang les befor e him a st rip of flesh. O n e soldier, helmeted, legless, has rurned
ro a co mrad e so me d istance away, an alert smile on his face . Below him ar e two who
don't see m q ui te up to the resurrect io n and lie supi ne, their b loodied head s hanging
down rhe ston y incline.
Engulfed by the i111 age, w hich is so accusato ry, w e could fanta s ize thar rhe so ldiers
g hr turn and talk to us. But n o, no one is looking o ut of rhe picture . T here's no
th reat of pro test. They are no t abo ut to yell ar us to bri ng a halt to tha t abo min at ion
whic h is war . Th ey ha ven 't co me bac k to life in or der to stagger off to denoun ce the
war-ma kers w h o sent them to kill and be killed. An d the y are not rep resente d as rer-

32 why photography matters as art as never before

18 Jeff Wall, Dead Troo/1sTalk (A Vision After a11Amb ush of a Red Army Patrol near Moqor, A(gha11ista11,
1992.. Transparency in lightbox . 229 x 417 cm

rifying to o t hers, for among them (far left) s irs a whi te-garbe d Afghan scavenger,
entirely abso rbed in go ing through so meo ne's kit bag, of whom they take no note,
and entering the pic ture above t hem (top righ t) o n the path windi ng down the slope
are two Afghans, perhaps soldiers the mse lves, who, it wo u ld seem from the Kalash-
nikovs collected near the ir feet, have a lread y str ipped the dea d sold iers of their
weapo n s. These dead arc supremely uninterested in t he living : in t hose who rook their
lives; in w itnesses - a nd in us. Wh y shou ld they seek our gaze? W hat wo uld t hey have
ro say ro us? "We" - th is "we" is everyone who has never experie nced any t hing like
what they went throug h - don't understan d . We don' t get it. We tru ly ca n't imagi n e
what it was like. We can' t imagine how d readful, how terrify ing war is; an d how
norma l it beco mes. Can' t unders tan d , can' t imagi ne. Tha t 's what every so ldie r, and
every journa list an d aid worker an d ind ependent observe r w ho has pu t in t ime under
fire, and had rhe luck ro elud e the death that st ruck down others nea rby, stubbornl y
feels. And the y are right. I 124-6 1

Sontag's respon se to Wall's monumenta l pho tograph is framed in terms of her cen tral
concern wit h images of vio lence an d their efficacy or lac k of it as a means of convey-
ing rhe horro r o f modern war; rhe exem p lariness of Dead Troops Talk in her eyes co n -

three begmmngs 33
sists in its ability co do just rhis. What I want to ca ll artenr ion ro is rhat for Sontag rhe
dec isive feature of Wall's phocograp h is not so muc h the brilliant interplay among rhe
slau ghtere d Russian soldier s, as gr ippin g as she finds it, bur rhe facr thar, as she puts ir,
" no one is looking out of the picture." For Sontag, of course, whar makes rhar facr
mea ningfu l is thar it is pa rt of a large r recognir ion she arrribures co rhe dead Russians
ro rhe effecr rhar rhere is no point in rheir address ing the viewer - in add ressing "us" -
for rhe ir refutable reaso n thar, nor having actually experienced the horror s of war, "we"
are incapa ble o f under stan ding or ima gin ing wh ar they have jusr gone rhroug h. This is
a perfectly plausible way of thi nking abour whar rakes place in Dead Troops Talk.
Howe ver, rhe fact t har none of rhe soldiers is loo king our of t he picture also means rhar
Wall's picrure is consistent wirh rhe crucial princip le of rhe Diderorian tableau - the use
of absorptive mot ifs and st ru ct ures to estab lish th e ontological illusion rhat rhe beholder
does not ex isr. Sontag doe s not exp licitly invoke the no rion of abs orprion in her descrip-
rion of rhe Russians, but she does rema rk on the "w hite-garbed Afghan scavenger [who
is] entire ly absorbed in going thro ugh somebo dy's kir bag [and] of whom rhey rake no
nore." In facr iris as if Wa ll's pictur e as seen by her rep resents two dist inct "worl ds,"
that of the dead but risen Russians and that of the living Afghans, which occupy the
same pictor ial space but are some how invisib le to one anothe r even as they are both
separa te from , though not invisib le to , o ur own.
Th ere is a further co mplexity here. As has emerged, no t hing was mo re inimical to rhe
oper at ions of the Diderotian tableau than rhe least hint of " pr etense" or "posi ng" on
the parr of rhe figures it co mpri sed - indeed, Did erot saw the use of professio nal models,
whose job it was to hold var ious more or less co nventional poses, as a source of the
dreadfu l mann erism of much of the paint ing of his t ime. (Yet what was an ambitious
histo ry painter to do? Say he wante d to rep resent a pe rsonage from Gree k or Roman
antiq uit y swearing a morta l oath or consume d with gr ief or dying from poison or
engaged in some violent mo mentary actio n; obv ious ly no professiona l model coul d fit
rhe bill - but what recourse did the painter have othe r than to depict the personage on
t he bas is of his im agination? And was not thar a possible so urce of man nerism in irs
own right ?) In co ntra st , it is at once appare nt that all of Wall's soldiers, Russian and
Afghan alike, ca n only be per sons hired by him to dr ess up in the appro priate clot hing
and assume rhe poses and enact the pieces of bus iness that he had devised for them
(compare Sherman's use of herse lf as model in the Untitled Film Stills). What is more,
it turns our t hat there was neve r a mome nt in Wall's st udio when the scene before the
came ra was as it appea rs in th e ph otog raph; rathe r, he shor his picture one or rwo figures
at a time a nd sumre d t he w hole cogerher wirh the aid of a compurer. Sontag may or
may nor have known about the piecemeal shoo ting, bur she notes ar rhe start that Wall
posed his figur es in a fictive landscape and is not in rhe least t roubled t hat this is so. In
fact, I suggest tha t it is prec isely Sontag's reco gnit ion that Dead Troops Talk is nor a
ca ndid shor of an actual event bur rat her a work of de liberate and elab orate art ifice rhar
- tog et her with the aware ness that none of Wa ll's figures "loo k our of rhe picrure" -
und erwrites her adm irario n fo r his ac hievement . We mighr say that the facr rhat Dead
Troops Talk is rran sparen rly a wor k of high artifice saves ir from rhe risk of "aesrheri-

34 why photography matters as art as never before

cizarion" which for Sontag constantly thr eatens non-art phot ogra ph s such as the sho ts
of lynchings or the other images of violence and oppr ession she conside rs, even as its
(do ubly) absorp t ive int erna l st ructure allows ir to avo id seemi ng to address rhe beho lder
directly, a feature she approve s of on na rr ow ly et hical grounds but which l am sug-
gesti ng has a more profou nd appeal to which she also respo nd s - one in keepi ng, l note,
w ith her earlier (and probably the n st ill curr ent) preference for photographs of person s
unawa re of being observed. Here it may seem as if la m on the verge of accusing Sontag
of being inco nsistent, bm nothing co uld be furthe r from my point . Rathe r, my claim in
rhe chapters rhar follow will be rhar just suc h a conjunc t ion of what l wan t to call "to-
be-seenness" and a Dide rorian thematics of absorptio n has pla yed a significant role in
some of the most interesting and impo rt ant photogr aph y of recent decades, and tha t
Sontag 's accou nt of Dead Troops Talk, alt houg h nor co ncerned wit h art istic issues as
such, is itself emblemat ic in tha t rega rd. Or to pu t thi s in terms harking back to the rad-
icalization of voyeuri sm in The Temple of Dawn, I sugges t that once ir became imag-
inable that a "wo r ld" cou ld be " contami nated" by the mere fact of being beheld, the
situation was ripe for t he emerge nce of an est het ic that would accept suc h "contam i-
nat ion " as the basis of its procedures . Inevitabl y, that estheric found irs hom e in
phorogra ph y.

three beginnings 35

introduction Film (Londo n and New Yor k , 1992), p. 53 : "A glance (in
a narrative film] imp lies an interaction with an ob ject. In
1 The epith et is Mark Linde r's. See Lind er, Nothing Less than fact, glances are so important to narrating a scory wo rld
Literal: Architecture after Minimalism (Camb ridge, Mass., that the only glan ce that is genera lly avoided is a glance into
and London, 2004), p. 102. See also the discu ssion of" Art the lens o f the camera . A look int o the camera br eaks the
and Objecthood" in James Meyer, Minim alism: Art and diegesis because it mak es the convent ional reverse shot or
Polemics in the Sixties (New Ha ven and Londo n, 2oor}, eyeline ma rch impossible. (Such a matc h wou ld reveal the
pp. 229- 42. cam era itself; its absence wou ld be just as revealing.)" For
H ere I will ment ion rhar in an endnot e to the introduc- a fuller treatment of the tra nsgression constitute d by "a
to ry essay in Art and Objecthood I wrote: " It's noceworrhy loo k and a voice addressed co the camera," also charac ter-
... the extent to which photography-base d (or simply pho - ized as "a n infraction of canon ical proportions, an affront
tograp hic) work of the 1970s and after - for exam ple, that co th e 'prop er' functioning of representat ion and filmic
of Cindy Sherm an, Jeff Wall, and Gerh ard Richter - has narrati ve," see Francesco Case tti , Inside the Gaze: The
found itself co mpelled co address issues of beho lding, often Fiction Film and }ts Spectator, trans. Ne ll Andrew with
by an ap peal co abs orpti ve mean s and effects. Thi s is a large Charles O'Br ien (Bloom ington and Indianapo lis, 1998 ),
topic" ("A n Introduction to my Arc Criticism," Art and esp. ch. 2, "The Figure of the Specrator," pp. r6, 17. My
Objecthood : Essays and Reviews (Chicago and Lond on, thanks co Dudley And rew for both references.
19981, p. 74). So I had begun to th ink alo ng these lines as 6 See R egis Durand , " Intr od uct ion," in Cindy Sherman, exh.
early as t99 5-6. cat. (Paris, Bregenz, Humbleba ek, Berlin, 2006-7 ), p. 246.
2 Fried, "A n Intr oduction to my Art Critici sm," p. SJ. Othe r essays in the catalogue are by Jean-Pie rre Criq ui,
3 My thanks co Molly Warnock for urging me to make this who int erest ingly emph as izes Sherma n's "d isap peara nce" in
point. favor of her many fictiona l self-images, and Laura Mulvey.
More broadly, James Conant has argued in a series of sem-
inars entitled "T he Onto logy of a Movie World," given at
three beginnings the H umanities Center, Johns Hopkins University in April
2007, tha t the requirements for the internal co herence o f
l H iroshi Sugimoto in Kerry Broug her an d Davi d Elliott , such a "wo rld " align close ly with Diderot's account of the
Hiroshi Sugimoto, exh. cat. (Washingto n, D.C. and Tok yo, proper funct ioning of drama and paintin g in his wr iting s of
2005 - 6), n.p . the 17 50s and '6os .
2 C indy Sherma n , Th e Complete Untitled Film Stills (New 7 T he key essay in th at regard is undoubtedly Doug las
Yor k , 2003). Further page references to th is boo k will be Crimp's "The Photographic Activity of Posrmodernism,"
in par enth eses in rhe text. first pub lished in October, no. 15 (Winter r980 ): 91-ror.
3 See e.g. the essays by Craig Owens, Do uglas Crimp, (Cited here from Burt on, Cindy Sherman, pp . 25-37.) At
Rosa lind Kra uss, et al. in Jo hanna Burton , ed., Cindy one po int Cr imp describes a phocogra ph y "that is self-
Sherman, OCTOBER Files 6 (Cambrid ge, Mass., and consciously compose d, man ipulated, fictionali zed, the
Lon d on, 2006); and J. M . Bernstein, Against Voluptuous so-ca lled dir ecto rial mode, in wh ich we find such auteurs
Bodies: Late Modernism and the Meaning of Painting of ph ot ography as Duane Mic hal s an d Les Krims." He
(Stanfo rd , Ca l., 2006), pp . 253-323 . cont inu es:
4 See Michael Fried, "Art and Objecthood," Art and Ob ject-
hood: Essays and Reviews (Chicago and Lon don , 1998), The strategy of this mode is to use the apparent veracity
pp. 148-72; Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and of photogra ph y agains t itself, creat ing one's fictions
Beholder in the Age of D iderot (1980 ; Ch icago and thr oug h the appearance of a seamless reality inco whic h
London, 1986); Courbe t 's Realism (Ch icago and London, has been woven a narrative dimension . Cindy Sherman's
1990); and Manet's Modernism, or, The Face of Painting in phot ographs function with in th is mode, but only in orde r
the 1860s (Chicago and Lond on, 1996). See also Fried, "An to expose an unw a nted aspec t of that fiction, for the
Introd uct ion to my Art Criticism," Art and Objecthood, fiction Sherman discloses is the fiction of the self. Her
pp. 40-54. pbocographs show th at the supposed auto nomous and
5 See e.g. Edwa rd Branigan, Narrative Comprehension and unitary self out of wh ich those other "directo rs" would

not es to pages 1-10 353

create their fictions is itself nothing other than a discon- way detracts from th e primac y of the pose . Instead,
tinuous series of representations, cop ies, and fakes. insofar as the pose themat izes photography, trans form-
Sherman's photographs are all self-portra its in which ing the photograph into an element in the history of the
she appears in disgui se enacting a d rama whose particu- pose (subsu ming the photo graph in the narrative of its
lars are withheld. This ambigui ty of narr ative parallels own ex istence), the photo g raph is even more rigorously
the ambiguity of the self that is both actor in the narra- subord inated to the pose than it wou ld othe rwise be, for
tive and creato r of it. For tho ugh Sherman is literally self- the p ose becomes, in effect, a critique of the pho togra ph.
created in these works, she is created in the image o f What the photograph shows is an object th at has been
already known femin ine stereotypes; her self is therefore called into the worJd by the existence of came ras; rhe
unde rstood as conti ngent on th e possibilities provided by pose, as pose, calls attent ion to th is fact and cr iticizes the
the cu ltu re in which Sherman participa tes, not by some world rhe camera has made; the camera, then, reco rds
inner impulse. As such, her photographs reverse the terms this crit ique. Th e parodic elemen t in Sherman consists in
of ar t and autobiog rap hy. They use art not to reveal the her ins istence tha t the object the camera records is an
artist's true self but ro show the se lf as an imagi nary con- objec t th e camera has made, but th e status of the ph oto-
str uct . Ther e is no real Cindy Sherman in these pho - grap h as record is asserted rather tha n challenged by the
tographs; there are only the gu ises she assumes. And she parody. [The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End
do es not create these guises; she simp ly chooses them in of History (Princeton and Oxford, 2004), pp. 97-8,
the way that any of us do. The p ost of aut hors hip is d is- emp ha sis in origi nal]
pensed with not on ly through the mechanica l means of
making the image but also through rhe effacement of any Michaels's po int in rehearsi ng the pos tmodern account of
continuous, essential persona or even recognizable visage Sherman's Untitled Film Stills is ro set the stage for a very
in the scenes. 134-51 different, i.e. modernist, reading of the work of the pho-
tographer James Welling, in which, as Mic haels puts ir,
The "d ispe nsin g" o r "effacement" of the "post of auth o r- "Welli ng deploys the shape of the photograph aga inst rhe
sh ip" is a crucia l postmodernist motif, as is the critique of shape o f the objects photographed in order to defeat the
rhe very not ion of a stable identi ty that C rimp 's account camera's ability to let us see ob jects in the world and to
puts forward. emp loy those objects instead in the mak ing of photographs
More recently, Wa lter Benn Michaels has had this ro say (to use them like paint )" (100). This scarce ly does justice
about Sherma n's place in postmodern crit icism : to his pages on Welling, but my point is that, in the course
[!In an important essay ca lled "Photography afte r Art of contrasting Welling with Sherman, Michaels perhaps too
Photo graphy, " Ab igail Solomon -Godea u could argue much accep ts th e postmodern readin g of her signature
that photography had come ro "figure as a crucia l term works - at any rate, my suggestion that the film stills bear
in postmodern ism" precisely insofar as it had r epud iated a significant relat ion ro an antithearrica l problemati c con-
the am bition to make photographs into works of art and cerns the photographs thems elves, not simp ly or essent ia lly
had tak en instead "an instrum ental approach to the the poses and disguises they record .
medium." What this involved was "using photography " 8 In the 2005 catalogue raisonne of Wall's work, one r eads :
to mak e art ra ther than making photograph s that were "Th e literature various ly describes the artist's backlit colour
themselves arr, a d ist inction she derives from Peter transparencies as 'transpare n cy in ligh tbox ', 'c ibachrome
Bunn ell's rema rk tha t he finds Cindy Sherman "interest- in lightbox', 'cibachrome transp arency in aluminium ',
ing as an artist but uninteresting as a photographer" and 'c ibachrorn e transparency in fluorescent light box ', ere. T he
that Arthur Da nto's su bsequent analysis of Sherma n - artist has spec ified th at the ter m 'tran sparency in lightbox'
"photography is not her medium . It is rat her a means to be used thr ougho ut ro des igna te these wor k s." And: "T he
her artistic end s. Her medium is herself " - mak es per- transparencies are mad e on Ilfochrome Class ic tran sparent
spicuous. In al l these analy ses, it is what the photograph mat erial. Ilfochrome was form erly known as Cibachrome ."
is of that mak es it art . Even a more or less explicitly Theodora Vischer and H eidi Naef, "Introductory Notes,"
deconstructive manife sto like Craig Owens's essay " The Jeff Wall: Catalogue Raison ne r 978 - 2004 (Basel, 2005),
Allegorica l Impulse: Tow a rd a Theory of Postmod - p. 27 L
ernism" p ra ises "untitled photos for film sti lls" in terms And a few pag es on: "A year before comp leti ng The
of Sher man's cleverness as a model: the "perfection of Destroyed Ro om, Wall produced a tr iptych of transparen -
her imp erso nation s," Owens says, turns "d isguise" into cies entitled Faking Death . The left pan el d epicted a set fea-
"parody" and thus into cr iticism of the "a lienating iden- turing a bed in which th e art ist and severa l ass istants are
tifications" of the mass media . Photo graphy is, of course, absorbed in what appe ar to be prepara tions for making a
necessary for this project - without ir there would be no photograph . The central and r ight panels depicted the artist
record of Sherma n 's virtuosity and, in fact, there wou ld lying in th e bed, actin g as if he were dead. Fakin g Death
have been no occasion for the virtuosity: the pose that was exhib ited first at th e Nova Ga llery in Vancouver along
is recor d ed by the photograph is also produced for the with The Destroyed Room, and th en at his solo exh ibition
photograph. But thi s doub le functi on of the ca mer a in at the Art Gallery of Greater Victor ia. It was exh ibited onc e
relation to rhe pose - it both causes and reco rds it - in no aga in in the group exhib ition 'Cibachrom e' at Th e Photo

354 notes to page 10

Gallery in Orrawa in T980. Soo n after , Wall decided to See also Eric de Cha ssey, Platitud es: ,m e histoir e de la
withdraw the work from his co rpus" (p. 275). photographi e plate (Par is, 2006 ), pp. 172-84.
For an informative d iscussion of Wall's beginn ings as an r5 Liebermann , "A nnot ated Catalog ue Raisonn e," p. 183.
artist, includ ing his close relations with h is fellow ar tist "Betw een 1984 and T986 ," she writes, "Thomas Ruff kept
from Vanco uver Ian Wallace, see Peter Ga lassi, "U northo- experiment ing with the size of his Portraits looking for
dox ," in Peter Ga lassi and Nea l Benezra,jeff Wall, ex h. cat. another form at in addition to the 'red uced reality' of 24 x
(New York, Ch icago, San Francis co, 2007-8 ), pp. 14-29 . , 8 cm . When he managed to make five print s in L986 on
9 Jeff Wall in Vischer and aef, Jeff Wall (Basel, 2005), the large st photo pa per ava ilab le, he discovered that a com-
p. 28!. Further page refere nces to th is book will be in pletely new pictu re had eme rged . Through th e enlargeme nt,
parentheses in the text. the look and ex p ression of the sitt ers was inten sified and
to Fried, "A rt and Ob jecthood, " p. 164. See also Sta n ley the visual pr esence o f the ph otograph became d omina nt.
Cavel!, Th e World Viei11ed:Reflections 011 the Ont ology of The projec t came to a hale in 199 r beca use the p aper he
Film, en larged editi on (Camb r idge, Ma ss., and London, had been using was no longer in production. The new photo
1979), p. 90: "One impu lse o f ph otog raphy, as imm edia te pa per had such a great ra nge of colo r and co ntra st that it
as its imp ulse to ex tend the visible, is to theatrical ize its sub- was no longer suitable for his por tra its."
jects. The photographer's co mmand, " Watc h the birdi e!" is r6 Jean -Pierre Cr iqui, " Bustama n te as Photographer (No tes
essentially a stage d irection. One may object that th e for an Unfin ishe d Portrait), " tran s. Simon Pleasance and
command is give n not to achieve the unnaturalne ss of Fron za Wood s, in j ean-Mar c Bustamante: oeuvres pho-
theater but precisely to give the impression of the natura l, tographiqu es .r978-r999, ex h . ca t. (Pari s, 1999), p. 162.
that is to say, th e candid; and that the point of the dire c- Further page referenc es to th is essay will be in parenth eses
tion is nothi ng more th an to dist ra ct the su bject 's eyes from in the text. See also rhe va luabl e rema r ks on Bustamante's
fronting on the ca m era len s. But th is misse s th e point, for Tableaux as exemplars of "flatness" in de Cha ssey, Plati-
the que stion is exac tly why the impression of natu ral ness is tudes, pp . 163-7 1.
conveyed by an essenti ally theatrical tec hn ique. And wh y, 17 Taro Amaro, "I ntersecting Relat ionsh ips," in Jean-Mar c
or when, the candid is missed if the subje ct turn s hi s eye Bustamante: Private Crossing, ex h. cat. (Yokohama , 2002 ),
into the eye of th e ca mera." And p p . r J 8-19: "Setti ng pic - p. 1 59. Also, " ungrat efu lness" is Bustamante' s word - in
ture s to mo tion mechanically overcame what I earlier ca lled French /'ingratitud e - in an in terview by Ann ick Co lonna -
the inherent theatr ica lity of th e (still) phocogra ph. The Cesar i in !.'Express, Jun e 9, 2002. T here Bustamante spea ks
development of fast film allowed th e sub jects of pho- o f having (in his Tableaux of the late r9 7os and ear ly 'Sos)
tographs to be ca ught unawa res, beyond ou r or the ir "i mmer sed himself in the lands ca pes in orde r to realize
con trol. Bur they are neve rth eless caught; the ca mera holds prints [that would be] ca lm an d hard at the same time"
the last lanyard of co nt rol we would forgo." (translat ion mine ).
11 See Jean-Fran<;ois Chevrier, "T he Adve ntur es of the Picture 18 See Mich el Ga uthier , "C on struct ing an Aura," in Alfred
Form in the History of Pho cograp h y," tra ns. Mic hae l Pacqu emen t and Jean -Pierr e Cr iqu i, eds., Jean-Marc Busta-
Gilson, originally publ ishe d 1989, cited here from Douglas mante (Paris, 2003 ), p . 54. As Bustamant e has remarked:
Fogle, ed ., The Last Picture Shoi11:Artists Using Photogra- " Mu sil cer tainly left his mark on me, a lot of thing s can be
phy, ex h. cat. (Minneapoli s and Lo s Angeles, 2003- 4), traced back to The Man With out Qualiti es. I am tryi ng to
pp. Tl 3-27 . In the original French text Chev rier refers to produce wo rk 'w ithout qua lities'" (" Fragm ents d ' un entr e-
" la for me tab leau;" for re aso ns that will become clear, I tien: Jean-Marc Bustamant e, Jan Debbau t et Yves Gevaer t,"
shall reta in rhe word tablea u (in preferen ce to "p ictu re") in j ean-Marc Bustamant e, ex h. cat. fEindhoven, 1993 ], p. 14,
my citations from and discussio ns of his essay. quoted b y Gauthie r, p. 7 3, n. 4 ).
l2. Ra lph Ubl gave hi s lecture, w hich has not been p ublishe d, 19 Sophie Berrebi, "Jea n-M arc Bustamant e: 'It's Crap, but in
in co nnection with Wall's retrospect ive exh ibition at the Right Way,'" inte r view, http ://eyestor m. com/ fea ture /
Schaulager in Basel in th e lare spr ing of 2.005. My thanks ED2.11_article.asp?article _id= r 4o. In the same int erview,
to Ubl for shar ing his thoughts with me. Berrcbi allud es to Bustamante's havi ng said " that Rob ert
13 See in pa rt icular Thierry de Duve's discussion of Pictur e for Mus il's novel The Man With out Qualities ha s had a long -
Women in Look, 100 Years of Contemporary Art, trans. lasti ng influence over [him!."
Simon Pleasa nce and Fro nza Woods (Bruss els, 2001 ), 20 Ulrich Looc k, " Out of Focus ," in Jean-Mar c Bustamante
pp. 243-9 (rev. and enlarged edn. o f th e Fren ch and Dutch (Paris, 2005), p. 13 6, transl at ion m ine. " Long after their
Voici, roo ans d'art contempora in (Brusse ls, 2000-or ). I m aking, " Jacinto Lageira wr ites in ibid., p. 68, "w hat
shou ld say, thoug h, tha t I am not persuaded by de Duve 's always str ikes on e in the Tableaux is th e plenitude of these
analysis of M anet's Bar, wh ich p recedes his accou nt of imag es in wh ich everything is give n [/i11reland at the same
Picture for Women {ibid., pp. 229-44). time withdrawn. Th e supera bun da nce of details is in con-
14 See Valeria Liebermann, "Annota ted Catalog ue Rai so nne flict with what one is temp ted co call a vaca ncy" (" La taille
of Works since 1979," in Matthias Winzen, ed ., Thomas de la m atiere," translation min e) .
Ruff: r9 79 to the Present (New York, 2003), p. 183. 21 Step hen Shore, Uncommon Places: Th e Complete Work s
Published in conj unction w ith the ex hibition "T ho mas (New York, 2004). Thi s book also includes a n exce llent
Ruff Fotografier en 1979 -heut e" (Baden -Baden , 2001-2). essay by Step han Schmidt-Wulff en, "Step hen Shore's

notes t o pages 11-21 355

Uncommon Places," and a high ly int eres ting conve rsa tion HB: Well, he d iscove red these places . Th e int er-sectio n
betwee n Shor e and th e wr iter Lynne Tillm an . is w hat America is. Yo u cou ld alm os t say that outside
22 H illa Bec her in "' H is Pictu res H ave the Qua lity of a First Ma nh att an life intens ifies pr ec isely at the int ersecti on.
Enco unt er ' : Hilla and Bern d Becher in Conve rsa tio n And he looked for, and fo und, th e right int erse ction s. Ir's
wit h Heinz Liesb rock," Stephen Shore: Photographs 1973 - a ques tio n of artis tic inte lligen ce to find thi s out , to rec-
1993, ed. Heinz Lies brock (M unic h, 199 4 ), p. 2.7. W hat she og nize what it sy mb o lizes . For us, ou r first tr ips to
say s is: " I like th e way he ap pro aches co lor photography , America we re like a d rea m. You abs or b the cou ntry like
th e way he concei ves of th e colo r and the Amer ica n light, a spo nge , lik e a child. Stephe n Shore's photos have some-
wh ich is ac tuall y q uite d ifficu lt, very hard. Fo r exa mp le, the th ing o f thi s qua lity o f a first encou nter . (30)
strugg le with the sky th at a lway s h as to be fought out in 2.5 Amano , Private Crossing, p. r62 .
co lor photogra ph y, at least in land scape - he has m astered 26 Fro m interview by Co lonna-Cesa r i, L'Express, tran slation
it q uite felicito usly by light ing m os t of t he ob jects from the min e. "Je vo ulai s cons ide rer non plus la photograp hie en
side, or using thi s side lighti ng. T his has enab led him to rant qu'art, mai s l'a rt en rant que ph orog rap h ie. Je refu sais
avoi d t hat d rea dfu l blue sky th at always looks lik e a slab le pe tit for mat et le co te arrisa nal du noir et blanc. J e vo ulais
of sto ne, a nd to so ften th e co lo rs." Furthe r page referen ces a
pas ser la cou leur, a u forma t pou r le m ur, afin de d onner
ro th is co nversa tion w ill be in parenth eses in th e text. Shore a la photographie la dim ension du tableau, de la tra ns-
ea rl y on beca m e friends w ith H illa Bec her, and th e Bechers form er en objet."
ow ned ph otographs by him tha t we re kn ow n to th e 27 De Chassey sum s up th e for mal achieve ment of th e cyp ress
yo un ger Ger m an p ho tograph ers who were th eir stud ents. photo graph s as follow s : "A uron omou s, th e photogra phic
23 A recent conve rsa t ion betwee n Sho re an d me, ro be pub- image becomes a neutral and pe rfectly flat veh icle, of a flat-
lished in a Ph a ido n Press vo lum e on his art, includ es the ness th at is active and , so to speak , free of co nstraint s"
follow ing: (Platitudes, p. ,:71, tr anslation min e).
2.8 T he phra se occ ur s in J ud d's landmar k essay, "S pec ific
ss: On e of th e things I did at th e time I was ra kin g [the
Ob jects" (orig ina lly publi shed in Arts Yearbook 8, 1965) in
Uncommon Placesl pictur es was stand next to the tr ipo d
connectio n with Frank Stella 's shaped stripe pa intin gs. Th e
and simp ly look. After I had gotten a roug h idea of what
pa ssage rea ds: "S tella 's shaped pai nt ings invo lve several
I was ph o to grap h ing I wou ld look at what was in fron t
of me an d liter ally pa y attentio n to as mu ch as I could as impo rt ant charac ter istics of th ree-di m ensio na l wo rk. T he
per iph ery o f a piec e and the line s inside co rrespon d. The
far back inro space as I co uld see. And I wo uld dec ide
stripes ar e now here near be ing d iscre te parts . T he sur face
whether there was an y slight adju st ment l wa nted to
is farthe r from th e wa ll th an usual, though it rem ains par-
mak e.
M F: Syste ma tica lly?
allel to it. Sin ce th e sur face is excep tionally un ified and
invo lves little or no spa ce, the para llel plan e is unusually
ss : Yes, tak ing into acco unt any perce p tion s that ca me
distin ct. T he or de r is not ra tio nalistic and underlying bur is
my way. And I wou ld say yes, sys tem atica lly, because if
simpl y or der, like that of co ntinuit y, o ne thin g a fter ano th er.
I didn't do it syste matic ally then I wo uld n 't do it. Do es
A painting isn't an image . T he shape s, the uni ty, p rojectio n,
that ma ke sense?
MF: Perfect se nse.
orde r a nd col or are spec ific, aggress ive and powerf ul"
ss: So it was like a chec kli st . O kay, I have don e all (Dona ld Judd , Compl ete Writings 1959-1975 [H a lifax,
th is, I h ave got the ro ugh framewo rk of th e p ictur e and Nova Scotia, and New Yor k, 197 5), pp. 183 -4 ).
now I am go ing ro stand here a nd rea lly look at eve ry- 29 Int erv iew by Ca ther ine Francbl in, "Jea n-Marc Bustamant e:
le proc he et le lo inta in," Art Press, no . 170 (Ju ne 199 2.):
thin g. The me taph or that I had in my mind was th at in
2.6. Furt her page refere nces to th is int er view wi ll be in
a ce rt a in way I am cleari ng the spa ce fo r the viewer. That
parenth eses in th e rexr.
by m y mo ving my att en tio n thr oug h th e scene and
30 In Stationnaire I (J 990), a tightl y framed pict ur e o f th e
m akin g an y necessa r y adju stm ent to th e pictu re, I clear
cypresses is comb ined with sixtee n m od est-sized L-shaped
th e space go ing back into th e scene for the viewer ro
"sc ulpt u ral" elements sta nd ing on th e ga llery floor in front
mov e h is or her atte nt ion. If I on ly looked fift y feet in,
of th e p ho to, th e eleme nt s th emselves recalli ng th e shape of
then there wo ul d be a wal l that th e viewer wo uld stop
at. ear ly pieces by Robert M orri s. I have not seen thi s work ,
2.4 One o th er exc hange is of inte rest in th is connect io n: but it see ms likely tha t the ju xtaposi tio n of the photograph
and th e "scu lp tur a l" elements wo uld be felt to point to a
HL : Let 's thin k for a mi nu te ab ou t the subjects in his
contrast between t he two kinds of element s, ra th er tha n to
wor k of th e 1970s. Th ere are a few po rt rait s, very few
th eir s imilarit y as ob jects.
sti ll life p ictur es, but mai nl y it's ur ban cont exts that are
3 1 So e.g. Ga uthier co mpa res rhe cypress ser ies wit h its " cur-
character istic in his work: a rch itecture in th e city cen ters,
tai ns of vegetation cros sed vertica lly by th e lines settin g the
in th e sub ur bs, traffic scene s again and again, str eet s,
di fferent trees apart, with gaps in p laces letting throu gh the
espec iall y inters ect ions. Wha t is it th at cre a tes the mag ic
blu e sky" to " th ose grea t pa inti ngs o f C lyffo rd Still dis-
in th ese pictu r es? Is it h is special angle of visio n, o r is
rupt ed by jag ged edges of thi s kind ." H e adds: "Havin g sa id
there already somethi ng in the subjec t itself that radiates
u niqu ely? that, Busra mante' s photograph s need bea r no form al resem-
blance in o rd er to recall abst ract paint ing. T he likeness lies

356 no t es to pages 2 2- 23
at a deeper level, chat of rhe viewer's pe rception of the 40 See the photographer Brassa'i's pen etratin g discussion of the
picture" ("Constructing an Aura," p. 61) . scene in The Giiermantes Way in whic h Proust's narrato r
32 Thus Loock wr ites: " In many respec ts, Busramanre's pho- observes his beloved grandmother while she is una ware of
tographs have a para digmatic funct ion for the w ho le o f his his presence, an act that P rouse co mpar es to chat o f "the
work: from rhe point of view of th eir grounding in reality photographer, " quo ted lacer in chis book, Ch . 4, n. t 5.
(in the double sense o f th eir wea lth of elements bo rrowed 4 1 Susa n Sontag, On Phot ography (New Yor k, 1977), p. 37.
from th e real and of the absence in them of an imaginary 42 Ibid., pp. 36-7. She cites chis, then immedia te ly adds in a
'pene tratio n of the gaze'), of rhe rea lizat io n o f the in- irself note : "Nor an er ror, really. There is something on people's
of things foreign ro a ll meaning; bur also from rhe po int of faces . .. "
view of the exclusio n of the body, even when the latt er is 4 3 See Russell Ferguso n, "Open City : Possibilities of rhe
sometimes reintegrated, under certa in co nditions, in recent Street," in Kerry Brougher and Russell Ferg uson , Open
phorograph ic works . The exclus ion of t he body is the price City : Street Photographs Since 1950 , ex h. cat . (Oxford,
that must be pa id for the return ro t he rea lity of the o bject Salfo rd Quays, Bilbao, Washi ngton, o. c ., 2001 ), p . 14, as
and therefore also for the rejection of a mode rn ity defined well as th e br ief discussion of Winogrand 's career in Ch. 8
by its exclus ive character [a dou ble refer ence to minima l- below .
ism, I chink]. To pur chis differe n tly, Bustamante opposes 44 Susa n Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (New York,
the abstract io ns of minimal arr, the red ucti on o f the o bject 2003), pp. 76-7 . Furthe r page referenc es to th is book will
ro irs material ity, its extens ion, its situaredness, to its inter- be in parent heses in the text.
action with a gene ric observer - Andre's metallic carp ets 45 Acco rd ing to Vische r and Naef, Jeff Wall :
like scenes to walk on , Flavin's lumin ous pieces like atm os-
Dead Troops Talk (A Vision After an Ambush of a Red
pheres - in chat he renders rhe object concrete, objective,
Army Patro l near Moqor, Afgha11istan, Winter 1986) wa s
sometimes in d irect po lemidironic refe rence co Judd's
photographed on a set in a temp o rar y studi o in Burnaby,
boxes, all the whi le divesting it of the relation to the bod y"
British Co lumbia in winter r 99r -r 99 2. Preparatory
("Our of Focus," pp. 140-42, translation mine) .
work was done throughout r 99 1. It is the artis t's second
33 For Chevrier in J989, five photographers exemplified rhe
wo rk using d igital techn o logy.
eschecic stance he wish ed to stress: Joh n Co p lans, Bill
As the title ind icates, the wor k depi cts an unreal vision .
Henson, Craig ie H orsfield, Suzanne Lafone, and Jeff Wall.
The artist has refe rred to the work as a "hallucinat ion"
34 "Adela'ide," Mercur e de France (Janu a ry r755), p . 49.
and a "d ialogue of the dead . " Wall wan ted the "ha lluci-
Reprinted in Slatki ne Reprints, Ge neva, 1970, Tome 68 .
nation" to ha ve historical and technical realism .
Further page references to this edit ion w ill be in pare nth eses
Th e arti st began wor king on Dead Troops Talk in
in the text. The nam e of the her o ine probabl y derives from
1986-1987, whi le st udying the development of digital
chat of the heroi ne of Mme de Tencin's famous novel,
tech n ology and its possi bilities . H e was awa re that com-
Memoires du Comte de Comminges ( r 73 5), as does rhe
pute r montage would be a central aspect in the process
theme of lovers preve nted by thei r famil ies from marrying
of realising the pictu r e. The preliminary work on the
rhe person rhey love.
projec t took place in the late stages of the Sov iet occu-
35 Here is rhe French: "E lle va au Co uve nt , entre d'abord clans
pation of Afghanistan and the collapse of the U.S.S.R.
l'Eglise, & le premier o bjer qui la frappe, est le Marqu is son
The set wa s constructed in wood and covered with a
cpoux, occupc clans un exe rcice pieux avec rout sa Com-
layer of earth. The shape of the rav ine in which the action
munaure. Cet hab it de penitence la to uche; elle se montre,
cakes place was developed usin g drawings and mode ls.
ii la voir, il baisse les yeux, & quelque effort qu'e lle fasse
The drast ic wounds were construc ted using bod y parts
pour attirer ses regards, ii n'e n to u me p lus auc un sur elle.
and prosthetics, photographed separately and blend ed
Quoiqu 'e lle pcnecre le mot if de la violence qu ' il se faic, clle
o nro the figur es in rhe montage process. Th e models were
y trouve quelque chose de si cr uel, qu 'e lle en esr sa isie de
p hotograp h ed singly or in small gro ups . [338 1
la plus vive douleur. Elle rombe cva nouie; on l'emporte, elle
ne revienr elle q ue pour dem ande r son che r Ferval. On
court l'avertir que sa femme est moura nt e. Son Super ieur
lui ordonne de la venir consoler; & elle expire par la force
2 wal l, heidegger, and absorpt ion
de son saisissemenr, avant qu'i l se soi t rendu au pre s d'e lle."
36 On Marmontel 's Belisaire in this connection, see Fried, 1 "Jeff Wall in Conve rsation with Marcin Schwander," in Je ff
Absorption and Th eatricality, pp. 147, 1p -2 . Wa ll, Selected Essays and Interviews (New York, 200 7 ),
37 On digirizarion see rhe referenc es given in Ch. 4, n. 26. p. 230 . Ori ginally published 1994. Wall's reference is to my
38 Yukio M ishim a, The Sailor who Fell from Grace with the Absorpti o n and Theatricality : Pai11ting and Beholder in the
Sea, tra ns. John Nat han (196 5; ew Yo rk, r9 94), pp. 148- Age of Did erot (1980; Ch icago and Lon don , 1986) . Fo r
52. more on Wall's engage ment with my writing, both art
39 Yukio Mishima, The Temp le of Dawn, tran s. E. Dal e Saun- critica l and arc histor ica l, see esp. his essay " Fram es of
ders and Cecilia Segawa Seigle (r970 ; New York, J975), Referenc e," " Interview betw een J eff Wall and Jean -Frarn;:ois
p. 217. Furth er page references co chis book will be in Chevrier," and " Post-'6os Photo grap hy and Its Modernist
parenrheses in the tex t. Context: A Conve rsa tion betw een J eff Wall and John

notes to pages 23-38 357

jeff wall and absorption;
heidegger on worldhood and technology 2
J eff Wall's Adrian Walker, Artist, Drawing From a Specimen in a Lab oratory in th e Dept.
of Anatomy at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver ( 1992; Fig. 19 ), like by far
the majority of his works, is a large Cibachrome transparency mounted on a lightbo x,
which is to say that it is illuminated from behind by fluorescent light s (Wall's preferr ed
medium ). In my opinion and by common cons ensus, Wall is one of th e mo st ambitious and
accomplished photogr a pher s working tod ay but, of course, to say that is to say something
quit e diff erent from what a comp arab le claim would have ent ailed even twent y years ago.
One of the most important developments in the so-called visual ar ts of the past twenty-plus
yea rs has been th e emer gence of large- sca le, tableau-sized photographs that by virtu e of
their size dema nd to be hung on gallery walls in the mann er of easel paintings, and in other
respects as well aspire to what migh t lo ose ly be called th e rhetorical , or beho lder-address-
ing, significance of paintings while at the same time declaring th eir artifactua l identity as
photographs (I touched on thi s in my bri ef discussion of Wall, Ruff, and Bustama nt e in
Chapt er One). There will be more to say abo ut all thi s in the pages that follow, but for th e
moment my point is simpl y that Wall ha s been a cruci al figure in that development, and
th at Adrian Walker is a st riking examp le of such a work. (By no means among the largest
of Wa ll's pi ctur es, it measures over four feet high by m ore than five feet wide.)
A brief descri ption of Adrian Walk er will amplify th e already consid erable amount
of informati on conveyed by its titl e. It depicts a yo un g man, perh ap s in hi s early thir-
ties, sea ted on a moveable desk chair befor e a simpl e table (woo den top , m eta llic legs)
on which ha s been pla ced a flayed and preserved spe cimen of a severed human right
arm and hand. The latter, red -brown in co lor, rests on a greenish cloth, which itself
seems to cover a sha llow tray . An old-fashioned gooseneck lam p sits on a wind ow sill
as if bent over th e specim en but the bulb, a fraction of w hich one can jus t glimp se
beneath its sha de, a pp ears unlit; instead th e scene is i.lluminated by sunli ght streaming
rather coldly in from a window toward the right. On th e table top toward the right-
hand edge o f th e picture other objects are cluster ed: a coff ee mu g, an erase r, a box of
six ty-fo ur Crayo las, a roll of toil et paper, a sp ray bottl e of detergent(?), a piec e of pa pe r
bearin g reddish sm udg es. On the window led ge one sees a smaller ta nni sh cloth and a
so mewhat battered paperba ck book with slip s of paper between some of the pa ges.
(Look ed at closely, th e book turn s out to be Don Quixote.) T he young man , in glasses,
is we aring jea ns, a white shirt, and a light blue sweater; his left an kle crosses hi s right
knee. Resting at once on his lap an d agai nst the front edge of the table is a dra w ing

Jeff wall and absorption ; heidegge r on worldhoo d and technology 37

20 (right) Jean-Bapti ste-Simeon Chardin,
Young Student Drawing, c. 1 733 -8 .
Oil o n pan el. 21 x 1 7 cm. Kimb ell Art
Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

21 (facing page, left) Jean -Bapt iste-Simeon

Chardi n , The Young Draftsman, 1737.
Oi l on canvas. 81 x 67 cm . Staatl iche
Museen Preussischer Kulturbe sitz Berlin,
Ge maldega lerie

22 (facing page, right) Jean -Baptist e-Simeon

Cha rdin , The House of Cards, c. 17 37 .
Oil on canvas . 83 x 66 cm. Na tional Gallery
of Art, Washington, o .c .

board on w hich has been clipped a sheet of paper that bears a drawin g in sepia of the
arm and hand before him. Th e youn g man ho lds a red mechani cal draf ting pencil in his
right hand, and his left arm and hand support his chin as he gazes somewhat down-
wa rd, w heth er at his draw ing or the flayed arm it is imposs ible to say (possibl y he is
comparing o ne to the ot her). The wa ll beh in d him is of gleaming white tile, and near
the left- han d edge of the picture is a stac k of roun d specimen boxes; th e overall mood
of the p ict ur e is quiet, contemp lat ive, matter-of-fact, though th e severed a rm is hard ly
p leasa nt to look at .
Wall spea ks directly to the question of his intent ions in thi s wo rk in the course of an
int erview wit h Martin Schwander in 1994 :

Schwander : With Adrian Walker you made a portrait of a young man who is con-
centrat ing so intense ly on his work that he seems to be removed to ano th er sphere
of life.
Wall: But I don't th ink it is n ecessari ly clear tha t Adrian Walker is a po rtrai t . I think
there is a fusion of a couple of po ssible ways of loo king at the picture generica lly.
One is that it is a pi ctur e of someon e eng aged in his occupati on and not pa ying any
attention to, or responding to the fact that he is bein g observed by, the spectator . In
Mic hae l Fried's interest ing book about absorption and th eatr icality in late eighteen th-
cent ury pa int ing, he ta lks abo ut the different relat ionships betwee n figure s in pictures
and th eir spectators. H e identified an "absorptive mode ," exemp lifed by pa inters like
Chardin, in which figure s are imm ersed in th eir ow n world and activit ies and display
no aware ness of the co nstruct of the picture a nd the necessary presence of the viewer.
Ob vious ly, the "theatr ica l mode" was just the opposite. In absorptive pictures, we are
lookin g at figures who appear not be "acting out" the ir world, on ly "be ing in" it.
Both, of co urse, ar e mode s of perfor mance . I th ink Adrian Walker is "abso rpt ive." 1

38 why pho t ography matters as art as never before

(Fo r th e reco rd , Wall and I met by cha nce in the Boymans Museum in Rotter dam in
r996 , which is also w here and when I saw Ad rian Walker for th e first tim e. It quick ly
emerged that we had been track ing eac h other's wo rk for years . Since th en we have
become friends . Th e conn ect ion betwee n us is part of the argument of thi s book. )
T hree genre pa intin gs by th e grea t Jea n-Baptiste -Simeon Chard in (1699-1777), the
a rtist ment ioned by Wall, make relevant viewing in this connection . The first is Young
Stud ent Drawing (c. 173 3-8; Fig. 20) . Althoug h Wall 's pictu re dep icts the dr aftsman
largely in profi le ra th er th an from behind, we as viewers neverthe less feel we a re look ing
somew hat ove r hi s should er (we are slightl y behin d him , in oth er words), an d of course
we are show n t he dr aw ing h e is m aking (in so ft reddi sh lead ) jus t as in the Chardi n.
The seco nd wor k, The Young Draftsman (1737; Fig. 21) , subtl y dir ects th e viewer's
attention to th e chalk -hold er in th e hands of the you ng arti st, just as in Adrian Walker
we are given a clear view of the mec han ica l pencil in Wa lker's right hand. T he third ,
th e ma gisterial (if mi stitl ed) The House of Cards (c. r 73 7; Fig. 22), is discussed in some
detai l in Absorption and Theatrica lity, w here I ca ll atte nti on to the co nspic uous juxta-
po sitio n of two p laying car ds in the pa rtl y op en drawer in the near for eground. 2 I go
on to propo se th at th e face ca rd, appa rentl y a Jack of H eart s, embl ema tizes the fact that
th e picture surface itself faces th e beho lder (that is, is entir ely ope n to our gaze) whereas
th e dazzlingly blank back of t he second card evo kes the sealed off consciousness of th e
yo ung man a bso rbed in his appa rently trivi a l pa st ime. The juxtaposition of th e two
cards thu s offers a co nd en sed statem ent of th e stru ct ura l du ality of th e pai nting as a
w hole, at once facing th e beholde r as art ifact and close d to him or her as
repr esentat ion. I suggest too tha t paintings lik e The House of Cards, Soap Bubbl es
(173 5-40), and The Game of Knuck lebon es (c. 1734) repr esent a quietly mom ento us
discove ry o n C hardin's pa rt, nam ely that absorption as such is perfec tly indiffer ent to

jeff wall and absorption; heidegge r on world hood and technology 39

th e ex tra-a bsor ptive stat us of it s ob jects or occas ions: so parti cular ac tions - arra nging
car ds, blowin g b ubbl es, play ing knu cklebones - w hich in the previous cent ury the
Ja nsenist thi nker Pa sca l wo uld ha ve st igmati zed as mer e distractions from the thoug ht
o f a Chri stian life, emer ge instea d as th e veh icle of a new, essenti ally "pos itive" mental
o r sp iritua l state, the ultim ate impli ca tions of w hich for a history o f what in anothe r
co nt ext h as been ca lled " m ind edn ess" have yet to be fath omed .3 And I argue, not just
in Absorp tion and Theatricality but in tw o subse qu ent books, Courbet's Realism and
Manet's Modernism, t hat a ce ntral cur rent or tra diti on in French painting from Jean-
Bap tiste Greuze's mo men to us Salon debut in 17 5 5 to the advent of Edou ard Manet and
his generat ion aro und 1860 may be understo od in term s of an ongoing effort to make
pa int ings th at by o ne stra tegy or an oth er a pp ear - in th e first place by depicting
personages wh olly a bso rb ed in w hat they are doi ng, t hinkin g, and feeling, and in multi-
figur e painting s by bindin g th ose p erso nages toget her in a sing le, uni fied com pos ition -
to deny tb e pres ence before th em of the be ho lder, or to put this more affirma tively, to
establi sh th e onto log ica l fictio n th at the beho lder does not ex ist. 4 O nly i this was accom-
plishe d cou ld th e act ual beho lder be stop ped and h eld befo re th e can vas; converse ly, tbe
leas t sense on th e beh o lder's part that th e depi cted pe rso na ges were act ing or, even worse,
pos ing fo r th e art ist (and ultim ate ly fo r th e beho lder) was registere d as thea trical in the
pejora tive sen se of th e term , and the pa inti ng was judged a fai lure . Wi th Ma net, in works
lik e the O ld Musician (1862), Dejeuner sur l'herbe (1 862- 3), and Olympia (1863), that
antithea trica l cu rrent or t ra diti o n reac hes the po int of o vert crisis; the pr imor dial con-
vention th at pa intings are ma de to be beheld ca n n o lon ger be denied, even for a little
whi le, and abso rp tion in all its ma nife stations gives way to rad ical "facingness." Tak ing
my bear ings fro m Ch ardi n's The House of Cards, l might say that in Ma net th e empha -
sis shi ft s to th e face ca rd in th e open dr awe r (Co urb et is supposed to have described
Olympia as the Q ueen of H ea rts aft er a bat h ), th ou gh in view of the notor ious psy-
cho log ica l blank ness of M ane t's perso nages it might be tru er to say that it is as if the
oth er card, th e o ne turn ed away from the beho lder, is reint erpr eted as facing him or her
as we ll. All t his co uld hardly be more summa ry, but it per haps su ffices to indicate some-
thin g of th e intri cacy of th e issues at stake in th ese deve lop ments .
Re turnin g to Wall and his int erviewer , note to beg in w ith how Schwa nd er, before
Wa ll exp lains th e o perat ion of the " absorpt ive m ode," responds to Adrian Walker in
precisely th ose terms. "Wi th Adrian Walke r," Schwa n der says, "you made a po rtrait of
a yo ung ma n who is co ncent rat ing so intense ly o n his wor k that he seems to be removed
to anot her sp here of life ." Thi s is th e abso rp tive effect in its class ic form . As Diderot
m ak es clea r, a perso nage en tire ly abso rbed o r engrosse d in an actio n , feeling, or state
o f min d is by virtue of that fact w ho lly una wa re of anythin g but the ob ject of his or her
abso rpti on, starting with t he beho lder stand ing before th e painting . (ln The House of
Cards thi s un awa reness or oubli de soi - lit erally, self-for getting - is signa led by the open
drawe r, which , the viewe r senses, goes unp erceive d by the boy . In The Young Drafts -
man it is imp lied by th e ro se-co lored strin g of th e d rafts man 's po rtfol io that fa lls over
the edge of the tab le in the nea r fo regro und. And in Young Student Drawing the impli-
cat ion of obliv iousness is fo rcefull y co nveye d by th e hole in the up per back of the

40 why photography matters as art as never before

student's coat, thro ugh which one glimp ses his red und erga rment. 5 ) It is as if the per-
sonage and the beholder inhabit different Worlds, w hich is what Schwander as much as
says when he describes Adr ian Walker - the personag e, not th e picture - as seemingly
"remo ved to another sph ere of life."
Two points are particularl y interes tin g abou t Schwander's remarks. T he first is that
Schwander, without prompting from Wall, was moved to describ e Wall's picture in the
language I have just quoted , w hich appe ar s to impl y that he took th e p icture to be a
candid ph otograph of a draft sman ent irely abs orb ed in conte mplatin g his work.
Howeve r, a mome nt 's reflection suffices to sugges t th at th at is un likely, both beca use th e
dep icted sit uat ion appea rs pate ntl y staged - it is, in a sense, too good to be true - and
because the conspicuousness of th e a pp aratus of displa y suggests a comparable
conspicuousness of the photographic appa ratu s as such. (It is hard to ima gine Wall
shoot ing the scene unob served with a lightw eight camera like Cart ier-Bresson's or
Winogrand's Leica, and in any case had he done so the resultin g image cou ld not ha ve
been enlarg ed to Adrian Walke r's dim ension s without loss of clarit y.) As Wall says in
the interview, both the absorptive and th e theatrical are for him " mod es of perfor-
mance." And, in a state ment from 1996 he exp lains that th ere was in fact a real Adria n
Walker, who was a draftsman and who had made the drawing on his drawing boa rd in
the labora tory specified , but that the pic ture

is also a re-enactment, by the art ist in th e pictu re, of his ow n practice. Th at is, he a nd
J collaborated to create a com posit ion that , wh ile being strictly accurat e in all det a ils,
was neverth eless not a candid picture, but a pictorial co nstru ction. I depicted th e
moment when be has just comple ted his dra wing, and is ab le to conte mpl ate it in its
final form, and, once again, a t the sam e time, to see its subje ct, the specimen, th e
po int fro m wh ich it began. There was suc h a mom ent in th e creat ion of his dra wing,
but the moment depicted in the pict ure is in fact not that mom ent , but a reenact ment
of it. Yet it is probably indi stingu ishab le from the actua l moment. 6

In an interv iew fo ur years later, Robert Enri ght asks Wa ll w hy a copy of Don Qu ixot e
appea rs in Adrian Walker . Wall replies :

Th e picture is factua l. The man who is named in the t it le is in fact the person Adrian
Walker; that is the corner of th e ana tomy lab where he wo rked. It's all real. The Don
Quixo te just happ ened to be there. The pictu re involved a perform ance in th at Adrian
was wor king with me, but he didn 't do a nythin g he didn't norma lly do . I visited him
occasionally during the tim e he was dra wing there. He was a st udent of min e, and
want ed to be more involved w ith dr aw ing the figure. H e a rranged with the depa rt-
ment of anatomy that he co uld work t here for an extended period. I mig ht have moved
the lamp over a little bit, but I didn't ch ange anyth ing. Th e picture is an examp le of
what I call "near doc um entary. " 7

The second po int wo rth stre ssing is that Schwand er 's readin g of Adr ian Wa lker 's state
of mind goes considera bly beyond th e visua l evidence. For Wall seems de liberate ly to
have chosen not to depict his sitter in the th roes of a bsorp tion , so to speak . H is mea-

jeff wall and abso rption; he ide g ger on wor ldhood and tech nology 41
23 Gerhard Ric ht er, Reading
lLesendel, 1994. Oil o n linen.
72 .4 x 10 2.2 cm. San Francisco
Muse um of Art . Pur cha sed th rough
th e gi fts of Mimi and Peter H aas and
He len and Cha rles Schwab, a nd the
Accessions Committe e Fund

sured account o f what he tried to do feels exac tly right: Walker is able to contemplate
his drawing in its fina l form and at the sam e tim e to see th e spec imen he cop ied, a for-
mulat io n that avo ids positing a definite inner state. (One m ight even say that Walker
appears dispo sed to do both th ese thing s, to put matters slightl y mor e stro ngly.8)
Moreover, th e cold glar e of the dayl ight on th e whit e tile wa ll, so different from the
mid-ton ed, warm ambiences of Ch ard in's canvases, reinforces the sense of expr essive
restraint. As does, even mor e tellin gly, the unp leasan tn ess to sight of the specimen itself.
So Schwa nder 's rem arks are doubly mis leading with respect to what the picture gives
us to be seen. Yet pr ec isely becau se this is so, his com mentar y illustr ates what I have
elsew here called the "mag ic" of absorption , wh ich first beca me a sta ple of pictori al art
in the West shor tly befor e r 600 when in th e canvases of Caravagg io and his followers
absorpt ive them es and effects began to serve as a singular ly effective matrix for an
unprec ed ented real ism, an d wh ich cont in ues to hold even the mo st sophist icated viewers
in its spe ll down to th e present tim e.9 (In th a t sense Schwa nder is not so mu ch mistaken
as deep ly in the picture's thrall. Whether Wall mea nt him to be is a question.) Anothe r
recent work who se widesp rea d appea l rests largely on th ese ground s is Gerhard Richter's
pai nting Reading [Lesende} (199 4 ; Fig. 23), in which a yo ung woman's appa rent
engro ssment in her journa l (th e Ger man magazine Der Spiegel) goes hand in hand with
th e man ifestly photograph ic cha racter of the pr esum ed "source" image. Once again,
howev e1; a mom ent 's reflection suffices to reveal that thi s pictur e too cannot be a candid
representat ion of an actual situ ation. Fo r one th ing, th e (pr esum ed) photograp her's rela-
tion to th e reading wo man - the arti st's daught er - feels too near and in th e op en for
her to have been unawar e of his presence; for another, the fact that th e painting seems
so clearl y to have been ba sed on a photograph throws int o relief the former's part icu-
la r mod e of a rtifactualit y, whic h in its techni ca l perfect ion - I refer to th e absence of

42 why pho t ography matters as art as never before

visible brush strokes - conveys a sense of expert performance. Tnother words , both Wall's
Adrian Walker and Richter 's R eading mob ilize absorptive motifs that reca ll C hardin,
but the y do so in ways that expressly acknow ledge w hat I want to call the " to-be-
seenn ess" - by which I mean something other than a simple return to or fall into the-
atric ality - both of the scene of representation and of the act of presentation. (From now
on I shall dispens e with quotation marks around th e term.) Yet, as Schwander's remarks
show, the a bsorpti ve allure of Wall' s picture, as of Richter' s, is not thereby undon e.
(Obv iously, the features of Chardin 's genre paintings T have commented on - the open
drawer, the dangling string , the h ole in the young man 's jacket, and so on - also po sit
a beholder positioned so as to take them in. However, the operative fiction in Chardin' s
canvases is that th eir protag onists are ob livious not only to the features in qu estion but
also, crucially, to the pre sence before the painting in the first place of the painting 's
mak er and, sub sequently, of the entranced viewer; indeed the purpo se of all those fea-
tur es is to reinforce that fiction to the extent of makin g it appear simpl y true. Wall's
photograph and Richt er's painting stop far short of such assertiveness, which is why
neither one nor the other dep loys anythi ng remot ely like th e toke ns of self-
forgetting that C hard in uses so brilli antly.)
Let me briefly co nte xtu alize this . Earli er I exp lain ed how the antith eat rica l cur rent in
eighteenth - and nineteenth -cent ur y French paintin g reached a po int of overt cris is in the
a rt of Manet and his cont empor aries. T he issue of beholdin g was not ther eby dissolved ,
though , and by th e 1960s it was ba ck in force in the co nfrontation, as l portr ayed it in
"Art and Objecthood," between high moderni sm and minimali sm, or as I also called
the latter, litera lism. This is not the place to rehearse the story of that confrontation in
detail but presumably no reader of thi s book will need to be told that to all inte nts and
purposes minim alism/lit eralism routed high modern ism, whi ch in th e terminolo gy of
"A rt an d Ob ject hood" meant that by the ear ly and mid -197os th eatrical, behold er-ba sed
ar t definitively held the field. (Albe it the crit ical and th eoretical essays most clo sely asso-
ciated with postmodernism date from the end of that decade and the early 198os. ' 0 ) It
is har dly sur pri sing , then, that l ha ve been deeply inter ested in th e new ph otograph y,
w hich I see as having reopened a range of questions and issues - a problematic of behold-
ing - that appeared to hav e been closed, for all I knew permanently . Yet reopening that
prob lemati c ha s not been accomplished by a simpl e return to the pa st (out of the ques-
tion, in any case), which is why I have stressed both the similaritie s and the differences
between Adrian Wall'-er a nd severa l genre pa intin gs by C hardin. In genera l, I shall argue
in this book that the new art photography seeks to come to grips with the issue of
beholding in ways that do no t succumb to theatricality but whi ch at the same tim e reg-
ister the epochality of minimali sm/literalism's inter vention by an acknowled gment of to-
be-seenness, just as ambitiou s French painting after Ma net ack no wledged painting' s
facingness (not flatn ess, as is usually said) while nevertheles s reserving an ima ginati ve
spa ce fo r itself that was not wholly given over to solicit ing th e app lause of th e
Salon-goin g p ublic .

jeff wal l and absorption, heidegger on worldhood and techno logy 43

A seco nd , more recent work by Wall throws further light on his tr ea tm ent of the se issues.
The work is th e highly amb itious After "Invisible Man" by Ralph Elliso n, the Prologue
(I999-20or; Fig . 24), one of three pictures Wa ll ha s made based on literar y tex ts . (T he
first of these, Odrad ek, Taboritska 8, Prague, July r 8, I 9 84 fI984 J, is based on Ka fka's
short story, " Dearest Fa th er"; the third and most recent, After "Sprin g Snow," by Yukio
Mishima , chapter 3 4 l2000-05], is taken from the first volu m e of Mi shima's Sea of
Fertility tetra logy, his culminati ng masterwork. I shall disc uss th e latter in th e Conclu -
sion to this book.) The situ at ion described in th e Prologue of Invisibl e Man 11 is locate d
tempora lly aft er the act ion of the novel proper has been concluded: the nameless
protagonist , a black man who claims to be in visible to whit es (hen ce the book 's title),
has temporarily settled down in an underground "hole," that is, in a " shut off a nd for-
gotten" section of a basement of a bui ldin g rent ed str ictly to whites in a neighbo r hood
borderi ng on Harl em. The narrator exp la ins that althoug h h e calls his ho me a " hole,"
it is not cold but on the cont ra ry is warm . And som ething mo re:

My hole is warm and full of light. Yes, full of light . l doub t if ther e is a br ighter sp ot
in all New York than thi s hole of mine, an d I do not ex clud e Broa dway. Or the Empire
Stat e Building on a photographer's dream n ight . But that is taking ad vant age of yo u.
Thos e two spots a re among the darkest of our w hole civilizatio n - pa rdon m e, our
whol e culture (an imp ortant distinction, I've heard ) - whic h ma y sound like a hoax ,
or a contrad ict ion, but that (by contradictio n, I mean) is how the wor ld moves : No t
like an arrow, but a boomerang. (Bewar e of those w ho spea k of the spi ral of histor y;
th ey ar e preparing a boomerang. Keep a steel helmet hand y.) I k now ; I ha ve been
boomeranged across my head so much that I now can see th e darknes s o f lightn ess.
And I love light . Perhaps you'll think it strang e that an invisibl e man sh ould 1-1e ed
light, desire light, love light. But maybe it is exac tly beca use I am inv isible . Light
confirms my reality, gives birt h to my form . .. . Without light l am no t only invisible,
but form less as well; and to be unaware of one's form is to live a death . I myself,
after ex isting some tw enty years, did not become alive until I disco vered my invisi-
That is wh y I fight my battle with Monopolated Ligh t & Powe r [from which he
siphons off the electricity needed to illuminate his " ho le" ]. The deepe r rea son, I mean:
It a llow s me to feel my vita l aliveness. I a lso fight them fo r takin g so much of my
mone y befor e I learned to prot ect myself. In my hole in the baseme nt the r e ar e exactl y
I,369 lights. I'v e wired th e entire cei ling, every inch of it. And not with fluo rescent
bulbs, but w ith th e o lder, more -exp ensive-to-ope r at e kind, the fila ment type. An act
of sabotag e, you know. I've already begun to w ire the wall. A ju nk ma n T know, a
man of vision, has suppl ied me with wir e and sockets. N othin g, storm o r flood, must
get in th e way of our need for light and eve r more and bright er ligh t. The trut h is the
light a nd light is the truth. When l finish all four walls, th en I'll sta rt on the floor.
Just how that will go, T don 't know . Yet when you have lived inv isible as long as I
ha ve yo u deve lop a certain ingenuity. I' ll solv e the problem. And ma ybe I'll invent a
gadget to place my coffee po t on the fire w hile I lie in bed , and even invent a gadget
to warm my bed - like the fellow I saw in o ne of thos e picture mag az ines who ma de

44 why photography matters as art as never before

24 Jeff Wall, After " Tnvisible Man" by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue , 1999- 200 1. Transparency in lighcbox. 17 4 x 250 .5

himself a gadget to warm his sho es! Thou gh in visible, I am in th e great American tra -
dition of tink ers. That make s me kin to Ford , Edison and Franklin. Call me, since I
have a theo ry and a concept, a "t hinker-tinker. " Yes, I'll warm my shoes; they need
it, they're usually full of hole s. I'll do that and more. [6- 7l

It is hard not to instantly assoc iate Ellison' s theme of electric light w ith Wall 's lightbox
technology - Wall too ha s a theor y and a concept and might be called a " thinker-tinker"
as well as an artist - but rath er tha n dwell on th e conn ection I wa nt to concentrate on th e
work itself, w hich is both like and unlike Adrian Walker . What the two have in common
is that each is " a picture of someone engaged in his occupation an d not pa ying any att en-
tion to, or responding to the fact that he is being observe d by the spectator. " In Af ter
"Invisibl e Man" the prota gonist, a burly black man of indet erminate age (in his thirtie s?)
and wear ing bro wn trouser s w ith suspender s, a sleeveless undershirt, and in ba re feet sits
leaning forward on a met al folding chair while he dries a metal p ot - note the wet spot s

Jeff wa ll and absorption; he idegge r on wo rld hood and tech nology 45

on th e floor where pre sumably water has dripp ed from the p ot as he wal ked fro m th e sink
to the chair. M o re th an in Adria n Walke r th e protagoni st is turned into the picture-space,
with the result that his fac ial expression is mostly unreadable (jus t enough of his profile
is seen for the viewer to im agine that he is deep in thought or reverie ), and h e is farth er
away than Wall's draft sman - ten or fifteen feet rather than three or fo ur - wh ich grea tly
incr eases the viewer's sense o f hi s separate ness an d alo neness. After "Invisible Man" is
a lso larger th an Ad rian Walker - more th a n five feet high by mo re th an seven and a ha lf
feet wide - and, m o re impo rtant, it depicts not a sparsely furni shed co rn er of a contem-
porary laborato ry but an expans ive if w ind ow less int erior cra mmed with misce llaneous
objects all of which, to a greater or lesser degree, belo ng to a specific "his torica l" moment:
aro und 19 50, ro ughly the time of t he w riting of Invisible Man . In terms of the implied
narrativ e fram e of the image con sidered as a fiction , a ll th ose things are seen as havi ng
been deliberat ely acquir ed by th e protagonist in order to furni sh his " hole" in a wa y tha t
make s it a miniature reflection of the upper world from w hich, for th e tim e being, he has
cho sen to retr ea t. But in term s of the impli ed narrati ve of th e pic tur e's productio n, the
sam e item s are und erst oo d to ha ve been collect ed painstakingl y by th e artis t o r his agent s
fo r th e purpo ses of constructing thi s wo rk. M y sense is that the viewe r cannot but think
- and p ro bab ly is meant to th ink - of that acti vity of co llection as he o r she stand s before
the pictur e. An ex hau stive inv entor y of th e contents of the roo m seem s beyond the
view er's capac ity, but one can at least mention th e unco unt a ble array of ligbtbulb s, lit and
unlit , that hang dow n from fixture s att ac hed to the cei ling (it is impossible to know
wheth er there are in fact 1,369 of th ese, but it would not be sur pris ing if there were), an
improvised mantel , vari o us ill-m atch ed pi eces of furniture , severa l brai ded rag rug s, mis-
cellaneou s pieces of k itchen eq uipment (dishes, bowl s, pots, bottl es, mugs, cups ), a
ceramic go lliwog (o n the mant el), a lucky rabbit 's foot (ha nging from the mantel), a
lea th er bri efcase that figur es import antly in the novel, sever al po rta ble reco rd pla yers,
items of clo thing and a few hangers (also a jur y-ri gged po le on w hich they hang), boots,
sho e-trees, a tr as hcan and severa l oth er galvan ized iron can s, dis h cloths hun g up to dr y,
a red -a nd-wh ite can of Co lgate toot h powder, a shav ing bru sh, a small American flag with
forty-e ight sta rs, a numb er of small black- an d-whit e photographs (like the flag, affixed
to th e card boa rd -covere d mak eshift wa ll), multi ple elect ric outlets, a few books a nd at
least one reco rd , sca tt ered peanut shells (on th e low tabl e to the In visible Man's left) , and
finall y, resti ng on the top of the back of a gree n padd ed chair , sections of w hat ap pear s
to be a manuscript - pres um ably the manuscript o f inv isible Man. (Significantly, the
Prol og ue says nothing abou t th e cont ent s of the " hole, " apa rt from the refer ence to the
lightbulb s, the wi re and soc kets need ed to support them, and one "radio-phonogra ph."
As Wall ex plains: "M y pict ure suggests th at, like Ellison, th e nar rator took if not seven
years at leas t so me considerab le tim e to writ e his book , and tha t he has lived in th e cellar
all that time. Th e room ha s been furnis hed a nd even clutter ed w ith his possess ions, some
purc hased, some fo und, so me fabric ate d, a few saved fr om the tim e befo re he went under-
groun d . The text does not go into int o great descriptiv e deta il ... " 12 )
Cons idere d so lely as rep resent atio n, th e domin ant impre ssion co n veyed by the p ictu re
is at o nce of the In vis ible M a n's qui et absorption in his simp le tas k (also in tho ught or
reverie) - his profil e may be largely los t to view but th e behold er is in no doub t of the

46 w hy photography matters as art as never before

import of his body language - and of the enve lopin g, all but stupefying profuseness of
his immediate environment, to which he appears, for the time being, more or less obliv -
ious. A further impr ession , harder to make precise, is of th e connectedness of the two:
as thou gh th e Invisible Man's absorptive state, hence unawareness of his surroundings,
is an enabling condition if not of that profuseness itself at any rate of its appearance as
such in the picture. Earlier I suggested that the link between absorption and realism is
one of the unacknowl edged stap les or "opera tors" of Western painting since the mid-
I 590s. Simply put, I believe that there exists a strong affinity or mutual attunement of:

I) a thematics of absorption and hen ce of a depicted personage's seeming obliviousness

to his or her surroundings; 2) the implied temporal protractedness of such a state; an d
3) the pictorial project of close and detailed description as well as, following on from
that, 4) the spectato ria l project of close and detailed loo king. More precisely, the first
two factors (absorption-plu s-temporal dilation ) larg ely enable the third and fourth (th e
pictorial and spectatorial project s) by giving both artist and beholder the time and so
to speak the psychic freedom needed for the successful enactment of th eir respective
tasks. (A related factor is chiaroscuro, which enhances the effect of absorptive motifs
even as it contribute s to the sculptural illusionism of the resulting pictur e. Caravaggio ,
again, is the decisiv e initi at ing figure. ) Some such affinity or attunement is, I feel, in force
in After "Invisible Man", thou gh whether or not Wall consciously reco gnized the sep-
arate terms in the picture's synthe sis rema ins unclear. In an important sense, of course ,
exactly how and why Wall came to do what he did ha rdly matters; what doe s matter is
how the picture works, which in this context means how to characterize its impact on
the viewer. These are delicate issues conceptually, but as far as Wall's art is concerned,
both the impr ession of a bsorption and the illusion of "reality," even in photograph s th at
the reflective viewer recogn izes ca n only have been staged, turn out to be surpri singly
ro bust. (No t that an awareness of stage dness play s no role at all in the viewer's ultimat e
respo nse to the work - far from it. More on this as I proceed.)
Another way of putting the above might be to say that Wall's picture goes far beyond
Ellison 's prologue in seek ing to recrea te the world of the Invisible Man - this is how I
unde rsta nd the eno rmous effort of co llectin g period item s and arran ging them so as to
create a plausible environment for EIJison's (and Wall's) protagonist - and th at it turns
out to ha ve been inherent in that endeavor that the Invisible Man him self should appear
"not to be 'acting out' hi s wor ld, only 'being in' it, " to adapt Wall's words quoted earlier.
As if on ly by virtu e of th e Invisible Man's seem ing obliviousness to his wo rld cou ld the
latter have yielded itself up to depiction - I wo uld like to say : only thus could the world
ha ve manife sted itself - as it do es here. (This is a stron ger vers ion of something alrea dy
said in the previous paragraph.) The concepts of "wo rld" - and even more to the point,
of "being in" the world- are centr al to one of the major philosophical texts of the tw en-
tieth centur y, Martin Heidegger's Being and Time (1927),u an d my conte ntion is that
up to a point (I will show where that point lies) After "Invisible Man" is a stro ngly
"Heidegger ian" work. Nat ur ally I cannot begin to do justice to the German ph ilo-
sopher's noto riously difficu lt ma sterwork in a few sentences, but I might begin by saying
with Robert Pippin that central to Heidegger's atte mpt to construct a phenomenologi -
cal ont ology is his "emphasis on the ro le of unthematic , practical engageme nt as essen-

Jeff wall and absorpt ion; heidegger on worldhood and t echno logy 47
tial, even prior , in any relatio n to a nd within th e wor ld." 14 That is, Heidegge r stands
oppo sed to th e notion that primordiall y D ase in (ro ugh ly, human being 15) confronts a
world of o bjects in an d of th emse lves (in w hat he ca lls the mode o f "pr esent -at-h an d").
Rath er, H eidegger imagin es Da se in as continually "abso rbed" (his wo rd; the German
infiniti ve is aufgehen) in pract ical acti vity, which is to say as co ntinua lly putt ing things
to use, in the mod e of "e quipm ent " or " rea din ess- to -han d," for part icular pu rposes.
Onl y w hen th at relation ship is suspe nd ed, either because a piece of eq uipm ent breaks
down or for so me ot her reason (in H eidegger's lan g uage, when the re is a "de-ficiency in
o ur havin g-to-do w ith th e world concern fully " r88] ), 16 d oes D ase in ent er "t he sole
remaining mod e of Being- in, the mode o f just tarrying alongside . ... T his kind of Being
towards the wo rld is on e which lets us encounter entitie s w ithin -the-wor ld pure ly in the
way they look, just th at; on the basis of thi s kind of Being , a nd as a mode of it, looking
explici tly at wha t we encounter is possible" (88 ). 17 (Even the n , howeve r, such a rela-
tio nship is not o ne between a subj ect and objec ts. He idegge r writes : "T his pr esence-at-
han d of so methin g that ca nnot be u sed is sti ll not devoid of a ll readiness- to- hand
w hatsoeve r; equ ip ment wh ich is p rese nt- a t-h and in this way is still not just a Thi ng
whic h occ ur s so mew here" [10 3]. 18 ) Ind eed his subse qu ent analysis of mod es of present-
a t-h and co nt in uall y disc ove rs o ne o r an other "deficient" relation to mode s of concern,
in spec ific resp ects that need not co ncern us here . 19
Moreover, the primordia lness of abso rption in practica l act ivity is cruc ial to under-
standin g what Hei degger ca lls " th e wo rldhood of th e world," whic h he unders tands as
somet hin g like the to tality of "refer ences" o r "assignments" that determine the nature
o f th e activity in question (105-7, r14-2 0 ; 69 - 71, 77 - 8 1). Thus for example we use a
hammer in ord er to join board s toge th er; w e do th at in order to mak e a wa ll or a Aoo r;
we do that in o rd er to co nstruct a hou se; we do that in order to find shelter from the
elements; all this rakes place in th e contex t of becomin g part of a community of house-
dwellers; an d so on. In additi on, the very need for shelter discovers " the environing
Natu re. " H eidegger continues: " In roads, str eets, brid ges, bu ilding s, our concern dis-
cov ers Nature as hav ing some definite dir ecti on " ( LOo),20wh ich is to say th at ultimately
Na tu re itself is disclose d to D asei n by the latter's a bsorpti on in practical activity. Once
aga 111

th e assignments them selves are not o bser ved; th ey are rather " there" when we con-
cernfull y submit ourselves to t hem. But when an assignment has been disturbed -
whe n so meth ing is unu sab le for some purpo se [e.g., when a ha mm er breaksl - then
th e assignment becomes expli cit . ... When an assignment to some partic ular
" towar ds-thi s" has been thus circ um spec tly aroused, we catc h sight of th e "towa rd s-
thi s" itse lf, and along w ith it every thi ng connect ed with th e wo rk - th e whole "work-
shop" - as that wherein concern always dwe lls. The co ntext of equipm ent is lit up Ian
exp ression to w hich I shall return l, not as somet hin g never seen before, but as a total-
ity constant ly sighted befor ehand in circum spection. Wi th this totali ty, however , the
worl d announc es itse lf. 105]2 1

More succ inctl y: "In anyt hin g read y-to-hand th e world is a lways ' th ere'" (114). 22

48 why photography matters as art as never before

Things that are ready-to-hand are also fundamentally dose, de-sev ered, located m
"regions" and "plac es" keyed to structures of concern. The alternative is stark:

When space is discov ered non -circumspectively by just looking at it, the environm ental
region s get neutraliz ed to pur e dimensions. Places - and ind eed the w hol e circu m-
spectively or iented totality of places belonging to equipme nt ready-to-hand - get
reduced to a multiplicity of positions for random Thin gs . Th e spatiality of what is
ready-to-hand within-the -world loses its involv ement-character, and so does the ready-
to-hand. T he world loses its specific aroundness; the environm ent becomes the world
of Nature. The "world," as a totality of equip ment ready-to-hand, becomes spa tia l-
ized to a context of extended Things which are just present-at-hand and n o more.
The hom ogeneous space of Nature show s itself only when the entities we encounter
are discovered in such a way that the wo rld ly cha racter of the ready-to-ha n d gets
specifica lly deprived of its worldhood . [14 7 J23

The claim I want to mak e about After "In visible Man" is that w hether or not its
mak er had Being and Time in mind (1 consider it unlikely), Wall's picture is to say the
least open to being understood as an attempt to picture the Invisible Man's immedi ate
environment in someth ing like th e Heideggerian terms just adumbrated, that is, as dis-
tinctly ot her than or prior to "a context of ext ended Things which are jus t pres ent- at-
hand and no more." The uncountable array of lightbulb s, lit and unlit, wh ich dominat es
th e picture , is in relation to the novel a p erfect example of the structure Heidegg er calls
"in-order-to" - as the prologue explains, in order not just to light the Invisible Man's
secret domain (a Heideggerian "region" if ever there was one ) but also to commit "a n
act of sabotage" aga inst the unseeing society outside his "ho le." More broadl y, virt u-
ally all the objects in the picture, down to the snapshots an d th e American flag, ha ve
been shaped or reshaped to human purpos es (to structur es of "concern") in wa ys that
scarcely requir e further commentary.
Seen in these terms, the Invisible Man's absorption - like Adrian Walker's befor e him
- assumes particular significance. Ind eed there is a suggestive analogy, of which until
coming to grips with this picture I was only partly aware, betw een H eidegger's anal y-
sis of Being-in-the-world, with its stra teg ic emp loyment of the concept o f absorption,
and my own philosoph ically much less developed proposals concerning the affinit y
betwe en absorption and realism in Western painting from Caravaggio on. As if realism,
or absorptive rea lism, has from the first been Heidegg erian in its impli cit ontolog y, or
as if Heidegger in Being and Time develops philosophically an insight tha t had belonged
to Western painting - more precisely, to a major current within Western paintin g - for
mo re than thr ee centuries .
In any case, all this seems to me of interest for several reasons. In th e first place , it
amo unts to one mor e demonstration of the philosophical - specifically, the ontological
- depth of which painting is capable (1 am deliberately holdin g off mentioning photog-
raphy - but wait). Th is is a genera l point but one wort h under scoring in view of the
usual intellectual assumptions governing the history of art as an academic discipline. In
the second place, the concep ts of world and wor ldhood will play an important albeit

Jeif wa ll and absorption; he 1degger on worldhood and technology 49

intermittent ro le in this book; it is beyon d my powers here to offer a full theorization
of eith er in relat ion to the photography th at I sha ll be discussing (nor is it clear that
such a theorization is precisely called for), but I ca n at least say that Heidegger's emp ha-
sis on abso r bed prac tica l activ ity, hence oblivio usness to one's surround ings beyond the
im mediate sphe re of such act ivity, as revelatory of wo rldh ood wi ll be relevant to much
of what follows in th ese pages. 24 Mo re broadly (in the third place, as it were), consid-
erations of absorpt ion such as those I have been rehea rsing direct atte ntio n not only to
certain ontologica l dimensio ns of Wall's (and others') ph otograp hs bu t also to a zone
of cont inuit y - of sha red concerns a nd resources - between painting and photograp hy
(that was Wa ll's poi n t in his conversation with Schwander). Yet there is an important
sense in whic h the Heidegger ian issues just summa rized a lso present a spec ial cha llenge
to photog rap hy. For what is ph otography, wh at has it been (and been celebrated for
being) since 1839 whe n Daguerre's inventi o n was ma de availab le to all part ies, if not a
techn ology for automatically depicting "the 'world' ... as a cont ext of extended Things
wh ich are ju st present -at-han d an d no more"? It is as if photography in its inmost nature
h as from the first been a profoundly anti- or at least un- Heidegge rian medi um or enter-
prise (refe rring to the He idegger of Being and Time), muc h more so than painting in
oi ls, wh ich virtually fro m the start has had th e capabi lity of the matizing the fact that a
fin ished picture is inevitably th e produc t, and in cer tain respects the record, of tbe
pa inter 's sustained absor pti o n over time in the act of painting . (Some painters have been
particu brilliant at suggesti ng th is.) In contrast, photography, not being in that sense
a work of the ha nd, finds it vas tly more difficult, n ot to say imp oss ible, to produce
images th at " read" unequivocally in those terms. Yet precisely because that is the case,
the stage has been set (so to speak) for certa in photographers, Wall preeminen tly, to
work aga inst the gra in of photographic spatia lization and world-deprivation - of its
address to a subject who " looks exp licitly" at th e photograph and all it depicts - in the
He idegger ian direction I have been tr ying to evoke. The result will inevitab ly be a com-
prom ise; th ere ca n be n o sheer ly H eideggerian photograph, o ne that makes "direct ly"
accessible to the viewer a par ticula r Dasein's practical absorpt ion in the wor ld . Indeed
it is a bove all the viewe r 's aware ness of the fact that Wall's Invisible Man is posing for
th e camera and tha t his surro un dings have been laboriously co nstruc ted by the pho-
tographer - in other words, that the picture as a who le has been deliberately and elab-
orately staged - that on the one hand reduces to a minimum any tendency on the par t
of the viewer to "i dentify" with th e pro tagonist and on the other actively promotes the
kind of imagin at ive engage ment with an d philosophical reflection on the larger import
of the picture that I have been pursuing here. In ot her wo rd s, After "invisible Man" is
no t an image of the protago nist's mind, his fantasy wo rld , his private vision of rea lity;
it is a picture of a sha red world, inflecte d individua lly. But it took all th e photographer's
artis tr y to make such a rea ding availab le to the viewer. And a crucia l aspect of that
art istry involved an ack nowle dgment of to-be-seenness, w hich emerges in this co ntext
as a necessary con diti on for th e successful depiction of world-mea nin gfu lness in con-
temporary photography.

50 why photography matters as art as never before

25 Jeff Wall, Untangling, 1994. Transparency in lightbox. 189 x 250.5 cm

What there is not, obviously, in After "Invisible Man" is any attempt to evoke the sort
of breakdown in equipment that, in Heidegger's metaphor, "lights up" for Dasein the
totality of assignments "constantly sighted beforehand in circumspection," and along
with that totality the worldhood of the world. 25 (Here it is worth noting the parallel
between th is figure of speech, which Heidegger uses repeatedly, and Wall's lightbox tech-
nology.) But an otherwise enigmatic photograph of the mid -199os, Untangling (1994;
Fig. 2 5 ), invites being seen in those terms. The action takes place in a tool -rental shop
with a cement floor and wooden ceiling; pairs of fluorescent bu lbs on the latter illumi-
nate the scene. In th e shelves at the left are lawnmower-type engines and engine blocks,
perhaps awaiting reconditioning; elsewhere one finds paint sprayers, compressors,
wheelbarrows, little cement mixers, _small backhoes, drills, and so on. 26 Toward the right
and perhaps twenty feet away a standing workman in a blue bas eball ca p seems to be
looking for something on an upper shelf; and in the left foreground, much nearer the
viewer, another workman with a moustache, light brown hair, and blue overgarment

Jeff wall and absorpt ion; he idegge r on world hood and tech nology 51
26 Jeff Wall, Rainfilled Suitcase, 20or. Tra nsparency in lightbox. 27 Jeff Wall, Peas and Sauce, 1999 . Transparency
64 .5 x 80 cm in light box . 49 x 6r cm

grasps in his gloved ha nd s two lengths of thick blu e-paint ed rope whic h quickly lead to
a seemingly intractable tangle of heavy, tub e-like cab les and ropes of other co lors. The
title of th e wo rk suggests th at he has em barked or is about to em bar k on the job of
untangling all those ropes; I put matters this way because it is not clear whether the
process of untan gling has actu ally begun: th e wor kman - no doubt pos ed by Wa ll -
looks dow n on the m ass of ropes befor e him w ith a frown ing, absorbed-seeming expres-
sion, but the viewer instinctively senses that the task itself hove rs on the brink of
imposs ibi lity, in which case th e workman will soo n be encou n terin g the tangled ropes
"pure ly in th e way they look, " if he is n ot already d oing so . (No ne of this quite depends
on th e evoca tion of the wo rkm an's stat e of mind; on th e contrary, it is hard not to feel
that the picture wou ld be stro nger if both men we re absent.)
Also to the point are three sm aller works roug hl y cont emporary with After "Invisi-
ble Man" and in fact exhibited along with it on at least one occasion : Rain-filled Suit-
case (2001; Fig. 26), a downward view of an aba ndoned su itcase (at first glance it seems
mor e like a dresser dr awe r) partly filled with ra inwater a nd sur round ed by scraps of
paper, discarded paper cup s, and other bit s of ur ba n detritu s (the impression is of stuff
aba ndoned in an alley); Peas and Sauce (1999; Fig. 27), a sm all, mos tly empty tinfoil
conta iner of peas, partly bent out of shape, that seems to have been cast down on the
same a lley floo r; and Diagonal Composition No. 3 (2000; Fig. 28), on e of thr ee pic-
tures with th e same basic title , wh ich comprises a view from above of an interior floo r
cove red with cracked a nd dirty lino leum, a met a l pa il on four ro llers co nt ainin g rusty
slop water, and, on the floor beside it, the filthy head of a many-st randed mop. In Ro lf
Laut er's wo rds:

52 why photog raphy matters as art as never before

28 Jeff Wall, Diagonal Composition No. 3, 2000. Tran sparency m lightbox. 74 .5 x 94 cm

29 Jeff Wall, Diagona l Composition, 1993 . Transparency 30 J eff Wall, Diagonal Composition N o. 2, 199 8. Trans-
in lightbox . 40 x 46 cm pare ncy in lightbox. 5 2 . 5 x 64 cm

. ,,
The collection of objects leaves no doubt as to the content of the picture. We are
looking from above at a still life of cleaning implements such as can be found any-
where in the United States. However, their appearance and condition is [sic] io con-
flict with the function of the objects. The dirty, dri ed mop and slop bucket with th e
water standing in it seem not to have been used for a long rime. The place, possibly
a cellar or clea ning room in an office building, has not been cleaned in some time,
and perhaps not even entere d. The room is abandoned, th e objects forgorten. 27

Lauter may go coo far in his spec ulation that th e room has not been enrered (what can
that mean in the light of the picture itself?) but his claim that there is an apparent con-
flict between the present condition of the mop and pail and their normal functioning is
suggestive, and although he does not quite say so, the viewer's sense of such a conJlict
is made more intense by the sharply downward view of those objects and, especia lly, by
their eccentric, Rodchenkoe sq ue framing (one is shown a surprising extent of floor rel-
ative to the mop and pail). An earl ier work, Wall's first Diagonal Composition (1993;
F ig. 29), a downward, close-range view of pare of a seemingly dry and dirty sink on the
ledge of which there rests a cracked and dirty (also dry) piece of soa p, appears in ret-
rospect to set the terms for the later pictures of malfunction with respect both to the
choice of subject matter (in the Diagonal Compositions at any rate} and to the adop-
tion of a point of view that ca lls attention to th e photographer's activity, thereby con -
firming a cer tain phenom eno logical (and ontological?) distance from th e ordinary use
of the objects depicted (as Lauter recognizes 28). Oddness, verg ing on perversity, of point
of view is even more palpable in Diagonal Composition No. 2 (1998; Fig. 30), a picture
that seems designe d to frustrate the viewer's impulse to see more than a bare minimum
of the obj ects it depicts (a sink , a rag and stick on the Joor to the low er right, a patched
greenish wall, the wooden floor itself). Yet just for chat reason, the weight of the image
falls all the more strongly on the "look" of the total ensemble.
Then there are three other pictures, A Sapling Held by a Post (1999; Fig . 31), Clipped
Branches, East Cordova St., Vancouver (I999; Fig. 32), and Cuttings (200 .L), that may
perhaps be read in a com plementary spirit as figures of "care," Sorge, the phenomenon
in terms of which "the Being of Da sein in general is to be defined" (157) .29 (Related
terms are "concern," Besorgen, and "so licitud e," Fursorge;30 it is not usefu l to try to
distinguish more sharply among these in the present con text.) Of A Sapling Lauter
writes: "The supported sapling becomes a symbo l of the socia l necessity to support chjl-
dr en, young people and the weak in some form or other. Without help they cannot
dev elop, strengthen, and look after their own natural or socia l balance" (3 5 ). As a
readin g I find this a bit too "symbolic," but the basic idea is doubtless correct, and I
understand the pictures of cuttings in much the same light, with the clipped branches
as the residue of equ ipm ent -using, care-givin g activity. For Lauter, however, the second
work ar least has a critical dimension, depicting the integration of chose nat ural ele-
ments within an "urba n space that only serves as a place for dogs to urinate or as a
receptacle for people co deposit the small, invisibl e Litter of prosperity, such as casually
discarded medicine packaging, cigarette stubs or other urban consumer remnants" (35).
This is the so rt of sociological reading chat Wall's art is routinely subjected to, but for

54 why photography matters as ar1 as neve r befo re

31 Jeff Wall, A Sapling Held by a Post, 1999. 3 2 Jeff Wall, Clipped Branches, East Cordova St., Vancouver, 1999.
Transparency in lightbox. 56 x 47 cm Transparency in lightbox. 72 x 89 cm

me the overall feeling of Cuttings is not at all critical in this sense. (By the same token,
my reading of those works in terms of "c are" risks imparting its own apolitical pathos
to Heidegger's ontological notion. 3 1)
A recent and, to my mind, altogether compelling wor k that stands in a more comp lex
relation to Heideggerian matters is Staining Bench, Furniture Manufacturer 's, Vancou-
ver (2003; Fig. 33), where the inference of repeat ed use of equipment over a period of
time is inescapable. Thus the neatly arrang ed cans of stain, the brushes and thin painter's
gloves resting on the lid of the nearest can, and the wooden stirrer leaning against that
can, although not shown in actual use, are, I think, not presented as marked by a "defi-
ciency in our hav ing-to-do with the world concernfully." Rather, they are depicted in a
way that thematizes both the purposes to which they have been put and the work-world
- the "reg ion " - within which they have been employed. (And will be again, no doubt:
one senses that the very meticulousness with which the cans have been resealed and
arrange d belongs to a certain routine of work.) The image itself, at two-and-a -half feet
by just over three feet, is not large . Yet it is so remarkably replete, so richly tactile, so
densely layered with material traces of practical activity (the gloves, once noticed, seem
almost like shed skin, while the table cover impregnated with stain appears sticky to the
touch) that it might be said at once to confirm and to escape H eidegger's categories, as
if the photograph represents equipment, thing s in the mode of readiness-to-hand - only
not for us viewers . Or perhaps one might say that Staining Bench discovers a strictly
photographic eq uiva lent of "readiness-to-hand" that in the end chiefly brings into focus

jeff wa ll and abs orp tio n; he idegg er on wo rldhood and tech nology 55
3 3 Jeff Wall, Staining Bench, Furnitur e Manufactur er's, Vancouver, 20 03. Transparency in light-
box. 77 .5 x 96 cm

the Heidegge rian theme in relati on to the photo grap her' s use o f the cans of stain and
associated item s to make h is picture.

There is one even more rcccnr work by Wall, A View from an Apartment (200 4-5;
Fig. 34), th at I wan t to approach in th e light of Heidegger's wri tings. The settin g, as in
many of his works, is Wa ll's na tive Va nco uver, a city bu ilt aro und a magnificent natural
h arbor. For years Wall had wan ted to make a picture based on a view of th e harbor
thr oug h a window, and finally he decided co do so . Th is is whar doin g so entailed. First,
he searc hed extensively for an apartment that wo uld hav e the kind of view he wan ted;
this rook a long time (Wa ll spend s many hours dr iving a roun d Vancouve r looking for
settings an d subjects) but eventually he found what he was after and rented th e apa rt-
ment for an indefinite period. Second, he held casting tryouts to discover a young woman
wh o would suit the sort of pictu re he had in mind. His cho ice wa s the mod el for the
walking figure to the left, a former art student in her ear ly twe ntie s. Wall discu ssed the

56 why photography matters as art as never before

project witb her at length, exp laining that to all intents and purposes she wou ld be his
coUaborator rather than simpl y the subj ect of a photo. Toward that end he gave her
money to furnish and decorate th e apartment accor din g to her tastes (and according to
the financial level they agreed a yo ung woman like herself would be living at). Over a
period of weeks and months she did that . In add ition, Wall encouraged her to spend as
much time as possible in th e apartment, so that it wou ld come to feel famil iar to her.
She did that also. Further conversati on led to the decision that she vvould not be alone
in tbe photograph but would have a friend for company; the frien d, chos en by the youn g
woman, was also encouraged to spend time in tbe apartment, wh ich she did. It was then
necessary to determine wh at the two wo men woul d be doing in the pic ture; Wall told
me that the on e thing he knew he wanted was for one of the women to be engaged in
iron ing napk ins or some similar activ ity. (ln his 200 5 catalogu e raisonne Wall comments
on his interest in the theme of cleaning , washing, and housewor k - a ll everyday act ivi-
ties involved in rhe maintenance, the keepin g up , of our common world -in "care , " I
am tempt ed ro say.32 ) Eventually a basic scenario was decided on and the shooting began;
ir lasted about rwo weeks, as Wa ll ha d the wom en rep eat these and other actions again
and again in an attempt to ach ieve an effect of naturalness. It also became clear to Wall
that the ideal hour for the picture was dusk, when street lamps and oth er lights came
on outside . This meant that photographically speaking there was an obviou s mism atch
between the interi or illumination of the apartmen t (itself the resu lt of lights not depict ed
in the photograph) and the crepuscular scene through the win do w, a mismatch that Wall
hand led by shoot ing the two separately and then re concil ing th em with the aid of a com -
puter (this would have been require d even if the hour chos en had been earlier in the
day}. In fact the picture as it now stands is the product of nw11erous shots chat hav e
been seamlessly blended to gether digitally. The entire project from start to finish - fro m
rent ing the apar tment to th e fina l image - rook more than two years.
A View is not very large in comp,Hison with ocher mu lti-figure works by Wa U:,roughly
five and a half feet high by eight feet wide. It is also somewha t different in feeling from
bot h Adrian Wallur and After "Invisible Man" in that one is given a more or less fronta l
view of the principa l young woman as she turns from her ironing- o.r perhaps from the
table beyond? - and begins to cross the room in her stockinged feet . Mor ever, she is
caught in motion, which is not true of eith er of the ocher works (or of absorp tive paint -
ing general ly ). Howev er, like Adrian Walker's and the Invisible Man's action s only more
so, hers is not unambiguously readable in narrative terms . She ho lds a cloth napkin in
both hands, her head is tilted slightly downward, and her abstracted gaze is directed
downward and to her right (toward the laundry in the basket? }- but what exac tly is
she doing with the napkin and wh ere is she going? Here too I emphatically do not regard
this lack of tota l clari ty as an artistic flaw; on the contrary, the ambiguity- or resistance
to reading - seems on the side of reality, so to speak: it is as if Wall welcome d a moment
in the act ion chat on the on e ha11d was perspic uous as regards its ove.rall significance
but on the other refused total comprehensibility, as mom ents in reality often do . As for
the picture as a whole , I ha ve no idea whether Wall had Eugene Delacroix's Algerian
Women (r 834; Fig. 35} in mind as an implicit term of refe rence , bur the wa lking

jeff wa ll and absor pt ion; heidegge r on world hood and t echno logy 57
34 Jeff Wall, A View from an Apartment, 2004-5 . Transparency in lightbox. r67 x 244 cm

woman's dancelike grac e, a ll the more moving for the "uncool" look of her short grey
socks, recall s it to me, as does th e gener al sense of a femininized int er ior, as different
from one anoth er as th e two interior s an d their occupa nts are - and of co urse it is impos-
sib le to forger that Wall began his mature photographic career with The Destroyed
R oom (1978), an inspired free variatio n o n Delacroix's Death o( Sa,danapalus. (Anot her
pos sibl e reference, keyed to the notion of an int ernally framed view, is Gustav e Ca ille-
botte's Young Man at a Window [1875 l.) By now it is hardly necessa ry to remark that
neither woman appears aware of the presence of the photographer . M ore accurately, the
wom an sea ted o n the couch - who has been drinking tea a nd eatin g a snack- appears
ab sor bed in her magazine (unprobl ematica lly, so to sp eak), w hile the wal kin g woman,
although facing the camera, does so with averted gaze. Yet, precisely because the ratio-
nale for th e wa lkin g woman's moveme nt s rema ins obscure, th e possibility can not be
rul ed out that she is delib era tely avoiding m akin g eye -cont ac t with th e camera. In any
case, t here is no question of the women having been photographed withou t the ir knowl -

58 why photography matters as art as never before

3 5 Eugene Delacroix,
Algerian Women, 1834 .
Oil on canvas. r8o x
229 cm . Musee du
Louvre, Paris

edge, besides which the composi tion as a whole conveys an unmistakable sense of delib-
erate constructio n th at belongs to what I have called to-be -seenness and have associated
with the pres ent impossibility of any unproblematic or "naive" return to the absorptive
strategies of the pre -modernist trad ition - or rath er, to the impossibility of any such
return count ing ar tistically in the present situa tion. (Interest ingly, Delacroix's Algerian
Women sta nds apart from that tradition, as does his oeuvre generally.)
Tben there are what for want of a better term may be called the self-referential aspe~ts
of Wall's photograph, in the first place because the view throug h the window inescapably
presents itself as analogous to the lightbox image itself (Fig. 36) . In part this has to do
with the similar physical proportions of the two "p ictures." Plus there is the fact of
dusk, wh ich calls attention both to the lighting of the int erior scene and of the pr esence
of artificia l illumin ation in places in the exterior scene as well . Finally and cruciall y,
there is an obvious {but not, I th ink, too obvious) thematization of the modern global -
ized technology on which the lightbox image relies for its existence, from the television
set in the left foreground (an image-making device, needless to say) to the cellphone
rest ing on some magazines on the low table to the left of the seated woman, and reach -
ing a climax, so ro speak, in the exterior scene: traversed by power lines, with a ship
docked in the harbor bearing on its side the name "Han jin " (a Korean shipp ing
company) in large white letters, spidery orange cranes beyond it, and the spectra l mod ern
Vancouver skyline in the far distance, the whole offering a condensed image of global -
izat ion that the viewer registers as at once contrasting w ith an d as subtending- one
might even say supporting - the domestic inter ior.33 That neither of the two you ng
women tak es in the view from the w indow mak es the juxtaposition of interior and exte -
rior spaces only more compelling, as do the hovering reflections of light sources, the
originals of wh ich are evidently located inside the apartment, in the double-glazed

je ff wall and abs_orpt1on;heidegger on wor ldhood and techno logy 59

36 Jeff Wall, A View from a11Apartme11t, detail

window itself - the window glass standing in for the Cibachrome transparency, or say
for its " inv isibl e" surface. (R eflections are a conspicuous motif throughout the picture,
involving not only t he window but also the tel evision screen an d th e polished wooden
Nor surpr isingly, in view of thi s chapter's engagement with Heideg ger, the treatment
of the t heme of techno logy in A View from an Apartment recalls for me the philoso-
pher's power ful albeit prob lema tic essay, "T he Qu estion Concerning Technology," first
given as a lecture in 1955. 34 (Two other essays, "Th e Age of the World Picture" [1938]
and "The Turnin g" l19 501, are pertin ent as we ll.35 ) For the lacer H eidegge r, whose
thought undergo es a shift away from fundament a l on tolo gy- "the ana lysis of Dasein's
understanding of being and t he world it opens up" - coward a more cultural -hisrorical
project- conceiving of "world disclosing as D asein's receiving of a succession of clear-
ings" 36- technolo gy under stood as En-framing, Ge-stell, and the related notion of {tech-
nologized) natur e, more simply the rea l, as "standing reserve," are dete rminin g of
modern scientific cult Uie. In Heidegger's words, technology is a challenge "wh ich puts

60 why photography matters as art as never before

to na tu re th e unreasonable demand that it suppl y energy that can be extracted and stored
as suc h " (" Qu estion,'' p. 14). Whatever else Wall 's pictur e is "a bout,'' it surely depicts
th e every day use of stored ene rg y, as well as, thr oug h the w indow, so met hing of th e
opera tions that ma ke th at possible. By "Enframing" Heidegger means to sugges t that
such a stance toward nature involves a kind of distanc ing, or as he puts it in ''T he Age
of th e World Pictur e" an "objec tifying of whatever is, [tha t] is accomplished in a sett ing
before, a represent ing, tha t aims at br inging eac h particular being before it in suc h a
way tha t man who calculates can be sure, and that means be certain, of that being"
("P ictLLre," p . 1 27) . More succinctly, "the worl d is transformed into picture and man
into subjectum" ("Question," p. 133), the being for whom the En-frame d p ictu re has
been set up .
H eidegger is deeply troubled by this state of affai rs, above all beca use in his accoun t
Enframing blocks access to "a more original revealing and hence to experienc[ing] the
call of a more prim a l truth" ("Q uestion," p . 28) . H oweve r, perhaps surpri singly, th ere
is hope, for the "rule of Enframing canno t exha ust itse lf solely in blocking all 1ighting-
up of every revealing, a ll ap peari ng of truth. Rather, precisely the essenc e of technology
must harbor in itseLfth e grow th of the sav ing power. But in that case, might no t an ade -
quate look into wha t Enfra niing is as a destining of revea ling bri ng into appearance the
saving power in its aris ing?" (ibid. )37 This is said in the cours e of glossing two lines by
Holderlin: "But where danger is, grows/The saving pow er also" (a sta tement with a
somew hat equivocal resonance in the light of n-ventieth-century Germ a n history) .
Fmther on Hei degger w rite s:

The coming to presence of technolo gy threatens revealing, thr eatens it wi th the pos -
sibility tha t a ll revea ling will be consumed in orde ring and that everything will pr esent
itself only in the unconcealedness of standing-reserve . Human activity can never
directly counter this dange r. Hum an ach ievement alone can never ban ish it. But human
.reflection can ponder the fact that all saving power mus t be of a higher essence th an
what is endangere d, though at the same rime kindred to it.
But might th ere not perhaps be a more primally grante d revealing that cou ld bring
the saving power into its first shining for th in the midst of the danger, a revealing that
in the technological age rather conceals than shows itself? l"Q uest ion," pp. 33- 4J

This "mor e pr imall y gra nted rev ealing" was the accomplishment of the arts in anc ient
Greece, w hich also bore the name techne and whic h "bro ught the presence [GegenwartJ
of the gods, brought th e dialogu e of divin e and human destinings, to radiance" (34).
(At th e risk of simp lifying his thou ght, the lat er Heidegger grants abso lut e p rior ity ro
"the pre -Socratic interpretat ion of all reality as presencing ." 38 ) This in turn leads to the
concluding qu estion : "Cou ld it be that t he fine arts [i.e. the ar ts in our time] are called
to poetic revea ling? Co uld it be that revea ling lays claim to the a rts most primally, so
that they for their part may expressly foster the growth of the saving power, may awaken
and foun d anew our look into that whic h grants our trust in it ? Whether art may be
granted t his high est possib ility of its essence in the mid st of th e extr eme dang er, no one
can tell" ("Question,'' p . 35) .

jetf wall and absorpti on: he1degger on worldhood and te chno logy 61
Naturally, I do not mean to claim that Wall's A View from an Apartment fulfills
Heidegger's hopes, roughly seventy years after the writing of the words I have just cited
("The Age of the World Picture" was first given as a lecture in x938} . In the first place,
there is no reason to think that Heidegger' s later texts , any more than Being and Time,
have been important to Wall. Furthermo re, apart from other considerations, A View is
uncomestably a picture (with another picture "ins ide" it), which presumab ly would
invalidate it as a work of poetic revea ling in Heidegge r's understanding of the concept.
Or perhaps not: think of the significance attributed to Van Gogh's unspecified painting
of peasant shoes in "The Origin of the Work of Art," written just a few years before.
Fina lly, it is certain that Heidegg er would have found in the act ions of the two women,
not to mention the appearance of the apartment itself, an image of routinized banality
- what might be called a "bad" everyday - rather than of a largely pos itive mode of
domestic intimacy - a "good" everyday -which is what I have no doubt the artist
intended. 40 (More on the topic of the everyday in the next chapter.} Indeed what Wall's
picture may be taken to reveal is precisely the at-homeness of the two young women in
the present technological world, or say the way in w hich technology in its current glob-
alized incarnation provides the framing structure for a mode of being-in-the -world, of
everydayness, toward which, at least seen from "o utside," the artist feels positively
drawn. Not that A View is devoid of any critical dimension: it cannot be taken as endors-
ing every aspect of the lifestyle it depicts - the ubiquitousness of television, for example,
or the ro le of Vancouver in the new global economy. Yet whatever implicit cr i6cism may
be at work goes unstressed and in any case A View, like all Wall's Ligbtbox pictmes -
like all his photographs, lightbo x or other wise - is technological to its core . So A View
is anything but Heideggerian in its deepest content (no imp lied harking back to the pre-
Socratics, fostering of a "saving power," or invocations of "extreme danger") even if,
as I believe, "The Question Concerning Technology" and related texts prov ide a
uniquely product ive basis for engaging with Wall's long -plotted, artfully constructed , yet
also mysterious and lyrical tableau. 41

62 why photogr aphy m atte rs as art as neve r be fo re

jeff wa ll , wittgenstein, and the everyday
Wall's involvement with absorption and with what, following Heidegger, I have been
calling the worldhood of th e world is closely related to his longstand ing interest in the
ordinary, the commonplace, or, his preferred term, the everyday, a topic that comes up
frequently in his many interviews. ' For Wall, the importance of the everyday for modern
art goes back at least to Baudelaire and the idea of the painting of modern (jfe, another
theme that Wall has spoken of in interviews, though .mainly in earlier ones. lt is not my
purpose in th is chapter any more than in the previous to survey Wall's development
since r 9 78, the date of The Destroyed Room, his first lightbox picture, but I think it is
fair to say that he has moved from works whose fictional or staged or otherwise con-
struct ed aspects are in different ways positively announced (such as Picture for Women
[r979], Double Self-Portrait [1979], Stereo [1980], Woman and Her Doctor [1980-81),
Doorpusher [1984], Bad Goods [1984), The Thinker [1986], Outburst [1989], and The
Drain [1989)), through a phase of far more spectacular or indeed " theatrical" produc -
tions (notably The Vampires' Picnic [1991] , The Stumbling Block [1991], The Giant
[1992], Dead Troops Talk (A Vision After an Ambush of a Red Army Patrol near Moqo1~
Afghanistan, Winter r986) [1992), and A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) [1993]),
toward a quieter, mor e "realist ic," above all more ordinary-seeming though neverthe-
less carefully construct ed kind of picture that Wall has characterized as "neo -realist "
(Adrian Walker, After "Invisible Man," and A View from an Apartment are three such
works) . In his 2005 catalogue raisonne Wall divides his oeuvre into "cinemacographic"
and "documentary" pictures, depending on wheth er or not the image was prepared by
him in any way/- significantly, all the works just cited fall into the first category . Of
course, the term "neo-realism" is a cinematic one, as Wall exp lains in a 2003 interview
with Jan Estep: "I use the term 'neo-realism' in the sense the Italian filmmakers of the
I94os and after used it. It refers to using non-professional performers in roles very close
to their own lives, photographing events as if you were doing reportage, and recogniz-
ing good subjects in the everyday." 3 (1 should add that my thr ee-part chronolog ical and
them atic division is at best approximate. The internal structure of Wall's oeuvre is much
more complex than it suggests, and throughout his career there are significant works,
such as The Storyteller [r986], Restoration [1993], A Hunting Scene [1994], and A Man
with a Rifle [2000), that resist being neatly p laced.)
Another way of putting all this would be to say that in recent years Wall has become
increasingly interested in making works that evoke the appearance of documentary or
"straight" photography (hereafter I shall drop the quotation marks), the criteria of
which, he explained co Jan Tum lir in 2001, "have always had a lot to do with all my

j eff wa ll, wittgenstei n, and the everyday 63

wo rk, even if I've argued aga inst th e esthetic principle s of stra ight photo gra phy." 4 At
th e sam e time, Wall ha s tended to distance him self from the o vertly politi ca l conce rns
th at ar e front an d cent er in works like Mimic (1981), Bad Goods (198 4 ), and Eviction
Struggle (1988) an d th at were an important attr actio n for social historian s of arc early
in his caree r. Not that Wall 's recent wo rk has lost all concern for th e marginal, neglected,
and overlooked in co nt emporary life - far from it - but he ha s tended to ex press tha t
co ncern a rtist ica lly in a more understated mann er than pr eviou sly, just as in interviews
he ha s more and more emp ha sized the primac y for him of notion s of beaut y, pleas ure,
and quali ty (citing not just Kant but Greenberg in support o f his views) ,5 while also
insisting on the co ngruence between th ose notions and an art of th e everyday. "You can
make bea utifu l p ictur es o ut o f common thing s," Wa ll remarks to Ro bert Enright in
2000 . "Ba udelair e was right when he said that th e most fascinatin g element is th e com-

monp lace. " 6 And to Tum lir: "T he everyday, o r the commonp lace, is the mo st basic and
riches t artist ic category . Altho ugh it seems famil iar, it is always surp rising and new. But
at th e same time, there is an openness th at permit s people to reco gn ize what is there in
t he pi ctu re, because they have already seen som ething like it somew her e. So th e every-
day is a space in w hich meanings acc umul ate, but it's th e pictorial realization that ca rries
the mea nin gs int o the realm of the pleasurable" (114) . 7
H eid egger, too, cru cially deplo ys a notion of th e everyday in Being and Time, where
it is associated w ith th e notio n of Das Man, a term often trans lated as "the they" but
w hich Hub er t Dr eyfus conv incing ly argues shou ld be rendered as "the o ne," the struc-
t ure of norms and und ersta ndings in which Dasein is soc ialize d and wh ich in effect ulti-
mately determines all "refe rences" an d "ass ignmen ts," thereby subj ectin g Dasein to its
"ave rage ness" (another key concept) .8 "Dasein' s every da y possi bilities of Being are for
the Oth ers to di spose of as they please," H eidegger wr ites. 9 Also :

T he Self of everyday Da sein is the one's-self which we distingui sh from the authenti c
Self- that is from the Self which has been taken ho ld of in its ow n way . As a one's-
self, the part icu lar Dase in has been dispersed int o the "o ne," and must first find itself.
Thi s dispe rsal characterizes th e "s ubj ect" of that kind of Being whi ch we kno w as
co ncernf ul a bsorption in th e wor ld we enco unt er as closes t to us. If Dasein is fam-
iliar wi th itself as a one's-se lf, this mea ns at the sa me time that th e "one " itself
prescr ibes th at way of interpr eting the world and Being-in-the -wo rld which lies
closest. l167 ] 10

In ot her wor ds, the stru ctur es of rea din ess-to-hand and equipm ent th at Heide gger has
been analyzing are over looke d, o r as he puts it, "t he ph eno m enon of the world itself
gets passe d over in this abso rption in the worl d ," an d what takes its p lace, as in the
co mmon und ersta nding, is "w hat is pre sent-a t-hand within -t he-wo rld , nam ely, Things"
(168). 11 Or again, the "very state of Being" that has been H eidegger's foc us, "in its
everyday kind of Being, is what proximally misses itself and covers itself up" (168). 12
All this is well known but two po int s may be stresse d. First, for Heidegg er the every-
da y, along w ith abso rpt ion, are in a certain sense "negat ive" concepts. Granted, Hei-
degge r exp licitly sta res that th e " fall ing " of Da sein wh ich " belongs" to everydayness
"does not expr ess a ny nega tive eva luation" b ut he also writ es:

64 why ph otograp hy matt ers as art as nev er befo re

This "absorption in . . . " has mos tly th e character of Being-lo st in the publicness of
th e "one." Das ein has, in the first instance, fallen away from itself as an authentic
potent iality for Being its Self, and has fallen into the "wo rld." "Fallenness" into the
"wor ld" means an absorption in Being-w ith-one-a nother, in so far as the latter is
guided by id le talk, cmiosity, and ambiguity. Through t he Interpretation of falling ,
what w e have ca lled the "inauthent icity" of Dasein may now be defined more pre -
cisely ... [220] 13

More to the point, Dreyfus observes, Heidegger at times confusingly conflates ontolog-
ica l "fall ing" wit h psyc hological fleeing from anxie ty, which has the consequence of sug-
gesting that Dase in's absorption in the world "is the result of fleeing its unsett ledn ess"
(225-37, 229 ). As Dreyfus also says, this "would mak e Das ein essentially inauth ent ic"
(229) - a "negative" consequence if eve r there wa s one. However, He idegger goes on to
claim that there is an alternative to the above, which he calls "resoluteness," and which
involves an or ientation toward death that acknowledges, rather t han flees or overlooks,
Dase in's fundamental nullity . "[ l]t is only in the anticipation of death that reso lut eness,
as Dasein 's authentic trut h, has reached the authentic certainty wh ich belongs to it"
(3 50) , he writes. 14 The imp lica t ion is that both absorp tion and everydayness are ther eby
transfo rmed, even as their content remains unchanged. 15 (Another implica tion is that
answer ing the "ca ll" to "r esolu teness " is an exceptiona l event .)
The question that now arises is what bearing if any t hese considerations have on Wall's
involvement in the everyday as an artistic category . On this topic 1 want to say three
things: first, it may seem as if rhere is 110 shortage of p icrures by Wa ll in which som e-
thing lik e a "negative" understand ing of th e everyday appears to be in play - Untan-
gling is a case in point , as is Night (20ox), t o be d iscussed later in th is chapter - but one
has only to call r.o m in d Adrian Walker, After "Invisible Man," and A View from an
Apartment to recognize how d ifficult if not imposs ible it is to locat e them firmly in rela -
tion to th is aspect of Heidegger's thought. This in turn leads one to suspec t t hat t he
''nega t ive " valence that one might wish ro apply to certain of Wall's pictures is more
soc iological than onto logica l. Second, there is 110 meaningful way of connecting th e idea
of the "posit ive" transformation o f the everyday in and through "resoluteness" and
"authenticity" to Wall's art. Third, perhaps most important of all, Dasein's absorp tion
in the "bad" everyday (my epithe t , not Heidegger's) is imagined by Heidegger as total
and unreflective . (" Reso lureness" does not come about t hrough any sort of choice or
ind eed action on D ase in's part. As Dreyfus writes, " Phenome nologically one can think
of th e transformation from inauthentic to authentic exis tence as a ges talt swicch," 16
which is to say that until that switch occurs - if in a part icu lar case it ever does - inau-
thentic existence and the "bad" everyday preva il abso lutely.) Th is too does not ho ld for
the three p ictures just mentioned, in which the personages not only have been posed by
the artist bur also, as seen earlier, invite recognition by the viewer as having been so
pose d ; the pictmes thus comprise images of absorption that imply the dep icted subjects'
awareness of their respective situations, situations chat inevi tably includ e an a,vareness
- however atten uated by repeti tion - of performing absorp tion. (Put slightly differentl y,
the depic ted subjects are recogn ized by tbe viewe r to be split or divided, at once them -

Jeff wall. w itt gens tem , and the everyday 65

selves and the "roles" they are performing .) This is not precisely Robert Pippin's point
when he writes apropos of Being and Time : "Some richer dialectical notion of not simply
being immersed in the wo rld of concern, but also, in some sort of co-original way, always
taking onself to be immersed in a concrete way, self-conscious ly situat ing oneself, as
well as merely 't hrown' [into death ], might have made possib le a richer and less criti-
cally suspect account of existence. " 17 Yet th ere is at least a partial analogy between Wall's
photographs and the spirit of Pippin's critique. At this point Being and Time ceases to
be useful to the present discussion.

Another way in which Wall describes his intentions w ith respect to the everyday involves
an esthetic ideal he calls "near docum entary." "That means," he wrote in 2002,

that they are pictures whose subjects were suggested by my direct expe rience , and
ones in which I tried to recollect that experience as precisely as I cou ld, and to recon-
struct and represe nt it precisely and accurately. Although the pictures with figures are
done w ith the collaboration of th e people who appear in them, I wan t them to feel
as if they easily could be documentary photographs . In some way they cla im to be a
plausibl e account of, or a report on, what the events depicted are like, or were like,
when they passed without being photographed. 18

"What the events depicted are like, or were like, when the)' passed without being photo-
graphed" - by now it sho uld be clear that this is, fundamenta lly, an a ntitbeatrical ideal,
which is to say that it amounts to a kind of continuation or reprise, though with subtle
but decisive differences owing to the difference in medium, not only of the Diderotian
pro ject as I described in Absorption and Theatricality and related books but also - a far
more contentious claim - of the project of high modernist abstract painting and sculp-
ture as I characterized it back in 1966 - 7 in essays such as "Shape as Form: Frank Stella's
Eccentr ic Po lygons" and "Arc and Objecthood." 19
Here I want to consider a monumental picture that is for me one of WalPs master-
pieces, Morning Cleaning, Mies van der Rohe Foundation, Barcelona (1999; Fig. 37).
The building in which the picture is set is the famous German (or Barcelona) Pavilion
that Mies together with Lily Reich built for the German section of the Exposici6n Inter -
nacional in Barcelona in 1929 - or rather, since the original building was subsequently
destroyed, a reconstruction comp leted in 19 86. 20 The Pavilion features a radically open
plan (conceived "as an analogy of the socia l and politica l openness to which the new
German republic aspired") 21 that dissociates space -defining elements from structural
columns and merges interior and exterior spaces by means of transparent and trans lu-
cent walls. Morning Cleaning- mor e than eleven feet w ide by just over six feet high -
depicts such a merger of spaces. At the rear, the ma in, interior space is partly closed off
by floor-to -ceiling glass panels, beyond which one sees a reflecting pool; the floor of the
main space extends , however, past those panels to the edge of the pool. At the far side
of the pool there rises abruptly a wall of alpine green mar ble, divided into large rec-

66 why photography matters as art as never before

tangles, beyond the top of which one glimpses a band of tree bran ches and sky. The
room is closed off at the left by a spectac ular freestand ing wa ll of onyx dare, warm
brownish yellow in color, divid ed into even la rger rectangles, and full of splendid stri -
at ions. Th e floor is travert ine marble, and on th e floor there rests a long black carpet
oriented roughly left to right (rather than near to far). The carp et, in fact the entire
"room," is angled slightly relative to the picture plane, the right-hand portion seeming
nearer the viewer than the left-hand one. The effect of this is subtly to dynamize the
seemingly emp tier left half of the composition. Six of Mies' s "Barcel ona" chrome-and -
leather couches, designed for the Pavi lion, sit at the two end s of the carpet (three at the
left, tliree at the right), and two matching chairs sit just beyond th e partly turn ed-back
carpet, the one at the left bear ing several cloths folded across its back. On e of th e Pavil-
ion's characteristic cruciform -sectioned steel columns punc tuat es the compos ition
slightly to the right of cente r. lt is cut off by tbe top of the picture but one sees it pene-
trate the floor. The column thus stops short of th e bottom of the pictu re, but this does
not prevent it from playing a vital structural role both compositionally - it provid es a
strong vertical accent wh ere one is needed - and spatiall y, at once declaring its nearness
to the picture pla ne and throwing the space beyond it into measmed relief, not least by
partly blocking from view the righ tmost of the two cha irs . At th e extreme right of Wall's
pictur e another glass wa ll recedes sharply into depth, along with a red curtain that has
been partly drawn . (The curtain is reflected in the glass, as are part s of two of the three
nearby stoo ls, bur looking closely we rea lize that we are a lso given a surprising glimpse
through the angled glass toward a car park ed outsid e. We realize too, however , that no
amount of close looking can resolve the complexities of transp arency and reflection in
this portion of the pictur e.) Fina lly, beyond the carpet and to the right of the almost
central steel column, in blue tro users, sandals, and a white T-shirt, a dark -haired w indow
cleaner bends at the waist over a large yelJow bucket on wheels as be man ipul ates a
long-handled squeegee in a way that suggests that he is affixing a new head onto the
hat1dle, a suggestion confirmed by Wall in a personal communication (Fig. 38). The
cloths folded over th e back of one of the chairs are evidently his. The quality of th e
window cleaner's movement is at once natur al and elegant, and ind eed we quick ly realize
that for all the richness of his surroundings and the artful lateral spread of tl1e compo-
sition, he is the principal focus of the wor k. At the sa me time , his apparent engrossment
in task positively libera tes us to lo ok elsewhere, and when we turn our attention to
the floor-to-ceiling glass panels beyond him we observe that they are partl y streaked
with suds (the cleaning is underwa y); as we scan the pa nels toward the left, which the
composition with its leftward spat ial bias encourages us to do, we not ice, on a pe desta l
rising from the poo l, blurred by the suds or because slightly out of foc us, a scu lpture of
a standiog female nude with sway ing hips a nd arms raised above her head - a wo rk enti-
tled Dawn by Mies's German contemporar y, Georg Kolbe (Fig. 39). 22 Only one thi ng
more remains to be mention ed, and that is th e warm sunlight that streams into the room
at a descending a ngle from right to left, i!Jurninating the carpet in a ll its blackness, the
thr ee couches, and most of the bot tom half of the left-band wall (tbe sunl ight falls short
of the floor beyond the carpet and therefore a lso of the clean er), there by confirming the

jeff wa ll, w ittg enste in, and th e everyday 67

37 Jeff Wall, Morning Cleaning, Mies van der Rohe Foundation, Barcelona, 1999 . Transparency in lightbox . 187 x
351c m
38 Jeff Wall, Morning Cleaning, Mies van der Rohe Foundation, Barcelona, deta il

subtle privileging of the left-hand ha lf of th e compos ition desp ite th e p resence of the
cleaner on the right.
Morning Cleaning is a work of great simplicity and directness but also of consider -
able them at ic richness. Wh at precisely, for example, are its politic a l resona nces, if any ?
As menti o ned, Mies des igned the Pavilion on conunission from the Weimar government,
partly as an arch itectural sta tement of th e political principles the latter repre sente d.
Within five year s the republic was dead, the Na tional Socialist s were in power, and Mies
foun d it necessary to leave Ger many for th e United Stares. (Kolbe, an immense ly gifte d
and accomplished sculptor, remain ed and moreover tried co adapt to the new reg ime,

70 why photograph y matte rs as art as nev er befo re

39 Jeff Wall, Morning Cleaning, Mies van der Rohe Foundation, Barcelona, detail

with disastrous consequences for his art. 23 ) To what extent is the viewer of Wall's picture
invited to bear this knowledge in mind, or for that matter th e furth er knowledge that
the room depicted in Morning Cleaning- like the Pavilion as a whole - is a fairly recent
reconstruction, which is to say the product of an effort to "repair" history at least to a
certain extent? In any case, Mies's Barcelona Pavilion is not just any modernist build-
ing- though the fact that it is, or was, a key work of architectural modernism is surely
to the point (I mean that Wall would not be averse to being considered a modernist
artist) . A related question might be to what extent Morning Cleaning may be und er-
stood as referring back, in a general way, to seventeenth-century Dutch paintings of

jeff wall, wittgenstei n. and the everyday 71

40 Pieter Janssens Elinga, Interior
with Painter, Reading Woman, and
Sweeping Maid, 166 5-70 . Oil on
canvas. 82 x 99 cm. Sriidelsches
Kunstinstitut und Stiidtische Galerie,
Frankfurt -am -Main

ordinary persons performing everyday tasks in domestic sett ings - not that Mies' s Pavil-
ion qualifies as domestic; nevertheless the affinity between Wall's picture and a painting
such as Pieter J anssens Elinga's absorptive, partly shadowed, partly light-struck Interior
with Painter, Reading Woman, and Sweeping Maid (:i:665-70; Fig. 40) in Frankfurt is
food for intense thought. 24 "The histo rical image I want to create is one which recog -
nizes the complexity of the experiences we must have every day in developing relation-
ships with the past," Wall has stated, 25 and in mor e than on e respect Morning Cleaning
(not yet made when he said this) exemplifies some such recognition.
Then there is the issue of reflexivity, as Wall terms it. "Because l grew up at the time
I did, and exp erienced the art I did," Wa ll tells Tuml ir in 200 1, referring to his early
formation in the wake of minimalism and early conceptualism (also high modernism),
"I've always felt that good art has to reflect somehow on its own process of coming to
be. I have never really been convinced that this reflexivity had co be made explicit,
though . . . I've always tho ught that if th e work is good it will automaticall y contain
that reflection, but you won't be able to see it immediatel y. It wi ll flicker into view in
some subtle way" (n7). (Note, in Elinga's Interior, through the doorway at the left, a
paint er at work on a canvas one cannot see, as well as, on the wall above the seated
woma n a bsorbed in reading, a mirror tilted downward so as seemingly to reflect a
portion of the black -and wh ite paved floor of the room. Reflexivity in Wall's sense of
the term is by no means solely a feature of modernist art.) In the same interview Wall
acknowledges that in earlie r wo rks by him , pr esumably including pictures as different
from each other as Picture for Women and Dead Troops Talk, he had operated pol em-
ically in a mannered, forced, or exaggera ted way "in order to provoke internal prob-

72 why pho tography matte rs as art as never before

!ems, to stimulate the kind of reflexivity we were just talking about. But I don 't think
this is the only way, or even the best way, to do that. It's just one possible, interesting
way. What I think of as a Neo -Realist strand of my work is just as good, and I'm a bit
more interested in that these days" (117). (Wall then characterizes his close yet also crit-
ical relatio n to straight photography in the statement cited earlier in this chap ter.)
[n this regard too Morning Cleaning seems a case in point, not simply in its thema-
tization of light falling on surfaces as if to make the picture - I might add, in wh ich
blackness, like that of the inside of a camera or of a darkroom, p lays a vita l rol e - but
in other respects as well . In a brief, dazzling essay of 1989, "Photography and Liqu id
Intelligence," Wall alludes to "a confrontation of what you might ca ll the 'l iqu id int el-
ligence' of nature with the glassed -in and relat ively 'dry' character of the institution of
photography." H e continues:

Water plays an essential par t in the making of photographs, but it has to be controlled
exactly and cannot be permitted to spill over the spaces and moments mapped out
for it in the process, or the picture is ru ined. You certainly don' t want any water in
your camera for examp le! So, .for me, water - symbolically - represents an archaism
in photography, one that is admitted into the process, but also excl ud ed, contained,
or channelled by its hydraulics. This archaism of water, of liquid chemicals, connects
photography to the past, to time, in an important way . By calling wa ter an "archaism"
here I mean that it embodies a memory -trace of very ancient production-processes -
of washing, bleaching, dissolving an d so on, w hich are connec ted to the origin of
techne - like the separation of ores in prim itive min ing, for example. In this sense, the
echo of water in photography evokes its prehistory. I think tha t this "prehistorica l"
image of photography - a speculative image in which the apparatus itself can be
thought of as not yet having emerged from the mineral and vegetable worlds - can
help us understand the "dry" part of photograp hy differently. This dry part I iden -
tify with optics and mechanics - with the lens and th e shutt er, eith er of the camera or
of the projector or enlarger . This part of the photographic system is more usua lly iden-
tified with the specific technological int elligence of image -making, wi th the projectile
or ballistic nature of vision wh en it is augmented and int ens ified by glass (lenses) and
machinery (calibrators and shutters) . This kind of modern vision has been separated
to a great extent from the sense of immers ion in the incalculab le which I associate
with " liquid intelligence ." The incalculab le is important for science becaus ~ it appears
with a vengeance in the remote consequences of even th e most contro lled releases of
energy; the ecological crisis is the form in which these remote consequences app ear
to us most str ikingly today. 26

Wall goes on to note that electronic and digital systems are in the process of replacing
photographic film, a nd while he considers this in itself neither good nor bad, he recog -
nizes that if it happens "there will be a new displacement of water in photography. It
will disappear from the immed iate production -process, vanishing ro the more distant
horizon of the generation of electrici ty, and in that mov ement, the historica l conscious-
ness of the medium is altered . Th is expansion of the dry part of photography I see

j eff wa ll, w ittge nstein. and the eve ryday 73

metaphorically as a kind of hubris of the orthodox technological intelligence which,
secured behind a barrier of perfectly engineered glass, surveys natural form in its
famously cool manner. I'm not attempting to condemn this view, but rather am won-
dering about the characte r of its self-consciousness" (no). He concludes: "ln photo-
graphy, th e liquids study us, even from a great distance" (no).
The pertinence of the above to Morning Cleaning scarcely needs spelling out; in fact
my main concern about citing Wall's text is that it risks making his piccme, produced
with the aid of digital means, seem more progranunatic - calculated, not incalculable -
than I believe it is. My guess is that Wall did not intend his picture as an allegory of
"liquid intelligence ," or of the tension between "liquid" and "dry" aspects of photo -
graphy (folly ten years separate essay from picture). However, it does not follow that
the vision of the medium so brilliantl y ar ticulated in his essay was not somehow active
in his later choice of subject matter, and who can say to what extent it may have con -
ditioned the final image as well? 27 One ind ex of the incalculable - also the photographic
- in Morning Cleaning is the way in which the curving cnrorne legs of the three stools
to the left partly disappear in relation to the black carpet. If Morning Cleaning were a
painting, I want to say, that would be a flaw (in fact no painter would so depict them).
Bur it is a photograph, and that is simply how the legs and caTpet were registered by
Wall's camera . Of course, back in Vancouver he could have modified the legs digitally
to make them stand out more distinctly but chose not to, a decision that show s how
intertwined the issues of calculation and its opposite - accident or contingency- are in
his work. 28
Finally, though, I want to return ro the linked issues of absorption and the everyday
that receive in Morning Cleaning perhaps their most profound treatment to date in Wall's
oeuvre. For there can be no doubt that the window cleaner is meant to be seen as
absorbed in his daily task - a task, it is worth noting, that involves using specific pieces
of equipment and th e dailiness of which is itself a further expression of the everyday.
Once again, however, the picture is not candid; as its cinematic scale and proportions
suggest, the photographer did not instantaneous ly capture a scene exactly as it hap-
pened. Rath er, Morning Cleaning involved perhaps a month's work in Barcelona, "a
coup le of weeks organizing practical things with equipment, and another two weeks
shooting." As Wall explains (in the persona I communication referred to earlier):

Maybe it was more than two weeks shooting, I am not sure now. When the shoot
began, I wasn't certain whether it would be sunny weather or cloudy . After a few
days, it got clear and sunny and I rea lized that that was the best light for the picture.
So then I was committed to staying and shooting for as many sunny days as were
requir ed to do what I had co do. Luckily, the summer weather there is pretty consis-
tent, so once it got clear, it staye d clear almost without interruption for the whole
remaining time.
[ think I shot for about twelve da ys. The light was right only in the early morning,
from about 7 co 7:35. I had only about seven minutes each day to photograph the
space as a whole, because the shadow patterns change so quickly in th e morning. I

74 why photo graphy m at ters as art as ne ver before

had to be ready for those seven minutes each morning, and during them I made the
"m aster" views, without the figure.
He was standing by, and as soon as the masters were done, L readjusted th e camera
and photographed him changing the end-piece of his mop-squeegee. Since he is in
shadow, and since that shadow did not cha nge shape and brightness as quickly as
some of th e other areas did, I had ma ybe twent y to twent y-five minut es to wo rk with
him each day. Onc e his shadow are a changed, the shoot was over. That was about
8 a.m.
I'd get the film back around 4 or 5 p.m ., and spe nd some hours eac h evening study-
ing it, tryin g to determine what I had and what f still needed, then got ready for the
next morning's shoot , getting up at 5.
It is a litrle stressf ul to be shoot ing for digital assembly without being able to make
some test assemblies becaus e I am usually uncert ain about various possib le problem s.
Most of these have to do with hard technica l things, like depth of field, focal plane,
exposure and so on, things that need to be very consistent if the different pieces are
going to go together properly. L had to examine all the film from each day extremely
carefuJly, looking for problems and making certain that key pieces wer e compat ible
with othe rs. Th e com pur er work was done later that fall 1999 I, back home. 29

Yet, as in the other works by Wall I have disc ussed , th e appeal to absorption, which is
also to say to the implication that the 1.vindow cleaner is unaware both "of th e construct
of the picture and th e necessary pr esence of the viewer, " to cite \Vall in his interview by
Martin Schwande r onc e more, is not tl1ereby nndone. Rath er, the impression of absorp-
tion and unawareness is to my mind cons ider ably strong er - less obviously qualifi ed -
than in any of the others, both because of th e prec ise practical reality of th e window
cleaner's act ion and becaus e of our sense of his separation from us, by which I refer not
merely to his physical distance from the pictur e p lane bur also, equally importantly, to
his loca tion beyon d the zone of direct sunlight. The viewer is mad e to feel that th e man
bending ove r his squeegee is ob livious even to the one indisputably great event, itself an
emblem of dailine ss, depict ed in Morning Cleaning - th e dramat ic influx of wa rm
morning light - and what mak es h is unawareness a ll th e more plausib le is the fact that
the light does not fall directly on him . (In Elinga's interior, too , neither the maid nor
the reading woman notices the bright trap ezoids of sunlight falling on the wall and Aoor
roward the right .) On a lesser not e, which become s more sa lient the longer one look s,
the window cleaner also app ears unaware of the light.struck Kolbe nud e displaying
herself- sho uld one sa y th eatrically? - above the pool. Then , too, the division of the
internal space into two zo nes, one brightl y illumi nated and the other not, is reinforced
by the contrast between the relative ly forma l placement of the nvo trios of couches and
the way in which the two chairs have been mo ved from the ir normal position s to make
room for the cleaning of th e glass wall. (That is why the carpet has been partl y ro lled
back .) Th e result is a composition of great pictorial and inrellectua l sophistication, one
that exp loits the "mag ic" of absorption to induce the viewe r to accept as verisimilar
something that he or she "k nows " to be improbabl e at best, and what is worth und er-

1elf wall. wittgenstei n, an d the everyday 7E,

scoring is that according to Wall's narrative of his picture's genesis, the sw1light was not
part of the conception at the ou tset but rather emerged only in the process of shooting
as the weather cleared - a further instance of the incalculableness that Wall welcomes
in his art .

At this point I want to introduce another philosophical text , one that goes further than
Being and Time and "The Question Concerning Technology" toward providing a con-
ceptual fram ewo rk not just for a crucial aspect of \v'a!J>sart but also for the work of
other photographers to be considered in this book . The text is the whole of a long extract
from Ludwig Wittgenstein's manuscripts for the year J930. lt appears in the volume
Culture and Value, first edited by Georg Henrik von Wright, which gathers a number
of remarks and observations dealing with topics outside technical philosophy . It reads:
Engelmann [Paul Enge lmann, Wittgenstein's close friend and faithful correspondent]
told me that when he rummages round at home in a drawer full of his own manu -
scripts, they strike him as so glorious that he thinks they would be worth presenting
to other people. (He said it's the same when he is read ing through letters from his
dead relations .) But when he imagines a selection of them published he said the who le
business loses its charm & va lue & becom es impossible. I said this case was like th e
following one: Noth ing could be more remarkable than seeing someone who think s
himself unobserved engage d in some quite simple everyday activity. Let's imagine a
theatre, the cuna in goes up & we see someone alone in his room walk ing up and
down, light ing a cigarette, seating himself etc. so that sudden ly we are observing a
human being from outside in a way that ordinarily we can never observe ourselves;
as if we were watching a chapter from a biography with ow: own eyes, - surely this
would be at once uncanny and wonderful. More wonderfu l than anyth ing that a play-
wright could cause to be acted or spoken on the stage . We should be seeing life itself.
- But then we do see this every day & it makes not the slight est impr ession on us!
True enough, but we do not see it from that point of view. - Similarly when E. looks
at his writings and finds them splendid (even though he wou ld not care to publish
any of the pieces individu ally), he is seeing his life as God's work of art, & as such ir
is certainly worth contemplating, as is every life & everything whatever. But only the
artist can represent th e individual thing [das Einzelne] so that it appears to us as a
work of art; those manuscripts rightly lose their value if we contemplate them singly
& in any case without preiudice, i.e. without being ent husiastic about them in
advance . The work of art compels us - as one might say - to see it in the right per-
spective, but without art the object [der Gegenstand] is a piece of nature like any
other & the fact that we may exalt it through our enthusiasm does not give anyone
the right to display it to us. (I am always reminded of one of those insipid photographs
of a piece of scenery which is interesting to the person who took it because he was
there himself, experienced something, but which a third parry looks at with justifi-
abl e coldness; insofar as it is ever justifiable to look at something with coldness.)

76 why photog rap hy matters as art as never before

But now it seems to me too that besides the work of the artist there is another
through which th e world may be captmed sub specie aeterni. It is - as I believe - the
way of thought which as it were flies above the world and leaves it the way it is, con-
temp lating it from above in its flight . 30

This is arguably Wittgenstein's most original and sustained contribution to esthet ic

thought, though it may be only now , in the wake of developments in photography since
the late 1970s, that it can be taken in that way. The following points shou ld be stressed :
1) The thought experiment Wittgenstein proposes - imagin ing a man who thinks he
is unobserved engaged in some quite simple everyday activity as if in a theater - belongs
to rhe cast of mind J have been calling antirheatr ical. Although Wittgenstein does not
actually refer to tbe man as absorbed in the performance of that activity, it seems fair
ro say that it is implicit in his words, bearing in mind tha t in Diderot's writings on paint-
ing and drama abso rption goes hand in hand wi th unawareness of being beheld . (No t
the least interest of the 1930 extract for me is that it forges a link between th ese two
largely unplac eable thinkers. This is also to say chat the significance for esthe tic thought
of that extract can be made our on ly aga inst the background of the issue of antithe -
atrica lity.)
2) The thought experiment a lso expl icitly involves what T have been ca lling - in part
basing myself on Wall - the everyday, which turn s out to be an immensely privileged
esthetic category for Wittgenste in as well. M or e precisely, the everyday is here imagin ed
by him as avai lab le only in an antitheatrica l (and implicitly absorptive) form, with artis-
tic consequences that go beyond anything previously known: we shou ld be observing
something "more wonderful than anything that a playwright could cause to be acted or
spoken on the stage . We sho uld be seeing life itself" - a ne plus ultra of realism, it seems .
3) Wittgenstein (or one of his voices) immed iately objects, "Bur then we do see this
every day & it makes no t the slightest impression on us!" and then at once counte rs the
objection by saying: "True enough, but we do no t see it from that point of view." I take
this to mean that in the course of our ordinary dea lings with other persons we no t infre-
quently come upon someone who, at least for a few moments, is unaware of being
observed, and that we are far from regarding such a turn of events as "uncanny and
wonderfu l." Bur our point of view - or to use Wittgenstein's subtler term, our perspec -
tive -when this occurs is not at a ll the one posited by th e though t experiment. The ques-
tion, then, is how to characterize the latter perspective, which he associates wirh seeing
the scene in quest ion as a work of arr (as he says Engelmann, without quite realizing it,
is led at moments to see his own life as God's work of art), and my suggestion is that
Wittgenstein imagines it as fundamentally - not just contingently - separate from that
of the person being observed {as God's perspective is separate from Engelmann's), as if,
ro put it strongly, tbe person a nd the observer inhab it different wo rld s (a formulation
that came up in the previous chapter, in my su mmary of Schwander's response co Adrian
Wallier).Or so it seemed to me for a long time. What has become clear, how ever, is that
it would be more faithful to Wittgenstein's thought to say that he is evoking two radi -
cally different perspectives on the same world, one "wi thin " that world and the other

1etf wall , w ittgenste in, and the everyday 77

in some sense "outside" it. 31 Even as the account of Engelmann's changes of heart sug-
gests that the two perspectives are not absolute ly sealed off from one another; rather,
the y are different ways in which the world "discloses" itself, to use Heideggerian lan-
guage in a Wittgensteinian context.
4) In this connection the extract deploy s an unexpected distinction between (the rep-
res entation) of "the individual thing," das Einzelne, and, in the absence of art, "the
object," der Gegenstand- a "mere" object, I am tempted to say (probably the tempta -
tion should be resisted). Wittgenstein leaves the distinction untheorized, which on the
one hand is a pity but on the other is a goad to furth er thought. As I understand it, the
distinction joins up with certain claims in "Art and Objecthood," and it will also prove
relevant to the discussion of the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher in the last chapter of
this book . To anticipate: I shall want to make a distinction between "good" and "bad"
objecthood somewhat along the lines of Hegel 's distinction between "good" (or
"genuine") and "bad" (or ''spurious") modes of infinity in the Science of Logic and
Encyclopedia Logic and to associate the first terms in those distinctions with the typo-
logical depiction and presentation of industrial objects in the Bechers' photographic
"rab leaus." I shall go on to suggest that the distinction between "good" and " bad "
modes of objecthood can be said to hold, to be intuitable, onJy in the latter (and more
broadly in photographs), not in reality "as such.'' As seen, Heidegger in Being and Time
drew an ontologically charged distinction between equi pment and things, wh ich is to
say between readiness-to-hand and presence -at-h and; mor e than two decades later, in
the essay "The Thing," be put forward a different but not unrelated distinction between
things (near to us, therefore "good") and objects (distant from us, therefore "bad"). 32
As is perhaps apparent, neither of Heid egger's distinctions lines up with Wittgenstein's,
which operates in a different, in the end more powerful register.
5) The last few sentences in Wittg enstein's long first paragraph turn on yet another
distinction: between looking at something "w ithout prejudice" - the Kantian term
wou ld be "disinterest edly" - and looking at something "with coldness," which emerges
as a (perhaps inevitable) failur e of humanity. This too may be new to esthetic thought,
though the distinction is fully as ethical, perhaps even religious, as it is esthetic.
" [IJnsofar as it is ever justifiable to look at something with coldness" - one way to take
this tremendous and unexpected qualification is not simply as a rebuke, in the first
instance to himself, but also as an intellectual caution, lest one assum e that absence of
prejudic e or esthetic disinterest simply is a kind of coldness. At the same time, Wittgen-
ste in is clear that nothing gives someone th e "r ight" to display to another person insipid
objects or fragments of nature - photographs of scenery are the example he cites - in
the expectation that the y could possibly mean to a second party what they do to the
first. Interestingly, Wittgenstein wrote in a notebook entry of about I929, "My idea l
is a certain coolness Inor coldness]. A temple providing a setting for the passions without
meddling with them" - a statement that I cannot help but read in relation to the extract
of I930 as well as, stretching the point, i11relation co Morning Cleaning itself. And of
course photography has often been described as inherent ly cool, as in Wall's remarks
cited earlier in chis chapter about "the orthodox technological inteJligence which . ..

78 w hy photography matte rs as art as never be fo re

surveys natural form in its famously cool manner" ("Photography and Liquid Intelli-
gence") or Sontag's characterization of the "habit of seeing" induced by photography
as "both intense and cool, solicitous and detached. " 35
6) In view of Wittgenstein's distaste for the promiscuous displaying of snapshots, it
is perhaps only fitting that, more than fifty years later, it has devolved upon photo-
graphy- some photography - to take up the artistic challenge that his extract adum-
brates. In Wall's Morning Cleaning, this involved shooting aspects of tbe same scene
over twelve consecutive mornings for about half an hour starting at 7 a.m., while bright
sunlight streamed into the large, glassed-in space at more or less tbe same angle during
each session, as well as working collaboratively with the window cleaner much as he
had done with the real Adrian Walker, and then combining the various images digitally
back in his Vancouver studio. For this is my strong est claim, as well as my deepest reason
for adducing Wittgenstein 's remarks in the present context. I take Wittgenstein to be
inviting one to imagine an artistic medium significantly different from anything avail-
able to him (or others) at that rime . Obviously the theater could not supply what was
wanted, even though he begins by asking us to imagine a curtain going up on a stage
such as had never - he seems to think - actually existed. I have suggested, however, that
the dramaturgy of hjs thought experiment is extremely close to that of Did erot 's writ-
ings on drama and painting of the 1750s and '6os. What 1 have not said is that the
Diderotian dispositif of the dramat ic tableau with its "invisible" fourth wall provided
a model for stage realism throughout much of the nineteenth century, but that by r 930
(indeed by well before) such a dispositif no longer sufficed, for avant -gard e playwrights
and directors, to produce the impression of metaphysical aloneness t.he extract seeks to
evoke. Or perhaps one should say that the very stage ideal of metaphysical aloneness
bad lost its attractiveness, no doubt largely because in the post-Ibsen era it had become
a bourgeois cliche. 36 In that sense the extract may be read as rediscovering, as i.f on new
grounds, the spiritual and artistic depth of such an ideal (for Wittgenstein the two dimen-
sions are one).
What about film? In the decades after r930 Wittgenstein often went to the movies,
usually accompanied by friends . Yet I serious ly doubt that movies, even Italian neo -
real.istfilms of the postwar period, or the masterpieces of Bresson and Ozu, would have
fulfilled for him the terms of the thought experiment of 1930. Needless to say this cannot
be proved, but Wittgenstein's famously total immersion in movies, of which there is
ample testimony, would have worked against the ideal of disinterested and in effect
distanced contemplation implied by the extract. (Whi le Wittgenstein was staying in
Newcastle during the Second World War, he "went frequently to the cinema - 'every
night' according to Mis s Andrews [someone who knew him] - to watch 'westerns or
frankly bad films with happy endings and when asked about them the next morning,
he could not remember details.' ") 37 In fact it may be that what is at stake here is pre -
cisely that aspect of the movies that led me in "Art and Objecthood" to claim that it
was not a modernist art (see my discussion of Sugimoto's Movie Theaters, Sherman's
Untitled Film Stills, and Wall's Movie Audience in Chapter One). In any case, I suggest
that certain photographs by Wall, Morning Cleaning foremost among them, may be

jett wa ll, w ittge ns tein , an d t he eve ryday 79

understood, if nor as wholl y realizin g the ter ms of Wittg ens tein's simpl e but exalted
vision , at least as coming clo ser to d oing so than any other works of pictori a l art wirh
which I am familiar. "O h a key can lie for ever wher e the locksmith placed it, & never
be used to open the lock for which the master forged it," Witt genstein writes in anothe r
extra ct in Culture and Value.1x Does it go to o far co imagin e that th e extr act of 1930
amount s to such a key?
7) An elabora tion of the pr evious point as well as of the earlier one about dispar ate
perspectives . Wittgen ste in writ es : "Bue only th e ar tist can represen t th e individual thin g
so that it appears to us as a work of art." In ocher words, only a work of art, precisely
becau se it "compels us to see it in th e right perspective ," can make " life itself," in the
form of a bsorpt ion , ava ilabl e for est heti c contemplation. I want to assoc iate thi s
ack nowledgment of art ifice (fo r that is wh at it is: think of the theat er and its curtain)
with th e frank acknow ledgm ent - th e foregrou ndin g- of photographic and dramatur-
gica l art ifice in Wall's pictures, the first via the light box app aratus itself, th e seco nd via
the imp lied pain stak ing collaborative staging of the depicted ac tion, and in some works
the implied painstakin g construction of the depic ted set ting. What mak es th at associa-
tion pertinent, of course, is the depth of Wall's com mitm ent to thi - may one say
Wittg cnstei nian ? - everyday in the m ode of "near docu ment ary,'' th at is, co the antithe -
atrical project of making pictures that " in some wa y ... claim ro be a plausib le account
of, or a report on , whar th e events depicted a re like, or were like, when th ey passed
with ou t being pho to graphed." By now it shou ld be clea r that the entire purpose of Wall's
la bors in Barcelon a a nd back in Vancouver was to produce such a picture. (As yet Wall
has found no mean s of acknow ledg ing in his a rt th e sheer pro long ed and/or repetiti ve
labor that go es inro the making of a work like Morning Cleaning, though perhaps rhe
imag ery of digging a we ll, a grave , or a n anthropological site, as in The Well [198 9 1,
The Floode d Grave [r998 - 2000J, and Fieldwor k [2003J may be viewed in that light. 39
I shall have some thin g ro say abo ut th e last of these shortly. )
8) Fina lly, l read the brief concluding par ag raph in Witt genstein' s ex tract, with its
image of co nt emplatin g the world fro m ab ove (and in flight , lest one think s he is envis-
aging a fixed pos ition of divin e omniscience) w hile leaving it the way it is (not in co ld-
ness or indiff erence bur so co spea k disinceresccdly), as an early intuition of what would
become in th e Phi losophical Investi gat ions the noti on of perspicu o us repr esent a tio n
(iibersichtlich e Darstellung) and th e vision of phi losophy as leavin g the ac tu al use o f
langu age as it is, rathe r than "cor rect ing it" in the spir it of tr adit ional phil osop hy - an
ideal linked, as Stanl ey Cavel! has demonstr ate d, to notion s of th e or din ary a nd th e
everyd ay.~0 Thi s sugg ests that between the enterpr ise of th e Philosophical ln vest igations
and th e seemingl y mor e narr o wly esth etic concerns of the 19 30 ex trac t th ere ex ists an
affinit y as fruitful to think ab o ut as it is - at least at first- su rpri sing .
To sum up: I have tried to show th at in post-1990 works such as Adrian Walk er and
Momi11g Cleaning Wall has mov ed decisively toward a n a ntitheatrica l a rt in and thr ough
a focus sed con cern wit h the everyday an d an esrheti c strategy he ca lls " near docum en-
tary." (The rela tion of After 'Invi sible Man ' and A View from an Apartment, both a lso
a ntith ca trical works, to the notion of " near do cumen tary" is an open question; certain ly

80 why pllotography matters as art as never before

4I Morris Louis, A lpha-Pi,
1960 . Acrylic on canvas .
260 x 449 .7 cm.
The Metropolitan Museum of
Art, New York. Arthur Hoppock
Hearn Fund, 1967 (67 .2.32.)

the lengths ro which Wall went in acclimatizing the young women in the latter to the
apartment and the entire situation of shooting are on the side of such a notion .) I have
done this in part by bringing Wall's pictures into close contact with wr itings by two of
the twenti eth century's foremost phi losophers, Heidegger and Wittgenstein - writings
that seem to me to bear an intimate relation to what rakes place in those pictures rather
than merely to offer a basis for intriguing but essentially fanciful associations. At th e
same time, Wall's interest in absorption and antitheatrica lity links his work with the
Diderotian tradition as I have presented it in my books on eighteenth - and nineteenth-
century French painting. However, there is a further possibility touched on earlier that
1 wanr to raise more vigorously here: that a picture like Morning Cleaning also amounts
ro a kind of reinterpretation or say renewal, across a jagged breech, of the antitheatri-
cal aims of certain high modernist painting and scu lpture as I interpreted those aims
back in 1966 - 7 in "Shape as Form," "Art and Objecthood," and related texts. To speak
personaLly, from my first encounter with Morning Cleaning in Frankfurt in 2002, I have
not been able to get Morris Louis's multi-rivulet "Unfurl eds" of 196 0- 6 1 - Alpha-Pi
(1960; Fig. 4 1), for example - our of my mind. 4 1 I am deliberat ely stopping short of
spelling out all th e reasons for this. Suffice it to note the simi larity of overall format and
dimensions ; the grouping in both of crucial elements near the right-and left-hand edges
of the picture together with the openness of the composition as a whole; and the sug-
gestive analogy between the liquid flow of Louis's color rivulets and the w as hing of the
windows in Morning Cleaning. ls there not also a parallel of so rts betw een the daz zling
blank expanse of the bare canvas in the Louis and the irradiated black expanse of the
carpet in the Wall? Not that Wall is likely to have intended the connection, any mor e
than he was thinking of Elinga's exquisite Interior or, more broadly, of seventeenth-
century Dutch painting of quotidian scenes when he began shoo ting in Mies's Pavilion
in Barcelona. Yet it will be a central claim of this book that some of the most impor-
tant and vital recent initiatives in photography turn out to have been renewing, even

Jeff wa ll, w 1ttg enste in. and th e eve ryday 81

43 Jeff Wall, A Wall in a Former Bakery , 2003. Transparency in lightbox. xx9 x 1 51 cm

As for Fieldwork's larger mean ing, I suggest that it is above all an attempt to repre -
sent, to make visible, the historicalness of the everyda y. For consider: look ed at close ly
the excavate d hole reveals multiple strata, each of which represents a particular period
of time an d a particular mat erial reality (one darkish stratum, part way down , may be
what is le.ft of the roof of the dwelling that once stood at that spot) .43 A commonplace
abo ut photography, about which there will be more to say, is that it depicts surfaces,
and traces on surfaces . No doubt Wall would agre e - a p icture roughly contemporary
with Fieldwork, A Wall in a Former Bakery (2003; Fig. 43), depicts nothing else.
How ever, what I find in Fieldwork is more importantly a themat ization of the thickn ess
and layeredness of the wo rld, by which I mean the way in which material traces
deposit ed day by day in earlier epoch s ar e part of the very texture of reality, and the
thematization too of a certain patient labor of recove ry, which one is allowed to witn ess
only from a respectfu l distance and with which Wall, in this spellbinding and reflective
image, plainly wish es to assoc iate his arr.
A number of oth er, mostly recent pictures, including severa l large black -and -white
photographic prints, further exp lore the territor y I have been surveying . In Chapter Two

84 w hy phot ography matters as art as neve r befo re

I quoted a passage from the prologue to Ellison's Invisible Man in which the protago -
nist develops the theme of his own invisibility in relation to whites; from the pr esent
perspective it is clear that invisibility is an antitheatrica l trope, even as the the Invisible
Man's obsession with light invites being read in relation to Wall's lightbox technology.
In other works of the past decade or more the trope of invisibility gives way to themes
of exit and departure, as in the large black -and-white photograph (not a tra nsparency)
Housekeeping (1996; Fig. 44), in which a uniformed maid who has just finished
cleaning and straightening a hotel room (a characteristic subject) is depicted leaving the
room through a door in the wa ll farthest from the viewer and closing the door behind
her as she goes; the effect is candid, but Wall has described shooting for two weeks, five
or six days a week, before coming up with the image he wanted. 44 In another large, par -
ticularly impressive black -and -white photograph , Untitled (Forest) (2001; Fig. 45), a
man and a woman are (bare ly) captured hurrying from a clearing in which they have
been cooking food on a small grill. This is one of the works that Wa ll describ ed in 2002
as depicting "moments or events from obscw-e, unswept corners of everyday life, covert
ways of occupying the city, gescuses of concealment and refuge," and the impression
conveyed is indeed that th e man and woman are fleeing the scene - there is a note of

44 Jeff Wall, Housekeeping, t996. Gelatin silver print . 192 x 258 cm

Jeff wall, wi tt genstein , and the everyday 85

45 Jeff Wall, Untitled (Forest), 2001. Gelatin silver print. 239 x 30:r.5 cm

urgency about their departure which gives the entire picture an anx ious, unsettling aiJ:.
(They have left their pot on the boil- why?) In fact I want to go fur ther and suggest
that the man and woman are fleeing no one other than the photographer/viewer, who
in any case has arrived too late to catch more than a glimpse of them: the long-haired
woman, bent slightly at the waist as she climbs a slight rise, is sufficiently turned away
so as to hide her features, and it is easy to miss the man entirely, so obscured is he by
trees and branches to the left of the woman. Note, too, the nearness of the branches in
th e left foreground, which seem almost to threaten one's sight as one approaches the
photograph, as in effect the viewer is invited to do, at the same time as numerous small
"scars" on the bark of the tr ees give the impression of being so many eyes looking back
at one (aggressively, or at least nor at all reassuiingly).

86 w hy pho tography matters as art as never before

46 Jeff Wall, Untitled (Night) , 20o r. Gelatin silver print. 239 x 301 .5 cm

Anoth er superb large black-and-white photograph, Untitled (Night) (2oo r ; Fig. 46),
depicts in the foreground a body of water, perhaps the result of flooding or rainfall
{though it might equally be a pond that has partly dried up}; beyond it ar e a patch of
dry ground, a low wall, and a hillock with bushes and trees; and beyond that a fence
and, at the top .left, part of a bridg e. The picture is extremely dark and takes a long
time to read; only after a while does on e become aware of two persons and a dog seated
or reclining against the wall at the extrem e left and realize that they or rather their
"covert way of occupying the city" is the true focus of the composition. The overall
effect, a tour de force of nocturnal lighting an d close-value printing, is of a sustained
impeding of vision that forces the viewer to work hard for all that he or she is able to
perceive, an impeding that thereby divests the imag e of the least suggestion of display

jeff wall. w itt genstein , and t he every day 87

47 Jeff Wall, The Burrow, 2004. Gelatin silver print. 161.5 x 189 cm

- put more strong ly, that establishes the picture as a whole as resistant to being beheld.
Untitled (Night) was elaborately staged by Wall in a property in Vancouver rented for
the purpose, bur a fourth black-and-white work , The Burrow (2004; Fig. 47), depicts
an actual structure he came across one day in that city, an underground space mostly
covered up by large sheets of wood and cardboard . Wall at once fetched a camera and
rook his photograph, which therefore belongs to the "documentary" category. The ques-
tion is what made this particular subject instantly attractive to him, and my suggestion
is that it was the (Kafkaesque?) idea of the burrow itself, an enclosure (a "ho le") in
which a person might hide himself or herself from view, that drew his attention. In his
2005 retrospective exhibition at Schau lager in Basel, the last four photographs were
hung in a single room; the cumulat ive impression of a profound antipathy to vision -
of antirheatrical desire - was palpabl e.
Two other works, Untitled (Overpass) (2oor; Fig. 48) and Woman with a Covered
Tray (2003; Fig. 49), both transparencies, thematize the motif of persons wa lking more
or less directly away from the photog ra pher/viewer (Housekeeping was a version of the

88 why photogra phy matters as art as never before

48 Jeff Wall, Untitled (Overpass), 2001. Transparency in lightbox . 214 x 273 .5 cm

same idea). Again, I see this as an antitheatrical motif, one that goes back to the early
nineteenth century, as for examp le in Theodore Gericault's great lithograph Entrance to
the Adelphi Wharf [182I; Fig. 50], one of the supreme black-and-white images of th e
period. (Gericault's Raft of the Medusa [18 19], with its vict ims of shipwr eck striving to
be beheld by a ship on the far horizon, is also pertin ent her e - more on that work in
relation ro one of Thomas $truth's museum photographs in Chapter Five.) A more
complex offshoot of the same idea is Passerby (i:996; Fig. 51), a black -and -white night
scene powerfully illuminated in the right foreground by a light source evidently located
"this" side of the picture surface. The event depicted - instantaneous ly, indeed with a
show of instantaneousness - is simple yet takes a further instant to construe: a man in
jeans and a shor t jack et about to ex it the pictur e at th e lower right glances back over

je ff wall, wi tt ge nstein , and th e everyday 89

49 (above) Jeff Wall, Woman
with a Covered Tray, 2003 .
Transparency in lighrbox .
.164 x 208 .5 cm

50 (right) Theodore Gericau lt,

Entrance to the Adelphi Wharf,
r82 .r. Lithograp h . 25 .3 x 3X cm
51 Jeff Wall,Passerby,1996. Gelatin silver print. 250 x 339.5 cm

his left shoulder at another man who has just run past (the second figure can be made
out immediately to the left of a tree, the cast shadow from which partly falls on him).
It is not just that the nearer man appears unaware of being photograph ed but that the
running figure draws the first's attention away from the camera (and the lights and th e
viewer), so that the picture as a whole combines a manifestly amitheatrical "actional"
motif with the fullest possible acknowledgment of photographic artifice (no te in partic-
ular the reflected light from the stop sign toward the left), hence to -be-seenness.
Finally, there are two lightbox pictures that Wa ll calls Blind Window No. I (2000;
Fig. 52) and Blind Window No . 2 (2000; Fig. 53), both of w hich belong to th is infor -
mal and by no means inclusi ve gathering of ant itheatrical works . L1 Abso1ption and
Theatricality I remark on the prominenc e of the subject of blindness in post-1750 French
painting and suggest that its importance derived from the fact that a blind person is

j eff wa ll, w ittg ens t ein, and t he eve ryday 91

52. Jeff Wall, Blind Window no. r , 2000. Transparency in lightb ox. ro9 x
133 cm

53 Jeff Wall, Blind Window no. 2, 2000. Transparency in lightbox . r34 x 1 70.5 cm
54 (left) Paul Strand , Blind, 1916 . Platinum print . 34 x 25. 7 cm.

5 5 (below) Walker vans, Untitled /Subway Passengers, New

York], 193 8. Film negative, 3 5111111
. The Metropoli tan Museum of
Art, New York, Walker Evans Archive, 19 94 (1994.253 .5ro .2)

easily represented as wrnware of being beheld. 45 As it happens, blindness is also the

subject of one of the most powerfu l and influentia l p hotographs of the early twentiet h
century, Paul Strand's Blind (I9I6 ; Fig . 54}, a work later identified by Walker Evans,
one of Wall's particular admirations, as the decisive early influence on his art; indee d
Evans's volume of "Subway Portraits," to be discussed later in this book, ends with a
ph(?tograph of a blind accor dion ist (1938; Fig. 5 5).46 I take Wall 's two p ictures as highly
original restatements of the sub ject of blindn ess (the titles underscore the po int), and I
find especially in the second a singularly empathic version of the theme, as if for a fleet-
ing perceptual moment - before the image "naturalizes" itself - the imp licit analogy
between dwelling and body underwri tes an evocation of blindness as experienced /;om

jeff wa ll, wittgenste in, and the everyday 93

"I under.ttoodat once
that thi.t photograph'.t'adventure'
derived from the co-presenceof two elements ... "


56 Koen Wessing, Ni caragua, 1979 . From Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

barthes's punctum
At the crossroads of the entire oeuvre, perhaps the Theater ...
Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes 1

Roland Barthes's final book, known in English as Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photo-
graphy, was originally published in France in 1980, the year of his tragic death, and was
trans lated into English in r 981. 2 From the moment it appeared it has been a dominant
point of reference for writers on photography, at least in the United Stat es and Great
Britain . Above all Barthes's central distinction between what he calls the studium and
the pun ctum has been enthusiastical ly taken up by countless critics and theorists, who
almost without exception have found in it princ ipally a contrast between the ostensible
subject of a given photograph, or rather the general basis of that subject's presumed
interest for an average viewer (the studium), and whatever that photograph may contain
that engages and - Barth es's verb s - "pricks" or "wounds" or "bruises" a particular
viewer's subjectivity in a way tbat makes the photograph in question singularly arrest-
ing to him or her (fro m her e on I shall stay with "him") . T is not wrong- as will be
seen, it is pretty much what Barthes explicitly states - but I want to suggest that placing
all the emphasis, as is usua lly done, on the viewer's purely subjective response to the
punctum ends up missing Bart hes's central thought , or at any rate failing to grasp what
crucially is at stake in his central distinction. A further question, w hich will arise mor e
tban once in what follows, is to what extent Barthes himself was aware of the ultimate
implications of his own argument.
Barthes 's announced approach in Camera Lucida is nothing if not personal. "I decided
to take myself as mediator for all photograph y," he writes early on in Part One
(8/21-2). Also: "I have determined to be guid ed by the consciousness of my feelings"
(10/24). Ar greater length:

I decided then to take as a gu ide for my new analysis the attract ion I felt for certain
photographs . For of this attraction, at least, I was certain . What to call it? Fascina-
tion? No, this photog ra ph which I pick out and which I love has nothing in common
with the shiny point which sways before your eyes and makes your head swim [a ref-
erence to hypnot ic suggestion]; what it produces in me is the very opposite of hebe-
tude; some thing mor e like an internal agitation, an excitem ent, a certain labor too,
the pressure of the unspeakable which wanes to be spoken. [18- 19/37]

Further on in the same paragraph Barthes says that the best word for the attraction he
feels for certain photographs is "advenience or even adv entur e. T his picture advenes,

barthes's punctum 95
that on e do esn't " ('t9/3 8), but typically Barrhes mak es little use of the se words in th e
rest of his book. Fina lly, he comes right out and says th at in his present investiga tion
he "borrowe d somet hin g from phenomenology's proj ect and so met hing from its
langua ge" (20/40 ). But Barthes's h euri stic or "va gu e, ca sual , even cynical " (20/ 40)
phenome nol ogy is one th at , unlike classical phenomeno logy, atta ches p rimary impo r-
tance to desire and mourning. "The anticip ated essence of the Phot ograph," he writes,
"co uld not, in my mind, be separated from th e 'pathos' of which, from the first glance,
it co nsists " (21/42) . And in th e ne xt sec tion of th e book (nj11eof forry-eight; th e book
compri ses t wo part s o f tw enty-four sections each) , he at last m oves cowar d introducing
his central d istinction by way of ana lyzing an exemplary photograph, Koen Wess ing's
Nicaragua ( 1979; Fig. 56).
" I wa s glancing through an illustrated ma ga zin e," Barth es begins.

A photograph ma de me pause. Nothing very extraord inary: th e (photogra phic ) banal-

ity of a reb ellion in Nicaragua: a ru ined str eet, two helmeted sold iers on patrol; behind
th em, two nuns . Did thi s photograph p lease me? In terest me? Intrigue me? No t even.
Simp ly, it ex isted (for me). I understood at onc e th at its exis tence (its 'adv enture ')
derived from th e co-pre senc e of two disc ontinuous elements, hete rog eneou s in that
the y did not be long to the sam e world (no need to proceed to the poi11t of co nt ras t ):
th e so ldiers an d th e nun s. I foresaw a stru ctural rul e (conformin g to my own obs er-
vation), and I imm ediat ely tri ed to verif y it by inspecting other phot ographs by the
same reporter (the Dutchman Koen Wessing) : many of t hem attracted me beca use
th ey included this kind of dua lity which I had just become awa re of. [23/4 2-4]

By th e beginning of the nex t sec t ion Barthes at tempts to cha rac terize a nd name rhe "two
element s whose co-presence establi shed, it seemed, rhe particular interes t l roo k in these
photographs" (25/47) :

The first, obviously, is an ex tent, ir ha s rhe extension of a field , which I perc eive quire
famili a rly as a co nseq uence of m y know ledge, my cu ltur e; th_is field ca n be more or
less sty lized, more or less successful , depending on t he photo gra pher's ski ll or luck,
but it a lways refers to a classical body of information: rebellion, Nicarag ua, and all
th e signs o f both ... Th o usands of photo gra ph s consi st of this field, and in these
photographs I can , of course, rak e a kind of ge neral interest ... What I feel about
th ese photographs derives from an average effect, almo st from a cert ain tr aining. I
did not kn ow a Frenc h word whi ch mig ht account for this kind o f hum an interest ,
but 1 believe this word ex ists in Latin: it is studium, which doe sn't n1ean, at leas t not
immedi ately, "study," but application to a thing , taste for someo ne, a kind of genera l1
enthu siastic commi tment , of co ur se, but without special acuity. It is by studium that
I am int ereste d in so many ph oto gra phs, wh et her 1 rec eive them as po litical t estimony
o r enjo y them as good historica l scenes: for it is cult ur ally . . . chat I participate in the
figures, the faces, th e gestures, the settings, the act ions . [25-6/4 7- BJ

Then (introdu cing the second term , which has prov en a lmo st as pop ula r as Wa lter Ben-
jamin's "a ura ") :

96 why photography matters as art as never before

The second element will break (or puncture) the studium . This time it is not I who
seek it our (as [ inves t the-field of the studium with my sovereign consciousness), it is
this element wbich rises from the scene, shoots our of it like an arrow, and pierces
me. A Latin wo rd exists to designate this wound, this prick, this mark made by a
poimed instrument: the word suits me all the better in that it also refer s to the notion
of puncruarion, and because the photographs I am speaking of are in effect punctu-
ated, some times even speckled with thes e sensitive po ints; precisely, these marks, these
wounds, are so many points . T his second element which will distmb the studium I
shall therefore call punctuni; for punctum is also: sting, speck, cut, little ho le - and
also a cast of the dice. A photograph's pimctum is that accident which pricks me (but
also bruises me, is poignant to me). [26-7/48-9]

Barthes glosses this basic distinction by noting that th e studium "is of the order of liking,
not of loving," and further, crucially, that "to recogn ize the studium is inevitably to
encounter th e photographer's intentions, co enter into harmony with them, co approve
or disapprove of them, bur always to understand them, to argue them within myself,
for cultur e (from which the studium derives) is a contract arr ived at between creators
and consumers" (27- 8/50-51:) . Or as he also says, the studium endows tbe photograph
''with functions, which are, for the Photographer, so many alibis . These functions are:
to inform, to represent, to surpr ise, to cause to signify, to provoke desire. And I, the
Spectator, I recogn.ize them with more or less pleasure: l invest them with my studium
(which is never my delight or my pain )" (2.8/5 r ).
Most photographs, Barth es strong ly impli es, are in effect all studiwn; he thinks of
them as "unary" and says of one type, the news photo gra ph, that it can shock or
"'shout'" but is powerless to dist u rb or "wound" (41/70) . Standa rd pornography is
also "unary," hence banal. A few photographs are different . "In this habitually miar y
space," he writes at the stare of section eigbreen, "occas ion ally (but alas all roo rarely)
a 'detaiJ' attracts me. I feel that its mere presen ce changes my read ing, th at I am looking
at a new photograph, marked in my eyes with a higher value . This 'deta il' is the
punctum" (42/71) . H e goes on:

lt is not possible to posit a rule of connection benveen rhe studium and the punctum
(when ir happen s to be there). Ir is a matter of a co-presence, that is all one can say:
the nun s "happene d ro be there," passing in the background, when Wessing photo-
graphed the Nicaraguan soldiers; from the viewpoint of reality (which is perhaps that
of the Operator), a who le causality explains the presence of the "detai l" : the Church
implanted in these Larin-Am erican co untri es, the nuns allowed to circulate as nurses,
etc.; bur from my Spectator's viewpoint, the detail is offered by chance and for
nothjng; the scene is in no way "co mpos ed" acco rding co a creative logic; the photo-
graph is doubtless dual, but this duality is the rnoror of no "development," as happens
in classical discourse. In order to perceive the punctum, no analys is would be of any
use to me ... it suffices that the image be large enough, that I do nor have to study
it (chis would be of no help at all), chat, given right there on the page, I should receive
it right here in my eyes. r42- 3/71 - 2]

barthess punctum 97
In the remainder of Part One Barthes explores the notion of the punctum with charac-
teristic panache, stressing among other features its "power of expansion" : so for
examp le in an Andre Kertesz photograph of a blind gypsy violinist being led by a boy
(1921; Fig. 57) what pr icks Barrhes is the recognition, "with my whole body, [ofl the
straggling villages I passed through on my long -ago trav els in HLtngary and Ru mania"
(45/ 77) . (Barthes qualifies this expansion of the punctum via persona l memory as
"Proustian," for obv ious reasons . More on Proust shortly.)
It is hardly surprising , then, that commentators on Camera Lucida, when glossing the
punctum, have stressed the importance of the indivi du al viewer's sheerly p ersona l
response. As Victor Burgin writes: "It is the private nature of the experience which
defines the punctum. " 3 ln fact almost all of Part One of Barthes's book is written from
tha t point of view, while Part Two, largely devoted to the mystery of the so-called Winter
Garden photograph of Barthes 's mother as a young girl, carries the subjective emph a-
sis to the farthest pos sible extreme. However, one short section in Part One (twenty),
comprising a single page of print , embodies a rad ical shift in perspective:

Certain details ma y "prick'' me. If they do not, it is doubtless because the photo-
grapher has put them there intentionall y. LRemember, for Barthes "to recognize the
studium is inevitably to encoun ter the photographer 's intentions."] In William Klein's
Shinohiera, Fighter Painter (1961), the character's monstrous head has nothing to say
to me because I can see so clearly that it is an artifice of the camera angle. Some sol-
diers with nuns behind them served as an examp le to explain what the punctum was
for me (here, quite elemen tary ); but when Bruce Gilden photographs a nun and some
drag queens together (New Orleans, 1973), th e deliberate (not to say, rhetorical) con-
trast produces no effect on me, except perhaps one of irritation. [Neither the Klein
nor the Gilden photograph is reproduced.] Hence the detail which interests me is not,
or at least is not strictly, intentional, and probably must not be so; it occurs in the
field of the photographed thing like a supp lement that is at once inevitable a nd delight -
ful [the French reads inevitable et gracieux, whjch is not the same thing; see note 32
below]; it does not necessar ily attest to the photograp her's art; it says only that the
photographer was there, or else, still more simply, that he could not not photograph
the part ial object at the same time as the total ob ject (how could Kertesz have "sep-
a rated" the dirt road from the violinist wa lking on it?). The Photographer's "second
sight" does not consist in "seeing" but in being there. And above all, imjtating
Orpheus , he must not turn back to look at what he is leading - what he is giving to
me! [47/79-80)
That is it; that is all Barthes has to say, with respect to the punctum, about the point of
view, the activity, of the photographer (the "Operator") as distinct from the response
of the viewer. But 1 think it is enough.
By that I mean it is enough in order to situate Camera Lucida in relation to the central
current or tradition of anti theatrical critical thought and pictor ial pract ice that I have
tried to show (in my tr ilogy Absorption and Theatricality, Courbet's .Realism, and
Manet's Modernism 4 ) runs from Diderot and Jean-Baptiste Greuze in the 1750s and

98 why pho tography matters as art as never before

"I recognize, with my whole body,
the straggling v illages I passed throttgh
on my long-ago travels
in Htmgary and 'l{ttmania ... "


57 Andre Kertesz, The Violinist's Tune. Abony, Hungary, 19 2 r. From Roland Barthes,
Camera Lucida
1760s through David, Gericault, Daumier, Courbet, Miller, Legros, and Fantin-Latour
among others, a long with a matching list of arr cr itics, until it reaches a crisis of unsus-
rainability in the art of Edouard Maner in tbe 1860s and 1870s . Thereafter it under-
goes a fundamenral change (of orienracion, rather than of purpose) that on the one hand
indicates char the .Diderorian project - of effectively deny ing the presence before the
painting of the beholder - was no lon ger feasible in any of its classic forms but on the
other suggests that the problem of the beholder - of acknowledging 11-ispresence while
not address ing him in the wrong way - was now absolutely fundamental to advanced
painring and sculpture, in rhe first place in France, where the anrithear rical tradition
arose, and eventually, decades lat er, in the United States . (The chief cr itica l cext in the
latter regard is my "Art and Objecrhood," which I shall suggest has certain points in
common with Barches's little book.) Understood in this context, Banhes's observatio n
in section twenty of Camera Lucida char rbe detail char strikes him as a punctum could
not do so had it been intended as such by the photographer is an antirbeatrical claim
in chat it implies a fundamental distinction, wh ich goes back to Diderot, between
"seeing" and "being shown. " 5 The punctum, one might say, is seen by Bart hes but nor
because it has been shown to him by the photographer, for whom, literally, it does nor
exist; as Barthes recognizes, "it occurs [onlyl in the field of th e photographed thing,"
which is to say char it is a pure arti fact of the pbot0graphic event- "[the photographer]
cou ld not not photograph the partial object at the same rime as rhe total ob ject," is how
Barthes phrases it- or perhaps more precisely it is an artifact of the encounter between
the product of that event and one particular speccat0r or beholder, in the present case
Roland Barrhes .6 This is in keeping with Diderot's repeated i11junction that the beholder
be treated as if he were not there, standing before a painted or seated before a staged
tableau, or to put this slightly differently, char nothing in a painted or stage d tableau be
felt by the beholder ro be there for him. Works of painting or stagecraft char failed ro
meet this experiemia l criter ion were pejoratively cbaracter ized as theatral, theatrical,
which wou ld be one way of parap hr as ing Barthes's irritation with the too cleliberarely
contrastive photograph by Bruce Gilden of a nun and drag queens that he compares
unfavorably with Wessen's Nicaragua, in whic h, it is implied, the presence of the nuns
appears fortuitous, Lutintended, as if they entered the photographic field withou t the
photographer being conscious that they were there. (I do not deny that this seems an
unlikely scenario; my point is simply that something of the sort follows from rhe argu-
ment of section twenty .) By no means coincidentally, Did erot also sha rply criticizes the
too obvious use of contras t on the pan of the artist .7
At one othe r moment in Part One of Camera Lucida (section fourteen) Barthes con-
siders bis topic from the point of view of the phorographer:

[ imagine (this is all I can do, since l am not a photographer) that the essential gesture
of the Operator is to surprise something or someone (through rhe little bo le of the
camera), and rhat chis gesture is therefore perfect when it is performed unbeknownst
to the subject being photog raphed . From thi s gesture derive all photographs whose
principle (or better, whose alibi) is "shock"; for th e photographic "shock" (qu ite dif-
ferent from the punctum) consists less in traumatizing than in revealing what was so

100 w hy pho tography matters as art as never before

58 Walker Evans, Untitled /Subway Passengers, New Yorlil, r938. Film negarive, 35mm . The
Metropolitan Museum of Arc, New York, Walker Evans Archi ve, 1994 (r994 .253 .502. 3)

well hidden that the actor himse lf was unaware or unconscious of it. Hence a whole
gamut of "surprises" (as they a re for me, the Spectator; but for the Photographer,
these are so many "performances"). [32/57]

Barthes goes on to discuss severa l different kinds of "surprises," none of which he likes,
but unfortunately he says nothing more about the large class of photographs taken of
persons who are unaware of being photographed . The latter is a major element in twen-
tieth-century (and for chat matter tw enty-first-century) street photography,8 as for
examp le in Walker Evans's "Subway Portraits," made with a hidden camera on the New
York subway in r938-4r (Fig. 58),9 in many of Garry Winogrand's street photographs
from the r96os and r97os (see Fig. 148), or as in the contemporary Swiss artist Beat
Streuli's telephoto videos of moving crowds on thoroughfares or street corners in dif-
ferent cities of the world, the film ing tak ing place without th e knowledge of th ose being
recorded (Streu li also makes photographs of indivi dual pedestrians on th e same basis
[see Figs c52 and r53l) . 10 Evans's, Winogrand's, and Streuli's projects may be under-
stood as attempts to realize an ideal of natura lness chat goes back to Leonardo's note -
books and was restated in no uncertain terms just a few years before the publication of
Camera Lucida. "T here is something on people's faces when they don't know they are
being observed that never appears when they do,'' Susan Sontag writes in On Photo-
graphy (1977), a statement already c ited in Chapter One. "If we didn't know how

barthes's punctum 101

Walker Evans took his subway photographs (riding the New York subways for hun-
dreds of hours, standing, with the lens of his camera peering between rwo buttons of
his topcoat), it wou ld be obvious from d1e pictures themselves that the seated passen-
gers, although photographed close and frontally, didn't know they were being photo-
graphed; their expressions are private ones, not those they would offer to the camera." 11
This is, of course, an anrithearrical ideal, and the projects of all three men are iJJ dif-
ferent ways updated versions of the Diderotian project of depicting figures who appear
deeply absorbed in what they are do ing, thinking, and feeling, and who therefore also
appear wboJJy ob livious co being beheld (that is the crucial point, as it was for Wittgen-
stein in r930) . In their work as in that of other street photographers, absorption often
shades into distraction, a less "deep" form of mindedness, but the same fundamenta l
problematic is in fo rce. As seen in connection with Wall and Richter - and Sontag on
Wall's Dead Troops Talk at the close of Regarding the Pain of Others - manifestly
abso rptive motifs continue to exert their powerful spell down to the present day. Now
one of the most original features of Camera Lucida is that Barrhes has no interest what-
ever in scenes of absorption or distraction - or more broadly in the capturing of per-
sonages mm ware of being photographed- as a representationa l strategy for the simple
reason that such a strategy not onJy does not seem to him on the side of antitheatrical-
ity, it strikes him, on the contrary, as quintessentially theatrical in that although the
''actor'' - the subject being photographed - appears unaware of what the phorograp h
has revealed about his or her state of mind and/or body, for the photographer the images
that result "are so many 'performances'" - obvious ly a pejorative notion in this context
(as is "actor," J suppose) . 12 In short in order for a photograph to be truly antitheatrical
for Barthes it must somehow carry within it a kind of onto log ical.guarantee that it was
not intended ro be so by the photographer - a requirement that goes well beyond any-
thing to be found in Diderot or for that matter any eighteenth- or nineteenth-century
critic or theorist. 13 The punctum, [ am suggesting, functions as that guarantee. 14
Or consider Barthes's contention (in section twenty-two) that

sometimes the punctuni lis] revealed only after the fact, when the photograp h is no
longer in front of me and I think back on it. I may know better a photograph I remem-
ber than a photograph I am looking at, as if direct vision or.iented its language
wrong ly, engaging it in an effort of description which will always miss its point of
effect, the punctum. [s 3/87]

This is a surprising claim, but it leads to a stilt more remarkable one: "Ultimately - OJ'
at the limit - in order to see a photograph well, it is best to look away or close your
eyes. 'The necessary condition for an image is sight,' Janoucb told Kafka; and Kafka
smi_ledand replied : 'We photograph things in order co drive them out of our miods . My
stories are a way of shutting my eyes'" (53/88). "The photograph couches me," section
twenty-two concludes, "if I withdraw it from its usual blah-blah: 'Technique,' 'Reality,'
'Reportage,' 'Art,' ere.: to say nothing, to shut my eyes, ro aUow the detail to rise of its
own accord into affective consciousness" (55/89) . Nothing could better illustrate the
extremity of Barthes's anritheatricalis(n in his final book {at least in Part One of that

102 why photogr aphy matters as art as never before

book) than the hyperbolic removal from the scene of response of the actua l photograph,
the visib le material artifact, itself.

Part Two of Camera Lucida begins immediately follow ing a short section {twenty-fo ur)
in which Barches abruptly and without warning gives up the project h e had been pur -
suing on the grounds that

I had not discovered the nature (the eidos) of Photography. I had to grant that m y
pleasure was an imp erfect mediator, and that a subjectivity reduced to its hedonist
project could not recognize th e un iversal. I would have to descend deepe r into myse lf
to find the evidence of Photography, that thing which is seen by anyone looking at a
photograph and which distinguishes it in his eyes from any other image . I wou ld have
to make my recantation, my palinode. [60/95-6]

Thar recantation or palinode rakes place under the sign of Barthes's love for his deceased
mother, wi th whom he had lived for much of his adult life, and finally focusses on a
single image, a faded sepia print of his five-year -old mother and her seven -year-old
brother "standing together at the end of a litt le wooden bridge in a glassed-in conser-
vatory, what was called a Winter Garden in those days" (the year was x898; 67/106).
This is tbe so -called Winter Garden Photograph, a photograph, he writes, that for once
"gave me a sentime nt as certain as remem brance, just as Proust experienced it one day
when, leaning over to take off his boo ts, th ere suddenly came to him his grandmother's
true face, 'w hos e living rea lity I was experiencing for the first time, in an involuntary
and complete memor y'" (70/109). 15 Yet Barthes wi ll shortly remark, "The Photograph
does not call up the past (nothing Proustian in a phorograph). The effect it produces
upon me is not to restore what has been abolished (by time, by distance) but to attest
that what I see has indeed ex isted" (82/r29) . As he says later on : "Not only is the Photo -
grap h never, in essence, a memory . . . but it actually blocks memory, quickly becomes
a counter -memory" (91/142 ). Barthes 's willingness to let these passages chafe against
one another is puzzling (how could he have failed to note tbeir irreconcilability?) 16 but
I tak e that chafing as an indication that the logic or analogy that binds Camera Lucida
to Proust 's immortal masterpiece and even more pointedly to the preface of Contre
Sainte-Beuve was in the end beyond his grasp. 17 Let me spe ll this out: in the preface
Proust discovers and then expla ins the mode of action of what he calls involuntary
memory, the almost magica l operation of which is dramatized in the famous madeleine-
dipped-in-tea episode in Du cote de chez Swann, volume one of A la recherche du temps
perdu. But the preface insists on an insig ht that to the best of my know ledge is never
made exp licit in the novel: that any delib erate attempt on th e part of a subject to imprint
a contemporary scene on his or her memory wi ll not only fail to capture its reality,.it
will actua lly render th e latter irrecuperabl e in the future by the action of involuntary
recall. 18 Put more strong ly, on ly sce nes and events that escape the subject's conscious
attention iJ1 the present are eligible to be recovered in the future, and thus , according
to Proust, to be trul y experienced for the first time. The analogy between this claim and

ba rthes's punctum 103

Barthes's notion t hat th e effect of a punctum on a viewer depe nd s on its non ex iste nce
for the photographer is obvious; conversely it is as though Proust's deliberately imprinted
image - the product of volunta ry memory - were itself " unary," hence powerless to res-
urrect the past.
N ow, as no reader of Camera Lucida needs to be cold, Barrhes never reproduces the
Winter Garden Photograph. 19 H e explains in a parenthesis: "I cannot reproduce the
Winter Garden Photograph. Tt exists on ly for me. For you, it would be nothing but an
indifferent picture, one of the th ousand manife stat ions of the 'o rd inary' . . . at most it
would interest your studium: period, clo thes, photogeny; but in it, for you, no wound''
(73/ 1 r 5 ). Th is makes perfect sense as far as it goes, bur l want to go a step farther and
suggest that Barthes's declaration of the Winrer Gar den Photo graph's stru ctura l unre -
producibilicy shou ld be understood as st ill another measure of the not quite exp licit
antithearrical animus of his overall argu ment - as thou gh for Barthes that unrepro-
duc ibility epitomjzed hi s utter rejection of th e "ex hibiti on-va lue" th at Walter Benjami n
famous ly associated wit h the photographic in "The Work of Arr in th e Age of i ts Tech-
nological Reproducibility . " 20 Not that Barthes mentions Benjamin, who was doubtless
a less imposing figure in 1980 than he is today, bur nor does he mention a famous text
by a great Fr ench w rit er rhac climax es with the revelation of a pa intin g of a be loved
woman that cou ld be seen as such only by its creator, Balzac's Le Chef-d'oeuvre inconmt .
It is hard to believe that the author of S/Z was unawa re of rhe laner con necti on.!'
With the Winter Garden Photograph at the cente r of his reflections, Bart hes proceeds
to zero in on t he assoc iat ion, as he sees it, between the photograph and the past and
beyond that between the phocograph and death - in the first instance, the futur e death
of the photograph's hum an subject (that is, furure relat ive ro the "rime" of the photo -
grap h): at th e epoch of the writing of Camera Lucida Barrhes's mother was dead, as
was Lewis Payne, photographe d in prison by Alexa nd er Gardner in 1865 (Fig. 59}, soon
thereafter to be hanged for his role in Linco ln 's assassination ("The photograph is hand-
some, as is the boy; tha t is the studium. But the punctum is: he is goiug to die" [96/148 -
50]); and in the secon d insta nce, or u ltima tely, the future death of one particu lar viewer,
Barthes himself. 22 "lam the reference of every photograph," he writes, "and thi s is what
generates my aston ishm enr in addressing myself ro the fundamental question: why is it
that I am alive here and now?" (84/ 13 L). Of cou rse, being alive here a nd now in-
escapab ly impli es chat a day w ill come when he will no longe r be alive, which is why,
in Barthes's words, "[EJach photograph ahvays conta ins this imp erious sign of my future
deat h " (97/r51). All this is to say that in addit io n to the pullctum of the detail, the main
concern of Part One, there is anothe r punctum, "no longer of form bur of intens ity,"
name ly "Time, the lacerating emphas is of th e noeme ('that has been'), its pure repre-
sentation" (96/148) . An obv iou s conclusion follows, one that Barrh es himself docs not
dr aw, eith er beca use he prefers his rea de rs to do so for themselves or, as l suspec t,
because his thought here coo stop s just short of its farthest impli catio ns. Time, in
Barthes's sense of the term, functions as a punctum for him precisely because the sense
of someth ing being past, being historical, cannot be perceived by the photographer
or indeed by anyone else in the present . It is a gua ran tor of ancicbeatrica licy that comes

104 why photog raphy matters as art as never before

"He is dead and he is going to die ... "


59 Alexander Gardner, Portrait of Lewis Payne, 186 5. From Roland Barches, Camera
co a photograph, that becomes visible in it, onl y after the fact, apres-coup, in order
to deliver rhe hurt , th e prick, th e wound, to futur e viewer s that Barthes fears and
cher ishes.
Thi s has th e somewhat un exp ected consequence th at an)' phocogr aph of a present
scene will undergo that development - hence Barrh es's claims that he is the reference of
"eve ry " photo graph and that "each" photograph contains an imperiou s sign, the
pun ctum of int ens ity, of his furure death - though his discuss ions o f pa rticular images,
such as Gardner's pri son portr a it of Lewis Payne and a fortiori the Winter Garden Photo -
grap h , indicate that some phot ographs are far mor e wounding than ochers in thi s rega rd.
On e such clas s of photograph s, Ba rth es recognjzes, are those tak en in and of ear lier
epochs . "This punctum," Barth es writes, " mor e or less blurred beneath the abundance
and th e dispa rit y of contempo rary photo gra phs , is vividl y legible in histo rical photo-
graphs: there is alway s a defeat of Tim e in th em : that is dead a nd that is going to die.
These two litrle girls looking at a primitive airplan e above th eir village (they are dressed
like my mothe r as a child , they are playing with ho ops) - how a live they are ! Th ey have
their whole lives befor e them; bur also they are dead (today ), th ey are th en already dead
(yeste rday)" (96/r50 - 51). 2J Actua lly, th e word " blurr ed " isn't quit e faithful to the
Frenc h here; th e origina l wor d is gornme, which might better be tra nslated as "e rased"
or "rubbed o ut. " In eith er case, however, the thou ght itself seems slightly errant; it would
be truer to Barthes' s less than fully articu lated argument to think of the punctum of
deat h as lat ent in contemporary photographs, to be bro ught out , developed (as in the
photographic sense of th e term), by th e inexorabl e passage of time .24 More broadly,
there is at least the hint of a contr adiction , if no t in logic a t any rate in th e realm of
feeling, betw een the abso lut e uniqu eness of the Wint er Gar den Photograph ("Some thing
like an essence of the Photo graph floa ted in thi s partic ular picture " l73/r I4 l) and the
claim th at all photo gra phs , virtu a lly regard less of subject matter, are potentially carri-
ers of th e punctum of time aJ1d deat h. W b.ich ma y have some thing to do with Barthes's
hy perbolic (or H eideggerian? ) pronounc ement , a page or so ea rlier, th at modern society
has made of th e Pho tograph precisely a means of "flatte ning " cfeath: "so that every-
thin g, tod ay, prepares our ra ce for this impot ence: to be no longer able to conce ive dura-
tion, affec tively o r symbolically : the age of th e Phocograph is also the age o f revolutions,
cont estation s, assass ination s, exp losio ns, in short , of impati ences, of every thi ng which
denies r ipening . - And no doubt, the asconis hment of 'that has been ' will also disapp ear.
1t has alr ead y disapp eared : I a m, J don 't know why, one of its last wit nesses .. . and this
book is its archai c trace" (93- 4/l46-7) .25 Barth es thus comes co und erst and himself as
commenting o n a n image-making or perhaps mor e acc urately an image-consuming
regime that is all but def unc t, not because of any mat erial alterat ion in th e photographic
artifact but because of whar he ta kes to be a profound transfo rmation of society - the
wor ld - ar large.
In fact two significant development s "w ithin" th e realm of the photographic were
already taking place: digitization , which by th e 1990s wou ld be widely th ought to have
tra nsform ed the o ntology of the phorogra ph ,26 and a considerable increase in th e size
of arr photo gra phs, which already by 1980 was enabling work s such as Wall's lightbox
tra nsp are ncies and Bustamant e's Tableaux to addr ess mor e than a single beho lder at the

106 why photography matters as art as never before

same time. Intimately related to the increase of size was the disp la y of those photographs
on ga llery and museum wa lls, or rather the fact that photographs like Wall's and
Bustamante's were made with the intention of being so displayed. (The last two points
were discussed briefly in Chapter One and will be pursued at greater lengtb in Chapter
Six.) lt should be obvious that both developments are at odds with the vision of photo-
graphy in play in Camera Lucida. In th e first p lace, the advent of digitization, w .ith its
impJjcation tl1at tbe contents of the photograph hav e been significantly altered or even
created out of whole cloth by its maker, threatens to dissolve the "a dherence " of the
referent to the photograph that undergirds the claim, basic to the punctum of the detail,
that "the photogr apher could not not photograph the partial object at the same tim e as
the tota l ob ject ." 27 (A partial object in the photograph that might otherwise prick or
wound me might never have been part of a total object, which itself might be a digital
construction .) In the second place, as Barthes specifies in connection with the punctum
of time and death: "[P]hotographs ... are looked at when one is alone . I am uncom-
forta ble during the private projection of a film (not enough of a public , not enough
anonymity), but I need to be alone with th e photographs I am looking at'' (97/r52) .28
bi both respects Camera Lucida has something of the character of a swansong for an
artifact on the brink of fundamental change . (Perhap s the frontispiece illustration, a
color Polaroid photograph by Daniel Boudinet of drawn turquoise linen curta ins with
a pillow and presumably a bed in the foreground [Fig. 60] - an image unment ioned in
the text- may be read allegorica lly in terms of th e first of these changes : the curtain is
only barely transparent to the day lit scene beyond it, as if screening the viewer from
whatever referent might lie our there. Alternatively, one might think of the weave of the
curtain as an inadvertent figure for a digital photograph's pixe ls.)
A further, and to my mind crucial, dimension of Barrhes's antitheatricalism emerges
when one considers his engagement with the pose, the theatrical element in photo-
graphy par excellence. Early on in Camera Lucida, in section five, he speaks of his
considerable exper ience of being photographed whi le aware that that is taking place.
Specifically, he describes the alteration that comes over him when this happens : "Now,
once I feel myself observed by the lens, everything changes: I instantly constitu te myself
in the process of 'posing,' I instantan eously make another body for myself, I tran sform
myself in advance imo an image. This tran sforma tion is an act ive one: I feel that the
Photograph creates my body or mortifies it, according to its caprice ... " (rn-rrh5).
Further on :

In front of the lens, I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one T want others
to chink ] am, the one the photographer thiJJks 1 am, and the one he makes use of to
exhibit his art. In other words, a strange action: I do not stop imitating myself, and
because of this, eac h time I am (or let myself be) photographed, I invariably suffer
from a sensat ion of inauthen ticity, sometimes of imposrure (comparable to certain
nightmares). [13/29-30]

This sense of theatrica lization, for that is what it amounts to, wou ld seem to be an
inevitable consequence of posing, for Barthes and for anyone, but consider:

barth es's punctum 107


60 Dan iel Boudin et, Polaroid, 19 79. From Roland Barrhes, Camera Lucida
r) Not just the Winter Ga rden Photograph but every photograph of his mot her

manifested the very feeling she must ha ve experienced eac h time she "le t" herself be
photographed : my mothe r "lent" herse lf to th e photograph, fearing that refusal wou ld
turn to "a ttitud e;" she triumphed over th is ordeal of p lacing h erself in front of th e
lens (an inevitable action) with discretion (but without a tou ch of the tense thea tri-
calism of humility or sulkiness); for she was always able to replace a moral value w ith
a higher one - a civil va lue. She did not stru ggle with her image, as I do with min e:
sbe did not suppose h erself. [67/ro5 l
The quorarion marks, like th e italics, show how difficu lt Barthes found it to charac ter-
ize his mother's relation to th e camera; in the end th ere scarce ly were words for what
he wished to say. As for th e Winter Ga rden Photograph,

ft]he distinctness of her face, the 11a1ve att itude of her hands , the p lace she had docilely
taken without either showing or hiding herself [emphasis added !, and finally her
expression, w hich distinguished her, like Goo d from Evil, from the hysterica l litt le
girl, from the simp ering doll wh o plays at being a grownup - all this constituted the
igme of a sovereign innocence . . . all this had transformed the photographic pose
into tha t untenab le paradox whjch she had nonetheless maintained all her life: th e
assertion of a gentleness . I69/ro7f 9
In the rares t of instances, then, it is possible to neutralize the theatricaliz ing effects of
the pose by a kind o f gift of nature on the part of the sitter, which is also tO say wi th out
any intention to do so on her part .
2.)Toward the end of Part Two Barthes ret urn s ro the topic of his mother's charac -
teristic expression and generalizes it in the concept o f "the air (the expression , the look )"
(107/167). 30 " Th e air of a face is unan alyza ble," he goes on to say. " Th e air is not a
schematic , intellectual datum, the way a silhou ett e is. Nor is th e a ir a simple analo gy -
however exte nded - as is ' likene ss.' No, the air is that exorb itant thing which induces
from body to sou l - animula, littl e individua l sou l, good in one person, bad in another"
(107-9/r67) . And after a sho rt digression on photographs of his mother: "The a ir (I use
this word, lacking anything better, for the expression of truth) is a kind of intractable
supplement of identity, what is given as an act of grace [emphasis added] , stripped of
any 'importance' : the a ir expresses th e sub ject, insofa r as th at subject assigns itse lf no
importance" (109/r68). (In Richard Avedon's photogr ap h of th e recently deceased leader
of the American Labor Party , A. Philip Ran dolph [1976; Fig . 61 J, Bart hes reads "a n a ir
of goodness (no impulse of pow er: that is certain)" [n:o/I69 i.)31 What espec ially
intrigues me in these formu lations is the phrase I have itali cized : the air as "given as an
act of grace ." (The French rea ds: cela qui est donne gracieusement .} "Art and Object -
hood, '' not oriou sly, ends wi th th e sente nce: "Presentness is grace." Is it po ssible th at th e
essential, all but ineffable qualities that Barthes and I believed we found respectively in
certa in photographs an d certain abs tract painting s and sculptures are at bottom th.e
3) Also in Part Two Barthes goes so far as to propose that "wha t founds the nature
of Photography is the pose" (78/122), a claim that on th e one han d is consistent w ith

barthes's punctum 109

"'No impulse of power''


61 Richard Avedon , A. Philip Randolph, 1976 . From Ro land Ba rrhes, Camera Lu cida
his previously expressed distaste for the "performance" of phorographing "acrors"
unaware of the presence of the photographer bur on the ot her appears to install an essen -
tially theatrical relationship a t the very heart of the photographic project. He goes on
to expla in {brilliant ly, to my mind):

The physical durat ion of this pose is of little co nsequence; even in the interval of a
millionth of a second (Edgerton's drop of milk) there has still been a pose, for the
pose is not, here, the attitude of the tar get or even a technique of the Operator, but
the term of an "intention" of read ing: looking at a photograph, I inevitably include
in my scrutiny the thought of that instant, however bri ef, in which a rea l thing hap-
pened to be motionless in front of the eye. I project the present photograph's immo-
bility upon the past shot, and it is this arrest which constitutes the pose. l78/r22]

The pose, in instantaneous photographs, is thus an artifact of the encounter of the

product of the photograph ic event an d the viewer - just like the punctum . Barrhes con-
tinues (equally brilliantly):

This explains why the Photograph's noeme deteriorates when this Photograph is ani-
mated and becomes cinema: in the Photograph, someth ing has posed in front of the
tiny hole and has remained there forever {that is my feeling); but in cinema, some-
thing has passed in front of this same tiny hole : th e pose is swept away and denied
by the continuous series of images: it is a differen t phenomeno logy, an d therefore a
different art which begins here, though deri ved from the first one . (78/r22-3]

One might expect Barthes to prefer cinema precisely on the grounds that it thereby
escapes or avoids theatricality- mechanica lly, automa tically- but that may well be the
deep if unacknowledged reason why he attaches a greater value to photography: because
the latter is faced with the cask of overcoming theater in and throu gh the punctum, or
in the case of the Winter Gard en Photograph through his mother's sheer innocence of
nature . {Mechanica lly escaping or avo iding theater is not so much antithe atr ical as,
merely, non-theatrica l.) This chimes wit h a similar claim about the movies in "Art and
Objecthood," already broached in Chapter One in connection with Sugimoto's Movie
Theaters, Sherman's Untitled Film Stills, and Wall's Movie Audience. Here too a certain
closeness between the rwo texts, obv ious ly not the result of any influence of the Amer-
ican on rhe French, is suggestive .33
4) A final reach of Barthes's th ematics of the pose concerns his preference - too mild
a word - for photographs that look him, as he puts it, "straight in the eye" {:rrx/J72).
(Avedon's portrait photographs are exemplary for him in that regard. T he great missed
encounter among the photographers of the 1960s and '70s, however, is with the work
of Diane Arbus; one wou ld like to know what Barthes would have made of her often
disturbing images of fronta lly posed subjects. 3 4 ) This corresponds to a major strain,
which I call "fac ingness," in modernist painting since Manet, 35 and is said in conn ec-
tion with a further avowa l of his lack of interest in photographs that seem to ignore
him, in particu lar news photographs of scenes of "death, suic ide, wounds, acc idents"
(nr/I7r) .

barthess punctum 111

No, nothing to say about these photographs in which I see surgeons' gowns, bodies
lying on the ground, broken glass, etc . Oh, if there were only a look, a subject's look,
if only someone in the p hotographs were look ing at me! fBut w hat of Kercesz's The
Violinist's Tune or Stieg litz's classic The Horse-Car Termina l, another image Barthes
admires, neither of wh ich conta ins such a look? Yet there are facing figures in
Wessing's Nicaragua p hotographs, William Klein's Mayday, Moscow, and indeed in
most of the other images Barthes illustrates.] For the Phocograph has this power -
which it is increas ingly losing, the front a l pose being most often cons idered archaic
nowadays - of looking me straight in the eye (here, moreover , is another difference :
in film, no one ever looks at me: it is for b idden - by the Fict ion ).f rr r/171-2 l

Barches is right about th e diegetic structure of film, or at any rate of traditional narr a-
tive film (that is, movies} with its implicit inju nction agains t all direct sol icitation of the
viewer (compare the bri ef discussion of this aspect of Sherma n's Untitled Film Stills in
Chapter One}, but turns out to ha ve been wro ng about photography's abando1unent
of the frontal pose . Apart from Avedon and Arb us (and Robert Mapp lethorpe, two of
whose portrait photographs h e reproduces}, reliance on such a pose was already implicit
in Bern d and Hilla Becher's documentary photographs of industrial bu ildings and con-
structions, wh ich they had begun to make in 19 59 and which by 198 0 were becoming
widely know n, and in the early portrait work of Ruff, a student of Bernd Becher in
Dusse ldor.f. Other photog raphers such as Thomas Stru th (an ot her Becher student},
Patrick Fa igen baum, Ro land Fischer, and Rineke Dijkstra soon fo llowed, an d in general
the frontal pose came increasingly to play a vital ro le in the new art pbotograph y as
the latter claim ed for itself the scale and so to speak the address of abstract painting.
(Bustamante's photographs of cypresses also belong to this development, as does Wall's
Picture for Women, perhaps his most important ea rly work .) So perhaps one shou ld say
that Barches was forwa rd -loo king in his attachment to the frontal pose, even if his caste
for Avedon in particular is at odds with recent developments.
Th e question, of co ur se, is how, with in the logic of the arguments I have been track -
ing, photographs based on th e fronta l pose, th ereby foregroun ding the subject's aware-
ness of the fact of being photographed, can succee d in defeating theatrica lity in the case
of subjects who are no t, like Barth es's five-year -old moth er or A. Philip Randolph,
human ly exceptional. Barthes's attempt at a solution (in section forty -six) takes off from
a rea I-life situation in which a yo ung boy entered a cafe and looked at bim wit hout his
being sure that the boy was seeing him. This leads to the proposa l char

the Photograph separates attention from perception, an d yields up on ly th e former,

even if it is impossible without the latter . . . [I]t is tl1is sca ndalous movement whkh
produces th e rarest qua lit y of an air. Th at is the paradox: how can one have an intel-
ligent air witho ut t hinking about anyth ing intelligent, just by looking into this piece
of black p lastic? It is because the look, eliding th e vision, seems held back by some-
thing interio r. ln 1- 13/r72 - 4 ]36

This coo is brilliant in an ad hoc sort of way but , appealing as it does to th e photog raph
as such, it fa ils to explain w hy only some fronta l portrait s are fel 1 by Barthes to succeed
in this respect (is that rea lly wha t is at sta ke in Kertesz's great portrait of the fiercely

why photog raphy matters as art as never before

"How can one have
an intelligent air
witho11,tthinking of anything
intelligent? ... "


62 Andre Kertesz, Piet Mondrian in His Studio . Paris, I926, 1926 . From Roland Barthes,
Camera Lucida
intellectual Mondr ian [1926; Fig. 62], which Barthes illustrates in this co nnect ion?), and
it appears to have nothing to do with the ontologica l and affective themes of what has
gone before. At this point the imp etus of his discourse gives our and th e book is near
its end. Yet one can at least say that Barthes 's avowed ta ste for photographs of the
fronta l type, precisely because of the difficult ies the latt er seem inevitably to present for
an antitbeatrica l est het ic, furth er suggests that for him overcoming , no t avoiding, the-
at rica lity is what has to be accomplis hed, and perhaps also that success in that endeavor
can be imagined ro take plac e on ly aga inst the grain of the photog rapher's intentions. 37
(I shall have more to say about the issue of intentionality in Camera Lucida in the con-
clusion to this book.)
The present chapter as a whole raises a broader question, namel y the sta tus of anti-
theatrica lism elsewhere in Barthes 's oeuvre . A serious attempt to answer that question
wou ld have to consider at leas t his early writings on the theater both before and after
bjs epocha l 19 54 encounter with the Berliner Ensem ble and the plays and theori es of
Brecht (a high ly ambiguous figure with respect to the issue of theatrica lity); t he arti cles
"Baudel aire's Theater," "Rhetoric of the Image," and "Diderot, Brecht, Eisenstein "; his
more covert involvement with Artaud; the essay "The Third Meaning : Research notes
on some Eisenst ein stills," which anticipa tes several points in Camera Lucida; and the
exhilarated pages on th e bunraku puppet theater in The Empire of Signs.38 It is not to
be expected, given the several intellect ua l peripeteias in Barthes's career, and also in view
of the fact that even in Camera Lucida h e remains incomp letely awar e of the ultimate
import of key distinctions an d arguments, that the story would be simp le.

114 w hy photography matte rs as art as never before

thomas struth's museum photographs
Thomas Scruth, born in L954, belonged to Bernd Becher's first group of photography
students at the Dusseldorf Academy, along with Andreas Gursky, Candida H ofer, Axe l
Hi.itte, and Thomas Ruff. 1 Later on in this book I sha ll examine some of his fam ily por-
traits and sha ll glance as well at his early cityscapes an d his later "Pa radis e" photo s,
but in this chapter I want to look closely at a num ber of the so-called mu seum photo-
graphs that he has been making at inter vals since 1989 . Thre e series of these will be
considered . The first, by far the best known and most widely admired, comprises twenty-
odd large color photographs of people looking at paintings in museums and churches
in Europe and, in a few cases, the United States . (I shall call them th e classic mus eum
photographs.} Amo ng these are Louvre 4, Paris (1989; Fig. 63), featuring Theodore
Gericault 's Raft of the Medusa; Kunsthistorisches Museum 3, Vienna (r989; Fig. 64),
depicting a wh ite-hair ed man in a dark blue coat wi th hands clasped behind his back
looking closeJy at a Rembrandt portrait of a muc h you nger man in a white ruff, one of
a pair of portraits of a married coup le; Galleria dell'Accademia I, Venice ( r992 ; Fig.
65), dominated by Veronese's monumenta l Feast in the House of Levi; Art Institute of
Chicago 2 (r990; Fig. 66), perhaps the best-known of all the mus eum phot ogra ph s, cen-
tered on Gustave Ca illebotte's Paris Street, Rainy Day; Stanze di Raffaello 2, Rome
(1990; Fig. 72), a view of a milling crow d in th e Stanza della Segnatura i_nthe Vatican
with parts of Rapha el's frescoes visible on the wa lls a bo ve the visitor s' heads (one can
just make o ut pare of The School of Athen s at the left}; San Z accaria, Venice ( i:995; Fig.
70), the cen tra l painting in which is Giovannj BelLini's late a ltarpiece bearing th e name
of the chur ch; Alte Pinakothek, Self-Portrait, Munich (2000; Fig. 73}, a frontal v iew of
Diirer's great Self-Portrait of r500 with Struth himself slightly out of focus and partly
cnt off by the edge of the photograph in the n ear righ t foreground; and National Gallery
2, London ( 2oor; Fig. 7r), a sho t of Vermeer's Woman with a Lute tak en from a resp ect-
fol distance and at an angle, so that it seems to han g alone on the right-hand wall, wit h
no one looking at it. (The date s suggest that Struth began photographing in museums
and the Vatican and moved on to churches somewhat later.} In most though by no means
all o f the museum photogr aphs viewers are dep icted wholly or partly from behind as
they sta nd before th e vario us canvases; the only photogi:aph w ithout a viewer is National
Callery 2, London, and it cannot be an accident that it comes at the very end of the
museum sequence (also that it depicts a Vermeer - but I am gettin g ahead of myself).
A second series, comprising just six photographs, was made in the Pergamon Mu seum
in Berlin between 1996 and 2oor. A third , somewh at large r group of works, known as
the" Audience" series, was shot in Florence at the Galleria dell' Accademia in th e summer

t homas struth's museum photographs 115

of 2004. 1 shall discuss both of these after considering the class ic museum photographs
at some length .2 A fourth and a fifth series, the former shot at the Prado and the latter
at the Herm itage (both in 2005), became known to me too late to be included in this
chapter, though I shall say just a word about them in the conclusion to my book.
Perhaps the best way to begin is by noting the tendency of many of Strut h 's com-
mentators to equate the painted figures in the canvases and frescoes with the actual
viewers (the visitors to the museum or church in quest ion) stand ing in front of the works
of art. So for example the dist inguished art histor ian Hans Belting, in an essay first pub-
lished in I993, claims, "It is the museum visitors, not the pictures, who are the first to
enter our vision, and they deny us direct access to the photographed paint ings, even
though they do not obstruct our view, as they would do if they were standing in the
same place we are. They irritate us, howev er, because it is they who are look ing at the
pictures instead of ourse lves." 3 Nevertheless, he takes it as obv ious that "Struth prefers
to trace the consonance between the paint ings and their viewers rather than the con-
trast between them, because he is interested in putting the peop le in the pa intings and
tbe people in front of the pa intings on the same level" (1r2). This leads to the further
claim that "we begin to see the pictures as dramas in which the acto rs are in search of
an audience, and the audience, for its part, is in search of an exper ience, or in search
of itself" (n3). Farther on:

Willy-ni lly, we are using dua l vision: one to view the painting , and the other ro glance
at our contemporaries; or rather, we have one eye for art and another for everyday
life, the latter of wh ich is being questioned and as a result transformed . fo compari-
son with the painted figures, our comemporar ies - most of whos e faces we do not
even see- assume a visua l quality that po ints to photography as a medium. My awar e-
ness of their poses and the colou rs they wear becomes more intense as r measure them
against the very different poses and colours in the paintings. I suddenly begin to see
photography in the same way I see painting. [n4]

Lndeed the re emerg es in Belting's account almost an ambiguity as ro what lies inside
and outside the painting. Thus the red check dress of the woman with the stroller who
has paused in front of Cai llebotte's Paris Street

as if she was hesitating to go out into the painted rain with her child's push -cha ir,
complements the clothing colours in th e painting to such a degree that one no longer
knows what is inside the painting and what is in front of it. Struth is using diiferent
means to cont inue his game wi th the boundaries of art . ... We feel like rubbing our
eyes when th e space in front of the painting transforms itself into a picture that is not
sepa rated from the painting. [II 5 I

Belting also says that precisely the opposite can happen, as in a photograph of crowds
in front of N apoleonic pictures that seem like "windows whose curtains have been
drawn" (1I5 ).4 But this is presented as an exceptional case, and even in a more than
usually complex reading of Louvre 4 the emphasis comes down on the side of conn ec-
tion, not disconnection . Standing before the Raft of the Medusa, he writes, the viewers

116 why photography matte rs as art as never be fo re

63 Thomas Struth, Louvre 4, Paris, 1989 . Chromogenic process print. 137 x 172.5 cm; 187 x 2II cm framed

seem to be eyewitnesses of the human drama in the painting, within which almost
every gaze out of the picture is directed toward a distant signal of rescue. The gazes
of the viewers follow the gazes of th e shipwrecked sailors, but our own eyes have
already tak en in th is double sequence. In the picto rial parallels between the photo -
graph and the painting, we experience both as a window, and windows are of course
phys ica l obstacles, but not visual ones . In the colour ing, the space, and the lighting,
the two media are as much consp iratorially bound together as they are self-confidently
contradictory. [II5]
Similarly, referring to what he sees as a silent "dia logue" between the actual white -haired
man and the depicted younger man in the Rembrandt portrait in Kunsthistorisches

thomas struth's museum phot og rap hs 117

64 Thomas Struth, Kunsthistorisches Museum 3, Vienna, 1989 . Chromoge nic process print.
143 x 99 cm; 187 x 145 cm framed

Museum . 3, Belt ing writes: "Eac h of the int erloc utor s in the dialogue remain s enclosed
within his own biography, no matt er when he lived," which is inco ntestabl e, but then
adds : " everrh eless, they seem to be co mmuni ca ting w ith eac h other acr oss th e chasm
of hist ori ca l, supraper sona l tim e .... The per so n painted and th e pers on photographed
... are in the m iddl e of a conversation with each other" (1 L9). As for Galleria dell'
Accademia r, which for Belting brin gs th e mu seum cycle to a dramatic clim ax,
"Now here else," he writes, " do th e co lour s in the paintings and in the photograph
coa lesce so effo rtl essly, and the multitude of to urist s in th e museum seems to mi x casu -
ally wi th the guests at Veron ese's Feast in the House of Levi" (122 ). In that sense

the pa intin g suppli es add itiona l mu seum guests, and a continuation of the mu seum
room in the painted palace o f a Venetian ar istocrat . . . . If we reca ll that Veronese
plac ed his own contem pora ries in the paint ing, we can reconstruct the virt uo so inter-
pla y between real ity and illusion which the paint er, matching Struth's int enti ons
exact ly, was enactin g eve n then. The painter was questioning the boundari es of rea lity,
just as Struth is questioning the bound aries between painti ng and photography. [122]

My point in citing Bel tin g at length is not to take issue wi th h im personally but rather
co prepare the gro und for a far different reading of Stru th 's museum pictures (also to

118 why photog raphy matters as art as never before

6 5 Thomas Struth, Galleria dell'Accademia 1, Venice, 1992. Chromogenic process
print. 184.5 x 228 .3 cm; 184 .5 x 228.3 cm framed

suggest why such a reading is called for) . My reading, like Belting's, will be based solely
on the photographs but I shall also be relating my reading of particular images to certain
larger issues of a sort that have no place in Belting's commentary. My basic claim is this:
that in the most compelling - to my eye and mind, the strongest - of the museum photo -
graphs, the persons dep icted in the paintings and the actual persons who have come to
the museum to interact with those paintings in one way or another, far from taking part
in a sophisticated game in which the boundary between painting and photography is
continua lly breached, belong absolutely to rwo disparate and uncommunicating realms
or, as I want to call them, "worlds."
Take Struth's Art Institute of Chicago 2: is it rea lly true that the woman pushing a
stroller (mostly hidden from our view) who stands gazing at Caillebotte's Paris Street
appears to inhabit a space that is continuous with the depicted space within the paint -
ing? Or that her red plaid dress is felt to be anythiJ1g but anomalous with respect to the
painting's intensely atmospheric color scheme? Or that "one no longer knows" whether
she stands in front of the painting or w ithin it? For me the answer to all such question s
is no, a no that is particular ly emphatic both for the way in which the strong ly per-
spectival space of the painting might be held to beckon the viewer into the depicted
scene and for the unconventional relation to the picture plane of the three figures in the

thomas str uth's museu m photographs 119

66 Thomas Strurh, Art Institut e of Chicago 2, 1990 . Chromo genic process print. L3 7. 5 x r7 4.5
cm; 1 84 x 219 cm framed

right- hand half of the composi tion - the man and woman sharing an umb rella and glanc-
ing to the ir right (our left) as they wa lk directly toward the picture plane , and the top-
hatt ed man hold ing an umb rella to their left (our right) who not on ly is seen from behind
but who is meant to appear to have just entered the depict ed scene from "our" space,
in effect traversing the pictur e plan e as he did so. In other words , Caillebotte's canvas
seems to pro vide an ideal test for Belting's acco unt precisely because it delib erate ly and
consp icuou sly engage s the idea of the physical permeability - no t just the photograp h-
like "transparence" - of the p icture plane , and my conte ntion is that despit e that fact,
or ra ther because of it, $truth's photograph makes it especially clear that such perm e-
ability is not hing more than a pictorial :fiction - that far from visua lly subsumingthe
woman standing befor e it, th~ pa intin g_in the pl1orog1~p h is not on ly closed to ~er but
-in the end almos t actively indiff erent to her very ex istence (and a f ortior i co oms as
; iewers of $truth's pl1otogra ph ). Ind eed if there is any ambiguit y at work in $truth's
photog raph , it concerns the difficulty of determ ining how much of that sense of exclu-
sion is based on the actions of the figures in the painting and how much on thos e of the
persons in the photograph: so for examp le Caillebotte's man and woman sharing an

120 why photography matters as art as neve r befo re

mnbrella appear mom entar ily absorbed in someth ing or someone to their right, hence
unaware of anyone who happens to be before the canvas, but it is also true that
the young woman with long braids standing wi th her hands clasped behind her back
immediately t0 the painting's right and who perhaps is reading a wall text that we cannot
see - she is p lainly not looking at the painting - underscores the sense of uncommuni-
cating realms (all the more so in that purely formally she offers an approximate analogy
to the top-ha tted man seen from the rear) .
Again, looking at Struth's Kunsthistorisches Museum 3, I am not inclined to imagine
that the white-haired viewer studying the Rembrandt portrait and the younger, white-
ruffed, gesturing man in the portrait are "in the m iddle of a conversation with each
other ." As regards the painting itself, in contrast to th e _painting as it appears in the
photograph, this is not an implaus ib le not ion : Rembrandt's sitter looks directly out of
the portra it so as to seem to address a beholder standing directly before it. However, if
one shifts one's position to the side the sitter's gaze appears to follow one, and my sense
is that the photograph positive ly makes a point of this fact by depicting both portraits
from an oblique angle as well as by capturing a moment in which the white-ha ired man
has approached the portrait closel y without at all seeming co draw the painted man's
atte ntion . (It is important to realize that Srruth proceeded by taking numerous shot s in
a particular spot , in the hope that one of them would turn out to yield a picture worth
preserving. Evidently Scruth found somethi ng he wanted in this photograph's implied
contras t between the dose-range scrutiny of the portrait by che white -hair ed man and
the seeming indifference of Rembrandt's sitt er to his _presence.) The further fact that the
man in the ruff gestures toward the porrrait of his wife while she appears to be looking
appreciatively at him only reinforces one's sense of both pictures' closure to the white-
haired viewer.
Something slightly different takes p lace in Galleria dell'Accademia I, dominated by
Veronese's Feast in the House of Levi, but the end resu lt is similar . The Veronese occu-
pies almost the entire facing wall, but only a few visitors - a young couple and a some-
what older man - are shown lookiJ1g up at it; in the near foreground other visitors, large
in size owing to the effect of photographic parallax, are blurred from having been caug ht
in motion and in any case are looking elsewhere (to the right or the left); farther back
and to the right, stand ing on both sides of a long blue radiator, one glimpses another
half dozen visitors of all ages who for the most part appear to be looking toward paint -
ings on the left-hand wa ll, most of which lie beyond the left- hand edge of the photo-
graph; and still fart her back and to the left several visitors look up and to che left as
well. (A correction: one dark -haired young man in jeans at the rear left a lso turns out
to be looki_ng at the Veronese but it takes close study to find him.) One effect of this
internal diversity - of scale of persons, of their sharpness or blurredness, of their spatia l
distribution, of the direct ion of their gazes - is to isolat e Veronese's g iant painting, or
at least to underscore its separateness from the "wo rld'' of tourist hwnanity , most rep -
resentative s of which are not even taking it in. As for the painting itself, no ma tter how
meticulous the extreme perspective foreshor tening of its floor tiles or how spectacularly
illusionistic the render ing of the arch itectural loggia in wh ich the feast is taking p lace,

thomas strut h's museum photogra phs 121

its blatantly scenic character- the sense it conveys of being spread out laterally before
the viewer, hence resistant to penetration - is somehow heightened by photographic
depiction. (The painting's elevatio n above the actual floor plays a role in this as weLI.)
In any case, nothing could be more at odds with Galleria dell'Accadernia r as I see it
than th e suggestioD that its hum an subjects are sh own "mix[ing l casually" with Levi's
gues ts.
I do not know know whether or nor Struth would agree with my account of his
museum photographs, but some of his remarks in interviews suggest that he might. For
example, Phyllis Tuchman quotes him as saying, "I wanted ro remind my audience that
when art works were made, th ey were not yet icons or museum pieces." And: "When
a work becomes fetishized it dies." She adds: "$truth feels th e paintings in his museum
photographs regain aspects of their origina l vitality when seen anew in the context he
renders so seam lessly. " 5 It is not bard ro see why $trut h or indeed anyone else might
feel this, though the word "seamlessly" is somew hat misleading . For if my account of
the strongest of the museum phorographs is correct, it would be more accurate to say the photographs make perspicuous - or at least intuitable - an otherwise invisible
(and in an important sense nonexistent) seam forever separating the represented
"worlds" of th e paintings they show from the actual world of the spectators, and that
it is the work of that sea m (more broadly, it is rhe ontological work of the photographs)
to create rhe impression that Strut!, tried to put into words to Tuchman - as if the
photographs th ereby evoke an imaginary "moment" before the paintings were given
over to beholding. I have already offered a few suggestions about why, in particular
images, this might be the case . There is a further, general consideration that bears on
the issue: $truth's photographs depict not one but two "worlds" (from no\.v on I shaU
dispense with quotation marks), that of the painting or paintings featured in a given
image and that of the 01usew11 or church in which it or they hang, and although as
viewers of the photographs we rend co assume char the second, publk wor ld is ours, we
do not in fact inhabit it. (The famous "transparence" of the photographic smface is
what misleads us here, a.long with the very force of photographic realism as such .6)
Instead, that second world is manifest only in the photographs, which is to say rhar
w hat Struth's photographs give us to see, if my claims so far are co rrect, is the discon-
nectedness - the onto logical disparateness or separateness - of the respective wor lds of
the painting or paintings they depict and of the phocographs themselves, neither of wliich
wor lds can be ident ified with our own.
A passage from Wittgenstein's Philosophical Remarks, a long-unpublished work sub -
mitted to Cambridge Univers ity in May 1930 as part of an application for a renewal of
his research grant, is suggestive here:

That it doesn't strik e us at a ll when we look around us, move about in space, feel our
bodies, ere., etc., shows how natural these things are co us. We do nor notice that we
see space perspectively or that our visual field is in some sense blurred coward its
edges. Jr doesn't strike us and never can strik e us because it is the way we perceive.
We never give it a thought and it's impossible we shou ld, since there is nothing that
cont rasts with the form of our world .7

122 why photog raphy matters as art as never before

A few paragraphs later he writes :

Time and aga in the attempt is made to use language to limit the world and set it in
re lief - bu t it can' t be done. The self-evidence of the wor ld expresses itself in the very
fact that language can and does only refer to it.
For since language on ly derives the way in which it means from its meaning, from
the wo rld, no language is conceivab le that does not represent th is world . [80]

Adapting Wittgenstein's thoughts to my account of Struth's museum photographs, what

is suggestive is the idea that the latter make visible a certa in contrast or set of contrasts
between the world in wh ich we live, perceive, and move - between what Wittgenstein
also ca lls "the given'' 8 - an d another, mechanically depicted world which on the one
hand in strictly visua l terms resemb les ours extreme ly closely (albei t imperfectly in many
regards : for example, photographs are not normally blurr ed toward their edges, and of
course we see wi th continuous ly self-adjus ting binocu lar vision) and on the other is
separate from us or closed to us in fundamental ways. Indeed the crucial cont rast is that
between the separateness or closure of the world depicted in the museum photographs
and the structura l openness of our actual, lived world as described by Wittgenste in; to
use two others of his formulat ions, th is is precisely the contrast that the photographs
make striking to us, that they set in relief. (The photographs, one might say, perform a
kind of ontologica l work that language as such canno t. ),,.

,. Also pertinent he re are paragraphs 600-05 in perform an ident ification of an ob ject as the
W ittgenstein's Philosophical investigations, rr. G. one represented by t he picture. Our memory
E. M. Anscombe (Oxford, r958), pp . 156e-57e: seems to us co be che agen t of suc h a compar -
ison, by preserving a picture of w hat has been
Docs everyt hing tha t we do not find conspicu- seen before, or by allowing us to look into tbe
ous make an impression of inconsp icuousness? pas r (as if down a spy -glass) .
Doe s whar is ordinary a lways make the impres- And it not so much as if I were comparing
sion of or dinariness? the object with a pict u re set beside it, but as if
When I talk about this cable, - a m I remem - the ob ject coincided with the picture . So l see
bering that th is object is cal led a "tab le"? on ly one thing, not two. [Elllphasis in orig inal. ]
Asked "Did you recoga ize your desk when
W ittgenstein means ro be calling this way of
you ent ered your room this morning?" - 1
understanding "the processes called 'recognizing'"
shou ld no doubt say "Certa inly!" And yet it
into question, and what is fascinating about h is
wou ld be misleading to say that an act of recog-
remarks in the present context is chat they ra ise
nition had raken place. Of course the desk was
the further possibility - at any rate, this is my
not strange to me; 1 was nor surprised ro see it,
thought - that the p icrure he imagines us imagin -
as I shou ld have been if another one had been
ing we carr y w ith us co compare with actual
standing there, o r some unfam iliar kind of
objects in the world is itself a kind of pbocograph.
1f true would make it a ll t he more likely that
No one wi ll, say chat every time I enter my
we would cake the concems of an actual photo-
room, my long -famil iar surroundings , there is
graph to "coinc ide" w ith suc h a picture.
enacted a recognition of all chat I see and have
Sec also Wittgens tein 's discuss ion of what he
seen hundreds o f t imes before .
calls the "'v isua l room'" in the same work, para -
It is easy co have a fa lse picture of the
graphs 398-402, pp . 12.oe-2.2e, as well as the fol-
processes called "recogn izing"; as if recogniz -
lowing from "The Blue .Book" :
ing a lways consisted in compa r ing two impres-
sions with one another. 1r is as if 1 carried a Now when in the so lips istic way I say "This is
p icture of an object with me and used ir to wha t 's rea lly seen," 1 po int before me and it is

thomas strut h's m use um photog raphs 123

lo one sense , of course, what I ha ve been describing is a property of photographs gen -
era lly. Hmvever, $trut h's mu seum p hot ograp hs subtly bur insistent ly thematize rhat
prope rty by dir ect ing attent ion to a crucial similar it y between look ing at paintin gs and
look ing a r pbocogra phs , namely that tb e viewer is no more invit ed co ent er the space of
the ph otograph than be or she is invited to ent er that of a painting. Ar the same time,
the mu seum phot og raphs make visib le only in the most atte nuat ed way a vita l, even a
defining, difference between o il paintings and pbotograpbs: I mean that paintin gs have
worked, ofte n physically o bdurat e surfaces an d typica lly phoco graphs do not. " Pai nt-
ing h as to do with touch ... . T ha t's th e eros specific ro painring . . . . Photogr ap hy is
about distance, th e inability to to uch, maybe," Jeff Wall has sa id. 9 Yet attenuation is
not elision , which is to say th at it is as if th e non-"tra n spar ent" character of the paint-
ings' surfaces is inevitab ly registered in Struth 's photographs at th e sa me time as the
vie'vver'ssense of remova l from all pos sibilit y of direct contact with thos e sur faces a llows
the "world- likeness" or say "wo rld-apartnes s" of th e paint ings as representat ions to be
app rehe nd ed w ith particu lar force . (As the discussion in Chapter One of Bustamante's
Tableaux demonstrated, and as will emerge a t gL"eater leng th far th er on in this book,
the beholder-"excluding" aspect of photography can lend itself to much mor e aggres-
sive for ms of rhematization than is found in the mus eum photographs. 'By the same
token, ph otographe rs can strive acti vely against that aspect of the medium , as Stephe n
Shore d id in his Uncommon Places.)
All this implies a subtl e balancing act, an d in one phorog rap h, National Museum
of Art, Tokyo (1999; Fig. 67), featuring Delacroix's brightly illuminated L iberty at
the Barricades behind a protective transparent screen, th e balance is p la inly off: the
painting seems to have no m ore rea lity than a pr ojected ima ge woukl have, and the rela-
tionship betw een it an d the dark, barel y differentiate d a udience of viewers looking up
at it is \-vithout m ore than journalistic interest. (Poss ibly the point of the photograph for

essential rhar I point visually. If l poi nt ed side- Richard Mo ran for helpin g me grapple wit h these
ways o r behind me - as it we re, ro things which issues.
I don 'r see - the pointing would in this case be There is, however, another possibility tbar
mean ingless ro me; it wou ld nor be po inting in should be ac kno wledge d : nam ely, that the force
the sense in wh ich I wish to point. Bur this of Wittge nste in's insistence in Philosophical
means that when I point before me saying "this Remarks upon rhe necessary fa ilure of a n}'
is what's really see n," a lthough I make rhe att empt to use language ro limit rhe wo rld and sec
geswre of poi nt ing, l don't point co one thing it in relief is that 1101/Jingcould do that, includ -
as oppose d to another. T h is is as whe n travel- ing phocograp h y (wh ich of co urse he does no r
ling in a car and feeling in a h m ry, T instinc- ment ion) . T his is che view of Robert Pipp in , who
tively press aga inst someth ing in from of me also wishes ro say that $truth's museum pho-
as rhoug h I cou ld push th e car from within. tograph~ show us rhe paintin gs in o m wor ld, che
(Ludw ig Wittge nste in, The Blue 11nd Brown world rbe museum-goers and Srrurh and we all
Bouks [Oxford, 19601, p . 71, emphasis in o r ig- inhabit. To rhe ex tent that the paintings cou ld
ina l) then be seen as ignoring rhe museum-goers, and
more broadly as resisting the casual tourist world
This paragraph occurs as part of a longer discus - environ ing chem, a certa in anr ith ea crica l rheme
sion of the prob lematic nature of rhe concept o f would sri ll be in play. However, L am nor per-
"sense data." My thanks ro James Conant and suaded by this .

124 w hy pho tograp l1y matters as art as never before

67 Thomas Strurh, National Museum of Art, Tok) 10, 1999. Chromogenic process print. L69.5
x 267 cm; 179 .5 x 'l.77 cm framed

Struth concerns precisely t~ p~inting's transmogr ification under "foreign" conditions

of exhibition.) Other museum photographs fall short of evoking the separa tion I have
described for other reasons: in Musee d'Orsay r, Paris (1989) the seven Van Goghs are
coo small and distant to provide anything but a foil for the absorbed att itudes of the
tourist viewers; in National Gallery 1 , London (J9 89; Fig. 68) the featured picture, Cima
de Conegliano's Incredulity of Thomas, aims too conspicuously at a kind of sunlit illu-
sioniscic projection "this" side of the picture surface for an effect of separat ion to take
hold (it may have been prec isely that qual ity that intrigued Struth, however); in Museo
del Vaticano 1, Rome (1990), the crowd of young visitors in parkas and with notepads
is simply too "prese nt" rela tive to the painted figures in the two gold-ground pan els;
whi le in Rijksmuseum 1, Amsterdam (1990; Fig. 69) the way in which th e young woman
seated on a meta l benc h in front of Reinbrandt's Syndics turns away from th e painting,
apparently directing her gaze at an unseen person or object to our left, detaches her too
co nspicuously from the canvas for ontological considerations to come into play. lt is an
appealing photograph but with too obvious a scenario, I feel, and indeed it turns out
to have been posed by the photographer. t
Finally, it is in relat ion to questions of "world -likeness" and "world-apartness" that
I understand the self-restriction of the museum photographs to repr esentationa l paint -
ing. "Although Strutb loves the work of Pier Mondrian," Tuchman writes in the article
cited abov e,

thomas st ruth's museum photog raphs 125

68 Thoma s Scrutl,, National Callery 1, London, 1989. Chrom ogenic
process print . r34 x 152 cm; 180 x r96 cm framed

69 Th omas Scrurh, Rijksmus eum r, Amsterdam, 1990. Chrom ogenic

process print. u8 x 168cm; 164 x 2r2cm framed
he wasn't satisfied with his views of people looking at abstractions by the Dutch Mod-
ernist master. He also didn't like what he got when he worked with the bright, co lor
fields of the American abstract expressionist Barnett Newman. He's come to realize
he needs figures to respond to other figures. That's a major part of how he achieves
a dialogue between two med ia - painting and photography .
Possib ly, but my own explanat ion would stress the sense in which an abstract painting,
for all its material rea lity and formal self-sufficiency,_falls short of picturing a world; or
perhaps the point is that this is what becomes of abs tract paintings in photographs, at
any rate in Struth's photographs, and that the photographer, being an acute observer of
his own work, saw what was happening and drew th e correct conclusion. (The latest
edition of $truth's Museum Pictures includes a photograph of one abstract canvas,
Pollock's One: Number JI, I950 [1994 ] in the Museum of Modern Art; significantly,
the viewers are blurred and the emphasis falls squarely on the painting. Moreover, not
just abstract paintings are missing from Struch's museum photographs; so are major
.figurative works by early twentieth-century modernists such as Matisse and Picasso. I
suspect that the reasons for this are the same.)
I have said that there are larger issues with which my reading of $truth's museum
photographs engages . The se have mainly co do with the core argument of my Absorp-
tion and Theatricality, which (as outlined in Chapter One and touched on again in sub -
sequent chapters) maintains that a central current or tradition in French painting and
art criticism from the middle of the eighteenth century up to Manet and his generation
had for its guiding aim the project of establishing the ontologica l illusion that the
beholder did not exist, that there was no one standing before the painting - a project
which, if successful, wou ld in fact stop and transfix the actual beho lder precisely there .
This was chiefly to be accomplished by the representation of figures so deeply absorbed
in what they were doing, thinking, and feeling that they appeared unawar e of being
beheld; the impre ssion conveyed was that they inhabit ed a worl d of their own, a wor ld
in that respect - so to speak metaphorically - distinct and apart from that of the
beho lder. (I noted the pers istence of this idea in Schwander's description of the young
man in Wall's Adrian Walker as "concentrating so int ensely on his work that he seems
to be removed to another sphere of life," and it came up again in the discussion in
Chapter Three of Wittgenstein's 1930 extrac t.) It follows then that the depiction in
Struth's museum photographs of non -communicating wo rlds - those of the pa intings,
that of the museumgoers - harmonizes w ith crucial aspects of the Diderotian (or
Diderotian/Wittgensteinian) ideal. What now needs to be remarked is, first, that some
of the museum photographs that fit this acco unt do not represent scenes of absorption.
This is plainly true of the Rembrandt portraits, while in the case of Feast in the House
of Levi although none of the figures look directly out of the picture, the expans iveness
of variou ;;gestures and more broadly what I have called the "scenic" quality of the
canvas as a whole militate aga inst the idea of absorptive closure. Second, that other
museum photographs do indeed depict works either in th e modern French absorptive
tradition or that may legitimately be seen in absorptive terms, at least up to a point.

thomas struth's museum photographs 127

Exa mpl es of the first includ e Cai.llebotte's Paris Street, w ith its two pri ncipal .figures,
the couple sharing an umbr ella in the right foreground, whos e atte ntio n appears momen-
taril y to be engaged by something - a person, thing, or event - off-canvas to the left. In
an essay on Caillebotte, I have tried to show that he was consistently an a bsorp tive
pa int er, with the proviso that his work also characterist ically registers the impact of
Man et's ant ithetical assertion of facingness, which is why in Paris Street th e absorbed
coup le is shown walking directly to war d th e pict ure plan e (that is, why the two figures
face us with all but their gazes). 13 In any case, my suggestion is that our intuition of
their absorption, hence of their cut-offness from whatever migh t be taking place in the
world of the museum-goers, cont ribut es to the effect of distancing and sepa ration
betwee n wor lds I ha ve associated with that photograph.
Th e other museum photograph that features a work belonging centra lly to th e French
antith eatrical tradition is Louvre 4, in which eight or nin e spectators (counting body
part s), most or all of them Asian, stand at a respectfu l distance fro m Gerica ult's stu-
pendo us - but a lso, one feels, to them somew hat disconcerting - Raft of the Medusa. In
my account of th e Raft, first in Courbet's R ealism and afterward in an independent essay
on the paint er, I call attention to its altog eth er origin al comp osition and in particular
to the fact that wit h the obv ious exception of the older man griev ing over the corpse of
a yo unger one in the left foreground, mo st of the ot her figures take part in a tremen-
dous co llective effort to attract the attenti on of a passing ship, the brig Argus, on the
far horizon . 14 (If they can succeed in this, they will at last be rescued after two hor ren-
dous weeks und er th e tropical sun; th e effo rt fails, but later the same da y th e Argus
spo ts th e raft and the men are saved . The sub ject of the pa intin g was based on an actual
In the text s just cited I gloss thi s structu ral tour de force by suggesting that it was
motivated by th e need to overcome the presence of the actu a l beholder before the paint-
ing - the depiction of "mer e" absorption or indeed a bsorbi ng drama being no longer
sufficient to achieve thi s, so that stron ger meas ur es were called for. And what could be
st ronger than in effect stra nding 150 shipwrec ked men on a ma keshift raft under a
blazing sun for two weeks, subjecting them to hun ger, thir st, madness, ca nnib alism , an d
other horror s, and then revea ling to a handful of despairin g survivo rs, at the farthest
limit of representationa l space, a ship that wou ld surely rescue them if only they cou ld
succeed in attracting the attention of tho se on it. Viewed in th at light , the efforts of the
men on the raft to make themse lves beheld by th e men on the Argus may be under-
stoo d, at a deeper level, as dir ected as well toward escaping being beheld by the museum-
goers (.initiall y the Salon- goe rs) pausing befor e Gericault 's canvas, wh ich is to say that
Strutb 's project in the strongest mu seum photo graph s to thematize the sepa ra tion
betw een worlds turns out to coincide with Gericault's project in his masterpiece.
(Co mpar e my discuss ion of Wall's Untitled [Forest} and related photographs in Chapter
Thr ee.) With this qualification : what is striking to anyone familiar with the or iginal
pa intin g is that beca use in the photograph th e right -han d half of Gericau lt 's ca nvas, or
a t least the upper right quadrant, is mor e th an a little out of focus, the Argus, under
the best of circumstances a minu scule item on the hori zon, is particu la rly hard to make

128 why photography matters as art as never before

out. (The blurring is deliberate: the view camera Struth used in the makin g of the
museum pictures allowed him to manipulat e the plane of focus in relation to the plane
of the resulting picture. ) This only slightly compromises the impression of a collective
bodily effort in the direction of pictorial depth, but it obscures the specific rationa le
for that effort, and yet - to my eye - what might be called the "world-apa rt ness" of
the painting relative to the actual spectators in the Louvre seems unmistakable. Among
the factors working to this end are the olive-green ish cast of the chem ically unsta ble
painting as a who le, the simp le but massive light gold fram e sett ing the canvas apa rt
from the redd ish wall, and especia lly the implied contrast between the collective action
of the muscular, partly naked black and white bodies in the painting and the altogether
different mode of behavior on the part of the crisply show n, neatly dressed spectators.
That most or a ll of the spectators are Asian plays a role in this as well. 15 So also doe s
the fact, noted by Belting, that they face in the same direction as most of the figures
on the raft: I read that sameness of orientat ion not as qualifying the distinction
between th e world of the painting and that of the spectators but rather as underscoring
the starkness of the gulf between th em. (The formal structure of or ienta tion alone is
~e utral in this rega rd ; what ma tt ers is how one reads that structure, and that dep ends
on one's sense of th e meaning of the picture as a who le.) Even the blurring of the upper
right quadrant of the canvas and indeed the less than perfectly sharp focus across
the whole of the picture surfa ce have the consequence - aga in, for me - of rein forcing
a sense of the metaphysical separation between the painting and its viewers, but of
course my memories of countless hours spent transfi xed before the Raft are so intense
that my impression on this score perhaps shou ld be somewhat discount ed. I mean that
I can imagine someone less satura ted than me with looking at the Raft coming to feel
that the lack of sharp focus some ho w devalues the painting. But my convictio n is
otherw ise.
One other museum photograph, among th e finest in the series, bears closely on my
argum ent. In San Za ccaria, Venice (Fig. 70), the camera has been set up almost but not
qu ite dir ectly across t he nave from Giovanni Bellini's late masterwork , the epo nymous
altarpiece. Witho ut laboring the point, it seems clear that Struth's photograph em-
phasizes both the pa intin g's superb ly authori tative rendering of light and shadow, or
rather its remarkable combination of light/dark atmosp herics with areas of inten se,
saturated co lor, and its overall mood not just of repose but of profound inwardne ss,
perhaps most pow erfully felt in the stand ing figure of St Jerome in red absor bed in
reading in the right foreground. At least in the photo graph, the painting's illusioni sm is
so persuas ive that all sense of the pictur e plane is lost - it is as thou gh a rounded , literal
space were excava ted below the semi-circular arc h - and yet the convict ion of a sepa-
rate rea lm could scarce ly be more powerfu l, in part because of the painting's elevation
and arch itectura l frame, in part because of its near-juxtaposition left and right to two
large canvases wit h which, ot her than th em atically, it has nothing to do. Anot her factor
is the dominant left-to-rig ht or ientation of the nave, which means that most of the
tour ists in the chur ch are not looking at the Bellini; a coup le who do look - standin g
respectfully at its low er left - ar e overmatched by its deep color, prodigious ca lm, and

thomas stru th 's museum photographs 129

70 Th omas Struth , San Za ccaria, Venice, I99 5 Chromo genic process print. I SO x 228.5 cm; I 82 x 230 cm framed

vastly sup erior "prese nce." Th en there is th e day light flood ing the chur ch int erior from
somew here at th e upper left: alth ough the direction of th e light is consistent with that
in Bellini's a lta rpi ece, th e viewer gr adu ally become s awar e of a subtle discr epancy
between th e inten sity of the actu al relat ive to th e dep icted illumina tion . (O ne more sig-
nificant deta il is the blond e girl to th e right of the alta rpiece w ho is blurred because of
having been cap tured in th e act of sittin g down in one of the pews - or standing up, it
is impo ssible to know which. In any case, th e sense of movement makes a furth er con -
tr ast w ith Bellini 's canvas .)
Finally, ther e are three pictu res tha t for me explore the limits of Strut h's pro ject as a
w hole. The first of these, National Gallery 2, London (Fig. 7 1), depicts Vermeer's

130 wh y photog raph y matters as art as neve r before

71 Thomas Struth, National Gallery 2, London, 2001. Chromogen ic process prin t. IIO x 134 .4
cm; 148 x 170.4 cm framed

Woman with a Lut e alon e on a wall with no one look ing at it. As in th e case of th e
Rembr andt portr aits in Kunsthist orisches Museum 3 (see Fig. 64 ), th e Vermeer is
p hotograph ed not frontall y but somewh at from the side; its placemen t towa rd the
right-h and edge of the photograp h furth er heightens one's sense of its isolat ion, already
und erscored by its br onze-colored sculptural frame and by th e fact that pa inti ng and
frame are spot lighted on a shadowed bluish-gray wa ll. Mo st of all, tho ugh, it is
Vermee r 's lut e-p layer's seemin g absorp tion in tun ing her instrume nt as she gazes
abstractl y towa rd her rig ht in the direction of a near by window represent ed in extreme
foreshort enin g, hence closed to our view, that so effect ively seals th e impr ession tha t she
inh ab its a world of her own th at there is no need for mu seum -goers to dri ve th e point
home. Anoth er factor in thi s is th e surpri singly small scale of the figure of th e woman,
which adds a note of remoten ess to that of separati on. A third is pr ecisely th e o blique -
ness of the po int of view, which subtly them atizes t he non-transparen ce of the pa inted
surface th at so to speak co mes "betwee n" the wo man in her wo rld and any possible
viewe r, inside or outside th e photograp h.

t homas str ut h's m use um photographs 131

72 Thomas Struth, Stanze di Raffaello 2, Rom e, 1990 . Chromo genic process print. 125 x 173
cm; 171 x 217 cm framed

The first of the other two, Stanze di R affae llo 2, Rome (Fig. 72), depict s a packed
crowd of tour ists in the Stanza della Segnat ura milling about und ern eath th e on ly partl y
visible frescoes surroundin g th em (one can just make o ut th e School of Athens in th e
sha dow s at th e upper left) . Belting rightly ho lds that this and another p hotogra ph in the
Stanza d'Eliodoro repr esent the end of Strut h's proj ect in th at "in the Vatica n roo ms,
the interp lay betwee n pa inting an d viewer cannot be developed any further. Th e loca-
tion that belongs neither to the painting nor to the viewer has been lost and thu s the
meeting betwee n t he two cann ot take place" (r22). 16 But what Belting mean s by inter-
play betwe en pa intin g and viewer is the calling into qu estion of the bound ary between
the two, whereas in my reading of Struth 's project th e sharpn ess of th e separa tion
betw een the wo rld of the fr escoes (in this case on ly dimly limned) a nd that of the milling
tourists thr eatens to brin g the series to a close pr ecisely by literalizing th e distinc tion
between them. In fact one's first impre ssion is that the photog rap h is basica lly a study
of the crowd, juxtapos ing as it do es person s who are blurr ed because mov ing with
oth ers, th e neares t, wh o are out of foc us, and isolated faces th at emerge w ith sudden
clar ity (not ab ly the youn g man with bro wn hair and dark eyebrow s just to the right of
cent er), the entir e jostlin g, p ointin g, guid eboo k-read ing mass at th e farthest pol e from
evoking a not ion of co ntempl at ive loo kin g. Yet the relatively fade d an d unimpressive

132 w hy pho t og raphy matters as art as never before

73 Thomas Struth, Alte Pinak othek, Self-Portrait, Munich, 2000 . Chromogenic process
print. u6.5 x 147 cm; 158.5 x 184 cm framed

fresco at th e right, a depiction of Gregory rx on his papal throne, turns out to retain
just enough illusionistic force to attract and hold one's attention, and th us makes
th e image as a whole yet one more revelat ion of ontological, not merel y literal,
separateness .
Th e third and last work I want to glance at in this connection is Alte Pinakothek,
Self-Portrait, Munich (Fig. 73 ), a confrontation, if that is the word, between Durer' s glo-
rious Self-Portrait, wh ich has been photographed head-on at fairly close ran ge, and
Struth himself (so the title of the photograph inform s one), wearing a blue jacket and
with his left hand in his pocket, stand ing not directly in front of the painting but some-
what to the right, as if to concede priorit y to Durer's panel - and, impl icitly, to the
camera . Indeed being near the latter the figure of Struth is somewhat out of focus and
is severely cropped by the edges of the print, wher eas the splendidl y framed pa int ing is
in the sharpest imaginable focus and is show n in its entirety . Of all the paintings that
appear in the museum photographs, Dtirer's Self-Portrait goes farthest toward seeming
directly to address the viewer, a featur e that places the notion of separat ion betwee n
worlds under unusual pressure. And of course the intimation of a special relat ions hip
between Durer and Struth, more precisely between the pain ter in the painting and the
photographer in the photograph, further cha rges the space (or spaces - phy sical, chrono-

tho m as stru th 's mu seu m photographs 133

logical, ontological) between them. 17 Let me leave it an open question to what extent
th e separatio n between worlds that I ha ve claimed to detect in the other photographs I
have discussed is secure ly in place in this one as well. 18

Between 1996 and 2 00I Struth also mad e photographs of visito rs look ing at classical
scu lptu ral and ar chit ectural remains in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin (Figs. 74-6) .
Th ese follow on from the . class ic museum photo graph s while differing from them in
several respects. In the first place, because there are no paintings in th e Pergamon
Mu seum photographs the whole qu estion of separate worlds never arises. Then, too ,
Struth app ea rs to ha ve been as inter ested in the monumental scale of the viewing spaces
as in the character of th e objects being viewed, an emphasis that gives these pho tograp hs
as a group an architectural or environment al cast not pre sent in the earlier serie s. Fina lly,
whereas the actua l per sons in the museum photograph s were almost always caught in
the act of viewing or of mo ving into po sition to do so (in tha t sense the photographs
are candid, in the usual sense of the term ), the viewers who inhab it the Pergamo n
Mu seum photograph s were gather ed and set in place by Struth himself. 19 Apparentl y
thi s came about becau se ordin ary visitors to the Pergamon Museum, most of w hom
were equipped w ith he adset s, moved too quickly to provide the stati onary, abso rpt ive
ensemb les that Struth soug ht ; mor eove r, consi dera tion s of depth of field meant th at he
required ex posure s of ten to fifteen second s, far longer than would be pract ical under
normal circumstances. Consequently Struth invited as man y as I40 persons to the
mu seum on M onda ys, when it wa s officially closed, and more or less positioned them
w ithin a part icular room. 20 Hi s intent, it seems clear, wa s to empha size the them e of the
viewers' contemp lation - their a bsorb ed beho ldin g- of the mon ument s around them. As
Wo lf-Dieter H eilmeyer notes, "No ne mak es eye-contact with the came ra, and Struth
remain s, so to speak, a cland estine pr esence within the elevated viewpo int . " 2 1
By now I need hardl y und ersco re the Did erotia n implication s of suc h a mise -en-scene;
the Per gamon Museum photo graph s are still anoth er exa mple of th e co ntinuin g fasc i-
nation w ith abso rpti on on the part of a rtists and audien ces. What I find str ikin g,
howeve r, is that certain critics who ordin arily admire Struth's work hav e been put off
by the Perga mon Mus eum pictures precisely beca use they were posed . On the occasion
of their ex hibition at the Marian Goo dman Gallery in New York in 2002, for exa mp le,
Peter Schjeldahl - one of Struth 's mo st ardent supp orters - w ro te that the show

suggests hubri s. After failing to get sa tisfactor y pictur es of ordin ary mu seumgoers,
Struth brought in a crow d of his ow n choosi ng. Th e pictures are gra nd and bea uti-
ful, but th e subtle self-consciousness of the "v iewers" proves de adening. Th ere is an
ineffab le but fatal differe nce in attitude between people behaving naturall y and people
behav ing natur ally for a ca mera. (l 'm co nfident of this jud gment beca use I felt the
off-puttin g effect of these pictu res before learnin g its ca use.)22

Similarly, Micha el Kimm elman wrote apropos Strut h's retro spective exhibition at the
Metropo litan Museum of Art:

134 why photography matters as art as never before

74 Thomas Scruch , Pergamo n
Museum I, Berlin, 2oor .
Chromoge nic proc ess print .
188.4 x 239 .5 cm;
197 .4 x 248.5 cm frame d

75 Thomas Struth, Pergam on Mus eum 3, Berlin, 76 Th omas Strut h, Pergamon Museum 4, Berlin, 200 c. Chro-
2001. Chrom ogenic proc ess print. 171. 5 x 21 1.8 cm ; mogenic process print . 144.4 x 219 .8 cm; 15 3.4 x 228 .8 cm framed
180 .5 x 220 .8 cm framed

Mr. Struth 's failures have been contrivances: dep loying friends aro und the Pergamon
Mu seum in Berlin or the Pantheon in Rom e, or posing himself beside Diirer 's self-
portrait. Comp are th ose stagy photograph s to his pictur e of an old man in front of
two Rembr andt portrait s at th e Kun sthi stori sches Mu seum in Vienna. Th e exc hange
of glance s is sly mag ic. You ca n't simulate such a thin g. Photograp hy, a hypersensi-
tive mediu m, show s wh en you're fak ing.23

It is not hard to see what both crit ics are drivin g at. But severa l points are worth
makin g. First, Schjeldahl's and Kimmelman's responses are furth er evidence (if it were

themas struth's museum photographs 135

needed ) of ho w unr eflective th e ongoing commitment to ab sorpt ion and a nt ith eatr ica l-
ity often is. By this I mean th at for both criti cs there is not th e slight est qu estion tha t
indi ca tions of self-con sciou sness on th e part of ost ensibly a bsor bed subj ects are an
ar tistic flaw; put sligh tly differ ently, neith er criti c seems aw ar e that his dista ste for self-
con scio usnes s or stagine ss or simp ly pose dne ss where po ses ar e not ex pected has a long
histor y, ind eed tha t similar feelings pl ayed a cruci al rol e in th e developm ent of pre-
mod erni st painting fr om th e m id-175 os in France to th e ad vent of Mane t an d his
generation in th e r 86os. ("Wh ere po ses ar e not expected" is th e cruc ial qualificatio n: it
is as if, faced with seemin gly stra ight photo grap hs dea ling with a bso rptive themes,
viewers unthinkingl y crave th e sedu ction of th e human sub ject s' expect ed ob liviousness
to bein g beh eld. Wh en that craving is frustrat ed, they reac t badly.) I do not mean to
suggest that h ad Schj eldahl and Kimm elman been alert to th ese considerat io ns, their
assessments of the Perga mon Mus eum pictur es wou ld have been po sit ive. Yet it wo uld
surel y have co lored th eir respon ses to tho se work s - it wo uld h ave mad e t heir respo nses
more co mpl ex, mor e th o ughtful - had th ey und ersto od th at th ere was mo re to th e issues
in qu estion th an their persona l taste.
Seco nd , th eir comm ent s seem to ass ume t hat Struth int end ed the Perga mon Museum
photo graph s to be ta ken as showing peop le tru ly ab sorbed in what th ey were seeing,
feeling, and thinking , o r at th e very least un awa re of th e presence of the photogra pher.
W hat if his int ention s we re oth erwise? Ju st as Wall in A drian Walk er, After "Invisible
Man ," Morni ng Cleaning, and Fieldwo rk cannot be held to h ave intend ed an y of tho se
work s (not even th e last) to be tak en stri ctly as a ca nd id photog ra ph of a perso n or
perso ns absorb ed in an ac tivity and th erefor e o blivious of being beh eld, it seems likely
tha t fr om th e o utset Struth ex pected t he Perga mon Mu seum phot ographs to be seen as
what th ey ar e - truthful pictur es of museumgoers deliberately perfo rming a bsorption (as
Wall might put it). For one thin g, non e of th e viewers is sho wn wa lking; especia lly in
th e photo gr aph s with num ero us figur es (Pergamon M useum r , 3, and 5 ), this is highly
imp ro bable, as Struth was bo und to have recog nized. Th en too there are pa rticular
incid ent s, not ab ly th e ex am in ation of a small classica l fragm ent (I assume th at is what
it is) by the whit e-coate d member of the museum staff and the tall visito r towar d the
right -hand edge of Pergamon Mu seum r , th at go beyon d anyth ing one woul d actually
exp ect to see und er o rdinar y circum stances.24 Furt herm ore, the same perso ns turn up in
o ne image af ter an oth er, som ethin g that happens not at all in the classic museum
photo gra ph s . In general all th e Pergam on Mu seum ph otogra p hs have a st ati c, set- piece
qualit y th at di stin guishes them sharply from th eir pred ecessor s; inde ed it is prec isely that
qualit y that app ear s to have tro ubled Schjeld ahl and Kimmelm an. On ce aga in, ho weve1;
I am n ot suggestin g th a t had both writ ers th ought m ore reflective ly a bo ut the gro und s
of th eir disaffec tion they wo uld have been mo re likely to admire the photograp hs. But
"ove rreachin g," " hubris," and "fakin g" are pe rhap s not th e mo st useful terms for
com ing criti ca lly to grips w ith th ese challeng ing - these interes tin gly pr o blematic -
works .
Fin a lly, both critics ta ke it for grant ed that th e ca mera infall ib ly reg iste rs th e leas t sign
of self-con sciousness o n th e pa rt of its hum an subjects . To repeat : "Th ere is an

136 why photography matters as art as never before

78 Lee Fried lander, Omah a, Nebraska, J99 5. Gelatin silver
print. 38.r x 36 .8 cm

77 (left) Lee Friedlander, Canton, Ohio, 1980 . Gelat in silver

print. 28. 5 8 x 19. 5 cm

ineffabl e but fatal difference in attitude between peop le behaving natur ally and people
behaving nat ura lly for a camera" (Schjeld ahl) and "You can't simu late suc h a thing [the
"exc hang e of glan ces," presumab ly between the white-haired viewer and the man in the
Rembrandt portrait in th e Kunsthist or isches Mu seum in Vienna - but do es any such
"exc hang e" take place?]. Photogr ap hy, a hyper sensitive medium, show s whe n you're
J..aking" (Kimmelm an ). Th ese are, of course, bedro ck assumpti ons a bou t the medium.
To cite Sontag once more: "There is some thin g on peo ple's faces when they don't know
they are being observed tha t never appears when they do . " Yet are these ass umpti ons
tru e? Consi der, for exa mpl e, a selection of photographs of men and women engaged
in different kinds of work from Lee Fried lander's 2002 book At Work (Figs. 77-9 ).25
The book compr ises six series of such phot ograph s com missione d between 1979-80
("Factory Valleys" in Ohio an d Pennsy lvani a) an d r995 ("Gu nd" in Cleveland an d
"Telema rketing" in Omaha) an d what almost all th e images in the various series have
in com mon is that they were shot at close range, apparen tly with not th e slightest effort

thomas struth's museum photographs 137

79 Lee Friedlander, Boston,
Massachusetts, 1986. Gelatin
silver print . 20 .3 x 30.4 cm

having been made to hide from the individual subjects the fact that they were being
photographed. Indeed not only are many of the photographs shot more or less head-
on, in numerous cases the viewer can detect evidence of the strong illumination that
seems have been necessary for them to be made. The question therefore arises: are Fried-
lander' s sitters " behaving naturally or behaving naturally for a camera"? Put somewhat
more brutally, are th ey absorbed in what they are doing or just "fa king" being so? If
photograph y were th e "hyper sensitive medium " Kimmelman takes it to be, thi s should
be an easy question to answer. It is not, and no matter what one's personal intuition
in this matt er, I take it to be significant that no one ha s ever suggested that Friedlan-
der 's subjects were not truly engaged in th eir respective occupations. 26 In short , Fried-
lander 's At Work photographs turn out to be more complex with respect to issues of
absorption and theatricality than they are usually regarded as being. I will add only that
th e date s of these photo graph s, 19 79 -80 to 1995, belong to the span of years that is
th e focus of the present book. This suggests that there may be far more continuity
betwee n the work of a "traditionalist" like Friedlander (but who else is like him? ) and
that of younger figures like Struth than has previously been imagined. 27

I come now to the "Audience" series of photographs made by Struth in Florence in the
summer of 2004. Struth was one of several artists commissioned to create works of
art based on Michelangelo's monumental Da vid in that city's Galleria dell'Accademia.
What he chose to do was set himself up with an 8 by 10-inch camera on a tripod near
the ba se of the statue and to photo graph tourists - of all ages, dressed lightly in shorts,
slacks, occasionally a skirt, feet in sneakers or sandals - as they came and went. In
severa l photograph s, Audience 2 (2004; Fig. 80), for exam ple, the space is crammed and
th e range of behavior and facial expression is fairly wide . In th e family to the left of

138 why photography matters as art as never before

80 Thomas Stru th , Au dience z, Florence, 2004 . Chromogenic process print. 178 x 234.5 cm; 179 .5 x 234.5 cm fram ed

cent er, th e fath er gazes upw ar d respectfu lly, the moth er leafs throu gh a cata logue, the
younger son gazes up war d as we ll, and th e older son, baseba ll cap in hand, stands with
lowe red eyes wa iting to move on. A second fam ily to the right is livelier: the blond e,
youthful parents seem happ y to be th ere, th e daug hter plucks at her str iped sundr ess in
exc item ent, and th e somewh at older son is caught reach ing into his mouth as if to
dislodge somethin g from between his teet h . Still further t o the right a han dsome
(Europ ean?) wo man in chic black slacks and sleeveless cop with a yellow sweate r tied
aro un d her waist ben ds almost protec tively over her daughter - I am guessing at all these
re lat ionsh ips - as both gaze upwar d with ap pare nt intens ity. (To my eye they are the
"stars" of thi s photograp h and it helps th at one does not noti ce them at first - they are

th omas str uth 's muse u m photographs 139

81 Thomas Struth, Audi ence 3, Florence, 200 4 . Chromo genic process pr int . 17 8 x 297 cm;
179 .5 x 29 7 cm framed

our rewar d for taking time and looking closely.) In th e backgro und other figures look
up at th e sculptur e or talk among themselves, and toward th e left-hand edge of the
pictu re still ot hers wa lk aro und or appear to cluster in small groups. O ther photogr aphs
are less densely occup ied, an d in some - Audience 3 (200 4; Fig. 81), for instance - the
ra nge of behavior an d expression is mor e restr icted, to th e extent tha t th ere app ear
alm ost com ic accord s between th e pr incipa l figures (feet splaye d, heads cocked to the
side, the two central young women resting their we ight on opposite legs). I hesitate to
describ e such figur es as deeply absorbe d in th eir contempl ation of the David , but for
th e mom ent at leas t th eir atte ntion is held by it. Th is is true as well of man y if not most
of the persons in Strut h 's series - as in Audience I and Audience 6 - and in a ny case all
but a handful of Struth' s museumgoers app ear ob livious or at least ind ifferent to being
photo graphed .
Th e " Audi ence" series thus differs fundam enta lly from bot h Stru th's classic museum
pictur es, in which facial expression is minimi zed an d beho lders are often dep icted from
behind, and hi s " Pergamon Mu seum " series w ith posed visitors . In th e Florence photo -
gra ph s we sense intuiti vely that the actions and express ions of the touri sts - also their
distr ibution in space - are genuin e, spontaneo us, Did ero t might say "naive," one of his
highest terms of esth etic prai se. (We sense thi s, I say, but we might be mista ken: since
the advent of digitization it has become possible for scenes such as these to be staged,
gro up by group and if necessary figur e by figure, and then assembl ed int o persuasive
ensem bles. In actual fact that is not true of the "A udience" series. Howe ver, techno -

140 w hy pho t ograp hy m atters as art as never befo re

logically we are forever now on insecure gro und , and as Friedlander's At Work photos
suggest, the ground was never absolutely secure.) At the same time, whereas in the
strongest of the classic museum pictures the emphasis falls squar ely - so I claim - on the
separateness of the world of individu a l paintings from that of the museumgoers, and
ultimately upon the separateness of both those worlds fro m our own, the structure of
the Audien ce photographs reconceives (or reframes) the issue of closure in two related
respects. First, the photographs are intelligibl e only to the ext ent that we recognize th e
implied - which is also to say the " invisible" - presence of Michelangelo's towering
David "t his" side of the picture surface and somewhat to the right of the right-hand
edge. (In several of the photographs Struth seems to have shifted his position to the
right, so as to depict viewers gazing upward but not beyon d the right-hand edge of the
picture.) Second, th e Audience photographs thematize, call attention to, the presence of
the photographer in a way that is not true either of the classic museum photographs, in
which it is in effect taken for granted, or those of the Pergamon Museum, in which the
photographer is present mainly , an d to some critics obtrusively, as off-camera metteur -
en-scene. In contrast, the Audience photographs powerfully suggest that th e photo -
grapher was in no way concealed from his sub jects (though of cour se he might have
been; but the very exposure of his subj ects is felt to redound on the photographer
himself, as if the simpl e ethics of the situation called for him too to be in the open), and
in actual fact Struth - shooting with multiple flashes - could not have been more
exposed, stand ing alongside his instrument in th e roped off area surrounding the base
of the sculpture. (Near the center of Audience 7 [2004; Fig. 82] a dark-bearded man in

82 Thoma s Struth, Audience 7, Florence , 2004. Chromogenic process print. 178 x 288 .3 cm;
179.5 x 288.3 cm framed

thomas struth's museum pho t ographs 141

a broad-brimmed hat stares dir ectly at th e camera with a quizzical express ion on his
face; app ro achin g more closely, we notice th at the statue is reflected in the sunglass es
clipped to the neck of his shirt .) Indeed much of the quiet drama of the series consists
in the ten sion, the balance of forces, between the photographer's impli ed lack of co n-
cealment and the seeming ob livious ness of his presence on the part of nearly everyone
in th e photo s.
T his is w here it matters that the engage d visitors are loo kin g upward, far above the
photograp her's lens, and it doubtl ess matters too th at the masterpiece at which they are
gazing is a considerably larger th an lifesize marbl e statu e of a supe rlative spec imen of
psyc hically co ncentrate d, physically nake d virile hum ani ty. The viewer of the photo -
grap hs cannot but be aware of the profound contrast - whic h to me carries on ly the
sca ntest charge of iro ny - between two very diferent stages of the sa me "c ivilizat ion,"
th e first associated with th e David, arche type of milita nt male heroism in th e mod ern
Western traditi on as we ll as of an unemb a rr assed artisti c herois m character istic of its
epoch , an d the secon d that of the internat ion al touri sts in their often awkward but
invar iably resp ectful attitud es and cas ual summer dre ss. I speak of stages of a "c ivi-
lization" rather than of wo rld s both because there is no equiva lent in sculp tur e or the
p hotograp hy of scLilpt ure to the effects of clos ure I have associated with paintings in
Strut h's classic mu seurh photographs (but see th e discussion of Patrick Faigenbaum's
photog ra ph s of marble bu sts of Roman emp erors in Cha pter Seven), an d also beca use
some kind of communi catio n, however limited or baffled, appea rs to tak e place between
the stat ue an d its viewer s. More precisely, one is led to feel that even the least sophisti-
cated-seeming viewers in Struth 's pictures are aware that the David incarn ates an ex is-
tential cha llenge that today can not be fully understood, mu ch less answe red. The
particular achievemen t of the "Audience" series is to have found a wa y to express th at
awareness photographically without giving way either to mo ckery or to de spair.

142 why photography ma tt ers as a rt as never before

j ean- fran c;ois chevr ier on th e "t ablea u form" ;
tho rnas ruff , andreas gu rsky, luc dela haye 6
Arguahh the mosl ded,,vc dcvclopmenr in the rise o f rhe new an phor<,gt:lphr h~s beeo
the emergence, srarring io th( hue 197os and g:iining imr,.-tus in the 1980s and afrer, of
wlr.11the rrench cricic j1.-'lln
-l-ran~is Chc\'rier has 1.-11111.'d
Mrhe 1ablra11fom,." Apropos
n i;roup of photographers who were making la rite photoia:raphs,Chevrier wrote m 1989:
Their im:;1gesore nm mere prims - mobile, n11111ipul:1blc sheers tl111tnrc fr:11ned(lOd
mountld on II w:ill for 1he durr11ionof :111 exhibi1ion 3Dd go back inLOrhcir boxes
:iftcrward . They arc desig11 cd and pr()duced for rhe wnll, summoning n confronta-
tionnl exper ience 011 die 1)nrt o f che spcctocor rhnc sharply comras ts with rhc habit -
ual processes of :tpprop riation ;ind projection whereby phorogrnphic imngcs are
normally received and ''.:rmsumed." The restitution of rhc tableau form (ro which the
on o( dw 196os nncl , ~:17os,ir will he rec.11lcd,wa$ largely opposed) has the primary
,um c>( r1.~toring the d[smm :c to the f.>bjecr-iniagc necc~sary for the confronracional
c,pcricnce, bur implies nn nosrolgi:1 for p;1iming and no spccificnlly "reacrion.iry~
impulse. The fronrnli1y o( the picture hung rm or nffi"<t.'O co the w:111:mJ ilS auron -
omv as an objccr arc not sufficimr as fin.,liries. It is nor a matter nf elevacing me
photographic image 10 rhe pl.l<-'Cand t:'lnk of the painting. lr is :ihour usmi; rht- rablc-au
form m reactivate a thinking ha!ied on fmgments, ope nm:ss, anJ comradicrion, not
the ucopia of -a comprehcn~il e or syi:tematic order. 11,crc is a rerurn 10 clnssical com-
positional forms, along with horrowings from the history of modern Jnd premodcm
p:iintini;. but 1ha1 movcmcnr is medintizcd by the use of cxcr:i painterly models,
hcllroi,eneo us \\~rh cnno11 ic:1I 11rt histo 1')'- models from s-culpru rc, rlw cinem::i, or
philo~opliic:11:.ina lysis. 1
Th is pnssnge come.-;from nn importa nt essay, '''l' hl: Adventures of rhc 1hb lt:au Porm
in rhc I lisrory of Phowi,:raphy" (in fact lhe Entli~ h rr:msl:irioo gives .. picwre" for
"rablenn," bnr l prefer rhc French word for re.1sons rhot will become clcar1). Chevrier's
remarks dcsi::nea brit:f glos).
hrsr, :1hhougb Chevrier says not hing here about cnnsiderarions o( ~i7.c:or scale, they
ace implici1 iu hi,; claim th.u 1hc UC\\wock is ..dt:!,inetl:md protlul-ed for chc wall- -and
that 1t i!. inrendeJ ro summon ..:t ronfronc:aaonal c.xperience on the pan of rhe specta-
tor."' Only works of n ccrrnin SIZC could self-evidently hold tbc wall rn this way; this is
why. for example, Thomns Ruff in 1986 was lcJ 10 l'nlargc the sfac of his portrairs of
fd low srudc nrs, which hl' hntl heg1111makini; on a much smaller sca le five years before
- and wh), moreover, die enlarged porrrairs have complcrcly displ:iccd the earlier ones

l f;Jn~o 1s chr,vr ler 01, 111
0 " wbt e au forri1 '' , 1homf.1s 1ult , andreos FJlllll ky, Ili c del&haya 111
i11 the public nw11rcncs$ of his work A~ was noted in Ch.1p1< :r One, the early light-box
crnnsparcncil~ of Jeff Wnll, smr ti11g with T/JeDestroved R11 w 11( 1977; see Fig. !l), a work
iuM under live feet hiAh by over Mvcnand a half feet wide, pnnl)' inspired thiQdcvd-
opmcm. (Al,o pertinent wns rlw 11ew ;tvrulabilir)' of h1rge--sizcnegatives .mcl ~>rn,ittve
prinrin.g 1,,1per.)
Secon,l, Lhcvnl'r~ i:mphasts on the importance of ~die confrtlnr:nional CJ..pcncnce~
is correct a~ far ,h it gllS,~ i~ his clai m thac s-uch .1111xpericnce marks a bre.1k with
cradiciunal mode, of phorogrnphic nccprion and con~umptiun. (For &rthC5 in C mwro1
Lucida, :1~ I nureJ, phoroiraphic images arc ty pictll)' cncountcrcJ in a book or mnb'll-
zinc.) lr had nlwnys bC\:n possible rn frame phocogr.iph,, images :md hang them nn .1
walJ, hur rhcy ~till demanded to he seen up dose by one viewer nt n time, whi,h mcnnr
thm their cxhibirioo on a wall w:is a purely exrcmal m;m cr, as Chevrier a~ 111111 :h ns
say~. (.Jeff Wi1II on his feelings i11the 1960s and '70s: "eve n while I loved pliorogmphy,
I ofte n. didn't love lcJoki11g at phowgrnphs, pani c11l al'ly when they weye hung on wnlls.
I felt thr.'ywc1croo small for rh.1t formnt iind lookNI bcucr when seen in br,(lkS c)r as
leafed rhrough ill albums." ') 'rhc new wo rk, however, ls conceived for the w:ill from
the stare - or l11rhe ca~e of Ruff\ port raits, he soon c:imc to feel thnc the sm:111 formnt
he b:iJ lxogun wit h was ina dequate for his purposes - wid, the result rhm it enters into
a 11cwkind o f rcl.irionc;hip with 11, \'l~wc~, who ;ire thcmsclvts trJnsfornwd, rc,onfig-
urcd vic1wrs, in rhc procc,<,s.,\ l'mci .il aspt'Ctof the new rcl:ition~hip, Chevrilr righth~
suggt."Sts,i, an enforced diSUJ1cebetween wor.k and viewer. wirhour which rhc mutu.11
facing off of the two rhat unclcrlie1,rhr 11onoo of confron1J tion wm1ld nor be pcmiblc.
Third, Chevrier ,pe:tks uf a .. ,esriru11on- of-tht' 1nhlt<:111
form and says rhar the ,1rt or
the. 191\o~ anJ '70 s wns 1:argd y opposed to char form. By tht' arr of rhosc de.cad~ he
has in mind tht' u,;cs of phoc,,~mph) rhat were made by rht' wn..:t-'j1tunlisr~, use" chat
a1tugcrher downplnyed the :irtifoctunl or say nrcisricm,pects of tl\t' photographs them-
selves. t\ :; Chcvril.'rwmc s earlier in his essay:
Jc wM 011l y with ~he emcrgcn.:c of the Com:eprualisr nppro:1dwsof the hue 1960s tha~
the op11<1~ltio11between ,irtlst~ usi11g photography anJ phorogrnphers became explicit.
. . . Wirh rhc dJa llcmging in the lotc I y{)os of the vciy uorion of an arrwork, nnd the
shifr in fo,11sto idea and process, it was unclersrandahlc rhut reference w the pninrcrly
subjecr and the p:1radi&111 e,1u as :u\ auto 11omou~ form hould los, tbl ascen-
o( tht' 1.;1hl
dancy they h:id cnjoyc,1since the c..-.irliesc days Clfmodern an ., when B~udclnirc, in the
Salon ti<' 1846, J~~rre<ltht' )Upcriurit)' of a paiml.J p1c111rc over sculpm rc 11\ a 1hrcr
din1cnsionnl uhjl'Cl submim:J co v:mat.lcmsin point o( view: ~ A picture ... i~ only
,,hn1 iL wan t~ co be; there i~ no W:t) of looking at it fm lwrf 1h:1n on it!>01\11 terms.
-Pain1i11i;has bu t one poinr uf 11rw;it is exclusive and .1h"'1lu1r. ~ In the U11i1!Stares
the n:actmn :1i;:11nsLrhe don11nn111 model of d1e rablcuu form wa, cveo more .rnirrnu ed
hecau~c or 1hl' :J5Ccnda.11cy or the modernist theory forged hy Clement Grt-c11he rg ru1d
hi$ form.1list circle. Michael rricd'~ cs.,ay "Art and OhjccthooJ," which denounced
the rhcmricaliry of MlnimaJisr sculpnm, appc;-iredin Ar1{()rt1t11 in 1967, It hnd cornt1
111response to Rohen Morris's "No rcs 011Se1ilpt11r e," p11blished .1 year e:1rlil'r in rh~
sume journal, which used 1111 -illu~ionis111or Lil<'thre1i-dlnwnsio1111
: radict1I u11ri I object

to assert the spatial valu e, whi chhe believed was va riable, of the new '\ 1nirnr)'" forms
of J'v[inimalism. "The betrnr new \vork ," Mo1'ris remarked, "cakes relatio nsbips Ollt
of t'hc work ,111dmakes them a function of space, light, and the viewer~~field oF vision .
. . . One is mo re aware rban before ~hm he him$d Fis cstablishi,ng .relationships as h e
ap 1we htnds t he (1.hjcct frurn varivus posit ions ,1nd und er v<H)'itlgconditions of light
1111d space ." I11. 1 I

(The best account of rhe ~rse of phorogrnphy by concepr11 alists is Wall's m~gistcrial essay
of 1995, " 'Mflrks n f lndifforencc': Aspects o.f Photography .in, or as, Conceprnal Arc:.''")
Chc;vricr's poi{lt is thnr by ,;989, wh en his essay appeared, all rhcse issues he.longed to
rhe pa st:
And if, around 1970, photoi;rnphy, ,1s used by rhe Conceptua_lists, broke the_tnirr or
of pail1ting- or, rat her, of rhe tab leau .. . rhe evo lmi on of a rtist ic el(plonltion and
expetimerm1tionhiis, since then, 1\lrgdy restored the model that h:id previously b.:en
overrnrned. Many _arrisrs, h;wing a$simjfared rhc Conceptualistt explorat ions to
varying degrees, have reused the paint:e rly mocli:I and photograph )', quite con-
scim1sly and sysren,ar.ic: ,lly, t<.>produce works that srnnd nlone und cxil)t as ''photo-
graphic painrings" . . . l 1:1;4]
Polltth, th e restinuion of the ta.hleau form that Chc:vder'scssa)' signals i$ undersrood
b.y him as S(>rnet g other than a simple return to a previous state of affairs, or inc.l
hi.11 ecd
a n atte mpt to give to photograp hy rhe prest ige of painting by 1:1s tu:ping or sharing the
lartc r''S po~iti(>n on the w~ll. Rarhe1-,he .sees in the new developments an attempt "to
reactivacc a thinking based on fragmencs, openness, and eontr.idi.L-rion" - the opposite
Jespeccively of whc1lcnc~s, cornj,os itional clcmm:, and internal, all of -.vhich
might it)()scly lw understood as high modernist ide()ls, This i~ also r.heforce of rhe ~ratt-
men t that ncirher rhe fronrJ.1 licy of the new photogrnphs nor rbeir ,rn.tonomy as an
arrwork is ''suf ficient" as an nltim atc; ~lesideratur\i. rt is not hard to grasp why Chevrier
insisrs on these points, aJlCIonce. aF,uih some of what he si1ysis ~urcly cQn cct as fa r as
it goes . However, as sccn in th(; ptcvious chapters 011Wa ll and Strut h, issues of absorp
tion and antitheatri.:ality are plainly at stake in some of tbeir mosr charadc risrit: works
(indeed Srl'llth's museum pictu1cs, in 111)' re,uling, are cr.uda lly ;tbout the closure to the
photographed viewers of the paindngs being looked ar, while notions of ,:sthc.:t ic auto-
nomy are ingeniously exp lo red i11 the f\11dir.:m;r.: ~cri1:s), 1vh ich is to say t har .between rhe
works in ,111 <:stion and che body of pai nting examined in Absorption and Theatrii'ttlity,
Coi1rl:,ct's.Realism, and Mqnet's Modernism, as well as rhe high modernist painting
and $CL11 pturc ~bampioned ag.i minimalisrn/lttera lilim in "Arr and Objecrhood" and
related CSSll)'S, there exists a11 affinity as imponant as it ha.s been alrrrost cvmp lete ly
uiuecognized .3 T his i.n tL1 1n i~ nor ti) ckny the _pertinence of Chevrier'S'claim that the
new work has been "med iat ized by the use of exrrn-pa inter ly models, h~tcwgeneous
with canonical art histot y;" ~rn1ot1gthose n19dds C:hevrit:lr t.:ites ''ph ilosophic11 l analy-
sis,'' 11 ch1i111 rh~,t bc:Hs a suggestive relation to the cliscussioi1 of Wt1ll's aJ'uin rel.Hinn
ro Heidegger and \'{/ircgenstein in prcvio1,1 ~ chapters, wd ' 5cinc111a ," whi ch of COUJ'SC'
applies directly to Wall ;rnd Sugimow, not to mencion She1'man.

jea 11-lta n<;ots ct1av 1,u r bn 11,e " lab l!mu ro,m", {llt)rrl as 11 1(lreas /;l i1sky, luc de l.'.lhay0
.111. <11 141:i
Finall )', th c French word tall/call ha s 110 ex act equivalen t in English. " Pictu re ce rnes
close st bU I it lacks th e connorarions o f co nsrrucred ness, of being th e product of 3 11inrel-
lccuml act, thar th e Fren ch wor d C:lrr ies.' To cite Chevrier one more time; "T he photo-
gra phers o f toda y wh o consider the mselves an d m:lni fCSt themselves as nnis rs raking c

imo cons ide ration rhc public spaces in wh ich th ey exhibi t ca n no longer merely 'rake'

pict ures; rhey m ust ca use the m to ex ist, co ncre tely, give th em th e weight and gravity,
withi n an actu alized perceptu al sp ace, o f an 'object of rhough r' [a phrase o f Hannah
A rendt'.sl ~ ( 1 20) . T his 100 is apt an d co uld serve as a ;ustificlIlion for retaining the French
word - in connect ion w ith Che vrier, w ithout ita lics - in wh at follows . l~ot:
roi ncidefll:rllr , Besramant e c,111OOhis ea rlr pbor ograph s o f 1'(O \ 'C'I1CC' an d north ern Spain

ln 198 I Thomas Ru(f, then still a stu de m of Bern d Becher at the Kunsrakademle in
Dusseldorf. began m klng po rtrait phot ograp hs of friends and acq uain ta nces from the
aClldc lllY as well as other pe rso ns with whom he came int o contac t. According to the
introd ucto ry not e onthe early por tra its in his acc j curnlogue raiso nne, Ru ff useda "iew
camera w ith a stu dio fb sh, All th e portr a its follo w :1 single set of protocols. Ruff
"decided o n a bust po rtmir alld n mo de of re prese ntation rhnr woul d be as neutra l as
pnssihlc in o rde r to foreground th e stncr's face while at th e sa me time avoiding allY
psychological int erp retation ; ' th e note read s. " Every siuc r wou ld be phot ograph ed like
:I plaster bust , based on Thomn s Ru ff's ass um ption tha t ph ut ogruph y shows only the
surface of th ings anyway. By 19111 he had alread y defined the specifications for his plc-
ture s: th e sitters, w enring thei r o rdina ry clothes and seated on :l 5100 1, would be
photogra ph ed with a serio us, calm expression on thei r faces. There was to be no show
o f feeling, like smi ling. grinning. or 'flir ting' with th e 0 I111e r;a.~1 "The people have to
know wha t my port raits a re like in ord er to behave in such a wa y that the result is 0lIl'
o f my portraits, ~ Ru(f has said .' No effort was made to mask or min im ize facial blem-
ishes o f a ny SOrt . To av oid mon oto ny Ruff nltowed the sitters to choose from among
different colo red backgrou nds. The initia l crop of pholOgra phs measured rwenry-four
by eighteen centime ters; in t 986 he decided 10 en large so me of the portrait s " bur soon
realized t har the color became tOOdominan t in la rge fOfmat , ~' Thi s led to a new series
o f port ra its wi th wh ire o r off-w hite ba ckgrounds , ta ken with a view came ra thai pro-
duced a la rger nega tive th an befor e and primed on th e la rgest phOlogr;ap hic paper avail-
a ble - .:.1 0 b)' 16 S ce ntim eters , or just und er seven (tt l high by almost five-and-a-half
(eel wide (Figs. 8; an d 8..). With a handf ul of except ions early on , allthe new po rtraits
were rigo rou sly fro ntal hust shore, an d the lighting was arr ang ed so as to elimina te all
shado ws. w hether on faces or clothing, The effect o f un iform ity was therefore greater
th an in the earlie r por traits . The se ries carne to an end in ISl9 1 when the paper was
discon t inued ,
M o re th an his ot her relativel y ea rly serie s - the inrcriors ned the houses - the large
port rait s establishe d Ru ff's reput ation 3S one of th e leading phot ogr aphe rs of his gen-

w lW photography (n " lle rs lIS lUI liS never be lore

B3 T homas Ruff Portrait /A. Kacho/dj 196 1 , 84 horna Ruff, Port.rit [R. Hu/nm/; 1988. hmm ~
hrnmo geni ' prnc ~ss prim. 2 3.5 X r 7.8 cm trnd laser geni.c process print. z.4 x 18 c.:
m ancl later 110 x 16 ' 111
2. I OX 165cm

'ra tion; ven today in fact the1eis . 111ething paradigm,u ic.about them, a sense in which_,
imply pu[, tI 'Y St:111 to r pr nt ru1;ilmost ne essary ph ase il'.lrbe emergence of the
new l'tr ph ography.1"
Ruff him elf has b n 11 g if n.rr pli it ab m his inrenrion . Here i a cy1,l al
xd1a11gefr ma 1995 int .rviewwith Stephan Dill c1m1t.h:
TR: T don't give viewers :.1 chance a.nymo1e to draw ~on fo ions about the lives of
the peopl e ] porti'l!Y,
sn: And th at nn noys vjewe rs?
Tlt: 1 don't know wliat hey want to find out ,1bout the sitter whose face they see
in front of h 111.Do th y wanr r know d1 pe.l' n 1s Jljimeor add.res. or what tl1cy
do for a living, m- d th y wanr co k11 ow om't hit1-' about their inner lives? What
good would thar Jo?
sn: uriosity gossip, admirarion -id emili.carion.
Tll: Some imcs I think ir's outr geou the way p ple treat my pori:raiI. Th y rhink
you ca n just sta nd in front of tJ1cm and ma ke up a t heory. 11

I 11 ranco,s cil!:lvrltu on Iha "tab leau Jorm"; hom1:1sru rt, nndrnas g ursk y, luc de lah ye 147
'rhc prnblcrn, RuH says in thi: ~arnc inicrvicw:
i~ thi: subjt:crive impression rhnt I have when 1 face someo11 c else. Tlinr's the trouble
wich()Orrrair ~. You're living your life and rhen you gtt to know ~wople, you likesonw
more chan otht'rs, and these c111otlo11s ~ur face when you look ,lt plcrnrcs rba, depict
a pecson. lo other word,, these \ensncions rhar you hnw rcg,1nli11gother~are the S.'lme
when you're faced with 11 picture...I don't know if-you'd coll thar n 111ix-u_p or
correct behavior. You prohahl~ projecr your own life ~pcricm:c into rhe picture.,,
IWhere-.1.~) !Jff yllu think in terms of projected ,;urf.u:c.~.rhcn rhl.'objL..::thas nothing
to do with iranrmore. I he'rea..:11011 to the star pictures(,1001hcrscri,:<;of phorographs
Ruff bas rnac.lcJis ~1mil;1rtn tht:ctlecc chc.>
portraiLShnvc. When p.:tiplelook ar them.
they mix chem up wuh rhc rc.,1thing, holidays in M.'ljon;,'l wuh he:1ucifol\tar-~'t:lldded
~kies- or rhe houses, they lonk ar rhccurr:nnsand LI"} ' to ligure tJutwlm son of people
11,e hchrntl thfm . ... [But wh)' can't rhcyl gu up and soy, ah.1, big photogr-aph.big
beJJd,rakc the picture :i:, a picture and say, thank you. Mr. Rufr. well done? [106-J
A~ Ruff has also said npropo, the ponrn11s,1don't hd ievc in 1hc psychologiziog por-
trait ,,howgraphy that my colleague.~do, rrying to capture rbc char.1crcr with a lor -0f
lighr and sb3de. Thol's t1bsnl11tdysuspect to me. l tan only show rhc surfuce. \'Xlbatever
goes hcyond rh:-u1s more e>r less chunct. " 12
No wonder RL1ff'sphmngr :1ph~ 11r<:ofrt:n said to be "cold," us R6gis Dunnd observed
ln 1997 in an iMen:sti11 1,tcs~ri)1 :
Generally the rc.:r11 rns rhc /lor trnlts, occ(l~ionnlly the I /m1sas or the S1art,
arl, c:ooc1;
mrcly tbc orher work s. What is mcnnt hy this? No doubt, i11 the c:isc of Pnrll'aits
:ihovt nll, that they "cxp re~s" nothing, that rbcy rcvc.:-:t l nothing nbom the ir1ti1m1te
pc.:rsonaliry,rhe identity, of tlu.:ir moclc.:ls.
That they ceU no sw ric.:s,no anecdotes. And
rbcrefore, chat the}' ~ay nothing ,thout rhe phowgrupher, uh111 11his rhougbts ordesirt's
in n:lat111nro his subjects. Or mther, that hy saying norhing abuu1 a ll chat, they di!ilrly
manife5t Iris indifforcn..:c,hi) bo:t,IJne,;s." 11
i\s Durand also remarks. Ruff's phorographs~are not windows opcnin_gunro chcworld;
UlC>du no t st,gc a brief momcnc of Lhcworld's theater. They appear JS highly polished
-urfuc1--s,through whkh u r\1piJly appc.'lrs quire-vain ro reach for '.111orherrl'.llicy.'They
art> mi~ ,cl> rl'aliscic' and precisely bc:L11u,cQt rh1 l"C':'llism mey under-
LUl any attempt ro look for dut'> thnt would allow one ro go hcyond rhem" (r6- :17J,1~
For Peter Galassi, "Ruff'~ porer.msprove ma fare-thc.:-c-wcll thnt phorogrophyis equally
ca1,ahlc of rCC'ordingcverythinj.;.md rcvt-almg nmhin~~ ( 1 ~,. (He ,1J~ordcr.. 10 the large
pnrrraics as ~monumcmal icon~ of blankness" [2.71,)Jc i\ rdcvant t hat Ruff's portrait
phut0gn1ph,; dcp1cr ,1 largely honmgl'n1:11u~ popularion 0 fricnc.l~;1110 at
nny r:m. norhing could he 11111n ~lien to his purpost:' than ~truth'~ chokl.' of culruroll)'
diverse ns well os malti ,en~r:.rnon:i)r:imili('S ns tht subjects nf his fomily porrrairs (to
bt discussed la Chilpter S!.'vcn).1' t\.~ RuH also says, hi$ ponrnil'!, n111 ounr rn enlarged
p:issporr phowgrnp hs - in fact much of rbei.r persistent shm:k-t,dfocr nrlscs from theg ross
cu111rn~r in si1.e betwt'e11 his ltH'J,;(' colun;d portra its ctnd the riny generic nnrn,. 16

148 wttv 11h olog1s ph y m,;t1or., .11orl n, 1,ev,n l1,,to 1t!

All lhis is welltinclcr~wod - indeed Ruff's stra ightforwardnes s in interv iews leaves nu
room for doubt as ro his intclltiOns. \'i/hot is perhap.~ lcs~ unJersrood - whnt in any case
has not heen tvuchcd on by either Ruff or his many commenta tor~ - is thi: siJZnifi cance
of 1hi.-porrrorc as a b11~i~ for Ruff's dtdslve incerv1:nti1111.
The fir~t poim to he made is so ohvinus as scarce ly ro require emph.1s1~:almosr ;111
Ruff~ portrait pht,rogrnrhs, espec1Jlly from 1986 on, arc ngorou!>lyfromal, which i~
why rh1:passporc analogy ~,1it:Sth1:m. Now. faces se~n from the from fare the viewer;
indeed Ir is hard w thin!- of another 111mirthar L~cap:ible of rhemari1;ing focingncss with
co1111,nra ble force and exp licitness. IJur this is nor ro ~.iy rhot mosr frontn l porrrairs,
wlwrher paincc<lor phorngrap hic, m:1kc ri ppinrof rheir faci%'11cSs; more ofrcn than not,
rhi: idcn 11[ facingness is subordinat ed ro other concerns: in the case of puin~i1g1 LOthose
of resemblance and man unl execution, anJ in Lhe case ciFborl, painting nnd photog raphy
m n "mnking present'' of rhc social, psycbic, or indeed physicaJ being of the sirrer or
sirrers (think of N:1dar. Augosr Sa oder, Evan s in Let Us Noll) PraiseFamous Men, Diane
Arbus, and Richa rd Awdon, among Ruff's prcdL'Ct:s~ors).In com:rnst. Ruff's porrr:iir,;,
in 1hcir rigorous adherence to the prmocols ciced ahow. ~y,; 1emaricnlly ~eek m frnsLracc
the viewers empath ic or projecrive o r idcntificucory 1mp11tst:m draw conclusions abom
the liw~ of tl1epeopk~ pm rrayed in ch.-m(rhe large Sl--alc of rhe pose r9 86 works pow-
erfully cnntrihm cs tn this); insread rhc viewer is to be ~takt lb_epicrurt.:as
:l picture," which ,;o u11d,like, and [n a scme i:f, a rctodcrnisc tdt'al, though ex,1ctly what
this nw:ins with refen!ni.'cto photogrnph )' is far Eromclc.:nr(more on this as I pru1a: ecd).
Ruff in interviews doi.:s not mention focingru.:ss in 1:his connection, hur the cc>ntrived
11bsunccuf ~ocial and psychologic::a l cues throws the weight of the picrurl! prcdscly there,
This i,1 rurn gives ri~c tc 11singularly ~rrung effect of l'onfrontarion and clisruncing ot
rbe ~orr Chevrier in hi~ e~I)' a~-soci:1H~ wich ch_ecablc:111form.
Differently put, the nhs1rncring .iml h~posmrizing ol facmgncss in Ruff's porrraini
plou: 1hosc works linnly 1111hc orbir of painnng. For it is a crucial a\pcc1 of =I pau11-
ing (tht .lominam form iit painring in 1he Wesrsramng Jroand L6oo tf not earlier) rhat
itS producrs hang on a wnll and face rhc1r ht:h()ldc~, who typically ~r:rnd facing rhem
in o relationship of something like mutual refl~-non; the front.ii portr:u r a~ a suhgcm e
mnkes rhitt relation~hip mil) more perspicuous than it ocherwise WOLtld he. Yer che con-
nrctio n hclweeu faces and pait1ting~is even closer rhn11this suggi:~rs:rakcntogether they
are wirho ut qucstirnl t.111:two mosr conccntrr.1te dly expnssive "sarfa ce~ hum:111beings
(al ltns1 in Wesrem cullure~) encounre1 in rhe cours, nf their Lives, rhc tW (> "s urfoco.~

whose claim on tl1e virwc1is most inrcn~ivc and undeniahlt: and dw presence "within "
or "upmt'' which of alnw st invisibly mmutc differences Is registered by him or her with
the grcnrc.\l .1cutc1WS\.1 Wirh rC<;f1C1.'t
to faces rh is is whr we effortlessly recognric dif-
ferent 111dividualsand rl..,pond insn nrnvdy t0 the mol>cfleeting cxpnss1on of keliag
in n frimil,ar countenance, while with rcspecr to painrin[t ,his is wb) ,r i.'>possible for
cx-p1:r1cnccd muscmn~ocrs - persons wh,1 arc not connnis:.curs - to rcCo!(ilitean alm~t
nnlimiicd amounr of persona l and orhcr stylisti.: m;irkc.:rsin boch rr prcwma 1ional
:ind non-rcpcescnturional works. Ami it ii. wh.,r enables Gertrude 5tci11,in her under
app rccir1tcd ess.1y" Picnircs," to link th1:two, choL1ghthe further inreresr of her rcmRrks

,,wf'llron<;QI~ chov, ur 1111lh'3 1,11,101111

torm : thorna, rul1, nndreas gur~I v tu~ llel11haya
cc a cnmpar:ible mov<n1cni: tow;1r<l:1bs1r,1r.:tio
i~ th:1.rthey cvi11 11to thar whicli t,1kei;pince
in Ruff'i;porrr.lit photographs:
Gr;id11nllygctring more and morc familiar wirh oil p.11111i ng~ k:ticl p:1iatingsl wn~like
g,min~ gradun lly moce nnd lllorc fomilinr wich foct'Sai. )'C'IU look very hMd :n w me
of them nod you l,>ok very harJ :11 ,\II uf them and }OU do .111of tbi~ very often. Faces
gradually cdl you wmerbrng, thtri, is no doubt :thour 1ha1 .l.\ yott grow more and
morc familiar with any nnd :ill fuc1..-s und so it 15 with oil pain cin~. The re ult \v:b
1h,H in a way I ~lowly knew wh:u Jn 011 paincing i-. nm.Igrndu:illy I rcali1-eJa<;I h:id
already found ouc very often du, rhere is a relatio n hcrwccn anything that 1s painted
nnd th e paiming of it. And gr:idnally I rc.,li:,,eda:. I had found very often that rhc rcl:i-
rion W:t!> so 111 !>pt:ak nobody's husincss. The rclarion bcrwect1the oil p:11111ini; nnd the
thing pL1lnr1:clwns really nobody 's hu~ines~. It could be the oil painting's hllsinc~sbm
acruallr for the purpos e u( rhc oil p:iinting niter tlw oil 1l11i111ing was poi111 1r was
no t th~oil pninting's business and so it wa~ nobody's husi11 css. ~
The mov ement is from d,c ,in:ilngy hcrwcen faces and oil pnimings (b~tw1;:e 11finding
one's wny nrti und both), co rhc rccogniriou that oil pninrfngs - rcprescnmrio11 nl ones-
bear so111 c sor r of rclarion ro what rhcy depicr. ro th<:further r11cog nitiou that thar rela
tio11i~ irrdlvn nt ro an cni;agcmrm with the oil 1miming ns an oil painring. which is
whar ~rein nicam, by saying that the rd.,tion was nuhod(s husiness, nor even rhnr uf
the finished oil p,,intiug . ( l am not endorsing this-view, only ,harncrerr~ ng it.) For Rufi,
the N.'<-'l,gn
11io11,; seem TOh.Jvc-occurred m reverse order htll 1h.: cud rcsuJt i~ mui:h rhc
same. ~J u~cd to ":TYrhar rhc 11kture has an auronomo\15 c,i~ tt.>nceap:m from what 11
reprc,c ntS, or thar ic :icqu,rc,; ;i lift' of itS own," he rcm:irk~ in the conversation with
Stephan Oillt'muth cared c:irl1cr. ~ M.l ) lw when 1 said 1h;n, I mc:mr thmki11gabout how
you make pu:turcs, but the rcnlity ts srill rberc anywa)' because there re.illy was ~omeunc
sining in frm11of th e camcrn when rhc picrurc was 1:ikc11, So now, do we have nuton
omy?" ( 1o~- i,)1" This is acurc, but rhc end result is 11111r.:h tht' Name bccii11sL' o( Ruff's
deterniim1dn11in nil his early scdcs - '' Portraits," '' Houses,'' 11Srnrs" - m work ngnlnst
the ~r.iin o f his i.11hjccc 111atr
er: m dcpsychologizc faces, to t'1car rhc house~ as men>shells,
to prcst:nr minute S(cti011s of Lhc Southern sky in tlw mosr dernched :1-t1dobjective
manne r po:..~iolc.
A fun her dimension of dw topic i\ his10ri1.-al.As I show in M,met's ,\foden11s111. the
ponrni r as 11 ~cnrc, aod morl' hmndly rhe mode of :1ddrcs.sro the vicwer th.11I have
been calling fo<.ingnes:s,playtd a cnu:ral role not onl) in M:111c1 epc,clw p:iinrmg\ of
the I l<6oi, h111 m tbe work of tho..c of his conr-t'mporarics I tl1ink o( :is ,onsLi1111111g with
him rhe Gcncr.111onof 1863 - marnly Henri fJn tin-1.. ..irour, Jomes ~kNc1 1l Whistler,
a nd Alphon-.e Legro..,. Th e picrori,11manjfcsro of that gmer.11i1111 ta
is Fanrin's ll w1111g<'
DclarroLY( 11164), a rromal grou p portrnir depicnng, :,moni:.urhers, aU four painrc~ 1usr
namt-d, with fl p:iinred and fr-Jmt-dportrait of Delncrni", whn had recently die<!,nt ir~
cent er. (Bnudclnirc and Ch.mipOcury, Cour bcr's crilical rhn mpion, atc also present.)
Howev er, it is in Manet's canv11sc:s (If the lirsr half of the r R6os, works such .JSrhe Old
Musician ( 1 lH,i), D1:;e w1cr s11r /'/, ('r//e ( 186J}, ;ind Oly111pia( , f:63) chm ,ire 1101por

1!i0 why ho1001111>hy 1111

,1tets-as art ,1s 1ov<lt befora
85 l!du unrd M ance, l'mtrcilt of
Victori11t'Meure!ll, 1 Rr,1. O il on
,13 x 43 cm. Museum o/
Fine Arts, Soi.ton

traits in the ordinary, vemacuh1r ~enloeof rhc term, rhnc something like ,1 r:1dic:.1li1nrion
of the portrait in the inter~, of focingness mkes place. with deci:sivc import for subse-
quent pninring. What set the stage for that dcvclopmenr was rhe ultimate fo,lurc of rhe
Dider otian project of dcnring or neutmlizing the prescrll!cof the beholder,whether
through 1hc clnssic srrareg)' of absorbing the depicted pc:rsonages within the pnindng so
a~ to achieve the mecaph)Sic:,11 illusion of their complete unawarenCSl>of heing beheld,
or 1hro ugh lhc very differenr 11,e.1J1s by which Courbet, Mnnet's immediate predecessor,
sought hyperbolically m pni111hi111 sclf into his canvases, llll effort which, if it could have
succeeded (needless to s<,y it could noc), would hnvc removed him as first beholder or
paintcr-hcholdcr from before the pninting.
ln ocher worcl~, by 1860 the sl1preme fiction, ndvocoted hy Didcror, tlrnr pninrings
are not mado.:to be beheld cou ld no longer be susrnini.;d.Whac took ics pince i11Mnncr's
art was a new acknowledgment rhar paintings were inckcd made to be beheld, an
acknowlcdgmcnr thar l describe {i11Mmret's Modenrism ) in cem1S,of an attempt to rnnkc
not iusr roch paincing a~ a whulc bur every bfr of its surface - cv,i:rybrushsrroke, so to
speak- face the hcholder as nc, er before. This is what it means to speak of ;1 rndicnl-
i1.uion of rhc (froncally facing) pomair, and as 111the c.':\Seof Ruff what was required
was a shift of emphasi~ from considerations of p,ych olog)' or social idenricy, wl1it:h
wouJd have worked ngains1 that mdicali1.arion, w somerbi ng more c11com1,a~s111g,
surfacc-oricnced, in d1at scn~c absrrncr. (Maner's hrilli.1111 and scrik-ing Portr,,it of Vic-
torine Me11ren/f 1862.; Fig. 8 s1is the "pare" porrrair by him thar mosr exemplifies rhis.
l should ::idd that striking11css ns well as facingncss be.came a major dcs1dcrnrum for
M.anc11111dhis generarion.) Ruff's phrnse for thar so111 erhi11 g is "die pictur e a~ o picture,"

111a11 chevnor on l hti "tflhl8dU 101111", thomos ruff .inclroas 911rsiy, lu<. cfolahdye
f1<111r;o,s 161
IUi Thomas RH f House N,: J J, 1988. ,hromog ni proccs. prim. 1S x 2.3 9 cm

and of our. e km t be rune renown cl a~the painl' r wh m re rlrnn tin} ' od1 ~ pio-
neered a rcvolutionar on e n with "rh pair ting a, a p:iiinting" whi h ililtim rune
to be glossed 111t rm hmh of th mat riolicy of pi m'm and the flan, ss o{ the supp ort .
The latt r is the "form Ii t" or Grce11brgian inrcrpretari .on, which in Manet's M d-
cmhn I rgu i an ilhholl'ic:.11pr j lion ba k onto Manet art from 1he persp ' ri
of (rnpr ssioni.m ,Ind u c. or 1110v ml!nrs.J al o st1ggcsrrhar Nfancr 111the 18 o
sto d as th :n 1tithesis t the Rea Ii. r j urb r-Jike
was in (Hll"1dt of th('!tabl cm, 11nclcr
mor C(W or fr.agm nt ithout knowing i11 achra11 ' act l)r wlrnt that , ould in olv .
Althou h this is not qumt wl m Chevrii.!r m. , n. h c, bl au, ic pr id . a "rt!ri'r reason
F.orrct:ii11ingtha t t rm i11subsequ nt di,cussions of r ">rt rap I tion from h vrier's
Cll, :l,
f do 1tot wi h to drm t lo an an.-ilog}' b rwccn Maner and Ruff or between
their re 'P" tiv.: histori al ir umstnnc s. 1fowcv r, it is sugg sci c to ay th lt..:at rhar
aerrw J ci ive juncm r . in the hi l'Ory o.f modern pictorial art - th,c rise f mod,rnisr
painting (m; i1 :1111 to h k.now11 in d1c 1M60 and the m1 ~ence f larg-s ',le ,1r
plioc graphy iri the late T97os .mnd'80 - th e portrai t or porm1i -tablew (n t rm I u e
in Mau ,,, Mod 'rnism) became a vehi le of 1tu1jor an-1bition, one mor over that requir d
a certain blocking r evn atio.nof fo11Hhlrkio<lsof content i otdc , l ad1i v , th new
mud of addrc w du: \'mew r whi h l mh de lopm nr ncniled.
Bcfor leaving Ruff! wa 1ir t!.l forth 'r rnn - of p sihilitics. rf th pnrtird nnalogy
with M:m t i a ~,ll 1 rsuasive, wbm nl ut ch id ri rhat the ''Hou s," 111p~uti

'162 wl1y pil o logra 1 hv 11~i11 rs n!l ar as I v r before

87 Thomas Ruff,
18h 12. 111/- 2.0 , l')!):t,
Chromogcnic pmcc~, prim.
l (iO X 181! Clll

those phowgraph s in rhe series rha1 dcpic1 fa~ndes pa,allt.I to rhc picr1Jrcplnne (Fig. 86),
mi~hr bc una logiicd - perver~cly, so ro speak- wi1h ccn:iin works hy C6mnnc? (What
is pcrver,e :ihour the relation i~ summed up in Ruff's remark ro Thomas Wulffen thar
in rhe .rn:hirccrurnl photogr:iph~ "rhe picrurc q:im ;u the heitinning w1chche Ontground.
1hen it has lO go srraighr inro tf1c vcrtic:tl. and then there's a backgrow1d. The re musm'r
be anr1hing d1~turbing in the middle" (961- pred<,cl> the :ireoa of Ch,nnc\ mcm deter-
mined painterly acn\'ity.) Also, that tlu "Stnrs" (Fig. 87), large pho1ogr:iphs made from
ncgm1v<,~of 1he Southern sk)' purchased from an obsenarory, might he unJcrsrood-
again, perverselr - in relation to lmpressiomsm? (N iglu morifs instead of darlig ht ones,
and clc,pite a certai n all-overnc a comp lete:absi:nce of surfaces.) And that the ~ Altered
l'orcr.1ics, tt in whic h rwo fronrnl photographs of cliffcrcmpersons nrc superimposed upon
nm: .ino d, cr, h:ive a v;:igucly Annly[ic Cubisr nir?zo And tht1t the "N udes (J-'ig.88) -
adnprcd from images on pornographic internet sires - hnve something F::rnvc or pcrhnps

,a 1n llaricois chev11e1,111llrn 1abloau lorm 1ho11rns,u11 ilndreas gu,~I v luc i.Jelahave 153
88 Thom.,~ Ruff, 1111des
tl/)14, 2001.
process prinr
with diascc. 11\.1. x I r 2 cm

German cxp rcssionisr about them, :u least as concerns their often garish co lor? Also,
thar rhc .. Machines" recall Leger?Also, thar Ruff's reccni enlarged pixel photos (Fig.
89}, based on blocks of eigh t-b)-eighr pixels chat arc unreadable rcpresenc.11ionnll)'at
dose range but begin m make scn~c at a di~tnncc, recall the poinrillist strncnm: of nco-
impressionism? 11 And so on. I do not ~uggcst chat Ruff himself thinks about chose wries
in such tcmu. or rhnr the associations I have just named arc m be taken ns scriousl>~
that betwct'n the ..Porrmjts" and Manet's paintings of 1hr 186os. Yer, consider these
proposals ns loosely as one wishe<i, there remai ns a measure of sheerly forrnol plousi-
biliry to at leoi.t a few oi them, which I take ro be an indication of the persistence not
only of certain problems of depiction in rhe modern period bur also of the conrcmpo
rary relevance of some of rhe solurions to those probl ems rhar were a rrived nr by the
leadi ng moderni sts of their rimes. Ev(:11the "Newspaper Photogrnph s," based on imngcs

why pho1our11phymatters as art as oev.,, bofore

89 ThomAsRuff,
jpcg 11to2,2 0 06 .
Chromng enic
proces s prinr
w ith dia sec.
242.6 x 1 84.8 cm

dipped by Ruff from newspapers and reproduced twice tbeir size, wirh no
caption or accompanying news sto ry ro specify their meaning, can be related to one of
the cenrral problems of hisrory painting in the second half of the eighteenth cc11t11ry: the
a l canvases by providing the
need co secure rhe instantaneous intelligibility of i11divid11
beholder with advance knowledge of their subject matter (ideally, ;:itany ratc).22 In con-
trast, the absence of ;:iny rcxnrnl frame in the " Newspaper Phocogi:aphs" is meant to
disclose the residual LntclUgibiliry of the images in themselves. F-T.crc roo I 1tm not sug-
gesting that Ruff was awnrc of the hisrnrical resonances of his project. Yet the reso
nances are there, which is part ly why the projcc.:tdocs not see111 merely quixot ic.

Jean-frani;o,s chevne r on the "tobleau form"; thomas ruti . andreas gu rsky, luc de lahaye 155
unday 1rnUers, iiss fd rf
oll crior, o per om, < f dif-

orU1c rmn , 11h

o doub1 l'his h. d

njun tum with th ming

90 nJrca,. Gu und,1) ' Ir ii/er , D,,C'llur(Arr/Wrl, 1~ "hromo c111 p,roce.s.! print. 6 X 6 1 cm

156 v pl oto r ,p n tters a

91 i\ndrt':ls Gursky, Kl,111sc11pass
. 19ll.;. Chromogcnicprocess print. 92 x RI mi

conccnrrarion of the most coru.picuous among rhem on 1he rurplanc ju!.1hfnng off m
chc right of che middle of the picrure (1he "focher~ seared on his bicycle m rhe righr of
the two young boys i~ pcrh::ip~g,ui ng through a pair of binoculars) - coO\'cys the mong
impression char tht.!o nluokers are unaw::ircof rhe phorogrnphcr's prcscncl!(and by impli-
carion rhc viewer's). Thi~ is of course a rn1clirionnl nntirhc:itric:al motif, ns in Chorclin's
S1ttde11t Dr111oi11g,
Yu1111,11, gla nced ar in connection wirh Wall's Adrian Wl(f/kl!r, or Geri-
catilr's R(f(/ of tlie M1!d11 s11:rnd "Adelphi Wharf." Need less ro say, if S,wd ay SlrCJ llers,
Diissdd"rf Airport were unique in Cursky's oeuvre in these respects, ir would scarcely
be worrh 1he :men rion givt:n it- bur dw opposite: is tr ue.
Another work of rbc s.imc y<--ar,K/t11IS{mpass ( 1984: Fig. 91) is of1e11l."itcd ::iscrucial
in hi~ development. According co Gursk), he rook 1hc photogra ph ar 1hc n..-ques[of ::i
companion while ,acatiomng in w111erlnnd.Six momhs l:ucr, when he enlarged the
nt:g,1ti\e,~ Peter G::il.:is_,i
writes, he ~wa, cxcired ro find ~Llttcred acroSl>the land.scape
chc tiny figures of hikers whose prc.>senc1 rhc phorogr::ipher,unlike his camcr::i,hnd failed
to rcgistcr at rhc 1irnc. I le rhus recliscovcrcclone of rhc oldest, simplest, ::imlmost reward-
ing pl1:11s
11res o f photography- rhc pnricnr ddecrnti on of clctnils roo small, too im:idcn-

1ean-lran<;o1schev11e1on 1he "lllbleau tom,. 1ho111nnru1t arid1eas gursly, luc delahavo 157
rnl, or ton overwhelming in their inexhaustible specificity t(>have been noticed, ler al1iJ1~
pondcrcd, at rhe moment of c~posurc" (:?.2. - 3), G;'dassigol's un tu r:cm,uk: "The effoi:t
is ,ill rhe more seductive when, as in Gursky's Kla11se11J111ss, rhe phowgraphcr wasnlr1mdy
remote froin d1e seen<.,wli~,seantlike ,,ctt)r~ crn1set1ue11rlyse,:111 :ill rhe more pttr):lQ$eful
be.:ause bli$sfu1Jyun,,ware of the eye drnt t'egards L.licm"(2';1), All rhis is fine as fhr ~s
ir goc~ hut I w,~ nt ro go farther - by 11nw the reader will have :inridpated me- :tlld
suggesr th:11the tiny tigurt:S'"111 ,<Jfthe eye thar regards them,. aligns:M,/,r11si1
/Jass with nn antitheHtricul csthetic. What in Kla11scnpass gucs beyond St111daySttollers
1s rh,1t.our convicric,.n~s w the riny figures' (Jhlivinusncss tc>bcinJ.(beheld is bas(ll 1w1
on any int11irivnQll our part of their .sccmlng engrossment 11 1 wlrnt 1'11cy are dning (.tlwy
11rctoo mimrte for rhatl, or even 011their uricmation rclatil'I' 10 the camera (it 1)1inlly
rnartcrs \\1bethti.r rht:y are rurned nway from us or not), hue. siinply- more fui)datnen ,
r;illy - of how disranr from the camera they appe11r to be. Tlrn1is, rhe tt:c:h11ology of the
rclephoro lens, !'01?,erher wid, rhc ability of th<'color film co record c:<trcmel)'fineclot11ll
has crwhlcJ the prnd11c:tionof :.1picture in which the hikers and climbers;ross
the hjjjsidr t11cinsrnnrly reeog11ii 1cd hy th!! bd10ldor to be coo for aw:iy tQ be engagi11g
(1hat is, ro have tngN\Cd)in any act of recipt'ocf11 seeing. Eveo more than the slieer fa.ct
of d1stat1C(',rh,s negation qf the very possihilit)' of recipcociry has rbe distfoct effoet of
"severing'' the l111mansubjects, aud i11e.ffccrrhe piL,tt11't\ from rhe beholder, thereby
declaring the picrnre's :mritJ1earricaliry - ,1lso its autonomy Or' self-sttfficic11ty- itl qvln
tcsscintially photographic terms (fl painting wirh co111p arabl)' tiny figttrt'sclisporsed::ieross
a hillside would havv 110l'hiu1-: Jike rhe same i111pt'lrr). -Ll
From chi~11roincr1r,,n, disrn11..:c '' device pl:,ys;:i decisive role in Gt1r$ky's
ns ,l ..se1el'i11g
ltrt. So irn ~"ample in ot.htr woiks trmn rhc r9Sos - tor 1:::rnmp le1 Oiisseldorf, l~hd11
(1985), New Ye,1r'sSttiimmers ( 1.988), ,ind f1sl1em1e11 , Miilh,11 111, l~uhr (:r98?, !Jig.
92} - 1i11yfigures, few or many, :ire seen pursuing lcisurc-scylc acrlv,rics (suubarhirtg,
t:1king a riwnl swim in freezing wnrer, fishing from the banks of rhe Ruhr), and in all
rhrce i111ai;;cs the ,<icwcr11,raspsinstincrivd y thar tlrcrv is not tht! slightest possibilit) th~r
rhc h11mansubjects ar<aware of being phot'Ql,:l'ilpbeJ.A1wd1crfoarut(! bf these w.Otl i.~
thar becomes ;i hallrnnrk of Gnrsky's ar't is rlw w,1y in which rhc vi<,:wcris both led t()
,1pp1oach close in order cu tHseNn precisd) whar is gnittg on 1n tht:rn (Pishemi e.11.
!v!.i//hei111drives tlii~ home be,a us(' of how few Jigll rns ir contains) :rnd rcquieecho s.tand
b,1t:ki11order ro rake in 1he picn.11c ,ls ,1 whoh,;, l~vemually this was-dcSCJ ibcd hy Cu1:sk)"s
.:ommcrn:irorsauJ Gwsk> hinl$C'lfas a double ctt1phosison rhc rnicrosco1,icand r.nacrc)-
scopic 11spccrsof rhc picn1re; as Gursky wrircs in a com:sp(ltldenc1:of r 998,
IMJy pictures really an becoming incre.isingly formal ,111d~bsrract. A visual strltC,ttrne
app(:.irsI'<>Jom in:.ircthe real cvcnis sllbwn 111my pictures. I suhj 11g,llerhe real situ11~
rion co Ill) ' artistic concepr of rhc picture . ... You never 111>ti-:e arbicr:Jryderails ju my
work. On a formal le. el, c.:ou1H lcss i11terrehrrcJ micro and 11111cr(1Stt'Llcni
res al'C/wovtm
mgerhcr, dctcrmi11ed by :rn ov1:1, tll ot'ganls:ul,,nal ,,,i11
ciple. A 0lo~cd microcosm
which, thank s to my ,Hsn111cednrcitudc rnw111d my subjccr, :illows rhc viewer to re.COB
nise dw hin1:1<: $ 1ltat hol<l(he systcn1 togethcr.1''

1!l8 why phn1<>

q1,1iihy mr.nn, ~ 1s Jrt , ,~ 111,11111
91. Andreas Gur$kr. ri5111.'rml!11,
Miilbom, il.d. R1J,r, r9!19.Chromogrnicproces~prim. r-5 x
:.12. cm

These remarks rd er most fully to his pictures of the 1990s (and ::ifrcr), in which
"abst ract" co11 s iclcrntions come increasingly ro the fon.:, hut their relevance to works
such ns 1hosc I have been i.:011 $idcring is also clcnr.
Anol'lwr fcllture of the la1:rer is thnt in a ll of theq11hc phocogrnph has been tnkcn from
:1 point of view loc::m:da r some considerable height nhove the scc.:n csY A four1h picture
from 1hc 1980s, Swi111111 i11gPnol, Rali11ge11 ( 1987; Pig. 93), oae of Gurl.k)", de.fining
works of that decade, exemplifies 1.bcapproac h. Trshows a communit) swimming pool,
shot from above ac an oblique angle ro the horizon. The pool itself, which c,,:tends
beyond the l.-dgcof the picture tu the right. is irregularly ,hapcd, adding co rhe rnrerest
(to me. the shape rccnlb those of Fr-Jnk tella's eccenrric polygon pai111ings
of the 11101.if
of 1966). The water appear; light turquoise, and 111rhe foreground rhe pool is bordered
by a ,,atio of differenr-si1cd ncrnngular ciles. A few dozen swimmers, ,;ccmrngly nll
youn11,disport chemselves in rhc water; orhcrs lounge on benches or ledges or simply
srand :iround; while on 11 large grassy expanse beyond the pool mtmerous sunbath ers
lie on towels or blankets , scand miking, or ot herwise relax . Beyond rhc ;m : trees,
and nhnvc the t rees one glimpses a nanow strip of sky. 0 11c ,nigbr Lmag ine, fo-:cclwit h

Jean han<;o1schttv11 gurs l y, luc d1lahave

t>1011Iha 1/"lbleautorm", thomas ru lt, a11dE'a 159
93 g Poul, Rati11
Andreas Gursky, Swi111111i11- gc11,L9 87, Cbrornogcnic process print, ro7.5 x 13 1 c,n

such a photogra ph in isolarion from any other of his works, that Gursky's inrercst was
al: rhis is how you11 g Gcrma11 men ;;ind women at a certain place and time
rela te ro one anot her a nd to their surroundings with respec.: t to the institution of rhc
pub lic swimming poo l. The macroscopic aspecr would rhen refer ro the institution as
such (and beyond rhar ro the culrnre of which it is a pa rt), the mic.: roscopic to the minute
parti culars of rhc behavior of several dozen individuals. The focr char the latter appear
obliviou s ro th e photo gr.iph er's pres ence would thu s functio n as o Further gu:1ranccc or
the reliability of the picture as a socio logical document. (On ce notic ed, th e coup le who
sit absorbcd in conversation on the second bench from the ldt at the bocrom brings tbe
theme of unawar eness ro a particu lar focus,) There may be more than a grain of truth
i11such a reading, especially as regards various pictures of the 1980s. Howevet', far more
imporrnnt than considera tions of this sort is the viewer's feeling of rc11 rni11in
g wholly

160 why pl1otogrophy rno1tors as an as novor botoro

'JI 1\nc.lrl'.ISGur,ky, 'fokyP Stock Exc/11111,11,,
, 990. Chromugcnic proces~ print. 1 88 x 230 cm rhc pro.ceedrngsthe picture dcp1crs- chc feeling, 111 pur ir srrongly, clut he or ~he
i, M~vcrcd- (from here on, no quoca11on marks) nor 1u~tfrom che doing, uf the swim-
mer~ .1nJ ,unbarhers hut abo from the image itself, whid1 in rhar sense is formall) and
onrologic.111) com1m:hen:.ivc and complete, however radically open to 1inv it m:iy also
he (more on this openness ro view shortly).
1hcr, lirn.:r picnirc by Gurbky, Tokyu Stoel~ xd1,111Re
Or c.:t,nsider :1110 ( 1 yyo; Fig. 94),
seen by Cnlnssi as 111nrkin g :1 new ph:isc in his arc. Fm 011<.:
rhi11g,rhc subjc<.:
[ signa led
a bur!(coning imcrcsr in contemporary themes; for annrh cr, rhe picrurc itsclf introduced
a new "image model," to use Galnssi's phmse, according ro which "t he aloof vanrngt'
point 11mlsmall figurci. pcn.istccl, but chc crowd now filled the frame in a dl'nM: mass
from 1..'Cl&eto t'dgc- (2.ll). (Formally. it was a mo,e tow:ird all-ovcrnC\\.) In addition.
chou~h C,.11:u,si docl>not mcmion it, rhe rrnders' absorption in their rransacr,ons, which
lwrc :md there 1i. fer,cnt bur on the wholt!'tends roward uniformil) J.'>doc., their dress;
more on this 100 inn momenc), quietly underscores rhc l'icwcr'$ conviction rh:u they arc
unnwarc of bemg photo~raphcJ. (So for rhar matter dol '\ 1he blurrin~ of v.1ri<,usfigures
rownrd the bonom of rhc picrurt.'.) Of 1his and stmilnr works - moH hrnndly, of die
" level of nbsrracrion iow:m l which nll of Gu,sky's m:Jrurr picrnrcs iilt'ivc" - Galassi

uan fr.,n, o, hl!!vllt! on the tat loau lorm thom11, ru1, and<e,1s 11urS~'f uc delahave 101
writt:s, 'Th e a in.1is Ni ohlitcrah: the co11~i11
s of perspecrive, so thar the suliject
appears ro present itself wirhour rhe agency or inrerfenmec o( :in observt:r; and to selci:it
ao(l shape the view so that it is not ,1pan or :in as_pcctbm a perfectly sclfconraincd
who le, co rresponding ro a mental pict ure or concept" (30). (l 'his (clares to ~hr998
remarks by Gur~ky a ltcady cited.) Gursky bin'lseHhas s:iiJ , " l sta nd at a dista11ce,lil~e
a person who comes from another wodd," 18and indeed several of bjs cort1mtntato.u ~
have rukcn up the figun: of ''.mother wor ld'' as a means rJf character izing die rypic11J
r<%sto11nrnde by his art .i (Compi1re Schw,tn,for on W~U's Adria11Walker.) Yh 1\0
one has been quire as emphatic as Galnssi in rhe pe11nlc imare paragrnp h of his catalogue
cs~iiy,whcrc he writes:
The diverse currenrn that Aow into Gursky's wor k cm..rgc a~ tbc co hcrt n~ p icture of
a world. 'r'here is no place for us in that wo rld. Banished from its com1J1and iag, sym
metFies, we iuc consig ned to contempl ate its wholeness from witho ut. We ni >W .sru(ly
its derails :ir our leisure. We may be begL1ilec l or repelled by the goxge.ous spectacle.
Wt rmw ,marvel at its scn.)1 1c imliffcl'cncc. We m,iy cvcn. eli:ct <)urselvcs to slt in judg-
Jnent upon it 1 but we will never become pai:ticipanrs. l,p ,111'
011ct'agai11 I w,,m io dr.1wan obvious implicacio n from Gafassi's remarks, t1ne he seeOJ'.
not r'\) rc:cognir.,: is there-- but of C()11r~c Gursky ru<>may not recog1)i7,Cthat rhis is the
o nwlogical implication of his procedures- namely rhar the metaphor of a1wuhcr, St!pa
r;1tc world, a wor ld rhnt' has norhing to do with the l'icwcr, from which he or .sheis,
effec;tively banis hed, is ;:ir1 annth eatd c.1] mwiphor pcrEe~ ,ly con$istcrit with [)1clC[(lt's
writings l)n thea Ler and pn_inting and, more IOl)sd y, with 111yc1irique of minirnalisn,/ [i,r.
esalism in ''Art ~UldOb]ecrhoocl'i (nor t6 menti on WlttgenstcU1'sextr(ld of 1930). Tris
aL50,l have sugge~ted, wbar is mode visible in different terms in the strnngest of Stturh1s
111u ~eum photographs, which otherwise have almost n0thi11gi11con1111 cm wirh Gur$k- y's-
work . Put more stl'()nglt - these are my views now, noc Galassi's - I see Glll'sky's bi~hly
inventive and original OC'11v re, likr,:those of Wa ll <1ndSrrnrh, as 111>1rkin
g a rcsumpli(ln
not so much :ifter as across a minimalist and pOHminlm,1listinterregnum, of rne andthe
Mdca l impccus, first, of the Didc1otii111 tradition chat Aourished berween about 17ss
irnd the advent of Man et jnst over n centur y l;1tcl', and second, of the pa rricuhir version
of that tt11tlitio11- the r0it1tctpretntio11 of it - that issued in the high rnodetJlist painfing
and s.,;uJphU'cof the 1950s and ' 6os ch.amp:ioned in '' Arr and Objcctbood" and relattd
essays. J sholl have more to sny a hour the histo rical developlilenr such a reading implies
Jarer {lll in this book. However, t am 11ot )'Ct clone .ca11va.ssing the fei1tures of Cvrsky's
art that tend wward end.
So fa r l h,wc mnched on rhc unawareness of's l111rn~n suhject.,<:tohcing beheld;
0 11 hL~ pent hrinr for viewing them frClm behind (Gursky ro Gomer in 19Q8: ''I believe
rhat thcrc'$ a lsfJ a Ct:rrnin fpnn of i1bstn1c1 io11in mr e11rly hmdscapes: for CKn mplt::, l
often show hurnan ngur es from bd1ind and thus th e lambcape as ohsc:rved 't-hl'o~1gh
a second lens" I1xl); on his ob~ession with disrnnce (ft0111the same cor:responde11c e:
"Th e camera's enormo us distance from these ti~ures 111 ea11s that they become dc-
iJ1dividualised" ID:JJ ; and t,n his preference for views frnm above. ln this last con11ec-
tiqn, G,1lassi's ncutc tlbservntion q11ott:d c11rlicr th:H ch11ractcrisricnlly seeks "ti)

oblii:erate the c nring n i s of perspective, so time the subject appear tt> pr s nt its If
without the flg n y r int rference of an obs rver" should h stressed; os Rupert Pfab
pllt s it, "be cau w n vcr g t to . c wh ere the phorographer is lo atecl, the act of sc ing
is. expressly emphasized. ".1 1 T he crucial point, with which l ag.ree, is that for all their
unu ualness with respect to what is nnrmaHy thou he of ;l po'nt of view, ti l'. :"l{_t ual
cff ct of many of Gursky's pic:tmes is somd1ow to divest the laue1 con ept f implying
an ucttrnl l catio - a parti ulaf pol rllLll:was o upi d physi ally by H1 pholograp her
and char we as view r ar - I d to q upy imaginativ ly in wm. A sp ta ular cas' 111
p<Ji11ti, Sai,imo (1990; Fig. 9 ), 1 e f -ur l y's fin st works a p::lnurn mic-. c m ing view
fr m a on i<lerabl h igh1 of :m a tiv porL, wirh thoL1 and of au om biles ano -hip-
ping 1~,t , lined up al ng the docks, ' vcral ships w;i iting ro be loaded or offloaded,

._5 An Ir a ,ursl .y Sa!u11 , r990 . Chrorno genic 1n-octss print . r 88 x 21. 6 cm

Je,n fr nr,oi clie vrier u11Lhe " L1c1

IJlea11form". 1hornas n1H, .inclreas gu rsky, luc delahaye 163
{, mJ l',l" ( ,ur~~ , fl l'I fo r, I ~ I, Chrim111~
11i rr "' I rint. l ,4 i..2.(, , il'1

16'1 Nhy ri111109rAphv m t r ,1. 111as 1cvor h lore

9~ Aodrc:1~<..ursky, Atl1111ta,nN6, Chromogenic proce;.\ pnnt. 186 ><i56 cm

n:m-J but also "holly unfettered gaze. hoth di)tanced and inr.imau:. With the elision of
both photogrophcr and viewer ai. implicit perce1m1al.1nchors, the picture i\ free ro
pursue truly "absunct" end~, whe re "abstrac tion'' \tands not simply for 1ht subordi-
nation of subject martcr ro compos itional principles, nor for ,1 r:rnge of formnl nnalo-
gics herwccn indjvidual picnircs :111dwell-known works of a hsr.n1c1 pninring and
sculprurc, bur rnthcr for the picrurc's exclusive prcoccupntion with irs own " inner"
purp oses, whatever they mny he.:- nnd they arc most ofwn heterogeneous, 111i x('(I. (All
this might be tho ught of as ;i rad icnlizarion of the tobc-sccnness cliscussccl ln previous
drn prcrs.)
At thi~ pninr I wane to com ment briefly on seven aJdinonal featttrcs of Gursk)"s pic-
tures bear din.'Ctl}'on Ill) ' ba~ic daim that they. ,long with the work of Woll, Struth.
Sugimmo. ,1nd Bus-urnnnre (I am e>.empting Sherman ap.irr from her carlill~t so:rie!>), a!>
well as other phorographcrs scill 10 OCdiscussed. hclung t0 a renewed nnd re\iscd
anr.itJleJtrknl rradirion.
1) Theomost obviouslr relevant of those fcarurcs 1s Gur.k) \ mcrcasmg recourse, starr-
ing in the early 1990s, to digitall)' hi~ images, a process that has rcsulred
in a nnmlwr of his most famou~ "orks, i11clucli11gParis. Mo11tpamnsse( 199 3 ), Pradt1I
(1996; Fig. 96), Atla11ta( 1996; Fii;. 97), Untitled V ( 1997), Chicago Bot1rd 11(Trade
es Squme ( 1997), ond J{hi11eJJ ( 1 y99; Fig. 98). The extent of thl' manipu
( r 997), T1111
lation vnrics from work co work, b111 in all c,1ses rbcn: is n cnnsequenr loosening of the

joan fra11~01scho11rloron tho "tableau wrm" 1horn, 1s ruff. ondreas g,trsky luc dt!l.i~av, 165
q' nd G11 ~L. R#mre " I.,., . mmog m. rr . rrim. 1.07 36 111


or ju m ired , r t
\ h Ji 11 ,m f ~o . u h pl:marion 'h. t matrl'r!. t m ar~\1111 nt,
hor e e i th.n rh fC/i.l!ltingimagei- or' imrin i all f1 t, ar I . t n t in rhd ntir ry
rl r c:or I of il!l thing thn1 m id have I n een in the r al wor l 11 :1 hum:111
ob:, ,. ,r
or in fo d a me fl.mi al r rding i11s1rumc rH; rhc luos ning,of inidci a lit i rn ;ur 'ky"a
c 1uh, lcnr f n e er-in f' h any rigin. r)' p r ptu el

ncl t11r ; in

99 Andre,,~ Gur~ky. llappy \ i.11/1')'
I, 1995. Chromogcmc process pnnt . 2:!.6 x 186

Scl,iol (d:1tcd r99 4 but phorogrnphcd c;irlier), art empt y runwa y is seen throug h
a floor-to-ceiling gin.~ wall, presunrnhly in a waiting area (the slightly blurred toil of
an nirliner can just be glilllpscd exiting cbe picmrc at rhe extreme right. and 1herc ace
also faint rcflccnons of the waiting are:i itself m rhe gianr glass panes); and in Happy
V1dl1')'I (1995; Fig. 99), a view of Hong Kong, :rn urban land~cape is seen from an ele-
vated vantage poim through a currainlike metallic scri1:n,which significnmly is in shaq,er
foc11~than nny orhcr item in the picture. Thc11there is che spccrocula r Aut obnh'II,

rean 1ranc;o15chev11or on the 1all,f'.l11uform. thomas roll, arid,eas gursky, luc delanJve 167
~ . --

--~~ -

1 oo AnclrcnsGursky, A11tobnlm, Mc//111,11111, 19y3 . Chrnmogenic process prinr. 186 x i.:i.6cm

M ett11u11111 Fig. 1 oo), a Strongly downw ard view onto a field dott ed wirh black-
and-whire cows; the horizontal bands ,,r e stripes " painted on the glass siding [of the
autobahn overpass! to mark its presence and w discourage drivers froni being overly
distrncrcd by rhe landscape'' (Galassi, 37) - hence the b:rnds' subtle narrowing and dark-
ening tow:1rclthe bottom of the i111 :1ge. The severing effect of the hands, and more gen-
erally of the viewer's uncertaimy as to how 10 understand his or her implied siruation
(loo king downward through the ).llasssiding), could scarcely be more emphatic. 1r, There
are also two impressive picmn.:s of buildings: Hon g l( ong 1111d SINmghai Bank, Hong
L<o11g ( r994), a night scene with numerous workers visible in their illuminated offices,
and B1111d estag, Boun ( r998), a view through glass windows down inro the parliamen-
tary chamber, where :;omcthing large!)' unreadab le is takin).Iplace (many members of
the Hundcsrag arc srandins or walking while od1crs are scared). In the la1te r work, too,
we gradually become aware of what seems to be an inverted rdl ecrion of tht procecd-
iugs row:1rdthe cop of the picrure - bur there is 110 "rcalisric" scen:irio that could accounr
for this, which tells us that once again we arc in the presence vf digital manipulation

i8 w hy photograptl y maHers as an as nove, before

1o I Andreas Gursky, Stnle11ill
e, llli11
ois, :z.002. , Chro111c c process prini. 2.08 x 307 cm

(nnd fur ther ems us loos e from rhe sce ne as such). Perh aps Gurs ky's mo sr ex trem e state
men t in this vein is the more rcccnr State-ville, Illinois (2.0 02. ; r ig. r o r ), a picture of the
panopricon -like interior of a prison, in whi ch th e se verin g of the viewer from th e pr is-
oners, some of whom can be seen in their cells, is all bur Litera lly spelled out, (There is
not a hint of voyeurism in tbe::se:: las t images; th e picwrc's point of view, if itc, in he called
diat, is in no w ay privileged: what is seen ofthe o ffice worke rs is perfectly ordinary, rhe
actions of che members o f the Bundestag an: pretty rnm:h incompn::hensiblc, aud chc
viewer is given no more rhan pa rtia l glimpses of th e priso ners. T hat so me of che pris-
on ers seem poss ihl.)' awar e of rhc phnt og r;.iph cr, c,r at :my rat e of the presen ce of som eon e
in di e imp lied ce ntrn l space, is not felt to estab lish a con nection betw ee n the view er a nd
th e scene as a w ho le.)
3) Gur sky 's use of what Ga lassi ca lls th e diptych form is also to th e point . Class ie
example s includ e Cairo Diptych (1992.), Schiesser (1991), and Hong Kong Stock
Exchange, Diptych (1994; Fig. 102) . Galassi also im:lu<lcs in this catcgor)' certain single
images made fro m rwo "o riginal" nn es w ith rhe aid of digit:il ma nipular io n, such as

1e,rn-lra119ois chevrier on 1110"tab leall lon n' ': thom as ruff, andreas gur sky, luG dolahaye 169
d,, 1 -Ii hrum cni ~ p oc ,; pmn.

ro ((11 ;,,~ /I IJ,: liutt m ) m. i,roc rrmt. :r.o lli :rn

). Hon

t si rnHi-
_\ p.oin, rhL i n m,u c :iml h 11ful hm ir stop h rt f pcd ying tit 11lri111a
of Gursky's inv ndm,: Lh w, y i1, whi h rhc li.nal Jipt h ,ib. olu I ,rcr chc

70 w v p'1010g p w m, n rs n.. ,ll I I' n vor t !0 1e

TO-! I 11Jr 'J , I i.:n
4) Iii many of Gursky's pil:tures pe<>ple are shnwn nb~<.)rb cd in whM they ;ire doing
(Ind h;;:1ic ,:e as 11uawa rc of rlw presc11 ce of die photograp lwr (and by implicarion the
viewer). I norcd versions of this ln cad)' works s uch as Sm1dcl)' Str()flers, Diiss<'- ldl.?r(
Airport, J1is lrcrm,m, Miilheim 11;.d, Ruhr, a.nEI Sw immin g Poo l, J{atingen (see Figs, 90,
92 , 93 ), bnt b eca use the figures in the 6rst a i:e depit:tcd from behind a nd those in the
sc<.:t>i1d nnd third Fro111a .considerable di stal 1ce (also from above), the theme of absot p
tion bai:ely comes .1cross as s uch. lt is mlu 'C palrahl ,y present in W<1tks suoh as 1bllyo
Stoel~Ji,xdwn,11. e (J.990), Siemens, Kailsruhe (J99 i; Fig. 105 ),. ri w 1J1mi
ssio11cdirnag\: in
wl1icb one s1.:cst1urneruus workers scMcd at tables nmid t1'<1lleys, rec:1 s, working m::1t eri-
11ls, .ind supply cribles spiraling frorn tl1e c:eiHng, and Nha 7iw ,g, Vietnam (2004; Fig.
106 ), :1 verri.:al c~m1posirio11 , slwr typically from 11hovc, of a large, o pen focmry inte
rior in which a few hun~lred Vietnamese wom co in orange company shi.r ls sil o r squat
on the grom,d weaving ch~1irs 1u1d ha~kets out of smiw. Ln rhe Jasr 0 these, only one
.f:igtLrels $h0\VIJ apparently look iJJg up row:.ird rhc c:rnwr:i (she is by 11< ) mea1\s easy tO
fiml); rhe <~rhers are all benr upon their tasks, an ostensllily antitheatrical structl 1re of
an almost dasska l sort. (Wi,:sense, Joukirt.g nr the Nh ,1 Trnng picture, rhat it bas been
digita lly nhmipufoted, though we do nor koow how - a fomilhlr t'xperiencl< before
Gursky's irnagco.) What I w;rnt ro srress,, however, i.~ 1ha1absoiprion in Gursky is co11 -
s.i'sreL1 ech,1t1ical; nowlwrc is it pcrwi vt:d m imply rhc least. inw::irdness or " IIJc"' or 111
psyc.hi, d~prh ou dw p:1r1of his human subjeccs.37 'J'his is particularly evi dem m Siemens,
Rarliii'ihe:fnwiilch- thc workers, alr.hough by no means 1,iddcn from sight, 11re easy ro
-miss- Oilce seen, mor eover, .they are hard ro keep in view as active fo<.:torsin the c;om-
pC)sirion. fostead. rb:ey blend i1Jtuthe mnchinery, ..1.s if part (>f it.1~ In Nh t, Trang, Vietnam
the visual cmp ha$iS, i11.die a bsence of mad1inery, foils on cl1e women, but their s he er
m 1111ber , the repctitl.ous ness of their uniform shiits and black pooytai ls, as well as tbe
view from above, have a s imi lady lhtteniJ1g: effet: r, as du es the division o f the co,opn
sition luru J1orizoural r.um1s by ii sll(;Cc~siou of wi1es c~rrying flmwescenr lighting. lr
mighr therefore see111 thl 11k of Gursky "~ seeking to u11derscorc rhc dchu-
rn,111i ,1spcc1:sof certain forms of work/' but J rhink this would be <ff-key. Instead
I take his flnttenin~ 0f ,1bso1'ptiun to he ll noth cr of the consi~tcnc}' with which his
~-rt ni~ists or indeed. repudiat es all identification by the viewer with dw huma n ~uhictts
of his im;:igcs- th(: projcer of si:vering call~ for not hing less. A relared theme is that of
the ~eparotc wo rld of animals, as in Chidw1.s , Kr.cfeld (J.98y), ,i srraighrphutugroph .oF
chickeris .and roosters in a largl' f..:nc;1,: J yal'J, ar1d Gredey (2.002), an aerial view of a
vast grid of open pens cu11tainJng hundr eds of h ead of cattle; sw.:h 1111i111als ill Gursky's
art appcc1r imn:11.: rscd in 1'11t:i'r
lives even rnure flatly :rnd non-1:01111m1nicatingly than -rhe
~;em~ns workers.
5) For SlHnt: dni, : now co111 111cntaw rs o n Gursky's ar r hnve noted his interest in .sub-
jects - s uc:1 1 as rlw Sienm1s plllnr :xt K~rlsn,hc, t)1c Tokyo, Chic:xgo, ,;n1dHon g KoHg
swck c.,x c hanges, che Hon gko ng and Shanghai B,mk building in Hon g Kong, and the
coo lly lit mod ernist shelves lined with PrndHshot:s or Nike .rneake rs - rhat he.long to the
social and econo mic phenomenon known as .glob<1ti zation. As in tlw .:,1~(of his 1.1
Sc of
Jii,itiiMi~l.n, I ha\ <t:noth ing ro aJJ except co say LhJt this mo tits-my larger thesis. "The

,05 nJI"\: i11r-.' ... rn

uh1r:i.:.t - tbc Tok

p m 1lar pl e m

, or, J\ndr~~~ Gursky, Nim Trf/11)1,\licl11n111
, 2004. Chron,oj:\cllic prncess prim , l\l ,~ x 107 c 111
(above arid {acing page)
10 7 Andreas Gur ky, Stockholder Meetiu , Diptych 2.001 . Chromogenic proce s prim . Eacb pll.11el
18 x 2.59 cm

Diptych (2.oor Fig. ro7) a monumenta l double image in whi h group of co rporate
leader from ome of G rmany ' large t corporations it at long table or dai e th at are
pre ented a if uspended in front of or partly upporced b an immeose mass of granite
o ered with snow, At the bot:tom of the two images an odd ly spectra l audience unfor-
nmately turned away from the viewer, look up roward the heights. T he logo of the
corporations (Luft hansa, Daimler Chry ler Bayer, Volk wagen iemens, and so on) Aoar
aga inst the ky while the nam of all tbe ex cutive appear before the lat ter on plagues.
Not urpi:i ingly perhaps Stockholder Meeting, Diptych wa one f the few utrighr
failures fn Gur ky' retro pe ti e exhibition f 100
6) Or consid r a ingle enigmati work, U11titled Xll (r) ( 1.999; Fig. I08), a doe-up
photograph of a page of printed German prose. The page is "from' a famous book 1
Robert Musi l's unfinished masterpiece Der Mann ohne Eigenschaft.en (Th e Man without
Qualities r92.3-42), a book already mention ed in connection wich Bu tamance
Tableaux in Chapter One and v hicb, in more than one re pect mak e intriguing reading
in relation to recent photography; fore ample ici easy m imagine rhe appeal to Gursky
(or to Thoma Demand, whose work will be di en sed in Chapter ine) of the title of

176 why pholo~ranhy mat ers as art as never be ore

n in \olwm: 1 . r ud reali : P

merely , - \ .
cry fe v m mhe of hi t r et u ien e ould have
<lfeared hi purp e by rumin che pag into r,i h rl. mar ri I rr, - c - no ev rin
the re! A do . er relatio n ro adin wn therefo r n ded whi b i why Gursk y took th

en anQO vrie o u for o as ruff. an ea gurs uc det l\ave 77

10 R .'\nrl, a lm,l y, 11/itlcd
steps that he d id. Thus r.hc Germa n (or German-reading) viewer - the work's implicil'
audience - who start s o ut reading che page will find himself or herself subtly bur repeat-
edly alienated from it: .is if t he force field of reading was not co be undone bu1 o nly
subver ted, or as i.fGucsky's aim i1J rhjs instance was a kind of severed reading rhar con-
tinuously compelled the viewer to rent:gotiat e his or her relation to the page, and thereby
tO rhc picture. ) The absence of all proper names from Gursky's fabrjcared page is a
further gesrure in this direction, as if mrn,es as sucb threatened to pr ovide occasions,
however rninimfll, for rcadcrly idencification. More bwa d ly, che ta d ically iron ic, hcm:c
a ffectively clistanciJ1g, to ne of M usil's novel - o r at any rate of its first cwo sections (more
tban seven hund red piigcs in the English tra nslation),
before the introductio n of the prot agonisr Ulrich's
ro9 Barnett Newmun, O n e11ie111 1 , 1948. Oil on
sister Agath e, with whom he engages in an extraor canvas ,rnd oil on masking tape on canvas. 69.2. x 4 1.2
dina ry (a nd for the mosr part non-physical) love c111.The Museum of Modern Arc, New York. Gift of
affair - made T/Je Man wilh Oul Q uali ties the perfect Ann alee Nc w rn:ll1, 199 1
object of such an cx-periment. 44
7) One more topic remains 1:0 be touched on, the
1elation ol: Gursky's pictures ro abstract pa incing and
sc11lpt11re. This too has been exhaustively discussed
by his comrncnrntors, who have repeacedly called
a ttention to certain obvious associntions: for
examp le berween Gursky's penchant for a ll-overness
in works such as Toky o Sto ck Ex change, Klitschko ,
and Chicago Hoard of Trade (among other images)
a nd Jackson Po llock's all-over drip pa intings of
194 7- 50 ; between Uulitled 1 ( t 993 ), a picw~e of the
gray carpc1 on rhc gro und floor of the DLisseldo rf
Kunstha lle taken from a heighL of :ibou1 two and a
half feet nncl Gerha rd Richter's gray monochro me
paintings of r 96 8 and afrer; between l'rada I and
even more Prada 11 ( i:997), a la rgely digital!)' pro -
duced image of three empt )', white, coldly illLU n i-
nated display spaces "s tacked " one a bove the other,
and va rious minimal sculptur es (more accurately,
"s pecific objects") by Donald Judd ; and between
J{hi11e fl (see Fig. 98) , in which a computer was used
to remove unwa nted structur es on rhc for side of the
river and so yield the relatively a bsrracc image we
sec, :ind Barnett Newman's O nem enl I ( 1 948; Fig.
109 ). Other works by Gursky, such as Times Sq11are
and /-/011g Kong Stock Excha nge, Dipt ych (see Pig.
ro:i.), are inconceiva ble without the precedent of
amb itious (a nd I wou ld say American) a bstract
painting of the lace r9 4os and after. 111;idclition

1s cllevrier011the ''ta bleau fo 1m 1' , I homos 111ft, Rndrnas g11rs~v.luc de lalrnye

1nanfr11nG0 17S
tirm t 19


rs a
111 Andre:~s (;ursky, 1r<mt.. St 1\llori tz, 199 r. Chr omogcnic pmccss p1:in t. 175 ,5 x
l{ i:s1111
20 5.5 cm

cured, almost poincillisr-seeming surfaces c.:ompan:ck>scly wiLhthe bncto11Ho-cop,lighr-

co-dar k perspective recession - 11lso the rexwr ed charncter - of the ciirpeted Aoor in U111 :i-
1/ed I. (Con1p,1risons with Olil's ki arc also gcr111 ,1nc for Untitled II LT993J ;,ind Untitled
I I l I r996j.) Mor e broadly, the uncompromising fronraliry of many of Gursky's pictmcs,
including chose, like rhe Prada images, char are rourinely linked wirh minimalism, recalls
norhing so much as the sheer abstrnct facingness of Louis's ''Unfurlcd s," ii quality inti-
mately linked co wh,H in '' Art :ind Objccthnod " I call their presentness (as oppo sed to
the theatrical presence of the minimalist/literalist object). I leave it to the reader to decide
whether between Louis's " Unfurleds" - for examp le, Alpha-Pi (196 0; see Fig. 41) - and
Gursky's Atlanta and Times Square there exists ,1 further affinity of co111 positio11.
8) Finall)', a few senLences abo ur a pborogra ph unlike any other in Gursky's oeuvre,
Restaurt.1 , St Moritz ( 199 1; rig. 111), ,l strnighrforward, Fairly close-range depicrion
of families and young people se.ued ar wooden rabies in a dining hall at the famous ski
resort. Hcyond the diners, many nf whom have only a glass of beer o.r n borrle of soda
in front of them, arc what one takes to be soaring windows - in c.:ffccta glass wall inter-

1e11nfranco,s chevr ler on tho "tab leau lorm"; 1homas ruff , andreas gursky, luc de lahaye 181
spersed with metallic supporcs- floodcJ witb feuturclcs~ white lil,1111 , a ra< hl,mk-
ness, one presumes from rt snowy s..:ene outside. Or rather , a~ C.riqui wri tt's, ~The
outside. whic;h can surely he asswned to he extremely clnsc by and visually acce~sihle,
doe-.n'l extst. ~ 1 rake it lhat 1his is Gursky's point - char .in tbi,, lone msrancc the )CV
crinA chm is hasic ro ht~ an rakes place JIM rhe other side of those windows, which is
tO say-that rhe photog r apher and therefo re the viewer share a co mmon Isolation wirh
1hll people ,11the tables, nfmQsr nil of w hmn, as Criqui also notes, chnratteristically
;-pp~ar ob livious l'O the!rh orographers presence.47

l uc Oelahayc, born in 1962, is a Fre11d1photographer who began his career as a photo-
journalist. in p.irricular a war pborog.rapher for Ncwsueck :ind s'lmilar poblicarions, and
wem on co cnJO)' grear su..:cessin char field, wiomng the Robert C.1pagold medal rw1ce
(in 1993 and 100:1.) and che l'rix Nierct- (in 2.002.). At some po int in the eady 1990s,
however, he hcgon co cbofc nr the cons1r11intsof pborojoumalism and to explore various
arti~tic possibilities for which there were no precedents in w.hat he hnd hitherco done.
SP for example he made (0 1 had made) a series l)f piccutes 1)f homeless Parisi:111S by
:isking c,tch tti have his vr en her photc1b'TRph rake1t :tlnnc in a photo bom:h while Dela-
hnye deliber:udy looked .swny.This led to a further proiecc, a seri!.'l> of hlack-aml-whue_
port.rairs mollt.!un the M1:1rowirh a hidden camera. A ~dt.'Ctiooof chcsc, ninery in an,
were published ;15 a book with the utle L'Autre in 19~9. Stlll :1nmhcr project in,olvecf
tr.iveling for four mo111h~during the winter of t996 from Moscow to Vladivostok, and
phorographinl! in garish color people living ruosdy ~llfr)' lfves in squalid conditions; a
hook ga1.heri11gn selection nf chose phot M, Wi11te11 cisL',came out in 2000.
I ~hall bi:it!llyconsider ~he Me.ere,pnrrrnit s in L'A11tr11 i11com1ecl'io11with rht' problc.m.1
tif ..:bnteJUporar y porrra il photography In Chapter Seven, hue I wanr here Lo say some-
rhi11gabout Odahaye's l(ltust venture, a :.cries of mostly vanoromic, (roughly
eighr by four foet) color phmog(;lphs of subjects mken from the im:ige repertoire of
photojournalism buc rrc-.1tedin a manner that could nnt diverge further from photo-
journa li\11cnonn:,. The earlu:st work:, of this fY!k from 1.001; ~incc then he has
made onl) ' a limired numhcr of photogr:iphs that meet rhe ~-tan dards he has ser for
him~clf (an exhihition ar La Maison Rouge in Pari~ in late 1.ooscomprise d only ,cven-
rccn works). ~H
As this dcscrlprio,, S1)ggcsrs, whoc_Dd 11haye bas do1Hi11bis 1Jew pmje-:r is play subject
marter ag;1ins1format ,rnd nll thar goes wi1h it. Thus he seeks ~ubjecrs of il sort rhttt
would ordinnrily belong ro nis e::1.rlicrprncricc as a phoro/ournalisr- a dead T.ilil>an
fi~hrer lying in a Jirch O,:ig. 1 t?.), the bombing ofTnlihan positmns m Afghani,mn br
nn American 1\ -sl. (fig. 1 13 ). a squad of Northern Alliance Fighrer$ :idvane1ng m J
mountainous l:ind~cape, the Jcnin Refugee Camp on the \Xlcsr l\nnk after ..:omh::it
bccween rhc Jla lcsrinian&and the Israelis (Fig. r 14). Slobodun Nrtlusevicabout ro he ll'ie.d
in The Hague, :i unit of American M ;irines warily standing guard in front of a p;irtly
destroyed building in a suburb of Baghdad follr day~ heforc rhe city was taken (Fig.

why pho109r11phym:mer as art a& never belore

1 12 I ,ll C Delahaye, 1"a/iba11,
2001. Digita l chro mogcnil: pro cess prin t. 11 1 x z; 7 c 111

1 1 5), the Sccurit)' Council at rhe U N 011 the occasion of Colin Powell's speech claiming
thar Traq possessed weapons of m;iss destruction, and a "power" lunch hosted by Pervez
Musharrnf, President of Pakistan, with the American finnncier-philanthropist George
Soros among his guests, at the Wor ld Economic Forum in D::ivos, Switzerland in 2004
(Fig . .n6), co name eight. But instead of shooting eacb at dose range with a lightweight
hnnd-bekl camera in pursuit of highly dr,1matic, compositionally arresting, a_ndinstantly
lcfl,ible frngmems of la.rger situat ions - the phot ojournaliscic norm - he emplo)'s pcrso11-
alized, large-format, frequently panonimic camerns in order co include vast!)' more of
che scene before him in terms both of lateral extension and of sheer quantity of visual
information. Also, by print ing his photographs at large scale, he ensures that, at normal
viewing dist,ince, that infonmition comes close to enveloping rhe viewer. For rhe mosr
part he works with individual phorographs, tho ugh in two instances - the Musharraf-
Soros lunch and a much less orderly scene of a press conference at a meeting of the
OPEC oil ministers in Vienna - he digitally combined different aspects of multipk shots

taken from a single vantage point, shifting figures from one part of the composition to
anothe1,substitutin g gestures, eliminating unwant ed persons and objects, a11dso on, co
arrive at the final images, which looked at closely give no indication of having been
T he pho cographs that resulr, as Quencin Bajac has renwrked, invcJlvc fl balance of
opposing forces.49So for example there is in all of rhem a strong sense of distance, even
wirhdrawal , on the part of the photograp her; in more tha n half, the dista nce is literal
(it is striking, for instance, how often one's gaze extends to the far horizon); in oth er

Jea n- I ranc;ols chevrie r on the " tab leau ror111":Lhomas I u II, andra as gursky, luc clolRhaye 183
1 13 Luc Delaha ye, U.S.80111/Jiu
g 1111Tolib1111
(' osi ti <J11$, 200 1. Chromogcnic process prim. , 1 z x 2.38cm

works in which rhe primal'y sul>jccr is 1t1oreproximate what comes aCl'()SSis a srrong
impression of deliberate 11on-eng:1gcmenr, not, one feds, in the inreresrs of rcperrorial
"o bjcctiviry" so much as in pursuit o f an artisric - ultimately an onto logicnl - ideal or
allowing the picrurc in all irs densiry both or reference and of color ro come into being
as if of its own accord. "T here is :i real ambiguity," Delalrnyc has said, "I am cold and
clt;rached, su fficicmly invisible because sufficiently insigniRcanr, and rbat is how I arrive
nr a full presence to rhings, and a simple nml direcL relation to the real. That idea, in
my work, is central. ,,~o This me.ins thaL the viewer quickly becomes aware that a basic
proroco l nf rhesc images rules our pn.:dsely rhe sorr of fears of close-up capture - of fosr
moving events, exrremc gesturt:s a nd 1:111otion s, vivid momcnrnry juxrnpositions of
persons and things - rhnr Ont.!associates wirh photojournali sm :it its bravura best.
RaLhc:r , the phot ographs in their sheer breadth aml det:iil extend :in invit:uio11ro rhe
viewer to approac h closely, to peer intently ac one o.r another portion of rhe picrorial
field, in short w become engrossed or indeed immersed in prolonged nncl inrimntc con-
rc111pl.uionof all Lhnrthe image offers 10 be seen. At che same rime, the viewer is given
<rnly rhc lll t)St 111inima
l indicatious of where to look. Unlike ti photojourna listic image,
which is effective only insofar as ir makes a sin~lc vivid point, Delilhaye's panoramic
pictures in their richness and complexity - a lso, in a manner of speakii1g, rhcir simplic-
ity and muteness - leave the viewer co shift for himself or herself: in the photograph of
the dead Taliban fighter, ro not ice, !'(1 be disturbed by, the single piece of straw lying
across thl.!m::in'sfoce; in LIS B0111b i11
g 011'/'tlliban l'osi tfons, ro try to connect the a lready
dispersing cloud of smoke hovering in the air tow:1rd the picture's middle wirh any dis-
tc rnible target from which ir might have ,1rise11(also to look tlo sely at the much more

why phOIO!J1aplly 111t1

lte 1s ;is art as 11ever before
cr4 Luc Dda huyc, Ja11i11 ,:ec Camp, 2001 , Chromoi.cnic pro cess print r t r X 2J9 cm

115 Lui: Dclnhnyc, llll .~l1darl II, 2.003. Chro111ogc

11ic colCJ
r prinr. 11 1 x 240 cm
, 1t, Luc Dclnhnyc, A Lun cb a1 th e Belvarferc, :r.004. Digital cl1ro11
1ogcnic process print. 1J 5 x 2 9 0 c 111

distant explosions off to the right); in Jenin Refugee Cam/) to try to grasp the relation
of the hnlf-demolishcd camp to the peaceful-seeming distant landscape in which it rests;
in Baghdad LI to perceive the Marines' anxiety and to wonder as they do (but nor exactly
"with '' rhem) from which direction danger is likely to come; and iu A Lun ch at. the
Belvedere w recognize Mush:1rr:1fand Soros and then by empathic looking ro "activate"
the discreet but palpable dramn mking place berwc<:n chem (Musharraf speaking, his
left hand conveying a ccrrnin tension, Soros looking down with an almost wirhdrnwn
expression l'IS he fingers something on the rnblccloth, the fact that Soros of all those at
the rnble docs not wear a tic, the complementary impression of contai11ed energy in
Musharraf, and so on). This in turn is why the viewer tends ro feel, at least mornen-
rnrily, that d1c dernils he or she comes to invest with significance arc discovered by him
or her rarher drnn delivered personally by the photographer. Yer because rhe viewer also
knows that this is nor the case, the cumulative effecr of those derails is ro underscore
the aura of arr. (Art of a different sort came additionally into play in the 111:ik
ing of the
Davos fum:h and 0 11,c meeting plwtographs, l'IS already mentioned.)
An obvious rerm of comparison is with rhc rcconstrucrive "n ear documentary"
csthctic of Jeff Wall. Even more telling, perhaps, is the conrrnst between Dclaliaye's
panornmic pictures and the work of Gursky, whose large-scale and often fonrasticall)'
derailed images put a similar premium on sheer visibility bur which, I have rricd ro show,
are deliberately and ingeniously severed from any corporeally iouiginablc relation ro
photographer or viewer -so mething that, in my experience, is not at all true of Dcla-
hayc's images. More precisely, distance in Gursky tends ro be ~bsolute, nor, as in Deln-

186 why pl1otog1aphy niatte 1s as art as never befo10

hnye, the dialectical other to proximity and immersion, a proximity and immersio11th:;it
in the tirst il.1stanceis thaL of the phorographc;t hfo,sc:lf. 1.n Ddah.aye's words:
I wam to show the evenr at the very morncnr it hikes plai;:e.... My. body musr be
1111chc)rcd to the ground and to seek rhe best point of view, without a ny.visual taboos .
Bur then, at the beart of rhc evenr, my efforr is 10 tlisappcar, r introduce ,1 tlisrnnce
char border s on indifference, The v.ism-11 rcsuJt ttan slares a more essential presence m
things }~nd to tbe world. IDbeing transpare nt, I redu ce the distance between th1:-evenr
.tlnd the spectat c'lr. I've idwoys wnrkt:tl that way, but in an intuitive way. With History
1Delahaye's n~me for his project in 2 003] 1 formalize rbat prncess.5'
1t is as though Delalrnye's panorami c pictu.res, antith!.'tically-to Gursky's work, aspire in
rhe e11dto yield an imaginative expe.cience near ly like merger with the world - au ttspi-
rar.ion that may well strike a wholly original note in contemporary photography .

.A few addition .ii thoughts. IJ1,t946 Clement Greenberg reviewed an exhib ition of photo
graphs by Edward Weston. The review begins: "PhotQgraphy is t he mo st transparent of
the an 1nedi1.1msdt:viscd or diJ1c overed by man. It is probably for that reason thM it
proves so difficult to make the photo graph trnnscend its a lmost inevitable function as
documenr .and act as W<>1 'k o.f art as well..12 B)' "tra nsparent' ' Green berg both
thM plwrograp hy is capable of e.xtrl':me feats of depictive realism nod that althon~h rhe
phmog raphic a1tifact bas a surfocci (ir is, in a sense, all swface), the viewer tends
incvitnbly to louk " through" or, more accurnrcly, "past'' th,,r surface to the dcp[ctio11
;,is such. This second point is in sharp contra st wjrh paintlDg, whose materia l surface is
n:Otjust @cutely pr esent to the viewer's awa rc 1iess (it is "npaqu e" rather than tr::inspar
l:lllt) but is also avallab le to the painte r to be ernphasized, artic ulim!tl, and the1:natized
in an infinite number of w:1.ys; the invention of collai;e aroulld L9n only L'attfied .a te11 -
dency that had been at work for cent uri es. Tbu s it rnighL be said th;it one important
funcrion of the rableau form has bcet1to counterncr or coL1J peusate for the rranspa.reuce
of 1\1c. photographi c su.rfaG: e by keeping the viewer at a disr:ince from the latter no~ i11s1
physically (and of cou rse; the v.iewer is als<i invited ro approach the photograph , IO
exa.rnine fine derails of the image) bm 11lso imaginarivcly. l11dceJ whnr I have called
Gl!rsky's se1,e1:ing of the picture from the b.eholder is inc0t1ceJvabl e apa rt from precisely
thi~ C():mbi1_1ation of the t;,ibleau form and transparencc, die hmcr being csscnhal tQ his
plctures' radica l opennes s-w vision, ju $t as Dcla haye's p ,morarnic photograph s positively
assume :u1 initial distallting of t he beholder from the depicted scene in order ro proceed
ro work against such distancing in the interests nf proximity, im1hc rsiot1, merger - 1am
rempred tb say, of a cerrnin unsevering, even, "henling." 'What f have called ''e xclusion"
in.connection with U11 stam1rnte's 'T'ableat1x- J shall show so111 similar 111 Candida
l lofer's phnrog1.:aphs of r:ooms- is related to tftis a~ well.
.hirnpnow n.>J 978 and an interview w irh Greenberg by-James F~urc Walker, At one
point Greenberg notes how when Pict Mondr ian "opened up" the middle of his pictures

- fr1111qolschevr lar 0 11 thf:l "t ab leau fo rm" : thoni as ru ff, andrea~ 91sky , luc cJe lalWy!il 18)
~ th H i , w!1 n he ired hi. olorcd r wng l .s co nrd the dgcs of rhc :m n , I viu.
the middle o the pi tur, up 11- the pi~tur inv. ri. bl u cecd cl "1rt. h. r \ s hi
r 1:1 c;1li m~ \ chat <lc\ r1c, if ou n all ir rh. 1



trnnsparence means also rhat rhe material surface is put out of play as a bearer of pic-
torial mca11i 11i:;,a sig11ific:1111:
loss and one whose ultimate implications rclllain ro be
assessed. " !Touch I is rhe eros specific to painting," I hnvc alre:idy quored Wall as remark-
ing." Or :is Thomas Demand observed as he and I srood rnpr in admirncion of the pa int
handling in Courbet's sublilllc pict11rc of a breaking wave in the Alce N:.itionalgalcrie in
Berlin (Fig. :rr7), "T har is whar we c:.innot do."
rr8 Thoma~ Srruth. The Hirose Family, Hirnshimt1, 1987. Gelatin silver print. 39 x 54 cm; 68 x 84 cm framed
portraits by thomas struth,
rineke dijkstra, patrick faigenbaum,
luc delahay~, and roland fischer;
douglas gordon and philippe parreno's film zidane

Starring in the !are 1980s Thomas Struth, whose museum pictures were discussed in
Chapter Five, has made rhirry-two portraits of familif'S, the mo~t recent in :2.005. 1 [ shall
begin hy considering rbree of the earliest {and srill the best known): The Hirose Family,
tiiroshima (T987; Fig. r c8); The Smit/; Family, Fife (1989; Fig. r 19); and The Bemstein
Family. Miindersbach (r990; Fig. c20). The tir<;t i<;in black-and-white while the other
rwo are in color but structurally all three are similar: between eight and ten member~
of a i;inglc famjJy, ranging in age from young children ro older adults (there are no you11g
children in The Smith Famil')', however), sit or stand facing the camera (and the photo-
~rapher? - the answer to rhar question will turn our tn mam:r). The setrings are domes-
ric. The Hirose family ,irs Jammed together on a sofo; a tabletop piled with hooks and
pieces of paper fills rhe right foreground of the image (slightly out of focus bec:wse near
the picture plane); co the left one sees part of a desk, also piled with books and papers,
and some gh.tss-fronted bookcases; to the rear a lamp and telephone resr on a cable but
attcnrion is caprured by several African sculptures, one a mask hanging on rhe wall, and
to the left of the mask ,1 framed painting of a masklike head in a :.urnewhat cu hist style.
To the right rear one looks past an open Joor inm another room. The Smirb family too
appears at home; father, mother, and one son (I assume) sit in :irmch:iirs while five others
{two men, rhree women -sons and <laughters? or Me there one or more couples among
them?) srand or perch on or Jean against the arm or back of one or anmher of the chairs.
A rug may be glimpsed on the floor. The walls are white and in this room too there are
pictures; these are evidently famiJies of a high level of cultivation. The third family, the
Bernsteins, is depicted outdoors, on a ,simple patio with a stretch of lawn and trees
behind them. A table covered by a whire cloth occupies the center of the phoLograph;
around it sit rhree women on garden chairs; che seated woman ar the right holds a young
child on her lap; and six ocher family members of different ages srnnd hehind or to che
side of the table.
A ,;triking fact about Strurb's public career is the almost universally enthusiastic
response that his work has received. The family portraits in particular have come in for
srrong praise, and in the di:.cussion that follows I shaU make use of the crirical litera-
ture on them as well as of comments by Strurh himself in mterviews. An obvious

po11ra1ts !>}' stnith, stra, laigenbaum,

tJ11~. de/ahaye, and fischer; gordon and p,irr0no's .:1dant:: 191
1 19 fhnma~ Struch, The Smith FL1mi/y,Fife, 1 y89. C:hnimC>genicprocess prim. 100.8 x 126. 3
cm; 104.8 x 1 29.7 cm framed

point of entry is Strurh's remark, quoted in Ann Goldstei11's essay, "Portraits of Self-
Reflection," in rhe catalogue of Struth 's 2002. retrospective exhibition: "'The portrair is
rhe subject matrer in photography where the prob lems of the media !why rhe plural?!
are the most visible.' '' 1 Go ldstein continues (basing her remarks on a convru~ation with
rhe art ist): ''For him, those problems begin with the realiry of purring a person in franc
of a camera, and the complex dynamics rhat rake place between the sitter, the photo -
grapher, and the spectator" (168) . Struth and Goldstein between rhem make it sound
as if rhe portrait presents unique difhculc1es for the photographer, which may well be
true, but something of rhe sort has been felt to hold for painting as well. In mid-eigh-
teenth-century France, for example, the portrait was a questionable genre in the eyes of
many an cncics. As I remark in Absorption and T/Jeatricality,a frequent objection was
rhat portrairure required the exercise merely of mechanical skills rather than of the
pictoria l imagination. "But there was," I su~ge,;t,

srill another source of critical misgiving- the inherent rheatricaliry of the genre. More
nakedly ,rnd as it were cate~orically than rhe convent ions of any other genre, those
of the porn-air call for exhibiting a subject, the sitter, m the public gaze; put another
way, the basic action depicted in a portrait i::.the sitter 's presentation of himself or

192 whv JJho10grar)l1y 111a11ers ;is ~rt as never l)efo 1

12 0 Thornns Stru1h, Tin Bemstein Family. Miindersl,ach, 1990. Chrorno~enic rrncess rrinr.
76. 5 x L04 c:111; , 08 x 1 _
H cm framed

herself to be beheld. It follows chat the portrait as a genre was singularly ill equipped
ro comrly with rhc dcntanJ that a painting negate or neutralize the presence of the
beholc.ler, a demand tbat ... became a matter of urgent, if for the most part less than
fully conscious, concern for Frern.:hart critics during these years. 1
go on ro show how 111 certain tases painters soughr ro overcome this limitation by
depicting persons in a portrait as absorbed in thought or action; by rhe same token,
Didcror in 1 767 c;harply criticized Louis-Michel Van Loo's portrait of him for irs air of
coquetry, which he explained jo terms of rhe presence in the room o.t the engaging Mme
Van Loo while he was being painted. What would have been best, Diderot wrote, would
have been to leave him alone "'anc.l aban<lone<l to his reverie. Th en his mouth woul<l
have cOine open, h1s disrracted gaze would have been focussed somewhere far away, rhe
labors of his deeply preoccupied mind would have been depicted on his face, ::tnd Michel
would have made cl beauriful thing'" ( J 1 2.). Van Loo woLLld have mnde a beautiful rhing
borh bec.:iuserhe rc5ulr would have been more natural .rnd because thar superior nam-
rnlness woukl it~elf have been rhe product of a particular relation of the depicted sitter,
and ultimately the pa1nring, to rbe beholder: to the extent rhar the dcrictcd sitter would
have appeared entirely caught up in bis reverie, he also would have appeared unaware

portrait" by struth d1~stra ia1genbn1.,rn de lahayP., and t1scher r10rdo11;ind parreno'c, z,cJant'! 193
u I Walker Evans, Alabama
Te11a111 Parmer Wl1fe{i\llia Mi.1e
Burroughs/, r9 ;6. Gc l:mn silver
print . .?.0.9 x q.4 cm.
The i\tletropo liran Museum of Art,
New York, Purchase, 1.001 Benefir
Fund, 1.001 (1.001 .41 5)

of being beheld, which is what Diderot meant when be insisted in the Entret,ens sur le
Fils ,wturel ( 1757} and Discours de la poesie dramatique (1758), his revolutionary early
cexts on the theater, on che need to treat cbe beholder as if he did not exist. 4
As has been mentioned more than once, naturalness so understood has also been a
photograph.ic ideal, based on the belief thar a person who is caprured unawares - who
does not know he or she is being photographed -will reveal the "truth'' about himself
or herself whereas a sitter who is conscious of the camera will at once alter and thus
falsify bis or her mode of self-presentation, as Barthes in Camera Lttcida <lescrihes
himself as invariably doing. To cire Sontag once more: "There is something on people\
faces when they don't know they are being observed that never appears when they do. " 5
On Photography, where this is said, was published i.n 1977, the year that marks the
start of Scruth's artistic career. la the history of twemierb-century photography, attitudes
to that approach have shifted back and forth, even wicbin street phocography, which
lends itself more readily than any other pborographic practice to ideas of capture and
candor (more on this in Chapter Eight). in general, though, portraiture in the standard
sense of r11eterm has had ro come ro grips with the frontal encounter, with all the cJif~

194 why f)horograp l1y 11rntters as art as never before

1 22 Augusr SanJer. Pastry Cook ,
1928. Gebtin ~ilver print. From
Penple of the Twentieth Century

fic:ulties and embarrassments that that has been undersrood to involve. So for example
Walker Evans, in his portraits of tenant farmers ao<l their families in Let Us Now Praise
Famo1,1sMen ( 194 1 ), one of the most famous combinations of te'{t and photographic
images in twentieth-century culture, favored the close-range &onral encounter precisely
because ot what he and James Agee, wbo wrote the text, considered irs basic honesty
(Fig. I 21 }. Howev er, Agee expresses no end of anguish about rbe possible exploitation
of their subjects that this involved, and he also writes chat vans rook certain photo -
graphs surreptitiously, while the family in quesrion tboughr he was preparing
to take only their porcrair.1, Orber significant figures who regularly portrayed their sitters
face-on include the twentieth-cenrury Cologne documentary photographer August
Sander, whom Srruth greatly admires and whose work was sure ly an inspiration for him
(Fig. 122 and see ~igs. 203 and 204), and Diane Arbus, whose approach I shall briefly
discL1sslater in this chapter in relarion to rhat of Rineke Dijkstra. Then there are Thomas
Ruff's large, pointedly antipsychological "passport-sty le" photographs of fellow arr stu-
dents, already treated in Chapter Six, and of course Struth 's and Ruff's teachers at the
Diisseldorf academy, Bernd and Hill a Becher, who for more than forty years were com -

portraits lly s11utti, cJqf ,Ira, fa1genbaum, de lahaye, and t.sche r, ~101..ion,nrl rarreno's zidane
nutted ro a rigorou~Jy fronr,il and centered - in thar sense portrait-like - approach to
rhcir subject matter, not persons bur rather industrial strucrures of various kinds. Like
Snnclt:r'ssystematic portrayals of members of different professions, the Bechi:rs pictures rypological in intent, though in Chapter Ten I sha ll rry co show that ,;uch a formu-
lation barely scratches che ,;urface of the .Bechers' achievement . Struth 's portraits of
families arc someth ing else again but- as ha:. always been recognized - the importance
ro hi-; art of rhe B1ccher'-'reaching :;inclexampk can .<:carcelyhe overestimated.
"The profession depends so much upon the relations rhe photographer establishes
wirh tht.' people he's photographing, rhar a false relationship, a wrong word or amtt1Je,
can ruin everything," Henri Cartier-Bresson ha-. ..aid. 'When the subject is in any way
uneasy, che personaliry goes away where rhe camera can'r reach ir. There are no systems,
for each ca:-e is individual and demands char we be unobrrusive, though we musr be ilt
close range.''- Cartier-13resson was not referring specifically to ponrairs but his remarks
apply to rhem wirh a vengeance; if che phorographer's aim is unobtrusiveness, how is
that to be acbieved a situation that explicitly faces off photographer and sirrer?
1lere are the seeps Srruth rakes in order co malke his family portraits:
1) As he explains in a -1990 discussion with Benjamin Buchloh, he photographs only
families or persons he knows and likes.11 Arbu, roo famously "befriended" persons
whom she met and wanted ro photograph, bu1t thar seems to have meant merely rhar
she somehow won their trusc and thus was allowed to photograph them, l)ften in their
homes (none of the sitters in her best-known image~ is 1.:.aughtunaware~}.~ Her inren-
t1011swere photographic from the outset, and chere ts no suggestion eirher in rhe sec-
ondary literature or in her own statements that her connections with most of her subjects
outlasred the making of the image. In Sr-ruth'scase, in contrast, the friendships or aqunin-
tance-.hips come first and the photographs follow ),1rer- indeed Struch tells Buehloh thar
"]mlany of rhe photographs were discussed as l ong as two ye;1rsbeforehand'' (29). The-
first rwo photographs cited earlier seem to have been maJe more or less a~ mementoes
after Srruth srayed with the fa111ilie,in Hiroshim ,1 and fife. HI
2) The actual triggering of rhe shutter i:- thus only a final stage of a much longer
process. In many cases, perhaps even all, rhe process involves extensive discussions with
rhe sitters, presumably dealing with rhe question of exactly how they wish to be por-
trayed. The idea seems ro be not just to put the sitters at their c<1sebur as much as pos-
sible n> engage them as collabor,Hors in the making of the porrrait (Buchloh interview,
3) When rhe time come~ for the actual sboO!'ing, a room or pJace is chosen, presum-
ahl >1by rhc family jointly wirh ~uurh, who then asks them to dispose themse lves as rhey
like before rhe lens of his camera. More precisely, he shows rhem rhe limits of the picmre
field and invire1:ithen, ro arrange rhemselves within rbose limits (Buchloh interview, 19).
In an interview of 1 994, discussrng rhe family portraits, Mark Gisbomne asks ~truth,
' Are these h);ure-; ever posed?" To which Struth answers, "No. I decide upon the Iim-
irations of the frame, them I tell [hem to pose wh1:rever thev like wirhin rhe frame'' (8).
Tnnrher words, the circumstances are such char a certain element of posing is inevitable
(Barthes in Camem L11cidaholds this to be true of photography generally), bm as a
po1nr of prim:iple the sitters are not posed h>1S,rruth.

v,,1,y p l1<dO.!J1r1phv11rnnors a~ ;;irr as neve, hetNe

-1) Equallv important, it seem~, Strntb does not stand behind rbe camera bur ro one
side. J le asks his sirrerc; to look nr the camera, not ::it him. Ac; he l'xpbins ro Buchloh:

There is ... a difference in mak111gJ rortrair wirh a large negative-format, with a

focu'ling-screcn, where the photographer stands next to ~111J not behind the camera.
The portrayed don 'r foll into illusion that the~ are looking ar the phorographcr. The
individuals heing photographeJ look inro rhe lens and know exactly whar it means
to be phorographed: that in rhis puracul.::ir momenr they proiecr a mirror-image,
without acrua lly st'eing themselves. j3ol

(for Buchloh, a rigidly Adorno-ec;que critic, "the rradirion of the reprcsenrarion lin
paimingl of the individual subject is obsolete,'' though he grams , seemingly with regret,
thJt ''somehow 1r LS mil possible to produce portraits with rhotography" l3 r J.L' The
question i., how.) Th e idea ~t'em1, to be rhar by <:repping to one <;jde in rhis way Strurh
effectively removes himself from the process - after all, projecting a mirror image i1,
something ooe does by oneself, typica!Jy in condirions of pnvacy. Narnrnlly this cannor
be taken literally; there is nn way for Struth to absent himself from the enrire scene . Yet
ir tvidenrly matters to Strurb to fed char he personally is not the object of hi!, sitters'
fronral gazes.
'i) Struth Jelibcrntely chooses to prolong the expmure rimes of the shots of his
families as mm :h as b feasible. This too emerges in the interview wirh BuchJoh. "The
exposure i..,very long," Strurh exph1ins,

sometimes up to one second- even in a case l.ikc the Japanese fami ly Hirose, where
there were 9 people in the sitting. Normall}' you would rhink it's pr~1ctically impossi-
ble, that it is at rbe limit of the photographic process. But it works when rhe people
perceivl' this process a1, their own. Once Lhey understand that it'!> going ro be rht'ir
photograph, rheir own rmage, they manage to sir still one full seconJ. Orhcrwi.,e, they
move. It's practicall y a form of con .c:ciousness about the mirror -image, the question -
ing of rht self, well, who am I? L~ol

This recalls Walter Flcnjamin\ famou::. description of early pnrrrnit photographs, in

which the slnwnc.s11of the plate necessitated similarly long exposures. "The procedure
itself c<1uscd the suhi1.ct ro focus his life in the moment rarher rhan hurrying on pasr it;
during the considerable period of the exposure, the <;ubject (as it were) grew into rhe
picture, in the 11harpt:stcontrast with appearances in a snapshot," Benjamin remarks in
"Little Hisrory of Photography. " 1~ Closer ro home, there is the example of Sander , whose
ponrair work, Struth says to Buchloh, "was only possible through the particular wny
he inrcracte<l with people. Otherwise it wouldJ1't have been at all possihle that they ptlr-
crnyed themselves as they did" (_14).
6) Finally, Strucb takes a lor of shots, "usually ... forty or fifty neg:mves per sitting,
somerimes more on a second day or a few monrht- later," in rhe hope of coming up wirh
a successful picmre. Buchloh: '\Vhat clo you mean hy sw;cessfut or unsucce<;sful, what
are your criteria?" Srrurh: "My idea of a successful photo is that ic be readable, rhar
everyone enrf'rs and plays his or her role, according ro rhe momentary requirement of
the person, acc.:ording to their momentary 'ielf-unJersttrndi11g. l believe thar quite a bit

nonr, 11t 1i~ stru1l1 ClqkSlr lri1tJertl),1ur11 11r.l.-1hr1v"' and 11.,cri,:;r aoro(,n anrJ nar,,~no's z1na11A
can he read and is visible. 1 know this from experience, as l often presenr the photos ro
several people and with certainty nearly everyone agi:ees and says, I find thi!. or that
shot the best. When r present chem wirh forty negatives of a ten-person family, they
practically always decidt upon the same rwo negatives rhat I would choose'' (31). 13
The result of aU these measures has been felt by commentators co shift the balanc e
between the phbrographer and his subjects in a decisive manner. Thus Masanori
Ichikawa writes: "The foremost achievement in Strmh 's rortraits should be attribuccd
to rhe models." 14 (This is in effect whar Struth said to Buch lob about Sander's portrait
photographs.) More broadly, Peter SchjeldahJ observes: "Struth's faimiJy porrrairs vivify
an approach char extends ro citic~ and forests. That approach is a revelation of rhe
conditions in and on which a given subject exists in the world. Thi! picture belongs to
the subjecr. In a way that counts, the suhject authors the picture." 15 Tbis too cannot be
taken literally burro the extent that it is imagined robe tru e, the plnoto~rapher cannot
be accused of exhibiting his sitters, which is ro say that one major source of rheatrical-
iz.ation is avoided. But the association between Struth's family photographs and the issue
of anrithearricality is far closer then these remarks su~gesr.
Here it will be helpful ro consider an extended commenrary oa Srrurb's portraits by
Charles Wylie, chid organizer of the :2002 retrospecrivc exhibitio n; I shou ld say at rhc
outset that my aim in citing Wylie is to use his commentary to help clarify che issues
that concern me. Wylie writes:

The idea of families, of how one's place in the world is determined by one's place in
the archirecmre of family, prompted Struth's second series [after his early hlack-and -
whire ciryscapesj. Citing nis own family's photo albums as .;in initial spur, in the mid-
1 980s Struth pictured groups of family members ananged in domestic settings that
brought out t he innate psychological intensity present whenever a family gathers.
Srruth s families are clearly relate<l in physical characteristics~ the viewer can trace
simi laritie s the children have with their parents, hrothers and sisters, atmts and m1cles.
Examining the phy,;ical, however, is only the beginning of the viewer's psychologically
loaded task of reading the relationships between one member and another. The group
must be read in irs entirety, and each family member placed by position, posture,
ges tur e, and facial expres:-.ion in the complex interweavi11g of emotion, gesture, and
facial expression we all encounter in relation to our own families.
The results of rJ1eexamination can be a slow, nearly unsettling intimacy: we are
hrougbr into contact with people we almost certainly will never me:et, and are .:illow ed
to ponder a group of individuals whose relationships arc cssentiallly unguarded, open
to our examination. Yer Srrurh avoids the sensationa l in rhese wo1rks by allowing the
sitters ro compose themselves for the camera. This approach is partly a function of
the camera he has chosen ro use (spet'ifically, rhe length of time the shutter must
remain open), but it means rhe subject!. are fuJly aware of rhemsdves and conscious
of how they present themselves ro the camera (and for che image). The same can be
5aid for the individual portraits, in which rhe sitter posing before th1: lens appears
quiet, even becalmed.
Struth has asked his own family, friends, and acquainrances too be subiects of his
portraits .... Regardl ess of their relations wirh the artist, awaren,ess is the hallmark

why photo9r1:1ohv rmitters as art as never before

of all these figures -awareness of tbe arti,;;t raking their portrait, of the fact that rhey
arc a SLLbjectto be looked at, and, by extension, of their place in the world once the
:-.butter has fallen. Perhaps we as viewers are meant to take this awareness with us
after we have finished looking at Struth's intense subjects, aml focus an equally intense
1.:oncentratioo, not merely visual, on those we know and don't know, and on those
we embrace and rho!.e we avoid. 11 '

For Wylie, as (he believes} for Strurh, families are inherently psychologically incense
emities, and Srrurh 's photographs bring chat out in a singularly focussed way. They do
rhis, Wylie suggests, by making available to the viewer a wealth cif relationships, at once
of affinity and difference, thar for one re;1son or another are nowhere near as salient in
ordinary life. (This last point may be me rather than Wylie, who concludes by suggest-
ing that we <lirect our new awareness toward our own lives.) One species of affinity and
difference concerns the sitters' "physical characteristics": "rhe viewer can trace similar-
ities the chi ldren have with cheir parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles."
i, dearly true, though I myself attach even more unportanc:e ro the viewer's recognition

of those similiarfries than Wylie seems to do. ln all three of the photographs that I
have been considering, for example, the physical resemblance among family members
teels extreme ly strong; at moments, especially in the portrait of rhe Bernsteins, it verges
.1lmost on the comic, as the ,;::imefeatures occur, with slight or s lighter variations. from
per:,on to person, female to male, youth to age (as if the photograph makes visib le the
tamily genotype icself 1-). Two "external" textual references are percinenr here. The first
I'- from the firsr volume of Wittgenstein's Last Writi,zgs on the Philosophy of Psycho-
lugy, where he remarks in a portion of rhe book given over to the idea of resemblance:
"Suppose there were a law of acsrherics rhat said rhar faces in a painring have to he
,imilar. Now I point to two people and say to someone 'Use these as models for your
picture; they are similar': ix Wirrgenstein 's gist, 1 take it, is char rhere would be :.ome-
rhin?, ahsurd in this, precisely because a painter is nor lj_mired in what he can paint hy
hi:- choice of models. Yet not only would it not be absurd for a photographer to proceed
in that way, it is hard to see how else he or she could produce the desired result. This
points up an ontological difference between pa.indogs and photographs, as does another
ctration, this one from an editorial aside by Melchior Grin1m, an astute critic of paint-
111g in his own righr, from Diderot's Saln11of r763, where Grimm says of the portraitist
Jean -Man. Nattier (by chen a relic of an earlier pictorial regime), "All his porrrairs
resemble one another, one believes one is always seeing the same figure." More broadly,
dose resemblance between persons in painted portraits is inbercnrly dubious in that it
invariably strikes the viewer as a mannerism of rhe painter, ra 1cher than as a veristic
report un che appearance of the persons themselves. (Not that it ii, impossible for a
painter ro report a<.:<.:urarelyon family likeness; bur the painting or paintings rhar result
will be powerless to pcrc;uade the viewer immediately rhar such likeness is grounded in
reality rather than in the painter's habits of seeing and depicting.) The opposite is rrue
of re<.emblance in photograpl1s, which in comparison with p:lin1rings '-trike the viewer
a, mechanically faithful to rhe reality they ostensibly depict; this has begun to change
with the advent of digitization, bur the basic distinction still holds.

1s bv s1t1Jll 1, rl1J\.:S11a,
r,ort1<11 fa,yenbaum. Jt>lahaye and f1sche1. gordon aml parreno's zidane 1~9
Another remark hr \'<'ittgenstein in the same volume also bears on the topic: "Suppose
we were ti) meet people who all had the same facial features: we should not know where
we were with them'' (29c). 10 This is nor quire true of our relacion ro Srruth's family
pictures, but for me at least there is a momenr of disorientation every time l take in the
strength of family resemblance among his subjects within a single photograpb (again,
rhe Bernstein one is an extreme case). Almost immediately, however, that sense of
di'>orienration is counceracted by a recognition of countless small and large differences
of physiognomy, expression, sex, age, dress, and demeanor among tbe various sirten,,
::is well as by an appreciation, which comes about more slow ly hut in the end is deci-
~ive, of rhe wlle<.:tive~tyle of presentation of the family group as a whole. Further, one's
appreciation of char collective style is made much more acute when twn or more nf the
family phorographs are presenred in close conjunction to each other on a gallery wall
or in a catalogue. So for example Norman Bryson in 1 990 contrasted the Hirose and
Smith fomiljes, noting how
In the presence of tht' camera, the family in Hiroshima foll!, um, a closely inrerrelared
group, with rhe heads of the women and children forming a single, unbroken wave,
flanked by the higher-placed males, as though the feeling of the family as a group rhar
supports and sustains aU its members existed in no particular conflict with its
internal sense of ranking according to gender and senioriry. The family in Fife, by
contrast, falls into a relatively scattered and individuated pattern, with no apparent
Jramati.zation of age or gender in terms of the figures' placement (central/margina l,
standing/seared). Ir i,; as if each sitter were ,;urrounded by an invisible cocoon of
personal space, extending quire far from the body, within wl1ich he or she presents a
relatively autonomous and free-standing -.ubjecrivity.1 1
Bryson's observations are shrewd, bur they stop well shon of Wylie's claim that each of
Struth's family groups "must he read in irs entirety, and each family member placed by
position, poi:;mre,gesture, ancl facrnl expression in the complex interweaving of emotion,
gesture, and facial expression we all encounrer in relation co our own families." No
viewer could successfully do wh;:ir Wylie c.lemanJs; Bryson is surely correct when he
insists thac the "quasi-nove listic'' approach raken in his comparison of the Hirose and
Smith families quickly reaches its limits (130), For two reasons: the first is informational
- there i!>so mu<.:hone does nm know and no phorograph could convey; 12 the second
is -:rrucrural, owing co the unresolvable conflict r>erween rhe viewer's empathic engage-
menr with individual family members on the one hand and his or her larger response
co and inrerprctation of rhe family grour as a who le on the other. The viewer's atten-
tion is divided berween the rwo, it shuttles continually from one ro the other ,is ,,.,ell as
from one member of rhe family group to another, without the least possibility of com-
pletely inregraring the various individuals in their p:micularity into the larger unit. To
my mind, the special magnetism of the best farnjly portraits owes mu<.:hco Srrnrh's han-
dling of that confl ict. Whereas in those family portraits where for one reason or another
the conllicr is muted-such as The Shimada Family, Yamaguchi (1986), in which only
six persons, apparently comprising three genernrions, are perhaps roo artfully distrib-
ur-edacross a Japanese garden complete with mossy rucb, flowering bushes, and a water-

?00 whv rlio10,J1<11>hY

malt!'!I" rl" r1rl ,1s, before
r2'1 Thomas 5truth, The Consolandi Family, M,la11, 1996. Chronriogenic process print. no x
L35cm, 148 x 1 7 1 cm framed

fall, and The Consolandi Family, Milan (r996; Fig. r 1.3), in which an elegant modern
apartment competes on equal terms with its well-dressed occupants - the rota! impact,
while for from negligihle, falls short of the almost hypnotic force of the three portraits
I began this chapter by describing. Another factor is the strength and perspicuousness
of color, whicb tends ro u1still its own order of pictorial simultaneity, without relation
to the individual, the group, or the conflict between the two: a llthough of my three exem-
plary photographs only rhe Hirose Farnily is in b lack and white, in none of the three i~
color as salient a~ it is in the Shimada and Consolandi portraits; the nearest they come
is the Bernstein phowgraph, but there the main role of color is ro serve the rheme of
family resemblance by making visib le the blonde hair of most of tht.: sitters. (Tn a struc -
turally different ponrait of an older married coup le, the justly admiJed Eleo11orand
Giles Robertsull, Edinburgh I t987; Fig. J 24J, the slighrly our-of -focu s warm plum wall-
paper in the middle ground is vital to the overa ll effect, provicli11g an affective frame for
the physically separated but obviously well-matched pair. ln general, though, l think it
is fair to say that the family porrraits as such work best when color is minimized Y )

purtra 1ts by str1Jth, dqf stra, fa1genbauni, delA~1ave, and f1sche r, nordon and parreno's zidane 20 1
124 Thomas Strmb, Eleonor a11dGiles Rnbertso11,Edinburgh, 1987. Chromogenic proces~
print. 41.5 x 59 cm; 68 x 86 cm frame<l

Farther on Wylie says rhat we ''arc allowed ro ponde r a group of individuals whose
relationships are essenrially ung-uardcd, open ro our examination,'' and connects that
supposed openness with che fact that "the sub jects are fuJly aware of rhem selves and
conscious of how they present themselves to the camera (and for the image) '' though,
in a way that is typical of commentaries nn Strurh's work, he does nor explain exactly
how the second enables the fuse. Instead he underscores the theme of awareness by
dairning chat it and nothing else is ''the hallmark of all these figures- awareness of the
artist taking their porrrair, of the fact chat th ey are a subject to be looked ar, and, by
exte nsion, of their place in the world once the shutter has fa llen" (r51-2). It is not hard
to see why someone caught up in the ostensible logic of fronral address might wish co
:;a)' chi:,;- but nor is it hard to sec how and where sw.:h a claim goes astray. (Nor ro
mention the additional suggestion that "perhaps we are meant to rake [the sitters']
awareness wirh us" and apply it within om own lives IT52). There is something about
photography that encourages this so rt of well-meant moralism. 24 }
Let me try to clarify matters by noting the active presence in ~truth's famjly photo-
graphs of two complementary axes. Th e first lies wholly within the picture and is essen-
tially lateral; I think of it as the axis of family relarionships, which in the case of Strurh's
family portraits includes both che play of physical resemblance and difference Wylie

202 why phorography matters as art as never berore

poinrs to and the la_rger, at once cultural and personal styles of self-presentation Bryson
associares with the Hirose and Smith families respecrively. The second axis is orthogo-
nal to tbe hr1;r an<l thrusts directly out from the picturt! toward the viewer; this is the
axis of a frontal gaze oi;, in the family portraits, a concert of frontal gazes, and I think
of it as the axis of individual and/or collective addres~. lf, armed with this simple <li'>-
rinction, we now consider the family portraits as a group, we recognize at once that the
axis of family relationships ic; marked by unawareness or oubli de soi (or rather by
,;everal kinds of unawareness} while tJ1e axis of address is indeed marked by an aware-
ness of bejng phomgraphed (but thar awareness itself has a more complex structure than
is often a!.sumed). Not on ly chat: rhe two contrasting modo Iities - self-awareness and
linawareness, to pur them that way round - are functionally relate<l to one another. For
the individnal family members as depicted in these phorograpbs are not only conscious
of sitting for their portrait, the particular brilliance of Struth's approach has been to
make them absorb tbernselves in posing, wbid1 is to say in takin~ up their momentary,
self-assigned ''roles" within the larger family scrucwre and hy c;o doing ro represent
themselves with maximum vividness to the camera. (Struth has spoken of the desire to
have the all sitters in a given photograph be as "present" :is possib lc.1' If he has a single
criterion for the family portraits, it is surely rhar.) indeed rbe logic of absorption is such
thar the more intense the sitters' commitment to that process, the more oblivious they
necessarily are to the entire all-embracing nerwork of family relationships- to their
physical resemblance to and difference from other fami ly members, to rhe hierarchies,
affiliations, and tensions that mark their partirnlar family unit, to the .:ultural style char-
acteristic of certain kimls of families in Hiroshima or Fife or Mi.iodersbacb, and so on
- and the more exprcssivc 1 eloquent, and "deep" that network is felt by the viewer to
be on that account. 1" (One mighr say of the Hirose , Smith, and Bernstein family photo-
graphs chat all the imernal relationship,, including those bet\Veeo non-biologically
related persons, arc felc to share the absolute strucmral uninrendcdness of biological
resemblance, which thus emerges nor simply as an important fcarure of these works but
also as an internal ideal.) Now, lateral relationships of vanous <:orts arc rhe very basis
ot the absorptive or dramatic Diderotian tableau, which was theorized by him precisely
J .~ o means - a rechnolugy - of denying or neutralizing the presence of the beholder (in
ht<;writings on drama, of the audience). So for example in an absorptive painting like
Chardin's House of Cards, glanced ar in Chapter Two (set: Fig. 22), che axis of lateral
relation!>hip:. is precisely the axis of ab:,orpt1on, while rhe axi:-.of address is themarized
br the open tahle drawer and the two cards facing- the beholder, the operative fiction
being that the boy, since he is caught up in the firsr, is oblivious to tbe second. 1n the
most ('Ompclling of Srruth 's family portrairs equivalent lateral relationships, equally
under the sign of unawareness, are elicited not by closing out the hcholder bttt by the
subjects i_nthe phorop;raphs directly addressing the camera.
The result in each case is thus a rour de force of anrithearricc1l art despite rhc overall
frontality of tbc image, which one might have thought would militate strongly :1ga1nst
such an outcome. Or r:irher it is Strurh's creative resraging of the frontal dispusitif by
means o f the vanous measure~ summJrized earlier rhat nor only divests that disposit,f

r 25 Thoma~ Struth, The Richter Ft1111ily.
Cologne, 2002. Chromogenic process print. 97 x 'F5 cm; r 3 0 x 174. 5 cm framed

of rheacrica l connotations bur actually makes it serve rhe interests of the overcoming of
theatricality. Such a conclusion is not fundamentally ar odds with the passages 1 have
cited from Wylie, Bryson, Ichikawa, and Schjcldahl. On the contrary, my sense is tbar
the family porrraits have been universally admired large ly on the strength of their
antirheatri<.:al qualities - indeed that these works, like those of rhe other photographers
featured in this book, have been the vehicle of a serious return to antitheatrical values
as well as of a resurgence, on the part not just of critics such as those just mentioned
bur also of a sizable portion of the artgoing public, of antithearrical sensibility- all this,
however, with almost no general awareness drnt anything of the sort has been going
on. 2 -
Two more family phorographs are word1 glancing at before moving on. In The Richter
Family, Diisseldor( (2002; Fig . 1 25), a superb ly intense picrure of the artist Gerhard
Richter, bis wife, young son, and daughter, the impression Richter conveys not only of
crackling self-awareness bur also of a wariness of delivering himself up to rhc camera

204 wl1y pi,otograpl,y rr1,:Hlel:; ii~ <'H1as never llefor.,.

r 26 Thomas ~truth, The Martill-Mason Family. Diisseldnrf, 1.001. Chromogcnic process print. 97 x 1 25 .2 cm;
110 x 157.2 cm framed

could scarcely be more palpable. Yet iris impossible ro imag1ne that all four sirrers could
be more vividly "present" to the camera, first individually, rhen in pairs (father/daugh-
rer, morher/son), rhen -spanning the gap in the middle of the composinon - as an almost
musical unit (a chord). What gives this picture its special eclar, however, is the coura-
geous stance of the boy, who faces the camera like a small gunfighter, his hands at his
sides as if at the ready. The contrast in this regard wich his seated farhcr is touching, as
is - in context- rhe physical resemblance between son and mother, whjch becomes more
strik ing rhe longer and closer one looks. (The photograph is in color bur irs feeling is
of black-an<l-whire.)
The last picmre I want to consider, The Martin-Mason Family, Diisseldorf (2001;
Fig. 1 26), comes with a brief anecdote. On 26 April 2004 I stood wirh Struth in a
Diisseldorf warehouse looking at chat photograph. 1 was already fruniliar with it from
reproductions, bur even in front of the original f coul<l not make it "work" for me. I
coulc.l nor "read'' it or ''get into" it, something about ir re5isrcd me, refused to yield the

por11a11s by s111ith. d11kslra, fa1genbaum cJefal1ay1:;,anrl f1sche1 gordon 'ind parre ,,os z1dane 205
sort of emotional access, or sense of overa ll inrelligibiliry., f had come ro associate with
his suongest works in rhis genre. 1 said as much to Struth, and, co my surprise, he was
delighted: my difficulties, he explained, sremmed from the fact rhe Martin -Mason family
i!'.a "mixed" one. Only the you11gesr daughter ar the right is the child of borh parents;
the dark-haired daughter at the left is the father's child by a previous marriage, while
th~ Jong-haired blonde girl next co her is che mother's child also by a previous marriage.
The blonde gir l's gesture of her hands on the thighs of her half-sister and her
srep-fa th er was thus a moving and probably unconscious action of fami lial integration.
Ln other words, the lateral family relationships in th e Marrin-Mason pictun~ are more
complex and divided rhan those in the other photographs I have conside red , so much
so no uninformed viewer could be expected ro work them out; in particular, it seems
to me, the reb rion s of biological resemblance are inscrutable. (In addition the family is
nearer the camera than in the other photographs we have looked at, which gives the
viewer less psychic ''space" in which to appraise what is going on.) What pleased Struth
was that I ha<l registered that complexity or inscrutableness without knowing what co
make of it, which he rook to mean that something of his personal understanding of the
family had hcen conveyed in the photograph. Lt remains an open question whether or
not the Marrin-Mason picture is artist icall y the equal of the Hirose, Smith, Bernstein,
anJ Richter photographs despite its emotiona l opaciry. lnirially T had my JoL1bts, but f
am coming around: in the terms of Struth's remarks co Buchloh ("My idea of a suc-
cessful photo is that it be readable, that everyone enters and plays his or her role," etc.},
the Marrin-Mason photo could be judged -.uccessful in its very resistance to being read,
and the more often I retLu-n to it (in reproducrion, unforrunately) the more persuasive I
finJ it.

Rincke Dijkstra, a Dutch photographer, was born in 19 59 and studied phorography in

Amsrerdam. 1s H er early career was as a commercial porrrait photographer, bur in 1992
she began ro make a series of large color photographs of pre- or early adolescent bo)'s
and girls in swimming suits oo heaches in the United Scares, Belgium, Great Britain,
Poland, Ukraine, and Croatia. These quickly attracted attention and remain her best-
known works; they nre tided simply by place names anti rhe dares on which they were
taken -for example, Kolnbrzeg, Poland, }11/y 26. r992 (Fig. 127), Odessa. Ukraine,
August../-, T')')J (Fig . 12.8), and He/, Poland, August n. I!J98 (Fig. c29), to cite three
representative picnires. The basic idea behind a ll of them is simple and bas been
c,cplained by Dijkstra in vaxious interviews. She npproached potential sitters and asked
for permission to phorograph them; if they agreed she placed her 4 x 5-inch camera on
a tripod and arranged atldirional lighting as well; they then adopted a sranding pose,
more or less of their own choosing, with the sea - out of focus in the photographs -
vi-.ihle behind rhem; what mattered was that each sitter concentrated on the actual sit-
uation for as long as it took Dijkstra to make the three or four phorograpbs she usually
shot (" If they are not 1..'.0ncemrating, l cannot photograph them," she has s:iid). 2" Her

'.W6 why photogr 11,hv 1T1<1rtersbS "' t as n,.:iver be for~

:- Rineke Dijkstra, Kolobrzeg, Pola11d,}11/y .:.6, 1992, r .l-8 Rinekc D1ijkstra, Odessa, Ukra/1/e, August ../, 199 3 ,
~ ~- Ch mmogen ic proces~ print. 1 2. 1 ><Jo I cm 1993. Chromog1:nic prnccs~ print. t50 x 1 2.6 cm

approach differs from Srrurh 's in that her subjects are strangers a nJ she prefers single
figures or at most units of two or three per sons ro larger groups. She shares with him
,1 commitment to the frontal pose and to rhe protocol that the subject before the lens
should he fully aware of being photographed. And ljke Struth (in my reading of him) ,
she uses the fronral pose and fact of her subjects' awareness, which in her work amounts
often to sclf-consciousnes:., a!> a means of drawing attention to aspects of their
behavior thar escape conscious conrrol.
Dijkstra's classic statement about her approach occurs in a 2.001 interview with Jessica
Morgan. Morgan says: " Tt strikes me that what you are interested in captu ring in your
subject~ is nor a neutral lack of interest in the camera but rather the liminal, traosfor -
mative momenr between self -consciousness and a lack thereof." Dijkstra replies:

Lt's like wbar Diane Arbus said, you are looking for the "gap berween intention and
effect ." People dunk thnt they present themselves one way, but rhey cannot help but
show something else as well. Ir's impossible to hav e ever)'thin g under contro l. But
when I try to photograph somebody, especially with the full body, it always make s

portraits by strulh r!1Jkstrc. t 11wnt,a111n. il elatwye, and l1sc;l1er gordon a11d narrenr,s z,dane 207
them wonder "oh, whar am I going to do with 111yhands, etc." And 1 think, retro-
spectively, l really used rhat more or less in the beach photos. 10

Arbus's famous remarks read in their entirety:

Fverybody has that thing where they need ro look one way bur they come out looking
~rnother way and thar's what peop le observe. You see someone on the street and essen-
rially what you notice ahout them is the flaw. It's just extraordinary that we should
have been given these pecL1l iarities. And, nm coorenr with what we were given, we
create a whole other set. Our whole guise is like giving a sign to rhe world to think
of us in a certain way but rhcrc's a poinr between what you want people to know
about you and what you can't help people knowing about you. And that has ro do
with what I've alway,; called the gap between intention and effect. I mean if you ,cru -
tinize reality c.:losclyenot1gh, if in !)Orneway you really, really get to it, it becomes fan -
tastic . You know it reaUy is totally fantastic rbat we look like this and you sometimes
see that very clearly in a photograph. Something is irnnic in the world and it bas to
do with the fact that what you intend never comes our like you intend it. 11

In Arbus's practice this led to a kind of photography, large ly based on the frontal pose ,
that commentators have often found troubling precisely because of her consuming inrer-
esr in her subject::.. "flaw:/' and more broadly her fascination with sitters ~he herself
called "freaks'' -dwarfs, mrnsvesrires clothed and naked, a female stripper with naked
breasts in her dressing room, a human pincushion, a Jewish giant at home wirh his
parents in the Bronx, rern.rded people di!)porring themselves in a field. 12 The charge,
briefly put, has been that Arbus typically exploired her sitters by using photography to
reveal aspecrs of the latter's appearance rhat they could not have imagined wou ld make
the 1mprcs!)ion on others that those aspects inevitably do. "A large part of the mystery
of Arhus's photographs lies in what they suggest ahout how her subjects felt nfrer con -
senting to be photographed," Sontag wrires in On Photography. 'Do rhey see rhem-
c;elves, the viewer wonders, like that? Do they kncnv how grorc.<,qt1ethey are? It seems
as iJ tbey don't" (35-6).
Sontag strongly disapproves of such an approach, in the first place because it "makels]
.1 compassionate response feel irrelevant" (.p) - cbe viewer is being invited nor to
empathize or commiserate bur merely to look with equanimity (wirhout blinking, Sontag
also says} - an<l in the second because it i.uggests chat the phorogrnpher was essentially
a "collector' of painful images, for reasons rhac had co do with her own life and upbring-
ing in a particular rime and milieu (.+o}. Nor that Sontag's strictures have commanded
universal agreement; from rhe moment of Arbus's first coming to prominence in the
1960s she has not lacked influential advocates, starting with the Museum of Modem
Art curator John Szarkowski , and she is today widely regarded as one of the most orig -
ina l anJ important photographers of the r 960s. Yet questions a~ to the ethical impli -
cations of ber images have continued to color all seriou!) discussions of her achievement,
and what J wanr ro suggest is rhar rarher rhan try to resolve chose questions one way
or the other what is imrortanr i!>to understand that it is intrinsic to her approach that
<;uchquestions t1rose in the first place and have persisted to this day. That is, her pre-

208 w 1,v Pllotoqrapry mattes as art as never be-tore

11.9 llinekc Dijk!.rra, lief, Pnlt111tl,
A1tJ!,11st 12. 199g, 1998. Chromogenic proce\~ print. 145 x 117cm
occupation witb flaws'' and ''freaks," and wirh "the gap between intention and effect"
with respect to her choice of sitters, has meant thar viewers of her work are in effect
invited, one might say solicited, by the photographs to cake a stand with respect to the
ethics of portraying her sirrers as she did. Adam Phillips puts rhis <;lightly differently.
"What is tru ly odd about Arbus's work is not her subject-matter," he writes, "but how
difficult it is to conceive of not talking about it in p~ychological terms. And l don't mean,
as an ;~ltcmative to this, talking technically. The difficulry is ro look at Arbus's photo-
graphs without trying ro imagine what might be going on inside her subjects ... " 11 Imag-
ining what might be going on inside her subjects at the moment of being phorographed
necessarily implies imagining how each one understood his or her role in rhar situation.
And that in turn inevitably implies trying ro imagine - and ultimately judging- what
was going on in Arbus at that momem as well. ~~ My thought is that one can acknowl-
cdgC' this chain of implication vvhile neverthdess resisting the call for judgment, which
threaten!-. to reduce her work roan ethical conundrum.
Dijkstra ha s made it dear that Arbus was the most decisive influence on ber work.
Wha r l wanr to emphasize - my reason for dwelling on Arb us - is not so much rbat there
cxisrc; an a ffioity between their respective approaches but r.uher that alcbough Dijkstra
too is fascinated by the impossibility of her subjects' "hav [ing] euerything under
control," her choice of sitters - not bizarre characters or c;trange-looking children or
''freaks" of any stamp bur, in the series mentioned, young and appealing beachgoers in
different parts of the world - has meant that the overall impression produced hy her
work has nothing of the ethical difficulties raised by Arbus's. So for example the slender,
almost breasrless girl in a striped bikini in He/, Poland looks straight ahead a::.a breeze
lifts srrands of her lighr brown hair~ her hands hang awkwardly ar her sides (just as
Dijksrra snys), nnd one notices the tension of her pose as she stands with her shoulders
squared and her right hip higher than her lefr; furthermore, as one scrntinizes her body
one observes the small mole just above her bikini as well as rhe flesh-colored band-aid
panly covering her navel, among other details. In Kolohrzcg, Pola11dthe girl in a light
green one-piece swimming suit strikes a different pose, tilts her head ro rhe left, and
resrs one hand awkwardly on her thigh; this time one notes the ,;[ighr knocking of her
knees, a few blemishes on a shin, the sand that parrl y coats her roes and feet, the partial
lining or "unJergarmenr" beneath the lower portion of her suit. As for the ta 11,skinny,
somewhat rigid boy in a red suit in Odessa, Ukrnine - but rhere is no need to multiply
descriptions. What matters is that all the features a11d derails one observes - all the awk-
wardnesse~, vulnerabilities, blemishes, physi1.:al idiosyncrasies, odcLitiesof costume, and
so on - belong co a realm of outward appearance and inadvertent expressiveness of
which the young beachgoers themselves a re necessarily unaware, concentrating as they
are on the l.'amera, or perhaps on Dijkstra as she stands behind or perhaps a longside it
waiting for the precise instanr to release rbe shutter. Yet there is nor the slightest ques-
tion as ro the photographer having taken advanrage of her subjects; on the contrary,
one sense_,;Dijkstrn's affection for them, a certain tenderness precisely as regnr<ls what
her camera n,jght be about to "reveal." 1'
"Un like Arbus," Andy Grundberg has written, ''Dijkstra doe~ not rely on her flash
lighting to render her subjecrs <;lighdy surreal, and her camera is not an ins trnmenr of

210 w ily ph.nogra(lt v n1aner s e1sar l ;i5 never before

inrrusion. The flat, fronta I style she has adopred from ber German conremporaries is
respectful of the strangers she encounrers and asks ro pose; ir allows rbem to gather
themselves to the task of projecti11g their half -formed selves against the nJes of time and
culrure.'' 1" Grund berg's remarks poinr to certain crucia l stylistic and technical differ-
ences between the two bodies of work, above all that Dijkstra in rhis series depicts her
subjL'<:tsat full lengrh and at a common distance from rhe camern; that she works in
color -a~opposed ro Arbus's dramatic bl::ick-and-w hite (try to imagine the boy in the
Odessa photograph with his pale reddish skin in black -and-white - rhe photograph
wt1uld be meaningless); and perhaps most important, that her phorograrhs are both
large - the figures seem life-si'l.e - and visualized from the outset with their desrinarion
on the wall in mind (in the sense discussed in Chapter Six), a mode of presentation that
imposes a certain <listam:e from the pictw-e on rhe viewer, which is not to say that
the latter is not also invited to approach closely in order ro notice details rhar would
he much less salient, if in fact they were visible, in a sma ller print. The results may be
described as a de-psycholngizing (also "deerhicalizing") of Arbus's "gap'' even as che
young heachgoers' bodies are revealed as minutely and comprehensively expressive -
mfinirely more so , one realizes on reHel.:tion, than if one were standing in front of the
sitters themselves. Put ~lighrly differently, the ''gap" emerges in Dijkstra\ work as a
basic structure of photographic address rnther than the tragic (or tragicomic) fact about
human existence in society that ir is for Arhus.
Two exchanges from intervLews with Dijkstra are pertinent here. fi_rsr, Jan Estep in
2.001 asks Dijkstra what it was about rhe girl in rhe green barhing suit th:ir made that
photograph special tn her. Dijkstra replies: "She is so shy, and at the same rime she's
unconsciously assuming the stance from Botticelli's Birth of Vc1111s.It was a lso uncon -
scious for me, because l dido 'r recognize it at the time f was making rhc photo. When
I came home I thought char it reminded me of something. J looked in my history books
and wow, it's exactly the same pose. That's what makes it very special. " ' 7 In ocher worcls,
the realm of r.hc unconscious here im:ludes rhe girl assuming the stance of a figure from
a famous work of art (one that rhe girl herself probably did nor know, so what exactly
Joes "uncomciously taking the pose'' mean in chis connection?) as well as the photo-
g-rapber's being unaware of that fact ar the moment of making the photograph: this is
ohviously quirt far from the incense dynamic of authorial inrrusiveness and potentially
devastating self-revelation that 11as led viewers to find Arbus's work ;;n once gripping
and problematic. Second, Estep asks Dijkstra, "What is it about children or adolescents
rhar you like ro photograph? Are they less self-conscinus than adults?" Dijkstra: "Yes.
Their appearance is more abstract ro me." Estep: "Absuact?" Dijkstra: "When some-
body becomes older they have a personality that distinguisl1es them from others, but
with reenagers it '5 much more ... " Estep: "They're not sure yet who they 're goin~ to
become?" Dijksrra: ''Jr's like an open book or something. Their lives can go in all direc-
tions: they are not complete ly filled in yet" (55-9). (In the same interview she explains
chat she did not like doing her earlier portrait work for magazines and newspapers
because her suhjecrs ''knew exactly how they wanted to he seen, with a specific stance,
a certain look" f54l-and no doubt because they knew how ro gcr what they wanted.)
The term "abstract'' seems exactly right. What interests Dijkstra is nor whar is revealed

portr;itrs t,y strulh d11kstra, /aigen!Jaum, t /~lahaye , and flscher, go1cic>r1and PiHrenc,s ,."11ir1ne 211
r 30 Rincke Dijkstra, Ted,,,
Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
May 1 6, L 99-t, 1 99+
Chrumogenic proce~s print.
153 x 12yc111

psychologically about ber subjects but rather the gap itself, rhe way in which her
subjects' awareness of being photographed nor only coexists with but positively fore-
grounds, makes visible to the camera, hence co the viewer, a range of feat1Jre~ that are
not "under control." Put slightly differently, her reason for preferring children and
adolescenrs - after the beach series she wenr om ro photograph young adults as wt::11(see
below) - is chat rheir psyches, or rather the interface between their psyches and rhcir
bodies, is still fundamentally "open,'' not yet marked hy the de.finiteness of adulthood.
M y further suggestion of course is that that interest, indeed Dijkstra's entire way of pro -
ceeding, is on the side of antitheatricality, unct:ir't~ciousncss of the sort l have been dis-
cussing lining up with the value of absorbe<l obliviou soe<;'>,real or apparent forgetting
of one's audience, in Diderot 's esthetics. "0 combien l'homme qui pense le plus est

212 wl1y photography matters as art as never belore


131 Riockc Dijkstra, Amit.

Gola11i Brigade. Elyaqim,
fsrael. May 26, 1999, 1999.
Chromogeuic color print.
181 x 153 cm

encore automate" - 0 how much the man who chinks the most is nevertheless an
automaton - Diderot wrote in 17 5 8, 18 and al rho ugh the anritherical but complernenrary
structure of awareness and unconsciousness that l have claimed ro find in Struth's fami ly
photographs and Dijkstra's beach series wa~ nor one that painting in his time was
capable of devising, rhe core idea behind rhar structure, which is to say the values it
serves, could nor be more Diderorian in spirit. 19
Subsequent series of photographs by Dijkstra include three naked or a ll but naked
women holding babies taken shortly after giving birth (Fig. 1 :,o); roreros phorographed
at close range immediarely following bullfights (therefore disshcvelcd and spatte red wirh
blood); young Israeli men holding the powerful weapons they have just fired for rhe first
time (Fig. 1 3 r); a young en listee, Olivier, at various stages in his first years in the French

1nrtra1ts by strutl1. d1Jkstra fa1gen1Jaurn 11elahaye, and f1scl1er, go rrlon an(1 parreno's z1rlane 213
11ureign Legion; and a child asylum seeker, Almerisa, at irregular interval:, as she g.rows
into young woman11ood. (The list is not exhaustive.) ln ,ti! these series Dijkstra's concern
has been subdy different from the one in play in the beach series. '' I look for specific
things that ser mr
sitter.:;apart- little details, like a certain gesture or gaze," she remarks
ro Sarn.h Douglas.

I often find these in um:onscious moments, when rhey are not thinking about their
pose. I photographed bullfighters after the fight, mothers jusr after giving birth, and
male Israeli ~oldiers after a shooting exercise. When I was doing commis~ioned por-
traits, 1 found it very difficult to relate to my sitters' self images; 1 feel it is more inrer- when peopl<:>show things that are beyond their controL I look for something
authentic, something spe..:ial. I try to strike a balance between what people wane to
-;how, anJ what they show in spire of themselves, what Diane Arbus called "the gap
between intention and effect,'' the tension hetween reserve and openness, between
hiding and revealing. Bur never divulging their secrets. 178-9 I

fhe interest in self-revelation is consranr, as is the refusal to embarrass her sitters, but
in all these serie~ the ide::i is that Dijkstra's subjects - unlike her bds on beaches- have
been at lea~r temporarily marked by the experiences they have undergone (in the rhoco -
graphs of Alrnerisa by rhe move to the Netherlands as weU as by her maturing as a
yo ung woman).
Tvvo further poincs. Fi.rst, we have seen rhat Barthes in Camera Lucida holds that
"what fountls the nature of Photography is the Pose," 4 ri and goes on to express a sweep-
ing predilection for photographs of person s who look direcrly into the camera- as
Barrhes puts it, "fwbo look] me straight 111 the eye" (11 I). J have argued thar this is
cons1stenr with Barthes's antirhearricalism in that only if photography is understood
to be fundamentally theatrical, which is what it means to claim that it is founded in
and hr the Pose, does it offer the possibility, at least on the plane of theory, of being
rendered antithearrical, as opposed ro its being merely non- or untheatrical. Herc is
Barthes's theoretical "solution" to rhe problem: "One might say rhat the Photograph
5eparates attention from perception, and yield~ up nnJy the former, even if it is impos -
s ible without the latter ... " ( 111) - which is to say that his "solution'' is nothing of the
kind. Whereas the '>tructures of awarcnes::. and unconsciousness l have ascribed to
';truth's and Dijkstra's photographic portraits represent a genuine ''solution" -or at leasr
two serious responses - to the problem of One would like to know what Barthcs
woul<l have made of their pictures.
Second, the emphasis on frontal poses .rnd maximum awareness on che part of the
sitters in Struth's family photographs and Dijksrra's head, pictures (and subsequent
serie~) lines up with what I have suggested has been rhc nece~sity in the wake of mini-
malism/literalism to acknowledge to-be-seenness in the course of pursujng antitheacri-
caJ aims - in that sense to drive a wedge between theatricality and co-be-seenness and
by so doing to establish antitheatricality on significantly new ground.

214 wny 1,IHJ1ograph~ matiers as art as never berrnic

My aim so far in this chapter has been ro show how two imp0rtant recent bodies of
portrait work, Strutb's family photographs and Dijkstra's beach series, belong ro the
larger photographic regime that it is the overall aim of chis book to elucidate. Jn the
pages that remain f shall briefly consider in rhat light three other groups of photographic
portraits (in a somewhat broad sense of the term) and a recent film: Patrick Faigen-
b:wm's black -and-white picture5 of husrs of Roman empero rs (with a sideglance at
Hi.rosru Sug1moros phorographs of waxwork historical figures); Luc Delahaye's l.J\utre,
a phorobook of black-and-white candid shots of passengers on the Paris Merro; Roland
Fischer's close-up color portraits of mun ks and nuns; and Douglas Gordon an J Philippe
Jlarreno's full-lengrh film, Zidnne: A Trve11tieth-Ce11t11r)1 Portrait.

Faigenbaum, a French photographer born in 1954, Jives and works in Paris. He is

essentially a portraitist, aoJ is roday probably best known for two superb early series
of black-and-white photographs of aristocratic Italian families in rheir palazzi, the first
taken in Venice, Florence, and Rome in 1983-7 and the second in Naples between r989
an<l r99 r (Fig. r 32.). Th e elegantly dressed men, women, and children in these were
carefully positioned by the artist; everyone looks calmly at the camern; and immense
care has been given to the composirion, specifically including rhe disrribution of his
sitters in space and rhe relation berween them and their ofren magnjficenr surroundings.
The total effect is profoundly forma l, as befits the subject matter, without anything of
the complemcnrarity between consciousness and Lmconsciousness at work in porrraits
by Srruth and Dijkstra (and Arbus). More recently Faigenbaum's portraits - in color as
well as black-and-wbire - have acquired an absorptive tenor, and a defo1ite shift in his
thinking is conveyed by the thoroughly Diderotian remark, "The portrait is finished
when l am ab le to leave my model to himself, to his thoughts, to bis own mind, as if
he were ar home without any witness. '' 41 Indeed their absorpriveness is a matter not
simply of his sitters' apparent stares of mind but also of the extraordinarily refined
handling of chiaroscuro (on occasion Faigenbaum tinds it desirable ro add minute dark
touches by hand to the surface of the print, thereby making rrnnsitions berween light
and dark even subtler, more finely conrinuous, rhan they already are); his pn::ference for
a matte ma shmy photograpluc surface (rb.e view er's gaze seem5 ro !,ink into die surface
rather than simply to glide pasr ir); and the impression rll:ir rhe picrures somehow convey
of being the produc-r of two distinct operations - the shooting of the photograph and
the making of rhe print- each of which is fclr co have raken place over .rn extended
period of time. (In face the actual printing of his photographs i!. so exacting rhar he
sometimes makes only one or two prints of a given image.) More than any contempo-
rary work I know, with the sole exceprioo of that of Craigie Horsfield, 42 Faigenbaum's
phorographs of the past decade or so invite intimate, close-Lip, fine-textured compari-
son with painting - without any sacrifice of their photograph it character.
H owever, it is his earlier series of photographs of busts of Roman emperors that T
want ro comment on here. The series, comprising twenry-sjx images in a ll, was made
by Faigeobaum in r986 in connection with his fellowship ar rhe Villa Medici in Rome.
All the busts are in the Capitoline Museum and were shot in black-and-white; a selec-
tion of fourteen images, under tbe title Vies para/le/es, was issued as a catalogue by the

portra its by struth, dq~stra , fa,genbaum de lahaye, and f1sche r. gordon and pa,renos 211-Jane 215
Villa Medici in 1987. What makes the photographs ,uresting in the present context is
that Faigenbaum chose to photograph the busts ar extremely dose range, thereby not
only eliminating all evic.lcnce of their c,etting but also concentrating exclusively on the
heads and faces, with here and there a neck. (Tf one did not know that these were busts
- sculptural portraits cut off below the shoulders - one coulc.l not cell it from the photo-
graphs.} The result-considerations of lighring, film speed, and exposure time, as well
as rhe actual printing of che photographs, played viral roles in as well - is some-
thing new in my experience. Jn the first place, rhe photographs faithfully record the
present condition of the busts as nearly two thousand-year-old material artifacts; at che
c,amc rime, the cumulative effect of the closeness, cropping, lighting, printing, and so on

216 why pl otograplly matters as art as nAver before

r32. (facing page) Patrick
Faigenbaum, Del Drago Family,
t987. Gelatin silver prinr.
50 x 48.5 cm

13 3 (left) Patrick Faigenbaum,

Augustus, 1986. Gelatin silver
print. 57.5 x 44 cm

has heen to infuse the images themselves with a note of human interiority - what l earlier
ca lled mindedness - alto gether foreign to the imperial bust as an artistic genre, were one
viewing these in their room at the Capitoline rather than through the mediwn of Faigen-
baum 's photographs. Take, for example, Augustus (Fig. c3 3 ), with its missing nose,
battered chin and lower lip, blemished surface, blank open eyes (no irises or pupils,
though in other pictured busts there are such), and forehead almost wholly cropped by
the photographer: how many photographs of actual persons can one bring to mind that
offer so intimate, intense, and unguarded an expressive communication to rbe viewer, a
communica rion all the more poignant for its seeming restraint and also because one
simu ltaneous ly registers the fact that the foce belongs nor to an actua l person bur to a

portraits by suuth, d11kstrc:1fa,genbaum, delahaye anr:I f,scher, gordon and parre no's z1dane 217
marble image and rhat one is therefore authorized, indeed actively encouraged , co gaze
one's fill - co give oneself to the imaginary connection without the smallest risk of imper-
rinence or intrusiveness on the one side or defensiveness or embarrassment on the other.
(lt is hard to believe, in the grip of the photograph, that this is the great Augustus, victor
of Actium, supreme polfrician of his age, officially a god.) Orher photographs- Julius
Caesar (Fig. 134), the thoughtful face with its repaired nose and forehead shrouded in
darkness; Salcmine (fig. 135), widespread diverging eyes full of indefinable feeling;
Caracalla (Fig. r 36), as if lost in violent thought; Gordien JIJ (Fig. , 3 7); and Titus (Fig.
138)- have different expressive valences but are equally instances of the same artistic
tour <le forc.:e: the seeming animatjon of the merely material, an animation that on rhe
one hand is utterly dependent on the original sculptures, bur that on rh e other - by virtue
of the rransformative power of photography char I have more than once remarked on
in this book - goes far beyond the originals in the direction of a subjectivity effect of
truly uncanny force. (Tbe marks of damage and repair mysteriously contribute to that
effect.) Not surprisingly, l want to suggest that Faigenbaum's Roman emperors rhus
anticipate his later turning toward an absorptive esrhetic, and more broadly that their
inspired conjoining of materiality, hence unconsciousness, and expressiveness is implic -
itly antitheatrical.
ff l ha<l more space in this chapter J would go on to conrrasr Faigenbaum's pictures
of emperors with Hiro shi Sugimoro's large black-and -whice photographs of effigies of

218 why photography mat1ers as art as never before

1H (facinl!, p,1ge left) P:mick f-a1genbaum, ]ulms Caesar,
1986. Gelatin silver print. 57.5 x 48 cm

1J5 (/tzw1K page rig/Jt) Patrick raigcnbaum, Salomne,

1986. Gel.Hin silver pnnr. 57.5 x 48 cm

136 (left) P,Hrick ra igcnba um, Caracalla, 1 ~8<-\.Gelatin

silver print. 50., x 4 1 cm

1 n (beluit left) Parnck Faigenhaum, Gordien Ill, r98c;.

Gelatin silwr print. 49 x 40 cm

t 38 (below right) Pamck Fa,gcnbaum, Titus, r986.

Gelatin silver print. 48 x 19 cm
139 Hiroshi Sugimoto,
Jmie Seymour, 1999.
Gelatin silver pcinr.
14'} X I r9.4 C\11,
Negative R,~

Henry vm and his wives in Madame Tussaud's waxwork museum in London ( 1999:
Fig. 139) , a set of images that I see as ingeniously themarizing the effigies' absellce of
subjectivity, <lespire their ostem,ible lifelikeness, ro which the finely Jerailed photographs
do full justice and more- rhe ''more'' of course being the means by which that lifelike -
ness is in the enJ undone.-' ; (The marble onginals of Faigenbaurn's emperors, in con-
trast, are nor lifelike but in his photographs radiate life.) This mo might
be thought to link up with an antitheatrical estheric, a possibility given further credence
by Sugimoro's comments in a conversation with Tracey Ba!.hkoff. Bashkoff asks: '' H ow
does Ithe fomrnt of the Henry Vlll photographs relate ro rradirional portrait painting?''
Sugimoto replies, understanding the notion of format to mean something like 111ise-e11-
All che subjects are either three-quarter view or in protile. Very few of the figures are
looking :1ryou directly. One wonders why rhey appear co be avoiding eye contact with
the viewer? Frum the three-quarter view, cbe viewer feels as if he or she is invisible
and able to investigate this powerful person wicbout confrontation. Nor looking into
rhe eyes of someone in a different class or static)n. That's probahly the police thing to

220 wl\y photog,aphy 111atlers as art as never beforn

Obviously I chink class difference aod politeness are not the issue here - hut I also do
nnc want ro makl too much in this connecrion of Sugimoro's waxwork images, which
for all their charactenst1c perfection hick the unexpectedness of Faigenhaum's

The second body of portrait work l want to glance ar here is Luc Ddahaye'.s L4utre,
a hook of ninety candid shms of fellow passengers taken with a bidden camera on the
Pa ris Merro between t995 and r997 (che book appeared in r~99; Figs. 140 and 141). 4 '
"Controlling the shmrer from his pock er," one commentator ha:. written, ''he quietly
rook each photograph precisely the same way of whoevt:r entered his frame as the doors
of the subway came ro a dose .... He said aboll[ his prorocol that 'ir was a type of
nihilism, a zero poinr chat I couldn't do any le...,sthan.' " 4~ The ohvinus precedent, as
Delahaye SLLrelyknew, was Walker Evans'c: famous 'Suhway Portraits" of r938-41,
tinally cnllected in the volume Ma11y Are Cnl/ed4 - (see Figs. 55 and 58): starting in the
winter of 1938, Evans, often au :nmpanicd by his friend Helen Levitt, a first-rare photo -
grapher in her own right, ro<le the New York subways for hours on cod in order to take
photographs of fellow passengers with a hidden camera the lens of which peeked our
between two buttons of his topcoat. According to Mia Fineman, Evans later described
the subway series as '"a rebellion against studio portraiture .... 1 was angry. lt was
partly angry protest- not social, but aesthetic- against poseJ portraiture:.' " 4 N Fineman
goe$ on co say:
A pnrtrait "ession, a:. Evans recognized, is an inherentl y rhcarrical scenario, a
command pcrformam:e requiring costumes, props, an<l make-up .... This inevitably
falsifying sdf-consc1ousness is precisely what Evans sought to circumvent in his
subway series. What be w:rnred ro caprure on film was not l>O much the private self
of his subject/>a<;the 1mcomoo11s self: the self that is only perceived hr a stranger in
passing, the self that never appears in the batliroom mirror but can sometimes be
glimpsed in ::i plate -glass shop window, before you recognize rbe reflectjon as yuur
own. For Fvans, the enforced proximity and the mesmerizing tedium of the subway
offered a "dream 'locarion' for any portrait phorographer weary of rhe studio ::ind of
the horrors of v;u1irr ... Thl' gtiard is down and the mask i~ off: even mon:: than when
in lone bedrooms (where rhere are mirrors), people's faces arc in naked repose down
in the subwa y." I 108-9, emphasi5 in original]

Delahaye would have: been sympathetic to sucb thoughts, but only up to a poinr; at any
rate, his images differ signific ,rntly from Evans\ exnmple. Whereas Evans'<.subjects sir
acro~s the central aisle from him and are variously framed from one shot ro another,
Delahaye's photographs appear ro have been taken ar close range - also slightly from
below - with his subjects' hea<ls occupying most of the recrang le and rheir features
depicted in ~harp fo(us and with strong contrasts of light anti shadow as they look away
to one side or the other - anywhere, one feels, bur at the photographer. Moreover,

pc,1tra,1s tJ\ ztru!I, cliJk<;trn fa1genbr111n1. dtJlahaye. ancJ i1sch,-.r, g;'l1don and pareno's ::1dane 22 1
L'Autre as a book bas a !>harply different character from Many Are Called. The cumu-
lative effect as one turns its pages and confronts its ninety portraits - each on rhe right-
hand page, facing a page of shiny black - is claustrophobic in its intensity: the extreme
proximit y of Delahaye's subjects and the sameness o( rhe compositional schema throw
into relief nor only rhe physiognomic, racial, and age diversity of the individual riders
bur equally rheir uniform determination, as it comes to seem, ro absent themselves as
much as possible from rheir immediate circumsrances. This appears to hnve been what
Delahaye intended, along wirh a further aspiration to approach as near as possible co
a negation or, ro use his rerm, a "zero point" of authorial presence, Jespite what he
musr have realized would be the viewer's (the page-turner's) constant awareness of
Delaha)'e's sec.:retagenl'.y in the making of rhe pictures. Thu s the photographer in a brief
preamble to bis book alludes to "chat non-aggression pact we all subscribe to: the pro -
hibition against looking ar others." He continues: "Apart from rhe odd illicit glance,
you keep staring at the wa ll. We are very much alone in thl'se public places and there's
violence in rhis calm acceptance of a closed world. 1 am sitting in Front of someone to
record his image, the form of evidence, but just like him 1 too stare into the distance
and feign absence. 1 cry to be like him. It's al l a sham, a necessary lie, lasting long enough
to rake a picture. " 4 '' Faces on rhe Metro, in orber words, including Delahaye's, arc so
m:rny masks of blankness - they are. one mighr say, faces on hold - and parr of rhe dis-
tinction of L'Autre is chat ir obsessively records rhar fact.
Now, my purpose in introducing Delahaye's L'Autre at this juncture is both to call
artenrion to a compelling achievement J.nd co use rhe comparison with vans to under -
score the 5hifr of emphasis rhat I rake to be characteristic of what has happened in art
photography during rhe past few decades. Two points in particular are worth stressing.
First, the comparison exemplifies a general turning away from the antithearrical ideal
in its original or strictly Di<lerotian form, which in rhe case of F.vans's "Subway Por-
traits" 1sexpressed in the notion that persons who are unaware of being photographed
-who at the limit are unawar e of being beheld- manifest che inner truth of their being
on their faces. ;o The reason!> for turning away are many, bur perhaps the most
interesting is that given by Barthes in Camera Lucido, where he deprecates the practice
of capturing persons unaware of being photographed on the grounds that doing- so
amounts to nothing more than a certain sort of performance on the part of the
Operator (the photographer). Second, whar one finds in Delahaye's photographs in
T.'Autre is at once an acknow ledgmenr of the untenableness, as of rhe mid-1990s, of the
"Snbway Portraits" paradigm - Delahciye's subjects, not jusr individually bur in their
very repetitiveness, their structural similarity from one photograph to the ne>.t, appear
painfully aware of their exposure co the gaze of the Orher, chough not ro that of tlw
camera (which however threatens by its e.x.--rreme proximity ro violate their fragile psycl1Jc
space) - ,md an attempt to themacize that awareness as a collective if ultimately doomed
aspiration mward psychic absence, an aspiranon which, Delahaye's remarks suggest, is
shared hy rhe photographer . ("More t:han anything l wish to Jisappear," he has said
a hour his work, ' 1 :in avowal that bears also on the panoramic pictures discussed in
Chapter Six.) ln orher words, Delahaye's project in L'A11tre is consistent ""ith whar

222 wlw ,, 1,nto~ 1r:-1r)hy n1atter"' a~ 1ri ,1. neVf'( beto re

qo Luc Delahaye, from L'Autre (r999) 141 Luc Delahaye, from L'Autre (1999)

l have described, in the first place in conne<.:tion with Jeff Wall's practice in works such
as Adrian Walker and Mor11i11gCleaning, as a combination of an acknow ledgment
of to-be-seennes" and a resolve, against the odds, not to succumb ro theatricality.
By acknowledgment of ro-be-seenncss in rhis context I refer not only to the Metro-riders'
subscript ion to the ''non-aggression pact" to which Delahaye's preamble alludes hut
also to the ro le played by the phorobook as such - the rurning of the pages under-
scoring a ,;ense of the photographs' repetitiveness - in the view ing of Delahaye's

One last group of works to be considered is the German photographer Roland Fischer's
se ries of large-sea le, frontal, close-up color portraits of monks and nuns in their coifs
an<l cowls (1984-7; Figs. 142 and r 43 }, about which Regis Du.rand has written:

ort,ans by s11uth d1kstra fa1g<.lnbaum, clelahaye. ,md t1scher gordon and parreno's z,dane 223
1 42 Roland Fischer,
Untitled. Nuns and Monks
(N3 I ), 1984.
Chromogenic process prinr.
181..9 x 1 30.8 cm

One mighr chink char the work of Roland Fischer, who has photographed monks and
other religions persons lmoniales] in Benedictine monasteries all across Europe, [has
for its aim] the very image of aurhencicity, not simply of the individuals phorographed,
but by means of them of a life entire ly consecrated to a faith. And, in a certain manner,
fiscber's photographs stay close to a traditional photographic aspi ration, which is to
seize beings and things in their true presence, their being-there [leur et1'e-laJ.The sub-
jects themselves, in the present ca:.e, are in a sense already prepared, since they are,
by a life of ascesis and renunciation, divested of everything superfluous, as i_finwardly
purified and emptied out feuide].And it is doubtless chat involuntary coincidence with
the phorographic image (reinforced by the framing of the face beneath the coif or the
hood, irs frame) which has interested Fischer. ' 2

why phorograpby maners as art as never before

143 Roland Fischer, U11titled,
Nuns and Mnnks (No1), r984.
Chromogenic proces~ print.
r 8::?..9x t ,o.8 cm

The implicat ion seems co be chat what Fischer 's religious sitters truly, deeply are is man-
ifest in their faces in a way that m}1kesthem ideal photographic subjects. Thus Durand
goes on ro describe them (the monks and nuns themselves, it appears) as "transparent
signs, fragile icon:,, places of passage and of exchange as rnucb as of the divine presence
as of the gaze, between an infinite depth and an absolute evidence and litera liry" (rn).
To which it should he added that in rhe painting and etching of Manet's generation, as
in earlier European painting generally, monks and nuns were almost always depicted
absorbed in prayer or medirntion (or as in etchings by Manet's contemporaries Edouard
Moyse and Alphonse Legros, in playing cellos). "All etchers slhould frequent cloisters,"
the critic Pnul de Saint-Vicror wrote in r863,

ponra,ts by s1,un, d 1kstra, Ia,genhaum, delahaye arid tischer 9ordon ,ind p,me:110 s z,dane 225
there rhey would find what their capricious and freedom-loving needle seeks: pic-
mresque tarters, cbaracrerisric heads, interiors shot through with light and shadow,
mystery nnd strangeness .... The Cart!JUsit111 Playing a Cello by Morse [sic: EdouarJ
Moy1:.el 1.smodelt:<l with fullness am l accuracy. The old man bends over his instru-
ment wirh his head bare. Vowed to rhe silence by his Rule, he seems to converse with
it; deprived of th e sociecy of men, he rakes refuge in the world of sounds: the voice
of the strings tnkes the place for him of rhe human voice. 11

The cloister, in Saint-Victor's account and in rhat of orher art critics of the 186os, was
ima~ine<l a:. a wor l<l apart, an absorptive space closed off From the world of ordinary
life. q What I want ro call attention m in Fischer' s portraits is the unlikely ~oking of
unmistakable evidence of years and in some cases decades of cloistered existence and
intensely absorptive spirirual activity- faces lined, paled, drawn, and pouched by 5.oli-
rary prayer, meditation, fasting, discipline - together with a largeness of scale, an unfbr -
r<:ringevenness of lighting, an even more unflattering hyper-visibility of epidermal detail,
rind what seems plainly to have been rhe roraJ .10.:eptance hy his sitters of being
photographed (by an artist, and at point-blank range), all of which taken together are
equal ly unmistakably on the side of to-be -see nneso;,.Such a yoking, inconceivable at an
earlier dare, perfectly exemplifies the new photographic regime rhat is rhe overarching
s ubject of rhis book.

Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parrcno's film, Zidane: A Twenty-First Century Purtrait
( 2.006), was ma<le as follows: during the enrirery of a ninery-miJ1ure c;occcr match
between Real Madrid and Villareal in chc Estadio Santiago Bern:ibeu i.n Madrid on the
evening of April 1.3, 2.005, seventeen synchronized movie cameras, using different types
of film and in various positions around the stadium, were trainee.I on one player, the
superb and legendary Real halfback, Zinedine Zidane. (Zidane, born 197 z. in Marseille
to an Algerian family, played spectacularly for France in the 1006 World Cup before
being red-carded - expelled - from the final shortly he fore the end for head-butting an
Italian defender. It was a ,;mpefying acr and brought his glorious internarional career to
a more memorable end than anything could have done except scoring the winning goa l.
Neverth e less, thousands of international journalists voted him the best player in the
tournament, awarding him the "Golden Ball.") Gurdon and Parreno sat in a trailer
outside rhe sradium looking ar real-rime images from the seventeen cameras fed tO TV
monitors in front of them; this allowed them to request individua l camera operators co
move in for a close ~up, ro pull back, co focus on Zidanc's torso or head or feet or raised
arm anJ hand, and so on. Later the arrii..ts, together with noted editor H erve Schneid,
edited thr raw takes, mont,1ging sequem:es from each of the cameras, as wel l as bits
from rhc TV broadcast, to make a single temporally continuous, a lheit visually exrremc ly
heterogeneous - at times almost c.lisorit>nting- ninery-minute movie; the sound track,
also heterogeneous, combines rhe Spanish commentator's relevised accounr of the game
144 fi~n still from Zida11e:A 2 rst Century Portrait, by Douglas Gortlon and Philippe Parreno,

(which runs intermittently through the film, giving ic a narrative spine), crowd noise,
sounds of contact from the field, hard hrcathing, music by rhe Scottish band Mugwai,
and silence. At several points statements hy Zidane appear in subtitles. The viewer
follows not the march per se but number 5, Zidane, from beginning to (almost the) end,
though at a few crucial juncrnres - once when he is knocked down and later, after Zidane
defianrly dribbles past defenders an<l senJs a fabulous left-foore<l cross chat is then
headed for a goal by his Brazilian teammate Ronaldu - the action is shown three rimes
and from different points of view, to make sure that the viewer grasps what has jusr
taken place. (Also given are t\VO views of a crucial penalty chat leads ro a goal - nor
acruaily shown - against Real, and rwo of a goal by Michel Salgado rhat puts Real ahead
to stay.) Zidane opened at the Cannes film festival in 2006, wai, projected in a stadium
at the Basel Art Fair, and shortly after char went into general release in Paris, where 1
caught it twice the first day it was in the theaters.
I did not do so by chance. I had learned about the project some time before and had
been looking forward to seeing the 61m for two reasons. First, I had become interested
in Gordon's work ever since happening upon his video projection Play Dead; Real Time
(2003), featuring an elephant that repeatedly lay down on the floor and rose with dif-
ficulry co its feet (presumably in response to instructions from a handler offscreen), at
the Gagosian Gallery in New York in 2003, followed by his rerrospective exhibition at
the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, o.c.. the following year.
Second, the project intrigued me. In particular Twas curious to discover whether or not
rhe designation of rhe film as a "portrait" could be taken seriously - whether ic meant

porna 11s by s t1111h,d11kstra. fa1genbau1n, delahave. a11d risctier, gordc,n and parro.~nbsz1dane 227
r4, Film ~rill from Zida11e:A 2ISt Century Portrait, b) Dougla~ Gordon and Phjlippe Parreno,

simply that the film was a biopic or whether it had some deeper resonance. 1 hoped the
latter was the tase , and when J saw the film Ill) ' hopes were fulfiJJed.
Jn a shore joint c;tarement about their project., Gordon and Parreno refer to portraits
by Velazquez and Goya in the Prado, but identify Andy Warhol's real-time film portraits
of &iends and other V"isicorsto the Factor y as rhe "direct source for the pl>rtrair that we
hope to painr. "'' This is doubtless true, but girasping the significance of Zidane also
requires viewing it against the background of the issues I have been tracing in the present
chapter and, more broadly, in this book.
First and most obviously, Zidane himself is depicted as wholly absorbed throughout
almost the entire film (Figs. 144-6). What absorb& him, namrally, is rhe march, which
requires the keenest imaginable attention from start to finish and in addition ca lls forth
the mosr intense and concentrated physical effor1r on his part, nor continuously - he con-
serves his energy whenever possible - bur in explosive bursts and sallies that are nearly
impossib le ro follow as they unfold. Lndeed Zidane's dazzling and unerring footwork,
hi~ astonishing control of the ball, and bis instantaneous decision-making a ll exemplify
his seemingly unremitting focus on the game even as they combine co keep the viewer
perceptually on edge, as does the sheer violence of his high-speed physical encounters
with riva l players as rhey rry co srrip him of rhc bail or the ocher way round (the miking
of the sound of chose encounrers adds greatly to their vividness). Another facror in all is Zidane's physiognomy, not just its leanness and roughness, emblematized by his
balding, greying, closely cropped skull, but its basic impassiveness (his expression barely
changes afrer his brilliant cross results in a goal), wh_icb adds co the impression of an
inner ferocity chat, it rums out, could scarcely he more phorogenic. (To say that the

228 why photography m<l! as art as never belore

T.j.6 Portrait, by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno,
Film srill from Zid,me: A 21st Ce11/11ry

sevenreen cameras --love" Zidane is an understatement.) Through almost a!J the march
thar impassiveness gives way on ly once, late on, when he c;hares a joke wirb Roberto
Carlos: the effecr is marvelous, a sudden lightening, bur according w Gordon (in con-
versation) that was the nne moment that Zidane did not appreciate when he was shown
rhe film. He seemed to himself to have lost concentration and that annoyed him.
1n short J sec Zidane as belonging, first, to the absorptive current or tradition that I
have cried to show, in Absorption ,111d Theatricality and subsequent books, has played
a central a role in the evolution of modern art, and second, to rhe revisionary adapta-
tion of absorptive strategies on the part of Srrurh, Dijkstra, Faigenbaum, Debhaye, and
Fischer (among ochers I have ool considered) 111the interest of coming to grips with the
ongoing problem of porrrairure (see Srrurh's remarks to Ann Goldstein cited earlier in
this chapter). Cruci:1lly, however, Zidane's absorption in the match with Villareal is nor
depicred as invo lving rbe comp lementary unawareness of everyrhing ocher rhan rbe focus
of his absorption - which until recenrly has meant an unawareness of being beheld-
rhar has been rhe hallmark of absorptive depicrion from Chardin and Greuze down
a lmost to the presenr. On the contrary, a major part of the conceptua l brilliance of
Zidmre consists in rhe fact that its protagonist's sustained feat of absorption is depicted
as taking place before an immediate audience of eighty thousand spectators, with
mj]Jions more watching via TV. Thus throughout tbc film rhere jc; the unmistakable impli-
cation that Zidane himself 1 as we see him, could not be other than acutely aware that
literally unrold numhers of viewers have rheis eyes on hjm. (He knows too thar seven-
teen movie cameras are following his every move. At the same time, we also feel that
he has no way of kn owing that we in particular are looking un. In any case, tbis is the

portr,11ts by srn 1th rJql-.:sna, largenb;,;,um delahaye. a11d tiscl1cr g(11don and parrano':,. z1da11e 229
realm of ''ro-be-seenness" with a vengeani:e .) Yet the viewer 's conviction of rhe great
athlete's tota l engagement in the match is not thereby undermined. Instead, the film lays
hare a hirherto unrhematized relationship bcrwee 1n absorption and beholding- more pre-
cisely, between the persuasive representation of absorption and the apparent con-
sciousnes,; of being beheld - in the context of :art, a relationship which is no longer
simply one of opposirion or antithesis, as it was throughout the absorptive craclirion
until recently, hut inswad allows a gliding and i1ndeed ::to overlap berween the two. (In
Struth 's family portraits and Dijkstra's photogrnphs of adolescents on beaches absorp-
tion in being photographed gives rise t<>palpable effects of cmhli de soi, which is to say
that in their work the traditional antithesis is dispbced but not undone.)
Furthermore, not only does Zida,,e lay bare that new relationship, it goes on to
explore it, in the 1-irstplace, by the repeated foregrmrndi ng of the filmic and TV appa-
rarus (mainly by shots of the game as mediated by television monitors, including at least
one hlack-and-white monitor in the trailer outside the stadium) as well as by one brief
.. climb" to the upper reaches of the stadium, whence the camera plunges down to the
field; in the second by sequences involving Zid::111ehimself, as when the camera appar-
ently follows his gaze up co the '>tadiLLmlights or ro the scoreboard (0-1 against Real)
hefore returning to the match, or when it draws us close ro his face, then blurs his fea-
rurcs as ir brings the previously indistinct crowd be)'ond him into sharp focus before
zeroing in on him once more (the effect is to suggest Zidane's shifting consciousness of
the "rheatrical'' aspects of his situation)/h and in the third, even more explicitly, b)'
means of some of the handful of remarks hr Zidane that are reported in rhe form of
st1btitles. 'When you step onto the field," Zidane is quoteJ as saying at one point, "you
hear the crowd, you feel its presence. There is sound, the sound of noise." Then: "When
you are immersed in the march, you don't really hear the crowd. At rhe same time you
can almosr choose what you want ro bear. You. are never alone.'' Then: "l can hear
someone shift around in his sear. I can hear someone cough . I can hear someone speak
to the person next to him. 1 can imagine that l hear rhe ticking of a watch." And then:
''When things go badly, one is perhaps more attentive ro the reactions of the public.
When rhey don't go "veil, one less co111.:entn1redand more inclined to hear the
insulr s, the whistles. One begins ro have negative rhoughrs, sometimes one want!> to
forget ... " All tht:se remarh-whicb we read avidly, grateful for a glimpse of Zidane's
inner life:- are set off by the sound track, in par6cular by haunting stretches of music
thar at rhese moments consist m,1inl)' of a repetitive, harmonic plui:king, sometime<; with
crowd noise in rbe background. Above tbe titles or during the ''silences" between srate-
mems we follow Zidane, sometimes in action, sometimes walking or standing srill, ar
momen~ in extreme close up, hooded gaze focussed offscrecn, sweat dripping as he
waits for the play to surge hack in his direction. rrom time to rime he spits. He wipes
his face with his arm or sleeve. He scratches his head behind his left ear. Now and rhen
be barks "Hey" or "Aie" or raises one arm asking for the ball. We are also given repeated
shoes of his legs and feet, including close-ups thtat reveal him scuffing the toes of his
dc<1tS against the rurf as he walks along-why does he do chat? His gait becomes inti-
mateJy familiar to us by the end of tl1e film. (Somewhere in rhc ne1ghhorhood is Robert

1 30 wnv ph01ogrnf}hy rnat1Ars as arl as neve1 betore

Rresson's magnificent A11 H,1sarcl.8,1/tlnmtr f r966J.) The overa ll effect of subtitlei,,
c;ound track, and images ic;intensely "subjective," and underscores the already power-
ful impre::.sion of Zidane\. capacity for stillness - one might say the imp ression of his
psychk apartnes~, his faithfolneMi tO hi!>own Achille.:;-like singularity- at the heart of
the general combat. (There are -:ome things more important than the Trojan War, as a
friend put it apropos the famous head -bntt. r)
As for the suhtirles themselves, l am of course greatly struck by the fol'.'t that Gordon
and Parreno make a poiot nf ZiJane's consciousness of the crowd, which suggests rhar
rhey recognize, explicitly or otherwise, rhat this is the crucial issue, artistically and ouro-
logica lly, raised by rheir "portrait." Beyond that there 1s the (to me hurning) question
of bow exactly to underscand Zidane's account of his own douhle consciousness, if that
i:. whar it is: on the one hand, immersed in the game he does not really hear the crowd;
on tht ocher, at the st111teti111e,he cc1n''almost choose" what he wanrs to ht'ar and indeed
can go so for as ro imagine - extraordinary thought- the ticking of a warch. What is
dear is that the 1.econd term in his double consciousnei.s is not exactly distraction,
absorption's traditional other - albeit di~traction itself, in the mode of reverie, cao he a
kinJ of absorption. (A potential source of distraction in the form of running illuminareJ
advertisements for various firms and proJucts just beyond the sidelines of tht field ii.
intermittently in view rhroughour the tilrn.) Rather, it almost seems another form,
another channel, of absorption, a psychic counter-movement, reaching fanmsmatic
kngths (the ticking of that watch!), to his sense of exposure to the crowd's unpredictable,
divided, at Limes hostile atteorions. Not that such a counter-movement is ::ilways avail -
.iblc: when things go badly, Zidane'~ concenrrarion flags, he bears insults and whistles,
sometimes he wanrs ro for~ec." ( Another extraordinary thought: dnes he mean w forget
what he 1s there to do? Bur "forgetting'' is also a traditional way of describing an
ah~orbed person's unawareness of his or her surroundings. Can he me,u1 both? 'You
don't necessarily remember a match as an experience in 'real timl:" he is quoted as
saying. ''My memories of marches are fragmented.'' Like the film itself? Gordon and
Parreno probab ly think so; they give us the last rwo quotations twice. And what is che
relation of imagining rhe ticking of a w:uch to that fragmenting of rime? ) ln focr a flag-
ging of concenrrarion becomes visible toward the end of the march: one cannot help
noticing what appear like signs of exasperation, culminating in a seemingly gr::1t11itous
:md, as at the W<>rldCup, a wholly unexpected ::ict 0 violence that calls forth another
red card. "On o'est 1amais seu l" ("You are never alone')- whatever else Z1dc111emay
be, it 1s a compe lling portrayal of that condition, which in this instance comes across
a-. a sratt: nf mindedness that is almost unremittingly intense and at rhe same time seems
<;omebow bare or minimal, as if lacking in deprh . (Here too "Achilles-like" seems the
right epithet.) What is not made explicit by the film - how rnulJ ir have been? - is just
how represt'ncative of our epoch the makers of the film imagine thar condition to be.'x
ln closing, it occurs to me that Zidane's remarks about the crowd are in the register of
hearing- as if even in the worst circumstances his visual attention remain,; 011 the game.
For Gordon and Parreno, Zidane represents an atrempr to make a film that would
helong at once ro the wodd of popular entertainment - sports on TV, notably- and ro

that of galleries, museums, art . 5'' ln my view they have succeeded, and what is charac-
teristic of Gordon's work to date (I do not know Parreno's well enough to speak of ir)
is rhar arristie ~m:cess turns out to have gone hand in hand with deep theoretical and
philosophical interest.

* There is more ro rhe philosophical i1Jreresr of The ~econJ ~ou1ce of phiJosophicaJ imeresr
L.1da11eth::in 1 h.ive suggesred. Two lines o~ wc,rch noting concerns the question a"' LO whether
thought pre,ent themselves. 1-irsr, with respect ro human percepnon 1s inherently "cnncepruru m
the issue of worldhood. there 1s the implication 1rs content. This has heen a topic ot contention
char Zidanc's absorbed conscwusne!ts, for all its between John McDowell, who is ,:onvinced rhar
"hareness'' and narrowness of focu~. nevertheless ,c is, and Hubcrr L. Drerfus, who .argue~ on phe-
opens upon (Heidegger would say "discloses") a nomenologica l gr01111d~that it is nm. A represen -
shared world - in ocher words, thar rhe film is not tative paragraph from McDowell\ Mind and
u1 .1ny sense a ~rudy tll solipsism (in the usu.ii World (Cambridge, Mass., .md London, [994)
under,tandmg of the term ). Thi~, l rake it, 1, ont' reads:
mea111ngof the sequence of tourteen extremely
r have been UJgingthat we must cc,nceive expe-
hrief, extremely diverse news dips from differenr
riences as srares or occurrences in which capac -
part~ of the world during rhe shnrr hal~ime
mcs that hclong ro spontaneity are in play in
hrea.k: ~uch as a puppet show fearuring a Bnb
actualtzat1ons of recepriviry. Expenences have
Marie)' figutt' on a beach in Braztl, the dcsrruc-
rhrir conrent by virtue of the focr char conccp -
tion of homes by flnoding in Serbia-Montenegro,
tunl capacirics arc operanve in rhem, and char
Elian Gnn1.alez speaking 011 Cuban TV, rhe sale
means capacities that genuinely helong to rhe
vi:1 eBay of a l1tesizc X-wmg tighter frorn rhe
understanding: it is essential to 1rhe1rbeing the
movie St,.1r W.zrs. the space ship "Voya~er"
C'1paciries chey Jrc rhar rhey can lhe e-x11loircdin
recording plasma wave ~minds at the solar wiml
a.:civl:' and pmenrially self-cririca I rhinking. Bur
termination boundary. a reading marathon mar-
when thc~e capacities come into play 111 expe-
king the four-hundredth anniversary of the pub-
rience, the experiencing subject i.s,passive, acred
licarion of Don Q11ixute, the issuing of a rn.w
on by independent reality. \X!Jien experience
~eries of video games, the explosion of a car bomb
makes conceptual content av:tih1hle to 0ne, rh.H
in Na1af, Jr::iq (a hysundcr 1s wearing a hlack
i:, itself one's sensibility in operar.ion, nonmder-
Jersey bearing the mLmber 5 and the name
standin~ puning a construc-tion on ~ome pre-
"Zid,rnc" in white), the death of the Briiish actor
co11ceprual deliverances of sensibility. At lease
S1r John .\1ill .\, the first s1ghri11g1n twenty years
with "ourer experience." cunceprual conrent ii.
of an ivory-billed woodpecker, the close of the
cilrea<ly borne hy impressions char indept'ndent
As1,rn-African sumnm in Jakarta -followed ny re:iliry makes on one's senses. (66-7)
rhe ~amr mysterious and hard-ro-trauslare ,:,rarc-
ment (in \Ubtirles ) thar w,hers in rhe film: "Qui With respect to what Dreyfus ca.Lis "absorbed
aurair ru imaginer que darn, le furur on puisse se coping" - as in physical sports, a key example for
souvenir de ce jour exrraordinaire commt' d 'une him - conceptuality for him involves stepping
promenade dans ltn pare" (rougWy: ''Who would back from such copint; an<l rhcreby disruptmg it.
have been ahle to imagine that 1n rhe future one So that wherca~ (in Dreyfus's words) "McDowt'II
Lould remember tbjs extraordinary day a ... t.f it holds rhar our coping 11111st l>e implicitly co11cep-
were a walk in a park"). Toward the end among tl/a/ ,:mdpermeated by mindednes$ [emphasis in
d1e news dip$ are .ilso rwo unassigned sratc- original!;' Dreyfus contends char "if Ian!expert
rnencs ": " My snn had a fever this mornmg" and coper is to 1n flow, J1e mu~t respond
" [ had something to do roday." Ir is nor entirely directly to the sohcirnnon w1thot11.nrrcndmg to
cle,H what w m::ike of all rhis- rhe statements" the object doing the soliciting [Dre)lfus's example
in particular arc hard ro interpret- but rhe unex- i!oa doorknoh on a Joor that we rea,ch for without
pecred opening up of the lilm m a global per- consciously perceiving it as we le:ive a rooml,
spective, or rather to the simulraneirr o t multiple There i~ no rlace in the phenomen ,olog) of ~kilJ-
pcrwectives. feel, inspircJ. ful action for conLeptu:.11mi.n<lednc~~s." l do not

l.J2 wl1y pltotuQraphy matter:; :is art as never before

knuw about rhe doorknob; the example comes tions 1s no. Rather, f rake: Z1da111!
to be a smt-,'11-
trom 1\llcrl<"a11
-Ponry, and Orcyfu, claims that larly perspicuous example of what it might look
rccem research bacb 1tup . Brn consider Zinedinc Ji_keto an ideally sirnarcd observer (011e "c:on- "expert coper" and a mastn of ~tructed" by the nlmf for experience, perception,
rt:maining "in flow'' if chcrc ever was une: 011 the and "coping" of tht: mnsr insr:intanet>as and
strength of Gordon ,md Pa.rreno's film, would om r~ourcefol kind to he "permeared by minded-
really wish ro say rhar the grear arhlere'~ partici- ness" in McDowell's .sense of the phrase.
pation in rhe march appears lo confirm Dreyfus's (The remark~ h} Dreyfus come from an unpub -
~rriccures? That Zidane's rescless scanning of thl' lished essay, ''The Hcrurn of the Myth of the
action on rhe field, his calling for d1e ball and Menral," part of an exchange with McDowell
rapid disrrihurion of 1c ,vhrn it arnves. his con- rhar begins wirh On:yfus's APA Pacific Division
servation of hi~ forct:s ar every valid opportunity, Presidenrial Address, ''Overcoming tbe Myth uf
his sudden recognirion th,lt somerhing can he rhe Menral: How Ph ilosopher5 Can Profit from
made of a rapiJly unfolding siruarion-as when rhc Phenomenology 1;il Everyday Expertise," Pl'u
he lmlliandy dribbb m the lefr o f rhc.:Villareal ceedings and Addresses of the Americ,111P/Jilri-
goal before delivering rhe cross mar RoaaJdo Assvdt1tro11,no. 79 (NO\'ember !005 ):
heads in - and in general his unflagging yet also -17-65. McDowe ll rephes in "What Myth?";
v11negated responsiveness to rbe ebb aad flow of Dreyfus responds in turn 111 "The Return of the
the ~ame. all unequivocally bespeak an involve- Myrh of the Menral"; . and McDoweU comes balk
mcnr with rhc match that abso lurely precludes briefly in ''Re~ronse to Dreyfus." The fast three
..:onceprual cc,nrent of an) ~<lrt?For that matter, tcx:t.Swill he published in a fucure volume oi
.:an Dreyfus\ .111-or-nothing vision of absorbed /11q11h).1 should add rhat 11c0CJwell',;views 0J1
copmg" bt' squa red with Zidarte's accounr in rhe cn11ceprual c:1pJc1tie!, 111perception have been
~nhritles of his i,hifttng and complex awareness of contesred by others bcsiJes Dreyfus; my com-
rhe-crowd? fina lly. is it plaus ible rhat throughout ments in this note are not an attempt to assess
the film his relation to the ball should be under- McDowell's argume::nts comprehen~ively, bur
~cooclaccording ro the model of Dreyfus's 'expert Gordon and Parreno', , Zid,me does !,eem ro me co
coper" lca\ing a rnom in relation to an unfocal - bear on rhe above ex,change. l
lzeJ doorknob? For me the answer to Lheseques-

porua1ts by Strlith d1Jkstra , fa1genl)aum. delahaye- ,;nd i1scfle1 gordon and parrnno's -::,dane 233
147 Jeff Wall, Mimic, 1982 . Transparency in lightbox. 198 x 228.5 cm
street photography revisited:
jeff wa ll , beat streuli, philip-lorca dicorcia 8
In x982 Jeff wall made Mimic (Fig. r 47), one of his best -known photographs . The setting
is a street in Vancouver, which recedes into the distance toward the left -ha nd edge of
the picture. Three persons are shown walking more or less directly toward the camera :
on the left, nearest the cmb, a young Asian man in a short -sleeved shirt and dark gray
trousers, and on the r ight a couple, a young Caucasian man with dark unkempt hair
and a mousta'che and beard, wearing a T-shirt and an open denim vest (in an interview
1 shal l cite, Wall describes him as a "lumpenproletarian"), who holds the hand of a
heavy-thjghed young Caucas.ian woman in shor ts, heels, and a waistless top. The action
of the picture consists in a gesture of mimicry (hence the title) in which the bearded man
raises a finger to the corne r of his eye so as to mock the "slanted" eyes of the Asian
man. The exact relativ e position s of the three figures are important, as are th e dir ec-
tions of their gazes. The couple have not quite drawn abreast of th e Asian man, who
may be conscious of their proximity (the woman in particular gives the impression that
the couple have been walking faster than he) but who on close looking seems not to be
in a position to take in th e hostil e gesture; he glances toward his left (our right) as if at
something off-picture, and his expression, which perhaps betrays a certain tension, is in
the end unreadable. (There is something strong ly cinematic in Mimic, as Wall would
freely acknowledge; one's sense is of a fleeting moment in a more compl ex narrative.)
The woman, a half- step behind her companion, squints as she looks straight ahead into
strong sunlight, and appears oblivious not only to th e action of her companion bur
perhaps to the presence of the Asian man. As for the bearded aggressor, he looks toward
his targ et as he raises his finger to his eye; his entire demeanor bespeaks hostility, and
it is to him and his gesture and facial expression that the viewer's attention returns again
and again.
Wall's Mimic is an early example of his career-long interest in reviving what Baude-
lair e called "the painting of modem life" - la peinture de la vie 1noderne. In fact a major
composit ional source was surely certain pictures by Caillebotte, notably Paris Street,
Rainy Day (1877), the canvas in $truth's Art Institute of Chicago 2, and Le Pont de
/'Euro pe (c. 1876), both of which give evidence of Caillebo tte 's interest in the photo-
graphy of his time . Mimic is also characteristic of Wall's engagement in his art of the
r98os wit h social issues (itself an interpretation of Baud elaire's rubric) , in this case the
accepta nce or non-acceptance of "for eigne rs," as the bearded man would doubtless
regard his Asian cont emporary. (This hardly exhausts the social dimension of th e picture,

str eet photography rev isited: jeff wall , beat str eu li, phtlip-lorca dicorc,a 235
148 Gar ry Winogrand, Hollywood Boulevard, Los Ange les, 1969. Gelatin silver print. 27.9 x
35.5 cm

as will be seen.) A further aspe ct of Wall's thinking, one of particular interest to this
chapter, concerns the relation of Mimic to the conventions and trad itions of street photo -
graphy . ln for example the work of Carcie r-Bresso n and Winogrand, two of the most
famous practitioners of th e genre, the photographer walks the city streets, mingl es with
crowds, plunge s int o politica l ra llies or attend s parties or news confer ences, armed with
a lightweight 3 5-mm camera and shoots what he sees all around him. More often than
not, the persons in such pictures appear unaware of being photographed, as does Wall's
three some, or the sub jects of Walker Evans's "Su bway Portraits" (not strictly speaki ng
street photographs but cons istent with the esthetic; see Figs. 5 5, 58), 1 or th e dozen or
so persons of widely disparate status in Winogrand's Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles
( c969; Fig. q8), a parti cularly brilli a nt instan ce of his art. (Winog rand, usuall y con-
sidered the pr eemi nent Amer ican street photo grapher o f the r9 6os a nd '70s , wou ld have
been acutely present in Wall's 1rund in 1982. 2) In an important essay of 2001 on recent
street photography Ru ssell Ferguson remarks that Wall's depiction of a "decisive
moment" in Mimic seems " perhaps too go od to be tru e," but at once adds that "many
stre et photographers hav e managed to captu re such moments . " 3 (The moment depicted
in Hollywood Boulevard is ext raordinary, as is the play of sha dow s and reflections; the
tilt of the camera, a signature Winogrand device, emphas izes the fleetingness of the con-
catenation of eleme nts. Th e phrase "dec isive moment" is of course Cart ier-Bresso n's. 4 )
Yet, as Ferguson goes on co say, Mimic, Jjke almost all Wal l's pictures featuring persons,

236 why photography matters as art as never before

is nor the produce of a brillianr, athle tic, split-second fear of reportage but rat her was
delibera tely staged - cast , choreographed, reh earsed, and shot over and over again in
pursuit of rhe perfect image. Ferguson w rites :

Consisting of a backlit tran sparency mo re tha n six feet wide, Mimic deliberat ely
inflates the small incident it depicts to the sca le and presence traditionally associated
w ith the most amb itiou s painting. Wall makes it clea r that despite its anti-pictor ial
rhetoric, the tradition of street photography does indeed ha ve a spec ific vocabulary
establis hed enoug h for him to be abl e to use it alongs ide that of other traditions of
representation, suc h as h istory painting. "I am nor necessa rily inter ested in different
subjects in an," Wa ll has sa id, " but I am int erested in different types of pictur e." Parr
of his achievement is to allow the viewe r to under stand that the scene is not a uthen -
tic in the traditional sense of street photogr aphy yet at the same rim e to accept it as
fund ament a lly truthful neverthe less, a doub le consciousness unavai lab le to straight
document ary. r16]

I am not sure what "fu nd amentally truthful " mean s in this context , but rather than
press the point I want to cite som e furth er rem arks by Wall, from a r98 5 inter view with
Els Barents.
" In my pictures," Wall states , " ther e is a lot of non -gesturing, or very small, com-
pulsive gesturing, what I ca ll 'micro-gesture' ." He cont inues:

Th e men 's gestu res in No or Mimic are micro -gestures . These ar e gestu res whi ch seem
auromatic, mechanica l, or compulsi ve. Th ey well up from somewhere deep ly socia l,
somewh ere 1 don't pr imarily identif y wit h the individu al's unc onscio us as such . Th e
abusive white lump enpro letarian in Mimi c, for exa mp le, is making a gesture, pulli ng
up his eyelid in a mimesis of the Ori ental eye . In my dr ama tiza tion of it for myse lf,
I tho ught of it happenin g so quickly that nobody in the picture is rea lly aware of it.
The white man's gestur e is welling up with incr edible rapidity from his ow n person-
a lity, and he h asn't a ny contro l over the exp ression. It h as an automatic, compulsiv e
character .... When thi s particular type of man undergoes certain kinds of stress, stim -
ulation, or provocat ion, this kind of thing emerg es. I don' t chink it's accidental; it's
determined by the socia l totality, but it has to come out of an individual body. 5

Th ere is a polit ical cla im here , a theo ry about the relation of certa in sorts of spont a-
neous aggressive micro-gestures to the social and political totality of late cap ital ism . But
what I want to emphas ize is, first, Wall's notion that the micro-g estur es he has in mind
are auto matic, mechanjca l, compulsive, which is to say that not only are th ey no r p os-
itively willed by th e persons who enact them, ther e is also a sense in which th e latter
are (to say the least) not fully conscious of wha t th ey hav e don e; and secon d, that in
Wa ll's account the aggressive micro -gesture in Mimic is so fleeting, it happ ens so quickly,
thar "no on e in th e picture is reall y awa re of it" - and indeed , as I have rem arked , neith er
the Asian ma n or the caucasian woman seems to registe r ir in any way.
In other words, what int erest s me is th e wa y in which the appea l to the soc ia l is simu l-
taneously an engagement with a strin gent and original ideal of antitheatricality. I began

street photography revisited . Jett wall. beat strellh, ph1ilp-lo1ca d1corc1a 237
Chapter Two by discussing Wall's Adrian Walker, a deliberatel y absor pti ve imag e, and
went on in Chapter Three to consider his involvement during th e 1990s and after with
the pictorial mode he ca lls near documentary, defined as images "that claim to be a plau-
sible account of, or a report on, what the events depicted are like, or were like, when
they passed without being photographed." Toward the end of Chapte r Three I br iefly
surveyed a range of mostly recent work that in different ways may be understood as
seeking (up to a point) to deny or neutralize the viewer's presence: for examp le, by
depicting figures leaving a room or a campsite or walking dir ectly away from the viewer,
or by virtue of a degree of darkness that almost defies seeing into, or by mobilizing the
motif of blindn ess, hence unawareness of being viewed, with extraordinary force (more
on that later in this chapter). Wa ll's 1985 remarks on Mimic show that a concern with
antitheatrical values goes back earlier, as if that picture is idea lly to be unde rstood as
making visible, henc e accessib le to analysis, a distinctly modern kind of micro-gesture
that in crucial respects would otherwise escape sustained attention. (I am putt ing matt ers
this way to indicate that although the Asian man and th e woman in the pictur e seem
unaware of the micro -gesture in quest ion, the latter is surely not to be understood as
invisible other than to the camera . But it is imagined by Wall as so fleeting and min imal
as to be all but invisible, as well as una vailable to the consciousness of the man making
it.) For me personally, I feel compe lled to add, the sheer perspicuou sness, not to mention
th e fixity, of the bearded man's aggressive gesture works against the notions of fleet-
ingness and automatic ity with which Wall would have us associate it, with the result
that I see Mimic more predominantly in the register of the to-be-seen than Wall, or Wall
in 198 5, would ha ve me do. It is important to rem ember, though, that throughout the
French pictoria l tradition between Greuze and Manet (or, slightly later, Caillebotte) the
issue of antitheatricality was fundamentally unstab le and unre so lvable , never more so
than when a work sought to achieve antitheatrical ends throu gh the depiction of a more
or less transitory "moment" in an action, as in Mimic, rather tha n of temporally pro-
tracted absorptive states as such, as in Adrian Walker, After "Invisible Man," and
Morning Cleaning.
This is not the place for even a capsu le history of street photo graphy in the 195 0s
and aftet~ a genre made possible by th e invention and refinement of the lightweight,
rap id-firing Leica starting in the mid- 19 2os as well as by the availability of high-speed
film, but suffice it to say (others, including Ferguson, have said it befo re me) that
alth oug h the 19 50s and '6os saw the flour ishing of major figures like Robert Frank,
William Klein, and th e early Winogrand, at some point durin g those years the standard
conventions of the genre began to show considerab le strain . A ma jor aspect of the strain
precisely concerned the question of theatricality, or say the linked issues of the aware-
ness or non-awarenes s of being photographed on the part of the subjects, and the implied
presence, not just to those subjects but in the very fabric of the photograph, of the photo-
grapher him self (or herself). So for example William Klein, whose Gun 2, New York
(19 55) is illustrated in Camera Lucida, 6 said much later of his approach dur ing the first
half of the 19 50s, "I was very consciously trying to do the opposite of what Cartier-
Bresson was doing. H e did pictures withou t interv ening. H e was like the invisible

238 why photography matters as art as never before

camera. 1 wanted to be visible in the biggest way possible ... I saw the book I wanted
to do as a tabloid gone berserk, gross, grainy, over-inked, with a brutal layou t, bull-
horn headlin es. " 7 In fact Gun 2, New York depicts a trio of children of different ages
facing the camera at close range; what gives the photograph its plot is an older girl, cut
off below the shoulders, who hold s a toy gun to the smi ling boy 's head, the visual drama
of the cut signaling a delib erate choice on the part of the artist. Starting around 1960,
Winogrand added his own copious oeuvre to the street photography tradition; by far
the bulk of his work captures persons unaware of being photographed. Indeed as Fran
Leibowitz writes in a short "Conv ersa tion " on his art, "Most people who walk throu gh
a city ignore it. This is how most people bear a city. And what most peopl e are espe-
cially, particularly, ignoring are the other people. In a sense, this conscious, constant,
relentless, ignoring of other people is the primar y experience of living in a city. " 8 It is
also, Leibowitz implies , Winogrand's abiding theme, which is to say that his subjects'
unawarenes s of the photographer is merely on e index of a more global state of mind.
At the same time, Winogrand did not hesitate to photograph persons who could not but
have noticed him, if only because he stood directl y in their paths and shot at fairly close
range. Yet he seems to have done this so quickly and unobtrusive ly as to forestall all
sense of posing on the part of his subjects. (Jeffrey Fraenkel: "If someone perceived that
he or she was being photographed, Garry by that time would a lmost always be finished.
When they noticed, his demeanor was such that his subjects rar ely felt ill-used ." 9 ) In
another sense, his genius for capturing persons in off-balance mom ents and postures ,
the sheer uncon ventio nalit y of his wide-angle, multi-figure compositions, the eviden t
attraction he felt - how ever fleetingly- to many of th e women who turn up in them (one
of his projects was called Women are Beautiful), and his pr edilection for camera angles
dramaticall y tilted left or right relati ve to the ground plane, all call attention to the pho-
tograp her's artistry, or rather to the sudd enness, unexpectedness, and stylishnes s of his
myriad intervent ion s, which is partly why Ferguson groups him with Klein and the
Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama as figures who "have all cultivated an over tly
confro ntation a l style in much of their work" (13) .
As Ferguson also notes, by the late 1970s Winogrand seemed to have reached the end
of a certain line. "He had always expose d a lot of film," Ferguson writ es, "but towards
the end of his life, afte r he moved to Los Angeles in 1978, he shot incessan tly, usually
without even lookin g at the results. It is hard not to read some metaphorical parallels
between his decline into obsessive, repetiti ve shoo tin g and a broad declin e in the vit al-
ity of the genre overa ll. It was beginning to seem more and more difficult to make
pictures th at were not pictures that everybody knew already, especially when dir ect
engagement with the depicted had become so devalued" (14). 10 (Presu mab ly th is is a
reference to the crit ical backlash against Arbus's practic e of "befriendin g" her sub jects.)
Winogrand died in 1984, but already in 1980 Barthes in Camera Lu cida had come out
stron gly agains t the basic street photo graphy convention of captur ing subjec ts without
their knowledge on the grounds that such a feat on the part of the photographer was
too blatantly a performance for his (antith eatr ica l) tastes . How ever, Barth es's prefer ence
for facing figures scarcely amoun ted in itself to a viab le alternativ e approac h (Klein's

street photography revisited: j eff wall, beat streuli, phil ip-lorca dicorc ia 239
aggressively self-declaring work, by no means all of which featured such figures,
belonged to a distinctly earlier mom ent ), any more th an Lee Friedland er's frequ ent inclu-
sion of his own shadow or reflection in his playful "se lf-port ra its" of the 1960s - thereby
acknow ledging his presence behind the camera - pro vided a means of dealing with the
larger pro blem. 11
Viewed in this con text, Wall's exp loitation of the look of str eet photogra ph y in Mimic
amounte d to a new conception of the genr e, according to which th e traditiona l strat egy
of capturing subjects who appear unaw are of the came ra is reasserted at the sa me time
as the pictur e itself mo re or less open ly proclai ms its identit y both as a delib erate ar tis-
tic constructi on (on the level o f depic tion) and as a n image intend ed to be hun g on the
wa ll and viewed by beholders in a face-to -face relationship (on the level of artifact ual-
ity ). No t that Wall' s "so lution " has been taken up by ot her ph otogra ph ers. But starti ng
in th e 1990s tw o figures in particu lar, th e Swiss pho tograph er and video-m aker Beat
Streuli (born in 1957) and th e American ph otograp her Philip -Lorca diCorcia (born in
1953) , have crea ted bod ies of work tha t give a new lease on life to the centra l stree t
photography conv ention of the sub jects' ob liviousnes s to being ph otog rap hed while at
the same time dir ecting the viewer' s att ention as never before to th e app aratu s or tech-
nology as we ll as, in a broad er sense, to the artistic stra tegies by means of which tha t
has been accomp lished.
A characteri stic digita l video wor k by Streuli is called Four Tw o Screen Projections
(2001 -2 ; Figs. 149-52) . Eac h of the four pa irs o f twenty- minute loo ps is set in a dif-
ferent city, in particular locati ons in th ose cities: The Pallasa des, Birmin gham; George
Street Bus Stop, Sydney; BKK Siam Squ a re, Bangkok; a nd 8th Avenue and 3 5th Street,
New York City. Streuli's proc edur e was the sa me in each case: using a sma ll, compact
Sony video camera and digital video mini -tap es (nothing " profess iona l" qua lity, in other
wo rds), he sho t moving crowd s or persons wa iting for a bu s or wa lking past a street
corner in such a mann er th at th e viewer is left in no doubt that the subjects of the videos
are una ware of being ph otographed. (Precisely where the camera is stati oned is never
specified in the videos themselves.) All the videos were shot in co lor and in rea l time,
and on ly later adapt ed to his a rtist ic needs; in three o f th e videos thi s entailed slowing
the action to thirty-th ree percent of th e real speed, thou gh in the Bangkok pro jectio ns
the or iginal tem po has been reta ined. 12 Each of th e fo ur sites yields different sorts of
scenes, as follows:
1) In The Pallasades, Birmingham 05-o I -OI (2001) - the name of a major shopping
stre et in Birmin gham (Engla nd) - a n endl ess tide of pedes tri ans wa lks dire ctly towa rd
th e camera (in fact there is ano th er str eam wa lking away from it at the left, but the
came ra is po sitioned so as to center on th e approac hing multitud es). Beca use th e pro -
ject ions are in slow moti on and because Streuli uses a telephoto lens we as viewers follow
indi vidu al per son s for long stretches of time, and ind eed they only loom large (and go
out o f focus) at th e last moment, as th ey seem about to eliminate the last bit of distance
between them and the ca mera . Th e camera appears to be loca ted the other side of a
cross -str eet. We have a distinct sense of the pedestrians we have been trac king stepp ing
off a curb in the near for eground and some tim es pa using as if to orient th emselves before

240 why photography matters as art as never before

149 Beat Streuli, from The Pallasades, Birm ingham [England] 05-or - oI , 2001. Video project ion still

moving on, and of others, appearing from off-screen, crossing our line of sight eithe r
from left to right or right to left. Ther e is no sound track, or rather, the images are
accompanied by silence.
2) George Street Bus Stop, Sydney or -23-or (200 1-2 ) offers, as its title suggests, a
different mise-en-scene. H ere we are shown at close range a relatively limited number
of individual persons waiting for a bus (we assume that that is what they are doin g), as
cars, trucks, and other vehicles glide past in the middle distance and various peop le pass
by at even closer range, momentarily blocking the primary target from view. The viewer
is thus offered a sequence of living portraits, often cut off just below the shoulders. Here
too slow motion is in force, and the impression is of the camera lingering as if appre-
ciatively on one person and then another, each of whom remains oblivious to its gaze -
in fact at certain moments the camera moves, again as if on impulse , with one or anothe r
person, who however never strays far. In this pair of projections the sound track is a
mix of silence, traffic noises, voices, Hare Krishna chants.

st reet photog raph y rev isit ed: je ff wall , beat str eu li, ph il ip-lor ca d icorcia 241
150 Beat Streuli, from George Street Bus Stop, Sydney 01-23-01, 2001-2. Video projection still

3) BKK Siam Square, Bangkok 03 - r2 - 02 (2002) is both similar to George Street Bus
Stop in that it too depicts persons waiting, presumab ly for a bus, and different in that
it featur es close -range frontal views, often of pa irs of persons in co nversation w ith each
ot her (also smoking, eating snacks, mi ldly making out); in contrast, the Sydney projec-
tion s tend to focus more or less excl usively on isolat ed indi vidual s and to do so ma inly
in profi le or largely from behind. Here too the sound track is active, a mix of traffic
noises, mu sic, and voices, in no obv ious relation to the ima ges on the scree ns. Unlike
the ot her videos, the scene has been shot in rea l time, though it ta ke s a few minutes
before th is becomes evident. (Appa rently the heat that da y was so great th at further
slowin g of the ima ges seemed unn ecessary .)
4) As its title suggests, 8th Avenue and 35th Street, New York City 06 - 0 2- 0 2 ( 2002 )
is set at a stree t cross ing, but un like The Pallasades we are not show n a flood of pedes-
tr ians adva ncing toward the camera; rather, the camera is directed, at a slight angle,
to wa rd one corn er of th e cross ing, and no effort is mad e to focus on individua l perso ns

242 why photog raphy matters as art as never before

151 Beat Streuli, from BKK Siam Square, Bangkok 0 3-12-02, 2002. Video proj ectio n sti ll

- the dominant impres sion is of fixation on a particular spot, with a sort of passive reg-
istering of whoever and whatever happens to cross or occupy it. Again, the projections
are in slow motion, accompanied by a lively sound track full of horn s, other traffic
sounds, voices ("You see what I'm saying? They found, like, ... " rings out more than
once), and - also more than once - the brilliant song of a bird, the source of which is,
as with all sound s in Four Two Screen Projections, never specified.13 From time to time
someone lingers on the corner but by and large pedestrians pass by in both direction s,
many carrying shopping bags or similar items. Frequentl y the corner is blocked from
view by the backs of people waiting to cross the street; when this happen s the camera
remains unmoving, biding its time. 14
Th e antitheatrical implications of Streuli's video projections are pr etty much self-
evident (it is no accident that more than one commentator has chosen the word "grace"
to characterize the psycho-physical state of his subjects}. Far more than could be
achieved by candid photographs, the projection s convey the feeling that th e viewer is

street photography revisited: jeff wal l, bea t streuli, philip-torca dicorcia 243
r52 Beat Streuli, from 8th Avenue and 35t h Street, New York City 06 - 0 2- 02, 2002. Video proj ection st ill

offered somet hing like unimpeded access to th eir human subjects (a statem ent that will
need to be refined ); at any rat e, we get to look at th em , to study th eir fac es, expre ssion s,
gestures, and clothing, often at clo se range, virtually for as long as we could wish, with
a freedom never allowed to us, espec ially with regard to stran gers, in ordinary life. 16 At
the sam e time, the overa ll effect of the projections is co nspicuously "warm," one might
say "caring," as in Dijkstra 's beach portraits and related series: the prolongation of the
camera 's engagement w ith particular individual s or alternatively the flow and, for the
most part, what might be called th e ontological seamlessness of the stream of images
turn out to mitigate the imp licat ion of voyeurism (as if the latt er wer e assoc iate d w ith
a certain mom ent-to -mom ent sense of insecurit y on th e part of the onlook er ), as doe s
the fact that we are never sho w n even trivial instance s of behav ior on th e part of Streuli's
subjects that might expose them to criticism or ridicule (pres um ably the tapes are edit ed
to eliminat e th ese). 17 Another factor contributing to the "warm th " of th e projections is
the youth of man y of tho se depicted; w hatever can be discerne d on th eir faces it is not
ma rk s of experi ence or for erunner s of mor tality (no punctum of time and de ath). And

244 why photography matters as art as never before

beyond their youth there is also the stri king, po liti ca lly reassuring fact of th eir di versity,
which is at once high lighted and minimiz ed, or say reth emati zed, by t he equally stri k-
ing fact of their common dre ss: they all speak the sartoria l lingua franca of big-brand
demotic American. (A Marx ist or perhaps simply a socially ale rt commentator might
wish to observe of Streu li that h e proffers a n anody ne vision of uni versa list globa lism,
as if we are mean t to believe that all th ese mul ticultural popu lations in cities around th e
world constitu te a single, harmonious, Bennetonized comm unity. It is a tr icky issue, one
of which the art ist is aware . 18)
All this is to say nothing of the effects of Streu li's use of slow motion , a fam iliar, even
hackneyed device but one which per h aps ha s never been put to more ont olog ica lly pro-
ductive use than in his videos. In th e first place, the slow motion in tens ifies th e viewer 's
sense of revelation, of being enabl ed to observe aspects of human behavior tha t one
would not, indeed cou ld not, ord inari ly see. Thi s in itself is har dly origina l (th ink of
Walter Benjamin' s notion of the "optica l unconscious " 19 ), so perhaps what gives Streuli's
videos their surp risingly revelatory force is the way in wh ich the slow motion com bines
with the hiddenn ess of the camera an d th e use of a telephoto lens to allow th e viewer
to dwell, for example, on a certa in play of facial expression tha t seems not just pr ivate
(Sontag's term for the expressio ns of Evans's sitt ers in his "Su bway Portraits") but lit-
erally inaccessible to normal vision. At th e same tim e, the p lay of slowed exp ression
(Wall might say of micro-exp ression) is in cruc ial resp ects felt to be unreadabl e - this at
any rate is my claim - so the sense of revelation is also, inescapably, an intuition of our
outsideness from th e world of Streu li's proj ection s.20 Somet hin g simil ar is tru e of what
becomes of simp le wa lk ing, most pa lpab ly in Th e Pallasades, in which each indi vidual
member of the oncoming stream of p edest rians appea rs cont inu ally to rise and subside
in a manner tha t correspon ds not at all to our ordinary sense of th e hum an gait (obvi-
ously we psychically "correc t " for the up-down mov eme nt of our forward str ide, an d
for that mat ter ordinarily fail to recog niz e it in th e locomot ion of ot hers). T he effect is
rather of persons bob bing rhythmically up an d down o n th e surfa ce of a curr ent or
being carri ed forward by a succession of sm all waves, wh ich is to say, first, that the
walkers are rend ere d curious ly ligh t , and seco nd , that th ey appea r not so much self-
moving as mov ed by (benig n ) forces beyond themselves. 2 1 In othe r vid eos , speech seems
to come to Streuli's subj ects fr om out side , an effect enha nced by t he fact that we are
often not shown the person addre ssed. (Noth ing looks o dd er in slow motion tha n th e
advent of speech, with its suggesti o n of mus cular movement in and arou nd the mouth
and eyes before a word is spo ken. ) Both th e lightness and the "mo ved ness" are epito-
mized by a recurren t motif , women's ha ir being lifted in a breeze, often illumin ate d by
strong sunlight (part icu larly vivid in George Street Bus Stop) . In Heinr ich van Kleist's
essay "O n the Puppet Theat er " {r8ro), one of the master theoret ical texts in th e antithe -
atrical trad ition , Mr C., a lea din g dancer, seeks to prove to th e first-person narrator that
puppets worked by strin gs have it in them to surp ass any human co mp etit or in grace-
fulness, not on ly by vir tu e of th eir comp lete lack of affectatio n but also because of th e
actual mechanics of th eir ope rati on. Such pupp ets, C. remarks, "' have the advantage of
countergravity . For th ey know nothing of the inertia of matter, which of all pro perties

street pho t ography revis ited: jeff wa l l, beat str eul i, phi lip -lorca d ico rcia 245
is th e most obstructive to the dance: for the force that lifts them into the air is greater
than that which pulls them to the ground.' " 22 This is not exactly what one finds in The
Pallasades and other videos of peop le on the move, but it sufficientl y evokes the almost
magica l transformation of wa lkin g in Streuli's vid eos to ju stify its citation in this context.
There is a lso in Kleist's essay the th eme of motion in a stra ight line giving rise to curves
(2rr), wh ich might be ana logized with the revelatio n of wa lkin g straig ht ahead as a
kind of wave like mov ement in th e videos .
In my discussion of Jeff Wall's work in Chapter One, I called attent ion to an internal
division in his art. On the one hand, starting in the early 1990s, he has ofte n depic ted
absorbed persons, and more broadly has devised scenes that in one way or another may
be seen as seek ing an amitheat rical relation to the viewer (thi s is tru e even of Mimic).
On the other, th e conspicuousness of the lightbox apparatus, together wit h the more or
less self-evident stagedness (not stag in ess, however) of many of his image s, contrib ute
to w hat I ca lled th e to -be-seen ness of his pictures, which if not in conflict with th eir
antitheatrica l thematics is at any rate by no means simply aligned with it. (That such
to -be-seenness does not irr evocably comprom ise that thematics was suggested in Cha pter
One by the terms of Sontag's adm iration of Wall's Dead Troops Talk, and of course it
has been basic to everything I have had to say about his work.) My further claim has
been that this internal division is character istic of advanced photographic or pictorial
art at the p resent moment; I now suggest that Streuli's vid eos are a further, ingenious
instanc e of this. For consider:
I) Streuli's video images are in numerous respects visually crude or rough , using the
terms in a non -pejorative sense. Among those respec ts are a certa in softness of focus,
the glaringness of the co lor and the starkness of contrasts of light and dark (Streuli
favors sh oot ing in strong sunlight), the way in which persons or vehicles passing in the
near foreground loom unnaturall y large and are usually out of focus, the way in w hich
such persons or vehicles seem to "shudder" past th e camera, the impre ssion they some-
times convey of a virtual tran sparen cy relati ve to the rest of the scene, and so on. (For
Streu Ii, the crudeness or roughne ss - a result of his choice of equ ipment - underscores
the sensual impact he wants his work to have .23)
2) In cer tain works, for exa mple Broadway/Prince Street or - 04- or (2001 - 2) and
Venice Bea ch 0 9 -2 0 - 0 3 (2003), Streuli do es not hesitate to mix bla ck-a nd-white and
co lor images, w ith no inbuilt ra tional e for why one or th e other should prevai l in a given
projection or at a part icu lar t ime.
3) For the most part the camera is fixed, but now and th en in certain pro jections it
mo ves so as to track a part icu lar individ ual. There is no way of pred icting when this
w ill happen or of under sta nding in the m oment or afterward why it doe s.
4) There is no single device gove rnin g the trans ition within a projection from a con-
centrat ion on one person or pair of persons to a concentration on another; sometimes
one sequence of images cuts to th e next sea mlessly, sometimes ima ges briefly overlap
before the previous one disso lves and dis appears, and occasionally, in certain projec-
tions, th ere are black interval s of va rying leng th s of tim e. Again, no det ectable princi-
ple gove rn s these var iat ions.

246 w hy ph ot ograp hy mat t ers as art as never before

5) The soundtr ack too var ies for no a ppar ent reaso n . Sometimes a proj ection or pa rt
of a projection is acco mp anied by silence; in other s sound is heard, bur never in th e
works I have seen are image and sound synchroni zed . On the contrary, a relati ve ind e-
pend ence of one from th e other is often stressed: by the fact that the sound strikes on e
as nothin g more than "backgro und, " by the continuit y of the so undtra ck across abrupt
transitions betw een images, by the way in w hich th e soundtr ack is sometimes on a loop
that run s on a shorter cycle th a n that of th e projection.
6) Perhap s mo st import ant, a lo ng with the slow motion, Streuli's videos are project ed
not singly but two or mor e at a time, more often than not on gallery walls at right ang les
to one anoth er. In the origina l showi ng at the Murr ay Guy Gallery of th e works I have
been discussing, the two videos for eac h of the four local es were proje cted simult ane-
ously on tw o such wa lls, whi le other works - Broadway and Prince Street or 8th Avenue
and 35t h Street n-02-02 (2002), a reshootin g at th e same site shown in Figure 152 -
invo lve simult aneo us proj ection s on thr ee different wa lls. This mode of split proj ection
- the ima ges not merely side by side but orient ed differe ntl y as well - cont inuou sly con-
front s the viewe r with the need to decide whe re to look even as it compe ls the recog ni-
tion that no matt er where he or she choo ses to loo k, so methin g equally va luab le is being
missed. In other words, despite what I have called the ontologi ca l seaml essness of the
proj ectio ns, an element of fr ustratio n or even anxiety co lors the experiencing of Streuli's
work (mor e so in some pieces than in oth ers: in th e case of thr ee-screen works, the
viewer is a t all times acutely aware th at mor e is being missed than is being seen). 24 All
this a mount s to a co mpr ehensiv e foregroundin g of the apparatus, and while the absorp -
tive au ra of the projections th emselves is not thereby called into question - ind eed we
cannot be sure th at it is not enhanced, by a sense that th e depi cted subjects are going
their ow n way in perfect indi fference to w hether or not we are loo kin g at them - the
cumulativ e effect of th ese devices is to "fra me " th at aura in a way that forcefu lly
acknow ledges it s constru ctedn ess, its to- be-seenness.
I should add th at Streuli a lso make s strai ght photog rap hs of pedes tria ns in cities in
both co lor and black-and -w hite, such as th ose co llecte d in his photobook , New York
City 2000-02 (Fig. 15 3 ). These too are taken w ith a telephoto lens of per sons unaware
of being photograp hed, even when, as sometimes happens, th ey are shown wa lking
almost dir ectly toward the camera or passing it at w hat seems close range. Beca use of
the natur e of the p hotog raphic medium , and also beca use one enco unt ers each image
indep end entl y of all th e other s, such photograph s involve nothin g like the range of
devices deployed by Streuli in th e videos to " fram e" his subj ects' ab so rption (or dis-
tra ction: as I remarked in Chapt er Four, alth ough a less deep condition it co mes to mu ch
the same thin g). Yet some devices are in play. For exa mpl e, Stre uli pref ers to shoot in
bright sunlight so as to produ ce stro ng effects of light-d ark co ntrast in tandem with
large areas of saturated co lor, which together with the ir extreme sha rpn ess of focus give
his pictu res a hyperdramatic pre sence that one instin ctively feels is at odd s with thei r
ostens ible content. Thi s is especially true of a n impr essive series of pictures, in some o f
which his subjects are crop ped just below the wa ist and in others at mid -chest or even
above, forcin g co nfro ntat ional inti macy; moreover, the subjects, in bright illum ination ,

street photography revisited: jeff wall, beat streu li, philip-lorca dico rc1a 247
153 Beat Streu li, fro m New York City 2000 - 02 . C hrom ogen ic process print

sta nd out against a black background that scarcely seems int elligible in " realistic " term s
- and yet th e blackn ess is not th e pr oduct of digita l or oth er manipul ation. Th en, too,
mor e oft en than not the sunli ght shin es dir ectly int o his subjects ' faces, cau sing them to
frow n or squ int or loo k down , express ions w hich on th e on e hand suggest an inn er sta te
of th oughtfuln ess or even sadn ess and on th e oth er can seem a pro du ct of t heir situ a-
tion and nothin g more (a strat egy that also turn s up in var ious videos). In either case,
howe ver, th eir unawa reness of the camera is self-evident. Another point is th at in all the
photo graph s with non -black backgro unds secondar y figur es and obj ects, even on es on ly
slightl y rem oved from th e figur e or figur es in the for eground , qui ckly slip out of focus ,
which again ca lls att ention to the ph oto gra phic appar atu s (blurr ing is not p aintin g's w ay
of impl ying distance). All in all, Streuli's photo gra phs are memorab le, even admirab le,
but to my mind his mo st ori ginal and comp elling w ork remain s the videos.

248 why photography matt ers as art as never before

A similar mix of absorptive (or distra ctive) moti fs wit h a foregrounding of the appara -
tus, hence of to-be-see nn ess, characte rize s mu ch of th e work of th e American photo-
grapher Philip-Lorca diCorcia. This is a lread y evident in the picture with whic h Pete r
Galassi, one of his chief com ment ators, begins h is acco unt of diCorc ia's ac hievement ,
Mario (1978; Fig. 154). 1n Ga lassi's words:
Philip-Lorca di Co rcia began to discover his personal ar tistic vo ice and hi s distinctive
photographic method - the two are closely link ed - in the lat e 1970s. For a year or
two he had been ph otograp hin g his famil y, and durin g the Christm as holidays in 1978
be made a pictu re of his bro ther Mario in the kitchen , gaz ing into the ope n refrig er-
ator. Th e subject was utt erly ordinary but the photograph was carefu lly plann ed. Th e
camera was on a tr ipod and the lighting was suppl emented by an electronic flash
hidden in the refrigerator and triggered at the moment of expos ure. DiCorcia leveled
the camera, adjus ted and readj usted the light ing, mad e severa l Polaroid test shot s and
more than a few exposures, eac h aimin g at th e envisioned result. Eventu ally his
method wo uld become more elaborate st ill, but even thi s early picture in volved a fair
bit of preparation, requirin g patienc e from Mario as he played hi s hun gry self.
The experiment worked, transfor ming th e prosaic incid ent into an enigma. The
louver door s are like the curtain ed wings of a stage; within , everythin g welcom es our
scrutin y. Adopting Mario's probin g gaze, we study the plentiful foods and trace th e
chartr euse tint of th e kit chen wa ll as it loses itself in th e wrinkl es of Mario's shirt,
then reappears in th e narrow gap betwe en th e refrigerato r and its open door . Anothe r
open door, in the cab inet abo ve the counte r, beckons us but we cannot see inside it
any more than we ca n see w hat Mario sees. Th e in exo rable descripti on of the static
tabl eau is a psychological vise that tighte ns our atten tion on the unexplained drama.
Look ing at a man searc hin g for a sna ck, we see a man co nfr ontin g his fa ilur es and
Again, obvio us term s of co mp ar ison for Mario, besides Streuli' s vid eos and pho tog raph s
of pedestri ans, are Wall's Ad rian Walker an d Richt er's Reading (both of which it antic -
ipates), an d pr ecedin g tho se co untl ess absorpt ive ca nva ses going ba ck to Chardi n's
House of Cards (see Fig. 22) and still ea rlier wo rk s m ainly in the Northe rn tradit ion .
Our impress io n, or rath er our first impre ssion, is th at th e m an standi ng before the open
refrigerator is abs orbed in wha t he is doin g (searchin g for a snack, Ga lassi suggests).
Yet as wit h Wa ll's tran spa rency a nd Richt er's paintin g, or indeed Sherma n 's Untitled
Film Stills of ro ughly the same tim e, an instant' s reflection suffices to rul e our th e pos-
sibility th at Mario is a cand id ph otograph, th at is, one take n wit hout t he sitter being
awa re of the photo gra ph er. For o ne thin g, the latter mu st have been o nly a short dis-
tance from the standi ng ma n an d the re is no reason to think he was not in pl ain view
of him as we ll. For anoth er, the set-up itself feels ar tificial: M ario stand s in th e cente r
of the compositio n and sid eways to th e pictur e-plane as he gazes in to a refrigera tor th e
contents of w hich, exce pt for th ose on the insid e of th e open door, cann ot be seen (but
as Ga lass i rightl y o bserves, th e compos ition as a w hole we lcom es th e viewer's gaze) .
This harks back to the profi le stru ctur e of Chard in's House of Cards, for exa mple , but

street photography revis ited: jeff wal l. beat streuli, philip-lorca dico rc ia 249
154 Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Mario, 1978 . Kodak Ektachro me paper. 38 x 58 cm

what could plausibly be seen as a paradigm of naturalness in Pari s in the 1730s could
no longer pass for that in New York or Los Angeles in 1978 - and yet I have quo ted
Martin Schwand er respo ndin g to Wall's Adrian Walk er in th e forme r terms (in Chapter
Two ), so perhap s my remark s should be somewhat qualified (wh at I earlier called the
"magic" of absorption con tinu es to exert its po wer). Finally, th e lighting is peculia r -
at any rate, th ere is nothing natural about the contrast betw een th e br illiant illum ina-
tion striking Mario's face and shirtfront and the greenish cast and relative darkness of
the rest of the room ; Galassi explain s how the illuminati on was produced but wha t
matt ers to th e viewer is the sense of discrepanc y. The result is an image of all but explicit
contradictions - absorptive-seeming but unmistak ably posed, "ut terly ordinar y"
(Galassi) and qui etly bizarre , of modest dimen sion s (approx imate ly fifteen by twent y-
three inches) but classically composed - and my suggestion is th at precis ely some suc h
stru cture of contradiction, varied in its particulars from photo graph to ph otog raph, pro-
vides the basis of di Corc ia's artistic practice from that mom ent on.
So for examp le in a series of works from the 1980s diCorcia poses persons who osten-
sibly are unaware of being photogr aphed in that they almo st never gaze at th e photo-
grap her and yet their pos edn ess and absence of candor are never in doubt. Another
Mario (198 1; Fig. 155) depicts the photographer's brother sandpapering a distur bingly
low ceiling in a room und er renovation; Mario's gaze is directed up but the phot ograp h
is taken from directly in front of him and a fairl y short distance away, with the resu lt

250 why photography matters as art as never before

155 Philip-Lorc a diCorcia, Mario, r98r. Ektacolor print . 76 .2 x roi:.6 cm

that the viewer senses that although Mario appears nominally absorbed in his ta sk he
cannot possibly be unaware of being photographed. 26 Much the same can be said of
Max (1983 ), a variation on the first Mario (here the protagonist is seated in a low sling-
back chair as he exhales a stream of cigarette smoke from his mouth), Davide (1985),
Igor (1987; Fig. 157), Auden and Emma (1989; Fig. 1 56), another Mario-like arrange-
ment, and Teresa (1990), in each of which the sitter is portrayed as if lost in his or
her own thoughts and yet there is not the slightest doubt as to the artificialness of
the lighting and mise-en-scene. In Auden and Emma, for example, th e br illiant illum i-
nation falling on the blue armchair casts the black Scottie's shadow on the side of
the chair even as the dog itself gazes directly at the photographer - a sign of candor
(but conveyed by an animal). Igor for its part pays humorous homage to Evans's
"Subway Portrait s," but inst ead of having been shot with a hidden camera and reveal-
ing a private state of mind (acco rding to the standard account), diCo rcia' s ima ge seems
palpabl y staged, th ereby und ercu tting the point of Evans's project. Igor rests his head
against the Subway map behind him and looks vaguely upward, as if in a state of reverie;
at the same time, the pointblankness of the mise-en-scene, the bright illuminati on that
strikes his forehead and casts the shadow of his head and collar against the map , and
the farther comic detail of his holding in his left hand a plastic sack containing wa ter
and a goldfish, all declare the seated man 's willing participation in the mak ing of
the picture. "One's interiority is not really perceivable on the surface," diCorcia

street photography revisited : jeff wa ll, beat streuli, ph ilip- lorca d icorcia 251
156 Philip -Lor ca diCorcia, Auden and Emma, 1989 . Ekt acolo r print. 50.8 x 6r cm

has remark ed, 27 a stateme nt th at his early portraits - if that is what th ey are - seem in-
tent on justifying. H oweve r, it is a striking fact about those works that they do so by
flirting with or at least a lludin g to the idea of absorption and/or reverie and the absorp-
tive ideal of th e subj ect's obliviousness to being behe ld - as if their stagedness, their
to-be-seenn ess, was given added point, made all th e more self-evident, by virtu e of that
A fundam entally different approach yields curiou sly ana logo us results in diCorcia's
exper iments in street photo graphy of the first half of the 1990s (and after ). I have in
mind pictur es such as Los Ange les (1993; Fig. 158 ), Ne w York (1993), and Naples
(199 5), in whi ch ped estrians on city streets are cap tur ed approaching the camera, either
directl y or at a slight angle. "Workin g in eight major cities including London , Rom e,
Ne w York and Tokyo," Sophie Clark explain s, "diC orc ia set up a system of flash-light s
in th e street and then stood several feet awa y, hidden from immediat e view. The camer a
and lights were both synchroni zed to a radio signal that diCorc ia could trip whenever
som eone int erest ing walked by. " 28 (It is sometimes said that the pedestrian s triggered
the ta king of the ph otograph s by breaking the beam of an electric eye, but that is not
the case.) In a mor e int erpreti ve vein, Clark continue s:

Th e res ultin g ph otogra phs seem to offer a commentar y on the so litude of modern
living, the th eatrica l lightin g spotli ghtin g just on e individual in a bu sy street, and

252 why photography ma tters as art as never befo re

157 Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Igor , L987. Chrom ogenic proc ess pr int. 50 .8 x 6 1 cm

show ing the way in which peop le fail to relat e to one anoth er. Di scussing thi s con -
trad ictory noti on of so litu de within th e metrop olis, d iCorc ia comm ent ed , "the str eet
does not indu ce peop le to shed their self-awa ren ess. Th ey seem to withdraw int o th em-
selves. They beco m e less awa re of th eir surro un dings, seeming ly los t in th emselves.
Th eir image is the outward fac ing front belied by th e inwar dly gaz ing eyes. " [258]

This goes beyond say ing that on e's inter iorit y is not per ceiva ble on t he su rfa ce; rather
the idea seems to be that peo ple on th e str eet in big cities wear ex pr essio ns o f inten se
inwar dne ss, even as th e content of th eir inn er lives is not th ereby mad e accessib le to
viewers. Thi s is pre tty much the stan dard lin e on stree t photograph y of th e " un aw are"
(Barches wo uld say "s urpris e") variet y, but wha t sets diCorcia 's str eet photograph s a part
from earli er work in that tr adition is th e dram atic to- be-seenn ess, not to say theatrica l-
ity, impart ed to th e image in the first pla ce by the hidde n flas hes (Ga lass i co mp ares them
to " th e cr escendo of vio lins that an noun ces th e crux of a movi e's dra ma " [14] ) and in
the second by a sens e of captur e, even of vio lence, that seem s to be a by-prod uct both
of th e unn aturalnes s of th e flash es and of th e dispositif of instant aneo usly dep ictin g
peop le as th ey app ro ac h th e cam era w ithout regard to whe th er th ey become aware of
it or not. The woman with red hair in New York (1993 ) and perhaps also th e man in
a topcoa t in Nap les (1995) give th e imp ress io n of just thi s instant noti cing what is going

st reet pho t ography revisited : jeff wall , beat streuli, philip -lorca dicorcia 253

;-- --

158 Philip -Lo rca diCorcia, Los Angel es, 1993 . Chromo genic pro cess pr int. 76 .2 x 10 r.6 cm

on, and in both cases the effect is of the came ra's indifferenc e to thei r feelings. The man
with long unk empt hair and an open wi ndbr ea ker in Los Angeles (1993) appears
unaw are of the camera, but there is an even grea ter sense of violence imp licit in photo-
grap hica lly arresting him in his dissheveled state. It follows that with respect to expres-
sion the pic tures in question differ radica lly from Streuli 's videos, in whic h the
hiddenness of the camera fun ctions not as a means of cap tur e but, it may seem para-
doxica lly, as a medium of release . (DiCo rci a's st reet ph otos are "cold," not " warm.")
H oweve r, from the point of view of the argum ent of this book, what links their respec -
tive projec ts - an assertion of to-be-seenness in the contex t of the issue of absorption or
distraction, hence un awareness - is mo re imp ortant th an w hat secs them apart .
A more co mpl ex and much admired str eetscape of the same period, N ew York (199 3;
Fig. 159), take n near Times Squar e, makes this point almost prog ram matica lly. In it,
Mark Stevens wr ites,

DiCorcia frames severa l people in close proximity, eac h of whom appears intensely
self-abso rbed. In the cent er background [I wou ld say middl e distanc e1,a blind beggar,
his face illumin ated , sta res skywar d. In th e fo regroun d, a man walks ahead with his
fingers touching, as if he were leading a religious procession; he is followed by a man
lost in monkish concentration. To the right th ere is a street preacher and to the left,
a ma n on the phone. Part of the pictu re's wit is the bea utifu lly broken rhyme estab-

254 why photography matters as art as never before

159 Philip-Lorca diCo rcia, New York, 1993. Chromogenic pro cess print. 76.2 x ror.6 cm

lished between the preach er's mike and the man's telephone receiver . Should the two
wired men be talking? New York (r993 ) has a strangely religious quality but the
photographer do es not force thi s upon the viewer. 29

What Stevens calls the pictur e's religious quality is a function of the figures' self-absorp-
tion (note the adjective "monki sh"), which is to say their air of apparent obli viousne ss
to being photographed (and ultimately to being seen ), though it probably also ha s some-
thin g to do with the blind beggar's upward tilt of the head as well as with the especially
bright illumination from diCorcia's lights that strike s him from the left rear, outlining,
almost haloing, the right contour of his coat in light and casting a dark shadow on th e
pavement at his feet. (The sunlight, in contra st, shines down right to left. ) The beggar
is also in sharper focus than any other figure , which tog ether with the lighting and his
central position make s him the picture's protagonist.
In Ab sorption and Theatricality I not ed th e use of the theme of blindne ss by mid - and
lat e eight eenth-centur y French painters and suggested that its attractiveness to them was
based on the idea that a blind person would be unaware of being beheld and hence
could serve as a template for an antitheatrical state of mind. 30 And in Chapter Three I

street photography rev isited: jef f w all, beat streu li, philip -lo rca d icorcia 255
compar ed Jeff Wa ll's Blind Window No. I and Blind Window No. 2 with Pau l Stra nd 's
Blind of r9 16 (see Figs. 52-4 ), a close-up im age of a blind woma n and one of the ca no n-
ical images in ea rly mod ernist ph otogra phy, and suggested th a t th ese too were impli -
cated in an antith ea trica l pro blemat ic. As Stevens impli es, the isolation of the blind
beggar in diCorcia's photog rap h is fram ed by th e self-ab sor pti on (Stevens's wo rd ) of a ll
th e othe r person s, th ough it is ju st possib le that the man in p ro file at th e left-han d edge
of the image is look ing toward him (we noti ce on ly the ma n in pr ofile, if we do at all,
after close inspection of th e image). At the sa me tim e, the picture as a who le, by virtu e
of its lighti ng , its frontality, and th e brillian ce of its mise-en-scene, not to mention the
gra phic w it of the park ing sign abo ve th e "m onki sh" man , is on th e side of to-b e-
seenn ess. (Note too the similar ity of st ructu re to Wall's Mimic of more than ten years
before. On e cou ld even ima gine, in th e after math of Wa ll's breakthroug h achiev ement ,
th at di Co rcia's New York wa s simil ar ly cast, rehearsed, repeatedl y photog raph ed, and
digitally impro ved by th e photo grap her, th oug h in fact it was not. ) Earlier in th e same
art icle Stevens rema rks, "Ma n y of [diCo rcia's) pe destr ian s assume wo nderfully artless
poses, as if surpri sed in a mom ent of unconsc iou s stre et th eate r " (97). In a r 999 a rticle
on oth er stree t photo g raphs with multiple figure s, Andy Grundb erg wr ites:

Whil e peo ple ma y be the ma in subject of th ese p ictur es, it' s th e lighting th at keeps
yo u entr anced . Sun shines in most of them, but th e shadows seldom correspond to
its position . Electro nic flash illumin at ion pro vides the unex pected shad ows as we ll as
une xpect ed highli ghts . By han ging his flash light s on lam p po les and street signs,
hidd en high and o ut side th e field of view, di Corc ia ens ures th at his relat ion to th e
subj ect is indi rect. He sets up h is camera near by and wa its for his unsuspect ing actor s
to p erform . Few of his p rincipal subjects seem awa re th at th ey are the centers of lenti c-
ular att enti on, w hich th en serves to deflect the viewe r's awarene ss of th e
photograph er's pr esence. As a result , we are left with images th at draw att ent ion to
them selves but not the ir ma ker.3 1

Th e poses are ar tless, uncon scio us, but somehow th ea tr ical, wh ich for D idero t would
be a co ntradiction in term s (the wor d "poses" itself is scar ce ly neutral with respec t to
th eatri ca lity); th e per son s in the photo graph s are un awa re and unsuspec tin g but th ey
are neverth eless actor s a nd w hat the y ar e said to do is perform (Did erot wo uld have a
har d tim e with thi s as we ll); and th e images th at result ca ll atten tion to t hemselves -
thi s co uld be a definit ion of to -be-seenn ess - but not to the p ho tographer, thou gh Gru nd-
berg also goes on to remark that diC orcia's "autho ria l presence is by no means tran s-
pare nt " an d conclude s by suggest ing th at it may be "pr ecisely th is inh erent cont radi ctio n
- th e p ho tograp her 's simult aneo us pre sence and absence - that m akes any tid y readin g
of his images so peculiar ly elusive " (83) . I take it that by now the reader has reco gnized
a fami liar sta te of affa irs.
Prett y mu ch th e sa me "inh ere nt co ntr ad ictio n" is rend ere d even more int ense in a
late r series of ph otograp hs, heads (200 1), wh ich as its title suggests "focuses o n th e head
and should ers of indi vidu als, th e str ength of th e flash bu lb blacking out the major ity of
th e background informatio n " (Fig . 160) .32 No t surp risingly, given thi s descripti on, th e

256 why p hot og raphy matte r s as art as never before

c6o Philip-Lorca d iCorcia, head #5, 2000. Chromogen ic process print. r 2r.9 x 152.4 cm

photograph s in quest ion have much in co mmo n w ith many of those in Streu li's New
York City 2 00 0 - 02 . Ind eed all the pictures in heads were taken in New York, specifi-
cally in Times Square, and once again the protagonists - captured at long distance wi th
a telephoto lens - appear obliv iou s of being photographed . For the first time in diCor-
cia's wo rk, though, the images are larger th an lifesize, and the com bin ation of largeness
of scale, extr eme light/da rk contrast, and satur ated local hu es - products of the ar tifi-
cial lighting - jux tapose d agai nst the mostly black backgro und s gives them tremendous
dramatic force. "It might be possib le to read some of these pictures as actu al stage sho ts
if they we re viewed sing ly and bereft of co nte xt," Luc Sante writes, "b ut for the obv iou s
absorptio n of his subjec ts." He continu es:

street photography revisi t ed : jef f wall, beat streu li, philip-lo rca dicorcia 257
Their thought s may very well define banalit y, but th e lighting, in isolating and high-
lighting them, in putting them unknowing on a stage for an audience of one [pre-
sumably the viewer], afflicts these thought s with an almost unbea ra ble gravity. The
lighting suggests organ or theremin mu sic, suggests thunder and lightn ing, suggests
th e private amusement of an extraterrestrial mast er race or the inspection tour of a
deity. 33

For Vince Aletti in A rtforum, "Because the subjects of diCo rcia's larger-than-lif e head
shot s are unaware that their pictur es are being taken, th ey exist in a weird sta te of
grace " 34 (that word again), a remark that chimes with Sante's metaphors and Stevens's
ascription of a religiou s quality to New York. This is what absorption even w hen wedded
to to-be- seenness can do to commentators: trigger religious rhetoric in them. But of
course the high mod ernist abstract painting and sculpture of the 1960s, which I claimed
was fundamentally antitheatrical, had a similar impact on me at th e close of "Art and
Finally, di Corcia's recent photobook, A Storybook Life (2003), gathers seventy-five
color photo gra ph s of identical dim ensions (seventy-six if one include s the cover imag e)
mad e between 1977 and 1999 in a sing le continuous uncaptioned sequ ence. 35 There is
no discern ible narrativ e or subtext of any sort (the list of plates at the back gives only
locations and dates ), no detectable principle of arrangement (the images are not in
chronological order), in sh ort nothin g to guide th e reader/view er through the book other
than the pictu res themselv es. This may seem to undercut the import ance of sequence
but in fact a subliminal sense of sequ entiality soon becomes an active factor in one's
" reading " of the whole. H ere it matte rs that the pictures appear only on th e recto of
the bound pages, the white verso of th e previous page being blank excep t for the faintest
pos sible indication of the numb er of the facing image (compar e the structure of
Delaha ye's L' Autre ). This has the effect of concentr a ting the reader/view er's attention
on each pictur e in turn and it also , after a while, gives rise to a dawning awareness,
which becomes more acute as the "reading" proceeds , that while th e compositions of
the individual images are fairly diverse, in only a handful of image s - four or five at
mo st - does a subj ect look directly at the camer a (none more directl y than a cat). Ind eed
a numb er of the most striking imag es feature persons - Coney Island (199 4; Fig. 16 1)
is a case in point - who face or look point edly into th e depths of the pictur e (in fact this
emerges as a kind of leitmotif of the boo k); others - includin g Mario (1981) and a few
other early photogr ap hs - depict person s in obviously stag ed scenes of ostensible absorp-
tion (in one such image, Los Angeles [1990 ], a man seated on the ground and coaxing
a small white dog could hardl y be nearer the camera, which was positioned near th e
ground as well ); and still others show figures lying down or asleep and ther efor e seem-
ingly disengaged from all relation to the photo graph er. The cumulative effect of turnin g
slowly through the book thu s becomes to a significant degree one of registering in
sequ ence a range of ways in which th e subject or subjects of a picture can avoid, or be
instructed to avoid, directly engaging the camera - a basic feature of mo vies, as ha s been
noted. Even the images that have no peop le in them, roughly a third of th e total, tak e
on, in thi s cont ext, a self-consciously abandoned, came ra -avers ive feel. Finall y, A Story-

258 w hy pho t ography ma tters as art as never before

161 Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Coney Island , 1994 . Fro m A Storybook Life, 2003

book Life begins and end s with shot s of a beard ed man, the phot ogra ph er 's father, lying
on his back w ith his eyes close d - in the first image on a bed (with th e TV on but of
co urse the person on th e scree n cannot see what lies beyond th e screen ), in th e second
in an open co ffin at th e fro nt of a funera l pa rlor (the camera is pos itioned towar d the
rear of the roo m and to th e side, behind rows of empty cha irs). All thi s is to say th at A
Storybook Life ingeniously reinvent s t he genr e of the photo boo k as an apparat us or
techno logy for themat izing an an tith eatri cal relat ion between image and viewer, even as
the cum ulative impr ession of th e stage dn ess of many of th e images together with th e
recogniti on by the viewer of his or her active ro le in brin ging the a ntith eatri cal theme
to light - by turnin g the pages, gra du ally recog nizing th e preva lence of the motif of
avo idance of eye-cont act w ith the camera, increas ingly becomin g awa re of stru ctu ra l
similar ities betwee n widely sepa rated images and turnin g back to check, and so on -
amounts to a further, un expected twist to the imperative co ncernin g to-be-seenness that
I have been track ing thr oughout thi s book .

stree t photograp hy revisited: j etf wa ll, bea t st reul i, philip -l o rca dicorcia 259
162 Thomas Demand, Archive, 1995. Chrom ogenic process print with diasec. 183.5 x 233 cm
thomas demand's allego ries of intention;
"excl usion" in candida hofer, hiroshi sugimoto,
and thoma s struth
Thomas Dem and was born in r 964, which makes him roughly ten years younger than
$truth, Ruff, and Gursky . 1 Like them he studied at the Diisseldorf academy, but unlike
them his initial formation was as a sculptor , and there is an important sense in which a
certain sculptural practice lies at the co re of his photography (as has oft en been said).
In a catalogue essa y, Dean Sobel describes Demand's procedure as follow s, starting with
the end product, the photog raph itself: "r. Thomas Demand makes large-sca le color
photographs . 2. Hi s photograp hs are of life-size paper mode ls he makes himself. 3. These
models are recreations of actua l p laces . 4. He bases th e mode ls on image s he obta ins
from a variety of sources. " 2 This way of putting Demand 's proj ect has the virtue o f
emphasizing its photographic celos, but it needs to be supplemented by an account that
runs fron1 start to finish. "As a ru le, Demand begins with an image," Rosana Marcoci
writes in her essay in the cata logue of tbe exhibition at tbe Musetun of Modern Art,
New York, in 2005, "us uall y, although not exclusively, from a phot ograp h cu lled from
the media, which he tran slates imo a three-dimensiona l life-size paper mode l. Then he
cakes a picture of the model with a Swiss-made Sinar, a large-format camera with tele-
scopic lens for enhanced reso lut ion and heighte ned verisimilitude. Contributing to the
overa ll illusion of realiry, his large-scale photographs are laminated behind Plexigla s and
displayed without a frame .... Thus, his phorographs are triply removed from the scenes
or objects they depict . " 3 .

Among the subjects Demand has ex ploited one recu rrent type has been describ ed by
variou s co mmentators as th e scene of a crime (loosely speaking). 4 So for example Room
(1994; Fig. 163) looks back to a ph otog raph of Hitl er's headquar ters ar R aste nbur g,
East Prussia, afte1 the failed bomb attempt on his life of July 2.0, 1944; Corridor ( 1995;
Fig. I65), one of his best -known works , is based on a hallway in the Milwauk ee apa rt-
ment hous e where th e serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer lived and com.mined atrocious
murd ers; Archive (1995; Fig. 162) alludes to Leni Riefenstah l's film archive, Riefensrahl
having been th e maker of Triumph of the Will, the notor ious propaganda film about
the Nazi Pa rry's rally in Nuremb erg in 1934; Office (1995), with scattered papers every-
where, is based on images of looted Stasi offices following tbe collapse of East Ger many
in r989; Bathroom (Beau Rivage) (199 7; Fig. r66 ), another well-known image, repro-
duces a news photograph of a barhrub in a Geneva hotel in w l:ticb a prominent Germ a n
politician was found dead und er mysterious circumstances in r987; Camping Table
(r999; Fig. 167) derives from a photograph sent by th e kidnappers of Jan Philipp

thomas demand, candida heif er, hiroshi sugimoto. and thomas struth 26 1
I63 Tbomas Demand, Room, 1994. Chromogenic process print with diasec . r83.5 x 270 cm

Reemtsma in March 1996 to show thar he was still alive (rhe camping tab le was in the
background of that phorograph );; Podium (2000), refers to rhe Serbian leader Slobo-
dan Milosovic's inflammacor y speec h on June 28, 1989, the sixth- hundredth anniver-
sary of the battle of Kosovo; Model (2000), is taken from a photograph of Hitler and
his favorite architect, Albert Speer, look ing at a mode l of the German pavilion designed
by Speer for the International Exposition in Pa ris in 1937; Poll (2001; Fig. 168) depicts
rhc Emergency Operations Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, where a manual recount
of some 425,000 ballots took p lace in 2000 in hopes of (legitimatel y) determining
whether Al Gore or George W. Bush would be presidenr of the United States; 6 and
Kitchen (2004) is based on a photograph of Saddam Hussein's hideout in 1Iaq. Two
sho rr films also fir this pattern: Escalator (2000), a loop comprising rwenry-four srill
ima ges, evokes a location near Charing Cross in London that muggers passed through
before at ta cking a cou ple (and killing one of chem); and Tunnel (t999) depicts the
passage through a model of the tunnel in Paris where Princess Diana died. Other spe-
cific locales reconsrructed and then pho tographed include che dormitory room in which
Bill Gares created his first computer operating system (Corner f1996J); the hote l room
in which L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Sciento logy, wrote Dianetics (Room I1996 ]);
che office where rhe rebuilding of the ciry of Munich was planned after the Second World

262 why p1,01ography matters as art as never before

T64 Thomas Demand, Barn, 1997. Chromogcnic process prin t with diasec. J 83.5 x .2.54cm

War (Drafting Room f1996]); the barn on Lo ng [sla nd where Hans Namuth phoco-
grap hed Jackso n Po llock making one of his all-over drip paint ings in r950 (Barn [1997 ;
Fig. 1641); and an underground room in which an Austrian miner was trapped in total
darkness for almost ten days before being miracul o usly rescued (Pit [1999) ).7 ln addi -
tion there are works based on more o r less straightforward architectural motifs - fo r
example, Staircase ( t 99 5) - and photographs that fit none of these categories, such as
Studio (1997), which for a German audie nce recalls rhe set of th e popular TV show Was
bin ich? (W hat's My Line? - a question char might be asked by Demand h imself); Lab-
oratory (2000; Fig. 172), imagi ng a n anechoic chamber, used in the motor indu stry for
testing engine no ise levels; Collection (2001; fig. 171), based o n photographs of the
singer Engelbert Humperdinck's coJlectioo of best-selling go ld reco rds; a nd S1>ace Sim-
ulator (2003 ), a roughly ten -by-fourt een- foot image of th e device used for training Amer-
ican astro na uts. Fina lly, there are photograp hs based on paper simulacra of grass (Lawn
11998 1), a nd of thick foliage with lighr filtering through it (Clearing [2003; Fig. r7ol).
Several points are wo rth emph asiz ing. T he first concern s Demand's choice of an image
- gene rally from newspapers, media, or the internet - and even more his subsequem
investigatio n of the circums tances of its produc tion. As he says in an illuminating inter-
view with Ruedi Widmer:

chomas demand, candida hofer h1roshi sugimoto. and th omas stru th 263
You have ro have a sense of where the photo has come from. I try to find the photo-
grapher, the p ublish er, how it came to the photo agency. And I ofte n discover even
more interesting photos in the process. For example this Corridor. 1 was looking for
the inte rior of Jeffrey Dah mer 's apartme nt, the mass murderer who was beaten to
death in prison with a broom a few years ago . H e had killed six or seven black guys.
Dahmer is a nega tive American idol. 1 saw a pho to of his apartme nt on a p lane once.
I tded co get hold of it and went ro Milwaukee. Everyone ro ld me char th ese photos
of Dahmer's apartment didn't exist - where he had bad some of his victims in rhe
shower - because the po lice had not let anyone take any pictures there. Th en I went
ro rhe place the house was loca ted. Bur since the evidence had been heard, the house
had been pul led down, for one thing because no one wanted to live there and, for
another, because a kind of touris m was sta rring that th e city wanted to avo id at all
costs. So thi s place no longer exists eit her. I found th e ph oto Later, someo ne show ed
it ro me. Althoug h it's not really interesting, I saw hundreds of photos of this hallway
and of the ou tside of the hou se wh ile I was trying to get hold of tbe phows. T he
hallway becomes the qu intessence of the banality l was looki ng for in the apartme nt
and jn the photo, but which 1 coul dn 't find. (II)

A second point, stressed by almost all his comm entators, concerns the viewer's two-stage
response to his photog raphs - a first stage in which the image seems cold and a bstr act
but ot herw ise unexceptional, and a second stage in which the viewer senses that some-
thing {ind eed everything) is "off" or wrong, and progressively comes co recognize, from
different sorts of clues, that che ostensib le subjec t of rhe image is nothing mo re nor less
than a reco nstruc tion. In Fran~ois Quinton's account:

When yo u look ac an image by Deman d, everyt hing seems unifo rm , regular, buc traces
of their making can stil l be seen in certain areas. Each deta il gives warning: what you
see is nor the reality o f what is sbo wn. This fragile con struc tion of cut and folded
paper reveals its imperfectio ns. "1 don't cue our paper on pur pose so tha t you ca n see
how it was cur fDemand has said j. Bur it is true char at every stage T can choose
whet her or not to leave chesc visible flaws. O ver rime I have developed a more
acute sense of thi s kind of sub tlety. That, maybe, is the perfectio n my efforts are
direc ted at. " 8

Actually, this scarce ly ackno wledges how perspicuous th e stran geness or "off ness" of
Deman d 's images ofte n is: one sees scat tered papers wit hout wr iting on them; boxes,
bottles, and rubes without logos; telephones witho ut but tons or numb ers; ballo ts
without names or markings; light sw itches with o ut on- off mechanisms; above all there
is a comp lete absence of signs of wear an d tear or ocher ind ication s of use. (fr goes
wit hout say ing tba t there ar e no persons in view.) As Deman d states:

The product io n of mod els is ar the co re of a comp lex process. My wor k rea lly
developed out of sculpture. The surroundi ngs that l portray are for me so mething
untouched, a utopic con struction. No traces of use are visible o n their surfaces, and
time seems to have come to a stop. From chis arises a paradoxica l state of inde ccr-

264 why photography matters as art as never before

165 Thomas Demand , Corridor, r995. Cbromogenic process print with diascc. L83.5 x 2.70cm

mina cy, which of course in one sense opposes the idea of momenta riness (so impor-
tant to the beginn ings o f photography) but also opposes the true natu re of sculpt ure .
. . . [W]hat one might be justi fie<l in calling a dehistoricized effect is per hap s related
to the influence that digita l image production a nd distribution on the Net have had
on our conception of rea liryY

Anot her factor contributin g ro that '' dehisroric ized effect" is Deman d 's systematic
refusal co provide more tban th e mo st minimal titles for his photog raph s. As Widm er
remarks (following the statement by Demand cited earlier): "The criminal aspect o f Cor-
ridor can only be ascerta ined if you have some basic knowledge about Jeffr ey Dahmer.
Without this knowl edge, all we have is th e ' quint essence of banality' you're talkin g
about. The banalit y is rel eased when the image is radica lJy detached from the wor ld it
po rtrays . A certain hallw ay sme ll returns wit h a vengeance although you have removed
most of the direct signs." To which Demand rep lies: "Abso lut ely. Essentially, l'm nor
int erested in the act itself, but rather the photo of tbe act as a type. Th at's why my pic-
rures neve r have names indica tin g whe re the thin gs are fro m. Primar ily, I'm really only

thomas demand, cand 1da hoter, h 1rosh1 sug,moto, and t11omas srru1h 265
interested in the fact that something has entered circulation in the form of a photo. And
then l want to know how far you can abstract something without the work losing its
autono my ... " (u -14 ).
Third, a related point, the photographs themselves, once one has grasped the con-
structedness of their 1eferents, are deeply disconcerting, which I take it is what Demand
means by the reference to "indeterm inacy " - what exactly is the viewer to mak e of them?
(Mor:e on determinacy versus indeterminacy farther on. ) Thus Parv eeo Adams:
"Con front ed by these umu flled, silent office interiors, these unpeopled rooms, these
blind balconies and these frozen garages, I no longer knew what it was that r was looking
at. Neither beckonin g nor sinister, these pictures couldn' t be includ ed in the world. " 10
"Demand's world is a paper world," she continues, but of course the question is whether
one can speak of his photographs imaging a world ar all. Regis Durand illuminatingly
characterizes "the paradoxical impression Demand's work s make on us" as follows:
As pho rographs they capture some part of their subj ect's energy, its dull , obs tinate,
mysterious presence. Something was there, and they are linked to this object, its name,
its meaning, its history (and this is aside from the fact that what we have before us
is a visual trick, a reconstruction), but nothing in these images vibrates; they do nor
elicit any projected desire or presence on our part. The space is entirely saturated,
without depth a nd with no hint of anyt hing outside it. Rather than looking for
references to minimal arr here, we need to realise that this saturation , this slightly
suffocating dullness, is at the heart of the artist's inten tions. For, beneath their varying
for mal appearances, the und erlying ronalicy of these works remains the same: there
is the same saturation of motifs, the same unnatural light- a light that is only meant
ro give so me sense of volume to the objects wit hout suggesting any depth of field. 11

By "saturation" Durand refers co the qu ality the photograph s convey of wanting nothing
from the viewer, of giving him or her no opportunity for empathic projection of any
kind, indeed of contravening rhc very possibility of imaginin g any relation co the
depicted scenes other than one of mere a lie11ated looking.
Demand hjm self thinks of this in terms of the depiction of a certain sort of place.
Demand to Widmer:

I wonder - What are the key derails that have to be included to make rhe place a place
[Ortl , as oppose d to a common place lAllgemeinplatzJ . J don 't want to show the desk
as such , bur rather this particular desk that we have in our minds. The important
thing here is bow the picture is taken. Io the bathroom fwhere the German politjcian
Barsc hel diedl it is the way the bath mac is lying there. And the fact that someone is
standin g there raking pictur es. It gives the viewer a sense of security. A feeling that
he has nothing to do with it .. . [n J

Bur of co urse this "sense of security" or "feeling chat be has nothing to do with it" is
precisely a way of emo rionall y and imaginatively shu tting the viewer out- of "excl ud -
ing" him or her, to use the term I int roduce d apropos Busrarnante's Tableaux in Chapter
One. H ere is one more exchange between Widmer and Demand:

266 why photography matters as an as never before

166 Thoma s Demand, Bathroom (Beau Rivage), 1997. Chromogenic process print with diasec.
160 x 12l. cm
RW: So wbar has rebuilding places gor to do with re-experiencing evenrs?
TD: The funny thing is, once yo u've finished a place and you've got it right in front
of you, large as life, you can go throug h it Like a computer simulation. You don't actu -
ally exist yourself. This sense of timelessne ss and virginity, a feeling that everyt hin g
is new and unused, communicates itself ro the viewer mo ving around in chis kind of
RW: That might have co do with the face char rebuildin g- much like cordoning off
a crime scene - actually cu rs off the space of events from the space of its perception.
TD: Or you might say: The subseque nt visitor 's presence is absolutely exclusive.
There is no outside , there is no public sphere, there are no ot her peop le in there. There
is only rhe person per se. Bur the funny thing is rhar you can still use most of your
exper ience of life. Th e only thing is rhar rhe comext you train ed it in has comp letely
disappeared. [r5]

Demand seems co be referring (ar least at fast) co the models alone, bur his remarks also
apply, making allowance for the fact char the viewer is not actually moving through the
co nstructed places, co the photog raphs he makes of them. As he also says of project
as a w hol e, "I'm sitting in the very same media world as you arc, an d l realise char there
are places that we all know bur have never set foot in. And 1 feel rhar it's a lot better
to sray in these places and reinterpret what's there than to invent new rhings. It's a kind
of privatisation of che pub lic world of images instead of just going along with creating
more and more new images that compe te with each other ... " (14).
Put sligh tly differently, Dem a nd 's project- as various wri,cers have recognized -
amounts to a reimagi.ning of the traditiona l link between photographs and indexica lity.
" Every photograph is the result of a physical imprint transferred by light reflections onto
a sensitive surfac e," Ro salind l<rnuss writes in "Notes on the Index ," a key critical essay
of the 1970s. "The phorograph is thus a type of icon, or visual likeness , which bears an
indexical relatio nship t0 its object." 12 (As was noted in passing, the not ion that photo-
graphs are indexical is crucial tO Barthes 's arguments in Camera Lucida . The topic wiU
come up again ia the conclusion ro this book.) Now in an obvious sense this is also rrue
of Demand's photographs: they bear an indexical relationship co the paper models
Demand made, carefully lit, and equally carefully photographed. However, rhe models
themse lves differ from their original, real-wo rld (that is, pre-mediacized) so urces in that,
by virtue of having been reconstructed in paper, and also because the terms o.f chat recon-
struction are, in crucial respects, radically inco mplete, they have been divested of every
hint of indexicaliry pertainin g to those sowces and their contexts - every mark of use,
every trace of human presence and action, wh ich also means of the least suggestion of
pastness, of historicalness, of the "that-has-been" in which Barth es saw the noeme of
photography. (Demand: "No traces of use arc visible on their surfaces, and rime seems
to have come to a stop.") Put slightly differently, Demand's photographs depict places
and things abso lutely devoid, indeed systematically purged, of all trace s othe r rhan those
pertai ning ro rhe physical construct ion of the cardboard mod els of those places and
things by the art ist. Such an aim is made al l rhc more salient (and all rhe more puzzlingl

268 why photography matters as art as never before

r67 Thomn s Deman d, Camping
Table, I999. Chromogenic process
print with dinsec. 8 5 x 58 cm

by the repea ted choice of scenes of crimes or other notable events , scenes that in their
origina l (or origina lly photogr ap hed) manifestati ons inevitably bore traces of the history
of those events on their surfaces. This is why the German police closely stu died the
photograph of the kidnapped R eemstma for clues as to his whereabo uts. It is also why
curiosity-seekers in M ilwauk ee kep t visiting the apartment house in w hich D aluner had
lived, and why finally a redevelopment agency there had no reco urse but to tear the
building down in order to prevent that happening .
The quest ion, of co urse, is why Demand has chosen to proceed as he has done - what
the artistic an d intellect ual poi nt of so labor-intensive and in obvious respects so bizarre
an endeavor has been . Insistin g on the importance of the fact that Deman d started our
his artistic life as a sculptor provides no satisfying answ er: why sho u ld sculptural ambi-
tion s have led to reconstruct ing already or formerly existing thin gs and places, and w hy

thom as dema nd: candida hofer, hirosh 1 sug1moto, and thomas struth 269
then go on to photograph the reconstructions? Nor, to my mind , do statements such as
Marcoci's "D emand 's Bathroom points co the evasions and ultimately ro rhe failure of
photography's attempt to tmderstand the violence behind the apparent ambiguity of
political life" (22), or her closing claim that "Demand ensures that photography becomes
a vehicle of consciousness as much as a form of testimony to seeing anew" (27). (The re
is plenty more in Demand criticism in this vein.) I propose a different account of what
Demand has been up to during rhe past fifteen or so years.
ln "Art and Objecthood" and related essays, I drew a sha rp distinctio n between mod-
ernist painting and sculpture and the work and writings of the minimatists, or as I mainly
called chem, literalisrs- Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Cad Audre, and Tony Smit h,
among others. 13 To the Jireralisrs, what manered or ought to have mattered was not the
relationships within a work of arr, as in high modernist painting and scu lptu re, but the
relationship between the literalist work and the experiencing subject, as the latter was
inv.ited to activate (and in effect co produce) that relationship over time by ent ering
the space of ex hibition, approaching or moving away from or circumnavigating the
ostensible work (or in the case of Carl Andre's floor pieces> walking on ir), comparing
changing views of rhe work with an intellectual comprehension of its basic form, and
so on. To quote Morris (as 1 did in "Arr and Objecthood"):

The better new work rakes relationships out of th e work and makes them a function
of space, Light, and the viewer's field of vision. The object is but one of the terms in
the newer aesthetic. It is in some way more reflexive, because o ne's awareness of
oneself existing in rhe same space as the work is stronger than in previous work, with
its many internal relationships. One is more aware than before thar he himself is estab-
lishing relationships as he apprehends the object from various positions and Lmder
varying conditions of light and spatial context. [1 53]'"*

Whar mattered, in ot her words, was the sub ject's actua l, real-rime experience of the
work, or rather of the total situation in which the work was encountered, a situation
that, as l put it in "Ai:t and Objecthood," "virtually by definition, includes the
beholder" 15 - which is also to say that to refer co the relationship in ques tion as lying
"between" the work and the beholder does not quite capture the licera lisc idea (nor does
"beholder" quire fit the case). The literalisr work, in other words, was by definition
incomp lete without the experiencing subject, which is what l meant by characterizing
such work as theatrical in the pejorative sense of the term. High modernist paintings
and sculptures, in contrast, I claimed were fundamemaUy antir hear rical in that (to speak
on ly somewhat metaphorically) they took no notice of the beholder, who was left to
come to terms with them - to make sense of the relationships they comprised - as best
he or she co uld. (Th at high modernist paintings like Morris Louis's "Unfurleds" may
be said to face the beholder with extraordinary directness makes their str uctural inclif-
fcrence to his or ber actual presence before them only the more perspicuous.) A further
contrast, which in "Arr and Objecthood" remains largely implic it, concerns the fact that
whereas in modernist paintings and sculptur es the constituent relationships were
intended by the artist> 16 the relationship betwe en the literalist work and the

270 w hy photography matters as art as never before

exper iencing subj ect, although conditioned in a genera l way by the circum stances of
exhibition, was understood by the litera lists as emph at ically not dete rmin ed by the
work icseli a nd therefore as not intend ed as such by its maker. On the contrary, the
pr imacy of experience in the sens e stated above meant that meaning in literalism was
essenti a lly indeterminate, every subjec t's necessaril y unique reaJ-time response to a given
wor k-in-a-s ituation standing on an equal footin g with every other's . 17
Viewed in th is co ntex t, che mean ing of Demand' s project comes into focus. Simply
put, he a ims co rep lace the original scene of evidenti ary tra ces and marks of hum an use
- or rather he aims to replace one or rno re mediatic images of such a scene- with a
counter- image of sheer artistic intention , as thou gh the very bizarreness of the face th at
the places and ob jects in the photograph s, despite their initial appeara nce of quotidian
" reality," have a ll been constructed by the a rtist throws into conce ptual relief the dete r-
mining force - also the inscrutability, one might say the opacity - of the intention s
behind them. Th is is what Durand 's notion of "satura tion" amounts co: Demand' s pic-
tures are sa tur ated " with rus intent ions, which is why they leave no room for anything
else, why indeed the viewer instinctively recognizes th at he or she is called upon by rhe
image to do nothing more than register rhe " madeness" o f all the objec ts on view and
of the place in which the y exist. The notion of "saturation" also helps one understand
why it is cru cia l that the works in question are photographs and not simp ly the models
themselves (pace Dem and 's remarks to Widmer about bein g able to go through his mad e
places " like a comput er simula6on "). As actual things in the world, occupying real,
tnr ee-dimen sional space, D emand 's models wo uld be no more "s aturated" with his
intentions than any other made thing (arr or non-art) is with th e intent ions of its mak er
or makers , which is also to say that th ey would be on a par, ontologically speak ing,
with d1e larger rea l-world co nt ext (the ar tist's st udio, for examp le, or a n art ga llery or
museum) in which th ey were encountered. Wherea s by photographing the objects and
places he has constructed (and nothing else), Demand effectiv ely replaces the real -world
context with a merel y depicted one, eve ry deta il and aspect of which is exactly what he
has intended it to be. So for examp le the determination in and by the photograph s of a
particular point of view is in sta rk contrast with the relative inde terminacy in that regard
of th e three -dimensional model considered on its own. As Demand remarks ro Alex-
ande r Kluge : "Yo u can walk around a scu lptu re as often as you like, and with photo-
graphs - mine are very large so that, as wit h the sculptur es, you can also walk aroun d
them - you have a [single, forever fixed] mome nt an d my parti cular angle o f vision. My
tyra nnical condition, as it were, is that I presc ribe your vision." 18 This is bac k to Baud e-
laire on the superi o rity of painting co scul ptur e, quoted by Chevrier in Chap ter Six:
" 'A picture ... is o nly what it wants to be; th ere is no way of looking at it fot herl than
on its own term s . Paint ing has but one point of view ; it is exclusive and abso lut e.' ''
Chev rier's point is that Baud elaire 's views on scuJpture in 1846 anticipate my crit ique
in "Art and Objecthood " of minimalisr/litera list objecthood; asro nishi ngly, they a lso
ant icipate Demaod' s pho tographic practice.
A further dimension of D ema nd 's project emerge s when it is recalled that photography
as a medium has traditi onall y been seen as ''weak in intentionality, " in John Berger's

t hemas demand; candi da heifer. hirosh1 sugimoto, and themas st ruth 271
phrase. 111More precisely, it has long been recognized that in the making of phorographs
there is "a n irreducible discrepancy between intention and effect, " 20 or ro pur chis more
simply, that a photographer docs not know exacrly what he or she has done until the
phowgraph is developed. As Winogrand famously said: " 1 phorograpb to find out what
some thin g will look like photographed. " 1 1 To which Lee Friedlander famous ly added:
"J o nly wanted Uncle Vern standing by his new car (a Hudson) on a clear day. J got
him and the car. I also got a bit of Aunt Mary's laundry and Beau Jack , the dog, peeing
on a fence, and a row of potted tuberous begonias on the porch and seventy-eight trees
and a million pebbles in the driveway and more. It's a generous medium, photo -
graphy. u As Fried land er's remarks suggest, Berger's "wea kness in intentiona lity" is cor-
relative with an extraordinary copiousness built into the technology (the photographer
in this view always gets more rhan he or she bargained for), a feature of the medium
that it has been the genius of certain photographers, Friedlander among tbem, to exploit
to the full. (So whatever "weak in intentionality" means, it does not preclud e photo-
graphy being the vehicle of the st rongest imaginab le inte ntions on the part of gifted
photographers. Ar the same time, it is precisely that feature of the oncology of the
photograph that underwrites Barth es's notion of the punctum.) In the late nineteenth
and early twentieth centur ies the mechanical component in photography was consid-
ered by some theorists, including important practitioners, to Rose a dire problem for ir
as an an on the gro unds thar a work of arc shou ld be in every particular determined by
che maker 's intentions .2 1 fn the co urse of time this ceased to be an issue, 24 in large
measure beca use generations of art photographers from the mid-nineteenth century on
came increas ingly to be seen as having produced pictures of the highest individuality,
and of cotuse with the advent of digitization it has become possible to make photo-
graphic images that invite being seen as wholly intended both as representation and as
artifact, th us eliminating all taint of "weakness" in Berger's sense. Gursky and Ruff are
the well-known figures who, mor e than any ocher, exemplify the latter development, bur
it has become widespread and is likely to play an ever increasing role in arc photo-
graphy in the years co com e.
Demand's photographs, however, are not digitized- the ultimate effect of his work
depend s on the viewer's conviction, once he or she has had time ro reflect, that the photo-
graphs are stra ight depictions of settings and objec ts that actua lly existed and that in
fact were painstakingly fabricated by the artist. Only if the photog raph is taken as
straight (that is, as iodexical) can the apparent madeness of the places and objec ts be
taken as factua l by the viewer. To repeat a previous point in a new co ntext, Demand 's
aim is nor to make a wholly intended object - in this case, a who lly digitized photo-
graph - but rathe r to make pictures that represe11tor indeed allegorize intendedness as
such, and this _turns out to require exp loiting the "weakness" of the traditional photo -
graphic image precisely io chat regard. An incufrion of chis sor t, r suspec t, is wbar led
Demand to photograph his sculptu ra l mode ls in the first place, and it is also why, in the
interview with Quinton cited earlier, he was moved to say, "At this point louce the
photograph is taken], the sculpt ure is no lon ger that imporrant , but nor is the photo-
graph .... T have never thought in terms of my work culmin ating in pure phorograpby"

272 why photography matters as art as never before

168 Th omas Demand , Poll , 2001. Chro mogeni c pro cess pr inr with diasec. -r8o x 260 cm

(46). What is important to Deman d is a higl1ly specific onto logica l project, whicb the
raking of th e photograph brings to a conclusion. Seen in this light , Poll emerges as par-
ticularly exe mp lary o f that project in that what took place in the Emerge ncy Operations
Cente r was ostensib ly a days-long attempt by the election authorities to determine the
intentions of a subs tanti al number of Flori d a's voters by rhe close study of paper ballots
that were assumed ro bear the traces of those intentions, in however dubious a form
(the notorious " hanging chads" and the like). ln Demand's picture, however, the ballots
are not just pristine bur also devo id of text, which is to say that they - like the tele-
phone s, flashlights , folders, Post-its, and tablehke surfaces on which all these rest and
befor e whi ch there is no place for workers to sit or stand - are manifestly the bearers
of no int ent ions ot her tha n the artist's own.
FLLrtherm o re- it turns our - rh.e intentions in question must be wholly co nscious ones.
This become s clea r &om the circumsta nces surrou ndin g the mak ing of another, differ-
entl y exemplar y work, Sink ( 1997; Fig. r69 ), which originated in Demand 's imp ulse to
reconstruct his own sink full of dirty dishes. "My aim," he cold Quinton, "was to make
an extreme ly sim ple work - nothing spectacular, devoid of any narrative. The day 1

them as de mand: cand ida heifer. h1rosh1 sug1mote. and themas struth 273
169 Thomas Demand, Sink, r9.97. Chromogenic process pr int wirh diascc. 52. X 56.5 cm

decided to make this piece, I soon realised thar, without meaning ro, I was ending up
making a rea l composit ion in my sink. l fell into my own trap . When J understood rhar
l would never make a sink that was innocent eno ugh, I called a friend and said, 'Can
you go to your kitchen and photograph your sink for me?' I wanced this piece to be suf-
ficiencly devoid of signification to crea te a baJance. Sink is a precious counterpoint to
my other works" (56). Demand could never make a sink that was innocent enough
because he could never rule out the possibility that unconsc ious intent ions wou ld lead
him to make "a rea l composition" in his sink no ma tter how strongly he co nsciously
intended not to do so. Making a mod el of his ow n sink wou ld therefore have produced
at best a "mixed" resu lt, whereas reco nstructing and then representing in his usua l
ma nner someone else's sink meant that alJ the intentions that counted in rhe final image
were under his contro l. T his is nor ro deny rhar unconscious factors could in principle

274 why photography matters as art as never before

have inAuenced the cho ice of sub,iect, the making of the model, perhaps even the (jghr-
ing of the scene and the determination of poinr of view. Perhaps even the choice of
friend! And of course cou ntless intentions othe r than his own were builr into his equip-
ment from before th e start. H owever, circu mvent ing .bis own sink in favor of his friend's
put rhe emphasis squarely on consc ious processes. The resuting sma llish photograp h, a
coloristic wur de force, is remarkabe for the almost spectra l play of reflections in t he
gleaming inner wal ls of the sink, or rather for the integration of those reflections ia the
brilliantly offhand-seeming geography of the picture as a wholc. l.S
Still ot her pictures by Demand also have an exemplary charac ter, which suggests that
the term may better suit his oeuvre as a wboJe rather than individual insta nces within
it (the notion of allegorizing intendedness implies as much). So for example Collection
alludes to the singer Enge lbert Hu mperdinck's display of his own best-selling records,
phonograph records being nothing other than physica l imprinrs of sounds laid down in
acrylic on some past occasion; the reconstructed record s in rhc image are rberefore to
be seen as replacing those imprints with at least the suggestion of grooves made only
by Demand. Converse ly, Laboratory depicts a model of an anechoic chamber, a device
designed to suppress ail echoes, which is to say ro eliminate aU traces of previo us so unds ,
in that sense t0 achieve an absolme presentness of sound that - no doubt unintentionally
on Demand's part- rec.:tllsthe theme of presentness in "Arr and Objecthood:" as if pre-
cisely that feature of the chamber made some image of it an ideal source for Demand's
own trace-eliminating and, if I am right, implicitly antiliteralisr project. More simply,
Clearing,a large picture of a mass of foliage with daylight angling down through it,
gives rise to the viewer's recognit ion that the shape and position of every paper leaf has
in the end been determin ed nor by actua l trees' an d plants' DNA (in conjunction with

170 Thomas Demand, Clea-ring,2003. Chromogenic process print wirh diascc. 192 x 495 cm

the mas rlemand , candid a ho fer, h1rosh1 sugimolo, and l.homas s1rut r1 275
1 7r Thomas Demand, Collection, 2.001. Chromogenic process print with diasec. ,, 50 x 200 cm

local facrors of soi l, light , an d so on ) but rarher by the delibera te actions of the artist
(in this case aided a lso by assistants), just as Constellation (2000), an image of the sky
over Switze rland exactly rhree hundr ed years after the date of the opening of an exhi-
bition of Demancl's work in Zurich, invo lves the rep lacement of a similarly objective
forn1 of causa lity by the artist's intentions; a nd so on.
Finally, ir will be helpful briefly to compare Dem and 's ontologically exceptional
project with th at of Thomas Strurh's early, modesr -sized, exceptiona lly deta iled black-
and-white photographs of streets in New York, Diisseldo rf, and other European cities,
most of whic h feature centered co mpos itions based on one -point perspec tive (Figs. c73-
5). (Struth's photographs will also have a bear ing on Can did a Hofer's pictures of inte-
riors, to be considered shortly.) Almost from the first, Strurh's cityscapes were placed
under the rubric of "unco nsciou s places, " 26 by which what seems to have been meant
is char the urban scenes they depict were imagined as exerting an unconscious influence
on their inhabitants - who, howeve r, are conspicuo usly absent from the photograp hs.

276 why photography matters as art as never before

172 l' homas Demand . Labo1atory, 200 0. Chromogenic process print with d iasec. 180 x 268 cm

Another eq ually important feature of those works (anothe r aspecr of their " uncon -
scious" resonance) is that most often rbey show places or milieux whic h the viewer is
invited to understand took their prese nt form through the exercise ove r time of archi-
tects', developers', and simp le builders' intent ions a nd decis ions, as well as the actions
over time, for good and ill, not o nly of th e inhabita nts of those places but also, so to
speak, of th e various social and eco nom ic forces that sha ped the neighbor hoods in ques -
tion, but whic h nevertheless convey the impress ion that each plac e or milieu as a who le
was never int ended by anyo ne to be pr ecisely what it strikes the viewer of the phoro-
graph as being. Put slightly differen tly, the places in Str uth 's ph otog raphs typ ically rep-
resent the collaging to get her of traces of multiple intenti ons, traces laid down at
different , even widely disparate moments, th ereby modifying, covering, or effacing the
rraces of previo us intention s, so that the scene as a wh o le presents itself as everywhere
stamp ed by intention a lbeir (with a few excepcjons) not by a single or a collective inten-
tion to pro duce th e scene, th e plac e, the mi lieu as it appears to the viewer. 27 Even in

themas demand . candida hofer, h1roshl sugirnoto , and themas struth 277
17 J Thomas Struth, Crosby Street. New York (Soho), 1978 . Gelatin silver prim. 44 x 56 cm; 64 x So cm ramed

th ose photographs- H order Brieckenstrasse, Dortmund (1986; Fig. r76), for example,
or South Lake Street Apartments 2, Chicago ( 1990; Fig. L77) - that deJ?ict a building
or group of buildings th at was erected at a single moment and thus might be imagined
to embody a single des ign, the viewer is made to feel that there was at chat moment no
means of envisioning - th erefore of intending-what those stru ctures wou ld look like,
how they ,ivould strike a sensitive, attune d viewe r, at a later date; or, a close ly related
point, what subl iminal influence they would exert over time on inhabitants and passers-
by. In char sense Struth's early urban pictures not only exemplify the indexicaliry or trace
scruc:cure traditionally assoc iated with photograp hy, they systemati cally exploi t that
stru cture so as to produce an effect of heightened mean ingfulness - at once global and
minutely detailed - thar at the same time refuses to be pinned down, reduced to socio -
logica.l or psychological commonplaces. Th e effect itself is acutely described by Peter
Schjeldah l, one of Struth 's best comme nt ators, who wr ites:

278 why photography malte rs as an as neve r before

174 Th omas St rurh, Pl'i11ceRegent Street, Edinburgh, 1985. Gelatin silver print. 36 x 49 cm;
66 x 84 cm framed

175 Th omas Stru th, Diisselstrasse, Diisseldorf, r979 . Gelat in silver print. 32.7 x 38 cm;
66 x 84 cm framed
176 Thomas Srruth, I-larder Briickenstrasse, Dortmund, 19 86. Gelatin silver prim.
44 x 56 cm; 66 x 84 fram ed

177 Thomas $truth, S011thLake Street Apc1rtme11ts2, Chicago, L990. Gelatin silver
print . 46 x 57 cm; 70 x 84 cm framed
We see a space of passage formed by structures eloquent with history, cultur e, time,
cha nce, and vernacular use .... A conviction of meaningfulness, like a pressure in the
bra in, grows on us. lt is not a matte r of anything norma lly "inte resting." The place
is unremarkably, merel y real. At the same time, it seem s a rebus urgent co be read, as
if it secreted evidence of a crime. We do not feel nec essari ly that the photographer
knew th e secret. He is not toying with us. It is rather as if be had a Geiger counter
for meanin g, whose meter happened to go crazy at this location. 28

As Schjelda hl concludes elsewhere: "Seen in Struth's way, the world is a ju mbled con-
cretion of sometimes wond erful and so metime s horrible, a lwa ys impenetrable intentions
amid which we must live. " 19 (" Always impenetr ab le" is not exactly right but one takes
his point.) For Rob err Musi l in The Man Without Qualities, a work tbat bears an
uncanny re lation to recent ph o tographic practice (reca ll Bustamante 's interest in the
notion of "without qualiti es" or Gurs ky's re cast pag e in Untitled XII; see Fig. 108), it
is precisely the marks and traces of former intentions - or, as Musil writes , "mea nings"
and "op ini.ons" - as carried by urb an architecture that pr ovide definition for the other-
wise formless individual. Th e following appears not in the novel proper but in "No tes
for Chapters (r932../33-4r)":
Building s - breathlike mass , condensa tion on surfaces that present themselves . ..
Freed from connections, every impul se momentarily deforms the individual.
The ind ividual, who co mes about only through expression, forms himself in the
forms of society. He is violated and thus acquires surface.
He is formed by the back- formations of what he ha s created. If o ne tak es away
those back-formations, what remains is some thing indefinit e, unshaped. Th e wall s of
rbe streets radi at e ideo logies. 30

My thou ght is that Srruth's reticent, inexplicit, bur meaning-impregnated citysca pes were
a crucial element in the artistic and intellectual context within which Demand 's almost
exactly a nti thetical init iative - the remova l from his subject matter of all traces of pre -
vious intenti ons, conscious or un consciou s, and the replaceme nt of th em with his own
conscious ones - took shape .

The notion of place, fundamenta l to both Demand and early Struch, makes a link with
the art of a some what o lder German photo graph er, Ca ndida Hofer. Hof er was born in
1944 a nd studied at th e Kunstakademie in Diisseldorf between r973 and 198 2, three
years in the film class of Ole John, thereafter in th e photo grap hy class of Bernd Becher
along with Struth, Gursky, Ruff, and ochers. [non e respect she has remained mor e faith-
fu l than anyone else to the Bechers' pra ctice: just as they have sysrematically pho to-
graphed indu strial struc tures in Europe and Ameri ca, so she has, with a few brief
diversions, devoted her ca reer to rhe photograp hing of sign ificant interiors - rooms - of
all sort s, aJso in Europe and America . (The cities of her pictures consist of the designa-

thoma s demand, cand1da hofe 1, h1rosh1 sug ,mo to , and thomas st ruth 281
tion of the bui lding i_nwhich th e room exists, plu s th e city, plus th e numb er of th e shot
made in that place.) From the firsr, Hofer has worke d in co lor ; for a long rime she
restricted herse lf to a 35 mm camera th at resulted in 15 x 221 inch p rint s, but starting
in 1997 sbc began to use a 6 x 6 cm Ha sselblad that enabled her to make five-foot square
photog raphs, and since 2003 she bas worked with a 4 x 5-inch view ca mera rhat has
allowe d her to make even Larger images shou ld she desire to do so. Her pictures are
often beaurifuJ, in an unprob lemati c sense of the word, but for a long rime 1 cou ld nor
quite see how her work belonged to the larg er ar gume nt of this book , if in fact it did.
Then one da y, en route to :::tnexhibi tion of recent photograp hs by her ac th e Sonnabend
Gallery in New York , I had a sudde n insight.
Befor e relating char insigh t, l want to glance at three representative phorographs from
differem momencs in Hofer's ca reer. In Museo Civico Vicenza II (1988; Fig. 178), an
early work, the camera is situat ed almos t dir ectly oppos ite and at a conside rable dis-
tance fro m a corner of a large room . On the left -hand wall hang thr ee dark Renaissance
or seventee nth-c entury paintings (more pr ecisely, we are show n two suc h pajn ti11gsand
parr of a third); we see mainl y thei r shape s, whic h sugges r that rhe two upper picrures,
with ro1rnded upper hal ves, orig in ally belonged ro anoth er room, probably in a church
or refectory . To th e right of the lowest of rhe three pictures th ere is a dar k woode n door
w ith glass pane ls set in a han dsome molding, an d to rhe right of rbe d oo r and a foot or
so from rhe wall a large cent uries-o ld globe sits in a glass showcase with a woode n base.
A few feet ro the right a sma ller globe rests in a case with wooden legs. The right- hand

282 why photography matters as art as never before

1 78 (facing page)
Candida Hofer,M11seo
Clvico Vicem,a IL, 1988.
Chromogenic process
prinr. 38 x 57 cm

179 (left) Candida

Hofer, Ne11e National-
galerie Berlin \11I, 2001.
Chromoge ni c process
print. 152. x 152t 'm

wall is dominated by nvo rows of windows, high ones below and smaller ones above;
the window s are cove red with gauzy curtains and are filled with light, the wh.ire radi-
ance of which, dissolvi ng all detail of the windows' internal st ructure, cesrifics to the
duration of the exposure required to make the photograph (the actual interior, one gra d-
ually realizes, must have been rather dark). Toward the top of the picture is glimpsed a
bit of coffered ceili ng, and the bottom third of the image, more or less, is tak en up by
a warm brownish polished marble floor thar gleams with reflected light from the
windows. (The reflecdon s, namrall y, are oriented relative to the posit ion of the camera,
but note how patc hes of light from the windows fall on the floor at a differenr angle,
incidentall y revealing th e internal struc tur e of th e windows thtlt is otherwise invisible.)
Finally, low on the right-hand wa ll, between th e windows, are whar appear to be modern
heaters, which is to say that the photographer has made no efforr ro disguise the
torically composite nature of the room irself.
Another cha racterisric work, Nett e Nationalgalerie Berlin V 11(200 r ; Fig. 179 ), depicts
the entra nce floor of M ies van der Rohe's museum of modern art in Berli n. Th e sq uar e
format bespeaks the Ha sse lblad ca mera wirh which it was taken, and the point of view,
parallel co che rear mainly glass wall, therefore yielding a sense of one-poi nt perspective
(as in Struth 's early street scenes), is typical of H ofer 's late r work. Again, the exposure
seems to have been relatively long: thu s the trees a nd buildings beyo nd the tran sparent
rear wall are largely bleached our, and the reflections of light from the inlaid srone floor
chat occupies the bottom half of the picrurc are sufficient ly intense to all bur dissolve

-thomas deman d ; candida hoter, hi rosh1 sug1moto 1 and thornas struth 283
rhe more distant portion of the floor plane. A ceiling wirb reced ing supports and slender
red crossbars rakes up much of the upper half of the composirion. ln the middle dis-
tance and to rhe left of center a broad greenish-gray marb le column - more like an abbre -
viated freesta nding wall - connects floor and ceiling; immediate ly in front of the column
sit two Barcelona chairs and a small bench; and roughly halfway between the column
and the camera the re extends from left co right a row of Barcelona benches in a repeat-
ing patter n (the last of rhe benches is cue off by the right -hand edge of the picture). Also
nea r the right-hand edge is a wooden structu re, the function of wh ich the viewe r can
on ly guess at.
A more recent work, Ca' Do/fin Venezia I (2003; Fig. 180), depicts a marvelously
ornate, tho ugh rat her compact, salone in a Venetian palazzo. Ir seems to be a room in
which performances of some sort a re held (whet her this was its original use is nor clear);
at any rate, the photog raph has been taken from a slightly elevated view point - as if
from a stage or ra ised platform - and once again the rear wa ll, wich three rococo-style
mirror inserts, is parallel to the picture plane. O nce agai n, roo, the compos ition is
rigoro usly centered: the viewer looks down at approxima tely ten rows of reddjsh-
upholstered chairs, divided left and righ t into rwo banks of sears, with a polished
wooden floor visib le betwee n them, as weU as up at a frescoed, shallow ly concave ceiling
from which hang cwo spectacular ly ornate white crys ta l chandeliers beari ng long artifi-
cial cand les (with electric bulbs at their tips). Toward th e rear of the room two call
windows bor dered by red drapes allow lighr ro flood the scene and, as in che other
works, rhe dw-arion of the exposure has led to a bleaching out of rhc windows them-
selves. Ow ing to tbe central position of the camera, the windows are reflected in the
farthest righ t mirror on the rear wall. In anothe r of Hofer's Venetian palazzo phoco-
graphs, Palazzo Zenobio Venezia fTl (2003 ), rhe photographer and her came ra are actu-
ally imaged in one of the mirrors on the rear wall, but in the present work this is nor
the case. 11 Un like Museo Civico Vice11zaII and Nette Nationalgalerie Berlin Vll, both
of ,vhich make a point of compositional spareness, Ca' Do/fin Venezia I is replete with
sens uous detail, the richness of whic h, one soon comes to feel, goes far beyond the ability
of the un aided eye to register and enjoy.
T hese three works by no means encapsulate rhc range of Hofer's interiors, but they
prov ide a basis for discussion. One way to begin that discuss ion is by noting cha r all
Hofe r's commentators have remarked on the absence of people from her interiors. (ln
fact that absence is not tota l; for examp le, BNF Paris XX l1998j, a view of the peri -
odicals read ing room in the former Bibliorheque Nationale on the rue de Ric helieu,
dep icts researchers sitt ing at rabies and before microfilm projection mach ines; bur it is
an except ion, and in the end the effect of the picture is nor essentially di fferent from
that of all those without huma n prese nce.) Jndced a 2005 retrospective exhib ition of
H<>fer's phocographs bears the title "Architecture of Absence," a p hrase meant co aUude
bot h co the absence of perso ns and to someth ing more encompassing - an "abs tracting"
effect that Ma ry-Kay Lombino, one of the ex hibition's curators, associates with the idea
of giving "blankness an emotiona l plenitude" (a phrase used by the pho tographer Ura
Barth co describe her own projecc). 32 Hofe r's masterly treatme nt of light plays a key role
in chis, as Lombino recognizes . She adds: "However, Hofer not only reveals these rwo

284 why photog raphy matters as art as never before

180 Candida Hofer, Ca' Dolfiu Venezia I, 2.003. Chromogenic process print. 152. x r7r cm

qualities" - blankness and light - "in her reductive images of vacant, minimal room s,
but also in her more baroque pictures o f rooms adorned with plentiful details and num er-
ous identical objects, which m ight o rdin aril y conflict with the idea of blankness and
pose a compos itional challenge. Hofer overcomes th is obstacle by emphasizing che sym-
metry and alignment inherent in her subjects, creating works chat embody at once both
abunda nce and empti ness" (25). Lombi no also remarks on Hofcr 's eradication of clutter
"in the name of achieving complete clarity and evoking detached tranquility" (26). In
the sa me sp irit, Cons tance W. Glenn, another of che curators, writes that th e square-

thomas dem and, cand,da heifer. hi ros ht sug1moto, and 1homas struth 285
picture format that Hofer added to her reperto ire in r994 " has bad the effect of empha-
sizing the et hereal qui etude of her spaces - a quietude that defies the usual weight of
arc hitectural detail." 33
Not ions suc h as detached tranquility and ethereal quietu de ar e related to the effect
of distance, another charact eristic of her art , as we have seen. And beyond all th ese qual-
ities is the ove rriding question of the viewer's relation co the photographic image, by
which I mean the question as to what extent and in what sense the viewer is either
invite d to "e nt er'' the depicted room o r prevented from doing so in spite of tbe clarity
of the mise-en-scene.
What makes this a tricky question to answer is, first, d1at all of Hofer's images are
unqualified ly ope n to the viewer's gaze - there is no feeling of things being hidden from
view, while the use of a wide-a ngle lens, the overa ll sharpness of focus, and the sheer
duration of the exposure mea n that the viewer is enabl ed ro see much mo re and in
greater derail tha n wou Id be possible if he or she were looking ar the room itself (as I
have already suggested). And second, that the rooms are full of objects meant for human
use - rabies, cha irs, benches, doorways, ramps, light sources, card files, books, flighrs of
sta irs, and so on. A third potentially inviting facto r is the historical speci ficity of many
of her subjects, which the viewer rightly understands as co nnoting a particular style of
life: the orig inal social world o f Mies's mu seum was nor rhe same as chat of the Ca'
Dolfin, and neid1er had much in common with rbe social world or worlds evoked in
Mu seo Civico Vicenza II. In chat respect, Hofer's ph otog raphs might seem to offer access
to vanished realms of expe r ience. Nevertheless, I want ro claim that the viewer feels
himself or. herself ro be rigo rou sly "exclu ded" (from now on I shall drop the quotation
marks) from Hofer's int erio rs excep t as regards the sense of sight operating in an almost
wholly disemb odi ed mode. Despite the fact that the actual interiors are self-evidently
places that in coun tless ways are phenomenologica lly keyed to th e act ivities of incar-
nate human beings, th e viewer of her photographs is noc led to respond ernpathica lly
to those keys (more than the bare minim um , so to spea k) - to imagine being seared in
rbe Ca' Do lfin's chairs or ncgor iaring that br oad e>..'J)anseof floor in th e Musco Civico
o r the Neue Narionalgalerie - but rather is i11duced to survey the pictures in question
with a blend of heightened visual alertn ess and all but explici t bodily decachmenc. A
picture chat drives thi s home with almost didactic intent is Ballett zentrum Hamburg {IT
(20or; Fig. r81), with its single functiona l chair- the ba llet teacher's? - placed in self-
conta ined iso lation in the middle of a large practice room. It is not a cha i1one imag-
ines oneself approaching, muc h less seated in. Ar the same time, the interiors th emselves
strike th e viewer as w1quesrionab ly actual, compre hens ible, ac least at first glance con-
tinuous with his or her own exper iential realm. (What I am crying to convey is that the
viewer's sense of exclus ion from the spaces in H ofer's photographs is nowhere near as
radical as the sense of "sever ing" that I have associated with Gursky's art. No r for that
matter do her photographs act ively repulse tbc viewer in the mann er of Busramanr e's
Tableaux, or make a poinr of their own "saturation" in that of Demand 's pictures.
Perhaps it is simply that they cont inua lly find means ro emp hasize their "opticaliry," to
use a term from my crit icism of rhe I96os that Jeff Wall has recently app lied to his own

286 why phot ography mane rs as an as never be fore


181 Candida Hofer, Ballettzentrum Hamburg 111, 2.oor. Chrnmogen ic process pr int. T 52. x

photographs .34 ) Thus when Lambino remarks that Hofer's images "revea l only the traces
of those activi ties foui1d embedded in the details of the work " (24), everything depends
on what she means by "traces" and "embedded ." On the one hand, the individual room s
are indeed, as she suggests, almost always treated as "places for socia l and cultural
encounters and vital interchanges" (2 4 ); on the other hand, even in a photograph like
Museo Civico Vicenza Tl which in a certain sense contain s the evidence of diiferent sets
of intentions (Mus il's "meanings" and "opinions") - those that went into the making of
the paintings and globes, those char went into the initial construction of the building,
those that went into the design of the modern museum - there is nothing whatever of
the conspicuous trace srrucrure - the mater ial evidence of wear an d rear, of years of ha rd

thomas de mand. cand1da hofer. h1rosh1sug,moto, and them as struth 287

use, of continuous habitation, alteration, and deterioration -found in Strutb's early
stree tscapes, for examp le. This too militates agai n st imagining other than a strictly visua l
exploration of th e depicte d place. 3s
The insig ht with respect to H.ofer's photographs diat I mentioned above concerns, to
begin with , the fact th at in " Art and Objecthood" 1 drew attent ion to the importance
to min imalist/literalist theory and practic e of the placement of a given work in a
particu lar sort of inte rior space. In Morris's words (quoted by me}:

For the space of the room itself is a struc tur ing factor both in its cu bic shape and in
terms of the kind of compression different sized and proportioned rooms can effect
upon th e object-subject terms . [Morris is imagining the su bject - the viewer - encoun -
ter ing liceralist work within a cubic gallery space.] That the space of the room becomes
of such importance does not mean that an environmental situat ion is being estab-
lished. The coral space is hopefull y altered in certain desired ways by the presence of
the object. le is not contr o lled in the sense of being ordered by an aggregate of objects
or by some shap i11gof th e space surrounding the viewer. [154 ]36

In my gloss:
The object, not the beholder, mu st rema in the center or focus of the sirnat ion , but the
situation itse lf belongs to the beholder - it is his situa tion. Or as Morris has remarked ,
"l wish to emp hasize that things are in a space with oneself, rathe r than ... rtha t] one
is in a space sur rounded by things." Again, there is no clear or hard distinct ion
between the two stares of affairs: one is, after all, always surrounde d by th_ings. But
th e things th at are litera list work s of arr mu st some how confr ont the beholder - they
must, one might almost say, be placed not jusr in his space bur in his way . .. Ir 54,
emphasis in or iginal]

This is where the room - the galle ry int er ior - comes in as the ideal arena for the par -
ticu lar sort of confronta tion "Art and Objecrhood " sought to analyze, a confrontation
in which, as has already been remarked, the literalist object itself is in effect replaced
by the embodied subject's ongo ing and in principle open-ended experience not on ly of
that obje ct but a lso of rhe cocal sit uati on in whic h the subject finds himself or herself
by virtue simp ly of entering the room (163). "The concept o f a room is, mostly clan-
destin ely, important to literalist art and theory," I remarked in a footnote. "In fact, it
can often be substituted for the word 'space' in the latter: somethin g is sa id to be in my
space if it is in th e sa me room with me (and if it is placed so rhac I can hard ly fail co
notice it)" (p. 170 n. I4}.
Along the same lines, tho ugh not at all cr itically of minimalism, Dan Gra ham wrote
in 1985:
While American " Pop" art of th e ear ly r96os referr ed to the surrounding media world
of cultura l information as framework, "Minimal" art work of the middle through
lare I9 6os wou ld seem co be referring to the ga llery 's interior cube as the ult imate
contextual frame of reference or support for rhe work. This reference was only com -

288 why phot ography matters as art as never before

positional; in place of a compositional reading interior to the work, the gallery would
compose the art's formal structure in relation to the gallery's interior architectura l
structure. That the work wa s eq uated to the architectural cont a iner tend ed to literal-
ize it; both the architectural conta iner and th e work contained withjn were meant to
be seen as no n-illusion istic, neutra l and objectively factual - that is, as simply mater-
ial. Th e gal lery functioned literally as part of the art. 37

(From my point of view such an acco unt , wh ile tru e as far as ir goes, fails to mention ,
no doubt beca use it takes for granted, the primacy of the expe riencing subject. } Graha m's
observat ions are bound to str ike the informed reader as re calling nor just "Art and
Objecthood" but another text as well: Brian O 'Doh erty's Inside the Whi te Cube: The
Ideology of the Gallery Space, a short book compris ing four essays the first thr ee of
which first ap peared in Artforum in I976. O 'Dohe rty's thesis is that the white cube of
the mod ern gallery inter ior has played a fund a ment al, albeit for the most pa rt unac-
knowledged, role in the development of modernist painting a nd sculpt ure (and beyond
these, of minimalism). "T he history of modernism is intimately framed by that space,"
he writes early on:
ro ]r rather the hisrory of modern art can be correlated wit h changes in that space
and in the way we see it. We have now reached a point where we see no t the art but
the space first. (A cliche of the age is to ejac ulate over the space on enrer ing a ga llery.)
An image com es ro mind of a whit e, ideal spa ce that, more than any single picture,
may be the arche typal image of twent ieth century art ; it clari fies itself thr ough a
process of historical inevitability usually atta ched to the art it conra ins.38

Two further paragraphs are a lso relevant:

A gallery is construc ted along laws as rigoro us as those for buildi ng a medieval ch urch .
The outsi de world must not come in., so win dows are usually sealed off. Walls are
painted white. Th e ceiling becomes the sourc e of light. Th e wooden floor is poUshed
so that you click along clinically, or carpeted so that you pad sow1dlessly, resting the
feet wh ile the eyes have ac the wall. The art is free, as the saying used to go, "to rake
on its own life." The discreet desk may be the 011lypiece of furnitur e. In this con text
a stand ing ashtray becomes a lmost a sacred objec t, just as the firehose in a modern
museum looks not like a firehose but an aesthetic conundrum. Modernism's transpo-
sition of percept io n from life to formal values is comp lete. This, of course, is one of
modernism's faral diseases.
Unshadowed, white, clean, artificia l - the space is devoted to the technology of aes-
thetics. Works of art are mounted, hung, scattered for study. Their ungrubby SLtrfaces
are untouched by time a nd ics vicissirndes. Art ex ists in a kin d of eternity of display,
and though there is lots of "per iod" (late mod ern), there is no rime. Th is eterni ty gives
the gallery a limbolike status; one has co have died already to be there. Indeed the
presence of that odd piece of furniture, your own body, seems super -flo us, an intru-
sion. The space offers the thought that wh ile eyes and mind s are welcome, space-occ u-
pying bodies are not - or are tolerated on ly as kinesthet ic manneqwns for fur ther

thomas demand; candida heifer, hiroshi sugimoto, and thomas struth 289
L82 Ca ndid a Hofer, DHFK Leipzig IV, r99r. Chrom ogcnic process print. 38 x 57 cm

study . This Cartesian paradox is reinforced by one of the icons of our visual cultur e:
the installation shoe, sans figures. Herc at last the spectator, oneself, is eliminated. You
are ther e without being there - one of the major services provided for art by its old
antagonist, photography. T he installation shot is a metaphor for the gallery space. In
it an ideal is fulfilled as Strongl y as in a Salon painting in the 1830s. I 15]
Perha ps it is already clear where my argument is tending. I suggest that a fundamental
poinc of reference for Hofer' s p hotographs of interiors, whether or not sht: is aware of
it, is the modernist galle ry space, which her pictures at once allude to and critique in
severa l highly specific respects. On the side of a llusion there is not only the emptiness
of Hofer's interiors and the transcendent clarity with which they are depicted, but also
what Glenn describes as "her reticent but richly nuanced ha ndling of co lor, character-
ized by a compelling use of the range of white (19, emphasis added). As Glenn aptly

[H ofer] chooses to let white define a great many of her compositions, from the most
subtle contrasts illuminating archi tectura l detail or refining perception of the space,
to the motifs highlighted by emphasizing repetitive forms, such as row upon row of
spotless library reading tables. Look closely at the images as a whole. Th e over-
whelming effect is that of being tonall) ' pale, suff used with light. In one portion -

290 why photography matters as art as never before

usually slightly more or less than ha lf of the compos ition - white dominates, balanced
by the darkness of th e contras tin g area, which is often lightened by reflection. I19l

Glenn's observations perfectly fit the picture s by Hofer I have looked at, as well as
numerous others, early and late , such as DHFK Leipzig IV (r99r; Fig. r82), Schindler
House Los Angeles Vf/ (2000; Fig. L83), and th e spectacular Ca' Rezzonico Venezia I
(2003; Fig. 184), thre e images of w idely different types of interiors which nevertheless
belong to a single colorisr ic sensibility.
No doubt H ofer's predi lection for white rooms (and white light ) has temperamental
roots. The fact remains rhar the strong ly white ronality of her art harks back to the pris-
tine whiteness of the modernist gallery, as does what might be ca lled the rracelessness
of her interiors (note the "u ngrubb y" surfaces of the modernist works of art chat
O'Doherty characterized as "untouched by time and its vicissitudes"). On the side of
critique are other conspicuous features of H ofer's photographs. For one thing, the
interiors themselves are not literall y featur eless but more often than not are highly
detailed and richly articu lated; for anot her, the windows are not sealed off so that the
outside world cannot enter but rather are crucial and consp icuous sources of bri!Lanc
illumination; and for a thi rd, the emphas is in her photog raphs is only occasiona lly on

t83 Candida H ofer, Schindler House Los Angeles VIL, 2000. Chromogeoic process print. T 52
x 192 cm

lho mas demand; candida hofer. h1roshi sugi molo, and them as struth 29 1
t84 Candida Hofer, Ca' Rezzonico Venezia l, 200 3 . Chrornogenic process print . 15-z.x 18 r cm

tbe walls, which more often than not are subordinated to the floors, ceilings, lighting,
and various objects such as tables, chairs, bookshelves, mi;;rnrs, windows, lamps,
statues, and the like. More broadly, the "t imelessness" - also rhe placelessness39 - of the
modern gallery space is contradicted by the historical and geographical specificity of her
diverse, carefully chosen locales.
A further issue concerns the status of the viewer, and her e, preci sely with respect co
minima lism, O 'Do herty's insistence that rhe modernist gall e ry is antipathetic to the
embodied subject undergoe s a certain modification. In his words:

292 why pho tograp hy matt ers as art as never before

ln the late sixries and sevent ies, Eye and Spectat or (rhe latte r being a vestige or ghost
of the fully embodied subjecrl negot iate some tra nsactions. Min ima l o bjects o ften
provoke d perceptions orhe r than the visual. T hough what was there instant ly
declared itse lf ro the eye, it had to be checked: othe rwise, what was the point of three-
dimensio naliry? There are rwo kinds of time h ere: the eye ap p rehended rhe objecr at
once, like paint ing, then th e body bore rhe eye a round it. This prompted a feedback
between expectation co nfirmed (checking) a11d hir herro subl iminal bo dily sensat io n .
Eye and Spectator were not fused bur cooperated for the occas io n. T he finely tun ed
Eye was impressed with some residual dara from its abandoned body (che kines thet -
ics of gravity, tracking, ere.) The Specraror's other senses, a lways there in the raw,
were infused w ith some of rhe Eye's fine discriminations. The Eye u rges rhe body
aro und to provide it w ith in formation - the body becomes a data-gatherer. There is
heavy traffic in bot h directions o n this senso ry highway - betwee n sensation concep -
tualized and concept actualized. In th is unstab le rapproche ment lie the orig ins of
perceptual scenarios, performance, and Body Arr. I50-52]

l have reservations about chis as a paraphrase of the minimalist/literalist project (the

notion of "c hecking," th e two kinds of time, the body "bearing" the eye), just as l do
not share O'Doherry's view cha r in modern ist painting before minimalism the body
seemed "superfluous, an intr usion " (the w hole distinctio n that runs throug hout his book
betwee n Eye and Spectator seems ro me forced, as does rhe claim rbac "o ne has to have
died already" ro be in the modernis t gallery space). Yet O'Do herry a nd I agree that
minimalism addressed itself to bodily experience in a new way, and here the difference
between the minima list/litera list room (as discussed in "Arr and Objecthood") and
Hofer's interio rs, with th eir calc ulated exclusion of the viewer, is indeed intense. The
ubiquitousness of reflections in Hofer's pictu res, per haps most dramatically exemplified
by DHFK Leipzig JV with its high ly po lished gym nasi um floor reflecting rbe g lare fro m
rows of windows through which light floods the vast interior (here too the glare is played
off aga inst the actual fall of daylight from uppe r right to lower left), also works aga inst
die minimalist idea even more strong ly than aga inst the modernist one, for the simple
reason that rbe floor as such - as the grow1d of the embodied viewer's movements and
an importa nt context for the placement of ind ivid ual objects - plays a more emphat ic
role in min imalism than it docs in mode rnism (just imag ine tr ying to come to ter ms with
one of Carl Andre's metal square pieces staged on that gymn asium floor) . So also does
Hofer's frequent choice of elevated viewpoints, which deparr radically from tbat of any
possible viewer who migh t enter by foo t the actual inte rior.
One last feat ttre of O'Doherty's sum mary accou nt of the mode rnist gallery space
deserves not ice: hjs claim that "the installation shot, sans figures," captures something
like the essence o f the mode rn ist ga llery-go ing exper ience . " Here at last th e spectato r,
oneself, is eliminated" - comp letely, he seems to be saying. O bvio usly J think th is is much
too extreme as a characterization of the modernist experience, but what O 'Do herty's
remarks interestingly suggest- here coo l agree wirh him - is that by way of the instal-
lation shot photography effective ly excludes the viewer from the dep icted scene ("You

themas demand; cand ,da hofer, hi rosh1 sugimoto. and thomas strut h 293
are there without being there," as he puts it). In that sense, the installation shot as
described by O'Doherry anticipa tes the strictly visual, beholder-excluding esthetic of
Hofer's photographs of interiors, though of cvurse the latter go infinitely beyond even
the most artfu.l installation shot in the explorat ion of their rich and variegated main

There is space in this drnprer for only some brief remarks about four additional bodies
of work - Sugimoro's black-and-w hite ''Seascapes," which he began making in 1980 and
which by now number in the hundreds; $truth's "Paradise" photog raphs of forests
and jungles, made between r998 and 2.ooi; and t\vo photobooks of animals in zoos,
Winogrand's The Animals (1969) and H ofer's Zoologische Garte,z (1993), which aU but
demand to be compa red with each other.
Of the first of Sugimoco's "Seascapes," a p hotograph of the Caribbean Sea taken in
Jamaica in 1980 (Fig. 185), the artist has explained that he was on a cliff above the sea,
"oot very high, probably ten meters or so above the level of the sea. The spot was prac-
tical for surveying the ocean: no boar, or yacht, or ste::imer,solely the water and the sky.
Thar was what I wanted. I decided always tO keep exactly the same composit ion, with
the horizon line as a fixed center; half sky, half water, nothing else. "'11 According ly he
made a mark on the frame of his viewfinder in order to determine the correct posirion
of the horizon line for all subsequent photographs. What this has meant is that the
"Seascapes" all have the same extreme ly simple internal struct ure though they also differ
considerab ly from one another depending on the lighting and weather conditions and
the precise stare of the water. Indeed there are photographs in which the horizon line is
invisible owing to fog or mist, but in those cases Sugimoto appears ro have ascertained
where it wo uld have been and to have stuck rigorously to his formula. When one encoun -
ters a single "Seascape" in a gallery or museum, one is invariably struck by its quiet
grande ur. For Sugimoco himself the almost identica l pictures compose a vast, open-ended
series, and he prefers ro think of the viewer as being invited to compare a number of
them with one another so as at once to notice small differences - by looking closely at
individual images to the point of "drowning" in them - and to become increasingly
aware of what rhey all have in common. 42
Another way Sugimoto has of speaking of the "Seascapes" as a group is in terms of
an imaginative journey far back in time. In the "Seascapes," he has said, "there is no
human presence. Because I try to depict the prehuman state of the landscape. It is as if
r were the first man to appear on chis planet which is the earrh. The first man who lam
looks around and discovers his first landscape, a marine landscape. Made solely of air
and water. That is why there is no human trace. " 43 The notion of tracelessness recalls
both Deman d's reconstructions (which bear traces only of the ir manufact ure) and
Hofer's interiors (which although "historical" are also pristine), while the theme of the
prehumao is broad ly suggestive witb respect to theatrica lity - as if the "Seascapes" are
imagined by Sugimoto as depicting so many nearly identical elemental scenes that had

294 w hy photography ma ue, s as art as never before

185 Hiroshi Sugimoto, Caribbean Sea,Jamaica, 1980. Gelatin silver prim. rr9.4 x 149.2 cm, N egative 30 1

never previously been observed by human eyes; ind eed as if, to amend slightly Sugi-
moco 's though r, the "or iginals" of chose scenes ha d been seen only by his camera, nor
by Sugimoto himse lf, before th ey were made available as representation by means of his
Both Sugimoto's remarks and m y eme nd ation are clearly ficrions but there is anothe r,
more ft1J1damental sense in which the beholder and perhaps a lso the phoro graph er are
exclu d ed from chc "Seasca pes." This begins to emerge if one co nsiders che relat ion of
the in div idual imag es co their titles, which in all cases cons ist simply of the names bo th
of the sea that the photograph depicts and of the place where it was taken. To cite three
more repre sent a tive works in th e series: Sea of Japan, Rebun Island ( t996; Fig. 186);
N orth Atlanti c Ocean (r996; Fig. I 87); and Black Sea, Ozu luce (r991; Fig. .c88). What

themas demand. candida hoier, h1rosh1 sug 1rnoto. and Lhomas struth 295
186 Hiroshi Sugimoto , Sea of Japan, Rebun ls/and, J996. Gelarin silver print . .u9.4 x 149.2.
cm, Negarive 460

1.87 (facing page top) Hiroshi Sugimoto , North Atlantic Ocean, Cape Breto11ls/and, 1996.
Gelatin silver print. u9 .4 x i49 .2 cm, Negative 464

188 (facing page bottom) Hiroshi Sugimoto , Black Sea, Ozuluce, 199 1. Gelatin silver print.
n 9.4 x 149 .2 cm, N ega tive 366

is obvious ly striking about th ese is that the scenes in the photographs are all more o r
less identical; more precisely, such differences among them as can be discerned (and as
no ted earl ier, Sug imo to encourages rhe discerni11g of differe nces) have no bear ing on the
question of local e. Topogr a phica lly th ere is no difference ar a ll between one "Seascape"
and another: this follows from Sugimot0's decisio n ro seek rhe same elementa l motif
thr ougho ut the enr ire series and to frame it identically. The titles thu s assure the viewer
of someth ing chat cannot be seen - that the "Seascapes" were shot in different places.
More precisely, they an nounce that the photograp her has had to trave l to different par ts
of the world and set up his unwiel.dy, o ld-fash ioned apparatus above o ne shore line or
another in order to take bis pictures. And w hat is crucial to grasp is that Sugimoto has
done all this not so as ro show the viewer what th e places in question look like (no one

296 why photography mauers as art as never before

r89 Hiroshi Sugimoto, Mirtoan Sea, S0unio11,t990. Gelatin siJver print. n 9.4 x 149.2 cm,
Negative 354

co uld recogn ize the places from the pictures or vice versa) but in order that the viewer
comes to see that the photograph er has not been tak ing picrures of what they look like,
understanding by th is nor some curious sort of failure but rather a deliberate, ontolog-
ically ambitious project. In other words, the "Seascapes," despite appearances, are in
no sense views - a po int drummed hom e by the pictures shot at night, among the most
compelling of the ser ies (Fig. r 89 ).''

"Jn Chapter One of chis book l discussed The sea, a nameless sea, the Mediterranean,
several passages on voyeurism from Yukio the Japan Sea, the Bay of Suruga here before
Mishima's The Temple of Dawn, and in the con- him; a rich, name less, absolute anarchy, caughr
clusion 1 shall discuss Wall's After "Spring Snow" after a great struggle as something called "sea,"
by Yukio Mishima, a photograph based on an in fact rejecting a name.
episode in the first novel in the tecralogy. Here, As the sky clouded over, the sea fell into
however, I want to quote a longish passage from sulky contemplation, studded with fine nightin-
the opening chapter of Th e Decay of the Angel, gale-colored points. It bristled with wave-
which brings The Sea of Fertility tetralogy to a thorns, like a rose branch. in the tl1orns
close: themselves was evidence of a smooth becom-
ing. The thorns of the sea were smooch.

298 why photography maners as art as never be l ore

As for Struth 's "Paradise " series, taken betw een 1998 and 200 1 in forests and jung les
in China, Japan, Australia, Brazil, and German Bavari a (Fig. I9 0), nothing more sur-
prisingly dem onstrates the appeal in recent art photography of the strategy of exclusion
than these large an d disconcerting pictur es, almo st all of which seem to have as their
aim the co nfronting of cbe viewer with scenes of impen etr ab le lushness, density, com -
plexity, non-different iarion. 44 Surpri singly, because throughout his career Struth ha s been
the most empathic of contemp orary photographers (as both the fami ly portrai ts and the
cityscapes demonstrate ), wh ich suggests that the "Paradise " photogr aphs represent a
deliberate attempt to go again st his own natur al tendencies in the interest of bring ing
about a differe nt, resolutely non-empathi c relat ion betw een pictur e and viewer. By and
large, commentator s have under stood that they were being shut ou t of these pictures,
bur what has nor been acknowledg ed is the larger artistic context in which exclus ion
has emerged as a major trope for ambitious arr photography. So for example Rei Masuda
writes: "It ma y be possible to identify room for thought if we really wanted ro, but,

Thre e ren. There were no ships in sight . tanr bell. A ship ap pears and sers th e bell to
Very stra nge. T he whole vast space was ringin g. ln an instant the soun d makes every-
aba ndoned. rhing irs ow n. On the sea they are incessanr, the
Ther e were not even wings of gulls. bell is forever ringing.
Then a phanrom ship arose and disappe ared A being.
toward the west . It need not be a ship . A single birter orange,
The Tzu Peninsu la was shrou ded in mist. For appeari ng no one knows when. It is enou gh to
a time ir ceased co be the lzu Peninsul a. It was set rhe bell ro ringi ng.
the ghost of a lost peninsula . Then it disap - Thr ee rhirty in the aft ernoon . A single bitt er
peared entirely. 1t had becom e a fiction on a orang e rep resent ed being on the Bay of Suruga.
map . Ships and peni nsula alike belonged to (Yukio Mishima , Tl,e Deca) of the Angel, tr.
"the absurdity of existen ce.'' Edward G. Seiden sticker [I 97 1; New York,
They appear ed and disappeared. H ow did L97 41, pp . 8-ro)
they differ?
If the visible was the sum of being, then the ln Sugimoto's "Seasca pes," of course, there are no
sea, as long as it was not lost in mist, exis red ships, no bitte r orange, ever. Nevert heless, from
rbcrc. Ir was heartily ready to he. rhe perspective of the passage just quor ed, Sugi-
A single sh ip chang ed ir all. moto's seas , in their very sam eness - their resis-
Th e who le compo sition cha nged. With a tance to ident ity, themari zed, I have suggested, by
rending of the who le pan ern of being, a ship their tirles (or rather by rhe "fa ilure" of the rirles
was received by th e horizo n. An ab dicat ion was to capt ure any intrinsic qua lity il1 the images as
signed. A whole uni verse was thrown away. A such) - mighr be regarde d as so many pictures of
ship cam e in sight , ro throw out the universe the same " rich , namele ss, absolure anarch y,
chat had guarded its absence. caugh t after a great strug gle as something called
Mulriple cha nges in rhe color of the sea, 'sea,' in fact rejecting a name. " As for the visible
mome nt by mom ent. Change s in the clouds. as "rhe sum of being," on e questio n might be
And the appearance of a ship . What was whether it is not Sugimoro's photograph s rhar
happenin g? What were happenings? confer being on the seas, insofar as the larcer muse
Each insta nt brought them, mor e mome n- be und erstoo d as hav ing been "visib le" onl y ro
rous than the explosion of Krakatoa. le was the eye of rhe camera. In any case , a certain con-
only that no one noti ced. We are too accus- cordan ce between Mishima's text and Sugimoto 's
tomed to the absurdity of exis tence. The loss of photograph s seems not hing less than starrling .
a universe is nor worth taking seriously. My thanks to Walter Benn Mi chaels for helping
Happ enings are the signal s for endless recon - me think through the beho lder-excluding aspects
struction , reorganization . Signals from a dis- of Sugimoro 's "Seasca pes."

thornas demand; cand,da heifer, hiroshi sug 1moto, and lhomas struth 299
faced with the overwhelming existence of che plants, we are made co feel that such incen-
rions can wait." 4 5 And Daniel Birnbaum: "Struth originally saw these dense textures as
illegible cext, as impossible to grasp as caJligraphic writing for an untrained Westerner.
Thus a zone of natural phenomena appea rs beyond the antinomies of subjectivity, a
realm of raw but nor entirely alien experiences of the world of trees and planes and
splendid blossoms. Pure visibility, the Aesh of the world, colorful things in rhe sun. "46
Struth himself bas said that the photographs "contain a wealth of delicately branched
information, which makes it almost impossible, especially in large formats, to isolate
single forms. One can spend a lot of rime in fr onr of these pictures and remain helpless
in terms of knowing bow to deal with them. "'17 Srruth's own understanding of his project
is characteristically "spir itual" - rhe picrnres in his view "emphasize the self" and
provide occasions for meditation and interna l dialogue (r sc}. No doubt this is true, bur
their deepest artistic significance lies elsewhere, in rhe charged space between
photograph and viewer.

190 Thomas Strurh, Paradise 6, Daintree. Australia , 1998. Chromogenicprocess prinr. r 69.7
x 214.3 cm; r 76.7 x 22.r.3 cm framed

300 why photography matte rs as art as never be fore

19 , Ga rry W inogran d , Bronx Zoo,
1963, from The Animals, 1969.
Ge latin silver print . 2.2.9 x 34.2 cm.
Museum of M odern Art, New York.
Pu rchase and gifr o f Barbara Schwartz.
in memory of Eugene M. Schwartz

192. (below) Ca ndida HofeI,

Zoologischer Garten Amsterdam fl,
1992.. C hromogcn ic process print.
26 X 46.4 cm

Fina lly, it is instru ctive to compare two slender books of photo grap hs of animals in zoos,
Winogrand's The Animals (r969) 4 ~ and H ofer's Zoo /ogische Garten (1993) 49 -instruc-
tive because the contrast between the respec tive sets of images is star k, and also because
that contrast belongs to the shift from a black-and-white street photography esthctic,
by t969 ente ring a critical phase, to the mor e auste re and deliberate attitude keyed
to effects of exclusion that I have been examin ing in this chapter (indeed Ho fer's zoo
photographs hard ly q ualify as street photography in any sense). instead of Winogrand 's
unexpect ed a nd often hum orou s juxta positions of onlookers and a nima ls, his tilted
ground planes suggest ive of his own impul sive movem ent through the scene, and the
overall impression his photographs convey of having been taken on the fly and for the
most part close up (if not to rhe an imals at least to the perso ns looking at them), H ofer's

themas demand. candida hoter, hirosh1 sugimoto. and thomas st1uth 301
9 demand, hofer, and others sister wa s the culprir " (Thomas Demand in "A Co nvcrsa
tion between Alexander Kluge a nd Thomas Demand,'' in
T Recent works on Deman d incl ude: Thomns Dem and: Thomas Demand flondonl , p. 85).
Pho tography, exh. cat ., with an essay by Ralph Rugo ff and 8 Fran~ois Quinton, " TI1cre is no Inn ocent Roo m, .. Thomas
a sro ry by Jul ia Fran ck (Bregenz, 100 4); Roxa na Marcoci, Demnnd , cxh. car. (Paris , 2.000), p. 52.. Further pnge refer-
Thomas Demand , ex h. cat., with a sho rt story by Jeffrey ences co thi s interview will be in parcnth e~es in the text. As
Eugcnides (Ne w York, 2.005); and Th omas Dcmnnd, exh. Marcoci writes: " despite their illusionism , Demand 's stag ed
ca r., with an essay by Beatriz Co lomina and a conversa tion tableaux revea l the mechanism s of their making. Minu te
berween Alexander KJuge and Th o ma s Demand (London, imperfectio ns - a pencil mark here, an exposed edge ther e,
1006). a wrinkl e in rhe paper - arc deliberat ely lefr visible . Th e
1 Dean Sobel, " Th omas Demand : Th e Basic Facts," in lack of deraiJ ,,nd cool, uniform lightin g CX"posethe whole
Th omas Demand , exh . cat . (Amsrerdam and Aspen , 2.001- as a co nstrucrion. Once the>' have been ph ocograp hed, the
2.), n.p . Purth er references co this essay will be in par en- mod els are destroyed. The resulting picrur es are convinc
th eses in th e texr. ingly real and strangel y artificial" (''Paper Moon," 10).
3 1Vhlr,coci, " Paper Moon," in Marcod , TIJomas Demand, 9 Yilma z Dziewio r, .. A Thousand Words: Th oma s Demand
pp. 9-10. Furrher page referenc es to thi s essay will be in Talks About ' Po ll,'" Artfomm , vo l. 39 (May 2.001): 1.-15.
par enth eses in the texr. 10 Par vecn Adams, " Demand wirhour Desire: Th e Work of
4 Sec e.g. Ruedi Widmer , " Interview with Th omas Dema nd : Thomas Dem and ," Portfolio: Contemporary Photography
Building the Scene of the Crime ," Camera Austria lnt emll in Britain, no. 38 (Decembe r 200 3): 20. She also suggests
tional, no. 66 Uuly t999}: 10. Th e releva nt exchange reads: chat the objects in Deman d 's photographs, because plainly
Widmer: " Lee's begin ac the beginning. To begtn wirh it is not o bjects of desire, arc "objects as tbe )' arc, or at least as
an everyday place. Somethin g happens ... " Demand:" ... near 10 rhem as it is pos.sible ro be" (ibid., slightl y recast in
and thi s is some thing char is rabooed or condem n ed in the plural) . Thi s seems wrong.
society .. . ,. Widmer: ~ ... an act .. . ~ Demand: " ... 11 Regis Durnnd, ..Tra cings," in Thomas Demand (Paris),
exac tly. an act. And th is act is ex-pelled from its everyday p. 1!7.
contexr because it doesn't belong th ere. Becau se it produces 12. See Rosa lind . Krau ss, "N ote s on the Index: Part r," The
somethi ng that influences sociery; because ir is beyond the Originality of the A11a11t-Garde111ulOther i\fodemist
bounds of th e general run of even rs." Widmer: ''Th en alon g Mytl,s (Ca mbridg e, Ma ss., and London , 1985) , p. 203; see
co mes so meone and rak es a pictur e. And further on ( 1 1 ): also ch. 6 n. 32. above. The terms icon and index ore derived
Widmer: " Th e way you see things is som etim es referred LO fro m the wr itings of Charles Sand ers Peirce; Krauss refers
as like a derecrive.' Whar d oes char mean? " For Dcmand's to C. S. Peirce, " Logic as Semiotic: The Theory of Signs,"
a nswer see his remark s abour Corridor, cited in the text l'/Ji/osophic Writings of l'eirce (New York, -r955 }, p. ro 6.
bdow. Furth er pag e references to Widmer's inrerview will Nlorc rccentl)', Krau ss's views, alon g with her use of Peirce,
be in p:1renthcses in rhe text. have been criti cized by Joel Snyder in "Pointless, " in Jam es
For Lnrs Lerup, coo, ''Dem,rnd 's photographs often Elkins, ed. Photography Th eory (Ne w York and London,
appear ... ns " reconstru ctio n of a crime scene (for 1007), pp. 369- 400. For Wolter Benn Michaels in "Pho-
examp le, Office of r995). Bur these arc scenes devoid of a ll tograph s and Fossils" (ibid., p. 431), how ever. responding
criminnl poraphcma lia, human imprints, and accretions - ro Snyder and more broadl)' ro the questioning of rhe notion
the y co ntain on ly suggestive residue. Demand 's scenes have of ind ex icaliry as a mark er of the photograp hic elsewhere
been verced and san.icized ro such a degree that the crime in Elkins's vo lum e, " indexicalicy- if only in the form of a
irself is only apprecinb le in its most hein o us essence" prob lem - is central to both rhe medium specificity of the
(" Demand' s Demand ," in Thomas Dema11d [Amsterdam photograph and, at lcasr in the lasr 2.0 years, co what
and Aspen!, n.p. ). Abigai l Solomon- Godeau calls rhe othe r topic of interesr
5 See Jan Philipp Reem rsma, /11 the Cellar, trans . Carol ond controve rsy in this volum e, 'phocograph y's relation ro
Brown Janeway (New York, t 999), for a gripping account art historic.11discourse."' Michaels adds in a note: "lndex
of th e kidnapping and his H days in captivity . icaliry is [centra l to the medium specificity of tbe photo-
6 Sohel writes: "Poll, like m;my of Dema nd's works, has the graph, etc.I , but Peirce probably is not. We ought to
Look of the ahermath of a cr ime sce ne (which the accual discon nect the claim that rhc disrin ctivc causal connecrion
loca tion perhaps wa~ - according to some repons, foul pla )', ber.vcen rhe referent o f a photo gra ph and the phot ogra ph
fro m participants such as th e ca nd ida tes' advisors and the irself is impomrnt ro the 1heory of photography from
Florida Secretar y of Sta te, ma y ha ve had an effecr on d1e the claim that Peirce's semiotics is similarl y imp orrant. The
recount }'' ("Thomas Demand: Th e Basic Faces." n.p. ). latter claim might be true but it doesn't follow from the
7 More recently, Demand exhibit ed at rhe Scr penrine Gallery, former'' (p. 448 ). I shall hav e more ro say nbour M.ichacls's
Lo ndon in Summer .z.006, fi,,c phocographs making a com- essay in the Conclusion ro this book .
pound piece ca lled Tavern (1006), based on " an incident at 13 See Michae l Fried, "Art nnd Obj ccthoocl" (191>7), in idem,
a small bar opposite the railwa)' sration in Burbach , a dis- Art and Obiecthoo d: Essnys a11d Ru11i e1us (Chicago and
rricr of Saarbriickcn, where a littl e boy ... wa s suffocared Londo n, 1998), pp. 148-7i . Furth er page references ro this
wirh a cush_ion and rhcn dispo sed of in a bin -liner. His step- essay will be in parenthe ses in the tex t. See als<>idem,

notes to pages 261 - 270 385

"Shape as Form: Frank Srcll:1's Eccentric Polygons., ( 1966}, ist/lireralisr (also posrmodernisr) indeterminac y is a central
pp. 77-<,>9, and '' An lmroducrion ro my Art Criticism," esp. theme in Jennifer Ashton, From Modernism to Postmod-
pp. 40-47. ernism. America11 Poetry a11d Theory in tin Tiveutieth
14 Sec Robert Morris, "No res on Sculprure, Porr 2," in idem, Century (Camb ridge and New York. 2005).
Co11ti1111011sProject Altered Daily: The \Y/riti11gs of Robert 18 ~ A Conversation between Ale_xander Kluge and Thomas
Morris (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1993), p. 15. Demand," p. 56.
Morris's r.:ssay originally appeared in Artfomm, vol. 5 19 See John Berger and Jean Mohr, Another Way of Tctli11g
(Occobcr 1966): 20-23. (New York. 1982), p. 90. The previous sentences read:
15 "Ar r and Objecchood, ~ p. 153. Walter Benn Mich:icls com- "The professional photographer tries, when raking a pho-
ment~ on rhis srarement as follows: "The 'virrually' here is tograph , to choose an instant wl1ich will persuade the
a lirtlc misleading because, as Fried goes on to say, although public viewer ro lend ir :111appropriate past ,ind future. l11e
the object, nor the beholder, muse remain che cenrer or phorographer's imclligem:c or his empat hy wirh rhe subject
focus of rhe siruarion,' 'the situat ion itself belongs to the definc.:sfor him what is appropriate. Yer unlike che story-
beholder - it is bis situation.' The presence of the beholder teller or painter or accor, the phorngrapher only makes. in
is structura l rnrher rhan emp irical, since without him there any one photograph, a single co11 sti111r
ive choice: che choice
is no situatio n nnd therefore no litcra lisr arr. The point here of rhe insmnt ro br photographed. l11e photograph, com-
is nor a kind of general idealism, nor the idea that the obiecr pared wirh other means of communicat ion, is rhcrefore
comes inro existence only when the beho lder encounrers it weak in inrenrionaliry" (pp. 89-90, emphasis in original).
and thercforr th:lf rhcre is some sense in which he creates The reader will probably feel, justifiably in my view, char a
ir. Although this position will quickl) emerge as cemral ro phoroi,,rnpher makes far more than just one consrirurive
certa in forms of lirerary cheory, in Fried's account of Min- choice in rhc act of raking a picture: he or she selecrs a
imalism, the object exists on its own all right; what depends subject, chooses a distance and a point of view, makes
on th<' beholder is only the exper ience. Bur, of course, the adjustmenrs for rhe lighting, often changing the speed or
experience is everything- 1r is the experic11ceinstead of the the opening of the shurrer, ere. (In fact we should prohab ly
object that Minimalism values" (T/,e Shape of the Signifier: St(lrt further back with rhc selection of the camera and film.)
1967 to the F.nd vf Nistr,ry,[Princeton, N..J., and Oxford, Yer Berger's basic rhesis, char dlere is somcrhing in the
2004 I, p. 89, emph(lsis in original). Michacls's hook is a narurc of a photograph that escapes total determination
wideranging critique o( recent rheorerical and fictional texts by the phot ograp he1; can still be mainrnincd. Berger's
all of which make the error of "thinkling) of literature lor remark is cited and discussed by Walter Benn Michaels in
arrJ in terms of rhe experience of rhe reader [or beholder! "Accion and Accident: Photograph y and Writing," in ,dem,
rather than rhe intention of the author, and lof substi tur- Tbe Gold Standard and the J.ogic of Naturalism (Berkeley,
ingj the question of who people are for the question of what Los Angeles, and London, r987), pp. 1.36-8. Sec a lso
they believe:(from the book jacket). Michaels's essay " Phorographs and fossils, in Photo-
16 Proba bly rhis is mode most nearly explicit in certain graphy Tbeory, and rhe pages on photography (largely on
remarks about the work of the British sculptor Anthony the work of James Welling) in Tl,e Slwpe of tl,e Signifier,
Caro. E.g. "A charac teristic sculprurc by Caro consists, I pp. 95-105.
want lO say, in chc mutual and naked juxtapositio n of the 20 Michac.:ls, "Acrion and Accidenr,'' p. 1. 30. The phrase
I-beams, girders, cylinders, lengrhs of piping, sheer mernl, occurs in a sentence dealing with the question as to wherher
and grill rhat it comprises rather th:1n the compound of,ject or not Lily Barr in Edith Wharton's The Ho11seof Mirth
th(lt rhey compose . The mutua l inflecrion of one clement by meant ro kill herself when she rook a far:il overdose of
another ... is what i~ crucial ... The individual elemcnrs chloral. '"Ir seems misraken, though, co say either that she
hesmw significance on one another precisely by virtue of did or that she didn't," Michaels write~. "for the whole
their juxtaposition: ir 1s in this sense, a sense ine>ctricabl) ' thrust of the novel has been to insist on rhe economic,
involved with the concept of meaning, thar everything in erotic, and moral charm of actions marked by an
Caro's art rhat is worth looking nr is in irs synrax Ifirst said irreducible discrepancy between intention and effect."
br me in my 1963 introduction tO Caro's Whicechapcl exhi- 1\1ichacls's point is rhar the same discrepancy is basic ro rhe
bition! ... It is as though C:iro's sculprures essenti:1lizc roughl> conremporary discourse of photograph y. Cf. Diane
meaningfulness as sue/, - as rhougb the possibility of Arbus's remacks, quoted and discussed in Ch. 7: ''Every-
meaning what wes:iy Md do alone makes his sculpture pos- body has that thing where they need to look one way bur
sible. All this, ir is hardly necessary to add, makes Caro's they come our looking another wa)' and that's what people
art a fountainh ead of anriliteralisr and :mrirheatrical sensi- observe .... Our whole guise is like giving 3 sign to the
bility" ("Art and Objecr hood ,'' pp. , 61-2, emphasis in world to think of us in a cerrnin way bur there's a point
original). between what you wanr people ro know about you and
r7 From "Art ,md Objecthood'': "the beholder [of a mini111al- what you can"t help people knowing about you. And l'hat
isr/lireralist work] know s himself to srand in an inderermi- has to <lo with whar I've always called the gap berween
11:1re,open-ended - and unexacting- relation as sub;ect ro inrenrion and effect" (Dia11eArb us: An Apert11re1\110110-
the imp:1ssive ohjecr on rhe waU or floor" ( 15 5). Tht grapl, !New York, (972.I, pp. 1 - 2).
onrirhesis between modernise determinacy and minimal- 21 Quoted in Dennis Longwell, ed., "Mo nkeys Make the

386 notes to pages 270-277

an opinion. By this means we recognize chat wc arc in a in ibid., p. r8. Further page references to this essay will be
peculiar siwation. ror every attr ibution of meaning in parent heses in rhe rext.
shows t he same doub le peculinrity: as long as it is new it 34 See "Post -'6os Photography and lrs Modcmisl Context: A
makes us impatient with every opposing meaning (when Conversation berween JeffWall and John Robercs," in Jeff
red para sols are having their day, blue ones arc 'impos- WaU, Selected Essays and Int erviews, pp. 340-4 1; J quore
sible' - but something similar is also true of our conv ic- Wall's remarks in ch. 3, n. 41.
tions); yet it is the sccoud peculiarity of every meaning 3 5 Cf. Julian Heynen: "W hen the people who belong to these
that it is nevertheless given up wirh time, entirely of its spaces - traces of whom are seen on all sides - are nor
own accord and just as surely, when it is no longer new. present in the pictures, then it is as though the viewers step
l once snid that reality does awny wirh irself. lr cou ld now in and occupy the place with their gaze. While the others
be put like this: If man is for the most part only pro- arc away the viewers tarr y in this place - in rhis alien place.
claiming meanings, he is never entirely and endur ingly lr is a lirrle like the situati on of a thief or a detective or
proc laiming himself; but even if he can never completely anybody who has involuntarily stumbled inro someone
express himself, he will try it in the most various ways, else's terrirory. The unknown reasons for the absence of rhe
and i11 doing so acquires a history." r122.8-9] orhers and their possible return rn 'their' place heighten the
viewer's perceptions as the intruder" (" Venice 2.003," in
One final passage, from ch. 2.2.,helps clinch the point: Cnndida Hofer/Martin Kippe11berger/Ve11edig ioo3 , cxh.
While busy with all this IUlrichl wns watching the car. [Venice, .1.003],p. 92). Again, everything depends on
passing trolley cars, waiting for the one rJ1ar would cake what Heynen means by traces; the idea tha t the viewer is
him back as close as possible to the center of the town. made to feel an " intruder" seems to me right. Another com-
He saw people climbing in and our of the cars, and his mentator, w1ichael Diers, compares Hofer's interiors with
technically trained eye toyed distracted ly with rhe inter- those of che nineteenth-cent ury German dra ftsman and
play of welding and casting, rolling and bolding, of en- painter Adolph Menzel, one of the most empath ic .:ir tists
gineering and hand fimshing, of historica l dcvclopmenr ever ("A Physiognomy of Public Interiors," pp. 110-12.). l
and the present state of the arr, which combined to make do nm agree. Sec in this connection Michael Fried, Menzel's
up these barracks-on -wheels l'har these people were Realism : Ar t c111d Em bodirnent in N ineteenth- Century
using. Berlin (Londo n and New Haven, z.002.).
"As a last step, a committee from the municipal trans- 36 Morris, "Nores on Sculprure, Pare 2, " in Co11tinuo11s
portation deparrment comes to the Factory and decides Project A ltered Daily, p. r6.
what kind oi wood to use as veneer, the color of rhe p,1ini, 37 Dan Gra ham, "My Work for Magazine Pages: 'A Hisrory
upholstery, arms on the scats and straps for srandces, ash- of Conceptual Arr'" (-1985), in Alexan der Alberro and
rrays. and the uke," he thou ght idly, "and it is precisely Blake Stimson, eds., Conceptua l Art: A Critic"/ A11tholugy
these trivial detai Is, along with the red or green color of (Cambr idge, Mass., 1999), p. 4.19.
the exterior, and how they swing themselves up the steps 38 Brian O'Do herty, Inside the White Cube: Th e Id eology of
and inside, that for tens of thousands of people make up th e Caflery Space, expanded edn. (Berkeley, Los Angeles,
whar they remember, all they experience, of all rhe genius London, r999 ), p. 14, emphasis in original. Furth er refer-
that went inm it. This i~ what forms their character, ences to this book will be in parentheses in rhe text.
endows it with speed or comfort; it's what makes them 39 "There is a peculiar uneasiness in watching arrworks
perceive red cars as home and blue ones as foreign, nnd attempting to establish territory but not place in the context
adds up to that unmistakablt odor of countless details of the placeless modem gallery" (ibid ., p. 2 7) .
thar clings to the clothing of the cent uries." So there was 40 O'Dohcrry's essays are cired in relation to" Art and Objecr-
no denying- and this suddenly rounded out Ulrich's main hoocl" by Mark Linder, as follows: "Ln constructing his
line of t hought-t hat life itself largely peters out into argument fin 'Arr and Objecchood'l around an opposition
rrivial realities or, ro put it technically, that the power of berween rhe words 'space' and 'room,' Fried himself 'fails
its spiritual coefficienr is extremely small. [943- 41 to notice' the dialectical and historical relationship between
the rise of the arr 'o bject' and the modern arr gallery and
It may be chat the entire line of speculation Musil ami b- art museum: that is, a specific genre of architecture
ures to Ulrich in these and other passages would have been that Brian O'Dohercy later aJlegorized as 'd1e white cube.'
unth inkable before photography. Only with the emergence of the white-walled, bare,
3 r Her reflection appear s in other works ns well. See Michael high-ceilinged art gallery as a common type of 'room ' could
Diers, "A Physiognomy of Public Interiors: Otes on modernist paint ing nnd sculpture maintain the mytb of
Candida Hofer's City Images," Candida Hofer: Hamburg au1onomy" (Nothing Less th1111 Literal: Architecture
(Cologne, 2.002.), pp . .ro3, -108 . after Minimalism !Cambridge, Mass., and London, 2.004],
32 Mar y-Kay Lombino, "inner Orde r," in Candida Hofer : p. J 2.5). Linder's larger claim, which seems to me correct,
Architecture of Absence, exh. car. (Long Beach, Cal., West is that my writings on modernism almost without excep-
Palm Beach, Fla., Provo, Ut., 2.005-7), p. 2.5. Further page tion repress the thought of archicecrure, which implicitly
references to this essay will be in parentheses in the text. plays a negaove (i.e. " theatricaf') role in my criticism.
.n Constance Glenn, "Candida Hofer: Absence in Contcl(t/ 41 This is snid by Sugimoto in Contacts Hiroshi Sugim oto

388 notes to pages 284-294

(2.000), a short film by Jean-Pieue Krief (tra nslation min e, Wittgens tein, Skepticism, Mo ra/it)', and Tragedy (Ox ford
from the French translati on of Sugi moto 's rem arks by Rose - and New York , r 979), p . 53ff. A lso Espen H amm er, Stanley
Ma rie Makino Fayo lle). In an arricle of 199 7, Mo nry Cavel/: Sk epticism, Subjectivity, and the Ordin ary (Ma lden,
DiPietro writes: "To get the powdery sea effect in North Ma ss., 2002), ch . 2, "Sk epti cism: Crit eria and th e Ex ternal
Atlanti c Ocean, Cape Breton Island ( 1996)," a work then World. " Cavell's thoug ht , ex trap o lating from the wor k of
on view at rhe Ga llery Koyanag i o n the G inza scrip in the British ph ilosop her J. L. Austin, is that skep tica l arg u -
Tokyo, "Sugim oto h auled his American-m ade, woo den ments abo ut the in ab ilit y of human beings to kno w wit h
cab inet Durdo r f a nd Sons ca mera o ut to New foundland , cer ta int y about rhe existence of physical objects chara cter-
mounted it on a Fren ch trip od, screwe d on a Ca d Zeiss lens, ist ically involve a notion of "ge neric objects " in a kind of
loade d an 8 x 10 sheet of Kodak Plus-X 12.5 ASA film and neutr al space ra th er than of "specific objects" in real-world
then put a 16x neutral de nsity filter o n rhe un wieldy ap pa- con tex ts. "W hen [generic) o bjects present themselves to the
ratu s co redu ce rhe film's sensitivity co well below episcemolog ist," Cave l! writes, "he is not raking one as
one ASA. 'Tha r's like the speed o f 19th- cent ury film, when op posed to anoth er, interested in its features as peculiar to
phorography was in vented,' he exp lains. W hen sa tisfied it and nothing else. H e would rather, so tO speak, have an
with rhe light and com positi on , he tripped the shu tte r and unr ecog nizab le somet hing there if he could, an anything, a
waite d one and a half hour s for the seascape image co burn t harness. What co mes to him is an island, a body sur-
itself onto the film" ("Hiroshi Sugimoto at th e Ga llery round ed by a ir, a tiny ea rth. What is at stake for him in th e
Koyanagi," http://www.assemblylanguage. com/review s/ ob ject is materiality as such, externalicy altogether" (The
Sugimoro.html ). Claim of Reason, p. 53) (its abstract literalness, we might
42. Contacts Sugimoto. The French reads: "[D]es gue )'on co m- say ). My thank s to No rron Batkin for suggesting the rele-
mence enrrer clans les derails de l'eau, on s'y noie." va nce of th at notion to the argument of " Art and Ob jecr-
43 Contacts Sugimoto. bood" in "T he Situat io n of Painting, " an unpubl ished
44 Twenty-five o f these photos have been gathered in Thomas paper given at a sess ion on "T he Situati on of Paintin g after
Strurh , New Pictures from Paradise (Muni ch, 2002.). Michael Fried 's Art and Object/mod" at rh.e 57th annual
45 Rei Masllda, "A Place for Looking: The Photo g raph s by meering o f the Amer ican Society for Aesthe tics in
Thomas Srruth, " in Thomas Stn1th: My Portrait, exh. cat. Wa shin gto n, o.c. , Oc to ber 30, 1999. (The session was
(Tokyo and Kyoto, 2000), n.p. orga nized by Steph en Melville; the other parc icipancs we re
46 Daniel Birnbaum, "Paradise Reframed ," Artforum , vol. 4 0 Ric hard Mo ran a nd Howard Singerman .) In my caraJog ue
(May 2.002.): 149. essay I co nclud ed my disc uss ion o f Welling and minimal-
47 Han s Rudolf Reust, "A Thousand Word s: Thoma s Struth ism as follow s: " Am I suggesting th at Lock therefore
Talks about his 'Paradise' Series," ibid : 1 5 1. Furth er pa ge belo ngs ro the mode rni se tradition of ab stra ct painting and
references to thi s ;irricle will be in parentheses in the te xt . sc ulptur e championed aga inst minimalism in 'A rr and
Reust commen ts: "Faced with a reticent image of undiffer- Object hoo d ?' No and yes. No , in the sense that Welling 's
entiat ed foli;ige, the viewer 's tho ugh ts ha ve n ow her e to turn first seriou s wo rks belo ng ro a dist inct ly pose-minimal (and
save inwa rd . In th ese photograp hs, Struth enc ount ers th e pos c-com:epcual) moment , one when ph otograp hy emerged
limits of a no nd iscur sive ph otog raph y chat de-emph as izes as a veh icle of ava nt- ga rde amb ition as perh aps neve r
its specific o bject th ro ugh rhe mot if" (ibid.). befo re, even as it w as face d as never befor e with the
48 Garry Winogra nd, The A nimals, w ith an Afterwo rd by prob lem o f how to de al w ith the cano nica l photogra phic
John Szarkows ki (19 69; New York , 2.004). achievem ents o f the pas t. And yes, in the sense that Lock
49 Cand ida H ofer, Zoo logische Garten (M unich , r9 93). impli es a rejection not only of rhe lirerali st sra nce toward
ob jecthood but al so of an entir e set o f a ttitud es assoc iared
with post mode rni sm th at wo uld gra nt to a rtistic activity
10 "good" vs " bad" objecth ood: on ly the ro les of perfo rman ce, ap p ro pri ation, dem ystifica-
tio n, critique " ( 2.8).
welling, the bechers, wall 3 An indispensabl e sourc e for informat io n pertai nin g ro the
Michael Fried, "James Welling' s Lock , 1976 , " Jame s Becher s and their w orking pro cedu res is Susann e Lan ge,
Welling: Photographs 1974 - 19 99, ex h. cat., ed. Sarah Bemd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work, tran s. Je remy
Rogers (Co lumbu s, Oh . , Ba ltimore, Los Angel es, 2.000-or ), Gaines (Cambrid ge , M ass., and London, 2.007). Jn ad dition
p. 2.6. Furth er page refere nces ro chis essay will be in paren- to the te xt by Lange, her book includ es importan t inter-
theses in the cex r. For importa nt discuss ions of Welling's views with th e Becher s by Mic ha el Kohler, Jame s
work , which mor eove r treat it in re lat ion ro issu es central Lingw oo d, Lan ge , and Heinz- Nor bert Jo cks.
to this boo k, see Wa lter Benn Mi chaels, "T he Photo gr aphi c 4 " Th e Music of th e Blase Furn aces: Bern hard a nd H illa
Sur face, in Jmnes Welling Photo graphs 19 77- 90, exh . cat. Becher in conversation w ith J ames Lingwo od ," in ibid.,
(Berne, 1990) , pp. 102.-1 3; and idem, The Shape of the Sig- p . 192.. Further page refere nces ro t.his interview wi ll be
nifier: 1967 to the End of History (Princeton and O xford, in par enth eses in the cexc. Th e inter view first app ea red in
2.004), pp. 95-105. Art Press, no . 2.09 (Jan uar y 1:996).
2 With min or changes. For the phi losop hi cal no tion of 5 Susa nn e Lange, " Bern d and Hi lla Beche r: ' Reducing
"generic" o bjects see Stanley Cave l], The Claim of Reason: O hjects ro Reta inable Propor tions,''' Bernd und Hilla

notes to pages 294-306 389

"good" versus "bad" objecthood:
james we lling, bernd and hilla becher, jeff w all 10
The cenrral co ncern of rhis chap ter is objecrhood, and mos r of ir will consist of a com-
mentary on rhe work - more pr ecisely, rhe project - of Bernd and Hilla Becher, who have
already been ment ioned ofren in rhis book in connectio n wirh rhei r influe nce on younger
German phorographers. However, before turning ro rhe Bcchers I wa nt ro glance briefly
ar an early black -and-w hi re Pola roid by rhe Ame r ican phot ograp her J ames Welling, and
ro go over so me re mark s thar I made about ir a number of years ago in an essay in rhe
caralogue accompany ing an exhibition of hi s work rhar opened ar rhe Wexner Center
for rhe Arrs in Colu mbu s, O hi o. The Polar oid is Lock ( 1976; Fig. 193) and ir depicts a
wooden rwo-by -four plank rhar Welling had used as an impro vised lock (m ore precisely,
a brace) ro his srudio door, leaning against a wa ll. In my co mm ent ary I rouch on rhe
dark ronaliry of rhe image, which perhaps owes som et hin g ro rhe exam ple of Paul Stra nd
and in any case compe ls rhc viewe r ro look extreme ly closely, and rhen go on ro comment
on rhe way in which rhe photograp h "nor only represents bur fo regro unds and ex pr esses
rhe scuffed and dent ed plank, which in rurn may be see n in this contcxr as foreg roundin g
and expressing irs ow n material basis - wood, probably pine. (We arc now in the general
rcrrirory of Heid egger's ' The Orig in of rhe Work of Art.' )" 1 Farther on I return co rh is
rheme by noting how " rhe darkne ss of rhe picture underscores whar mighr be called rh e
thingness of rhe plank , forcing th e issue of rhe plank's de nsity, its we ight , its roug hness
10 rhe rouch (alon g the edges at any rate), and evoking a correspo ndin g mood in rhe
photographer/viewer (serious, rhoughr ful, concentrared)" (27 ). There follows a long
passage rhar I shall quore in its entirety:

Meditating on the question of thingness in chis context, I was led to revisit the notion
ofobj ecchood as ir appea rs in my 1967 essay, "Arr and Objccchoo d," where iri s asso-
ciated with a pejorarive norion of rheatricaliry. Briefly, I argued rhac the minimalist
(or, the term I prefe rred, liceralisc) ent erprise involved the proj ection of objecrhood,
characteristically in rhe form of a more or less simple three-d im ensional shape or
gesralr (at the limit a hollow cube}, as a mean s of bringing about a particular so re of
open-ended yet also rigo rously cont ro lled relat ions hip among rhe work in questio n,
rhe embod ied viewer, and rhe gallery space within which rhe encounter berwc en t he
firsr rwo was ar ranged ro rak e place. Wirhour rehearsing rh ose arguments her e, I wanr
co speculate chat Welling's int erest in a s imple t wo-by-four in 1976 may well have
been influenced, however indir ectly, by the minimalist intervention; indeed it is pos-
sible ro see his pl ank as a real-wo rld ana logue co rhe California m inimalist (o r posr-

"good .. versus ..bad" ob1ecthood James welling, bernd and hilla becher, jeff wa ll 303
193 James Welling, Lock, 1976.
Chromogcnic print from origina l
Polaroid. 9.52 x 7.3 cm

min imali st ) Joh n McC racken's high-gloss, "abs tract " planks leaning agai nst gallery
wa lls t hat we re a featur e of the avant -ga rde scene in the late r96os and r97os . (In
poin t of fact the examples of Ro bert Morris, Richard Serra, and Robert Smithson
were more imp ortant for Welling personally.) But the con cern in Welling's photograph
wit h th e speci ficity of this particul ar rwo-b y-four, with its individ ual histo ry and iden-
ti fying nicks and blemis hes, com es our the other side of minima lism or literalism inro
t he world of real and no r "gene ric" objects, to use a philo soph ical dist inction that
has t he virrn e of locating the issue of t heat ricality wit hin a larger prob lemat ic of philo-
sop hical skept icism. (From this point of view, rhe troub le wit h Dona ld Jud d's Specific
Objects was that they were never specific enough .) Anot her way of characterizi ng
Welling's focus on the two-by-four might be to speak of an inter est in real as opposed
to abstract litera lness or even in "good" as distinc t from "bad" objecthood, under-
stan din g by the first term in bo t h opposi tion s qualit ies pertaining to ob jects that can
only be revealed or manifeste d in and by the art of photography (no "good" object-
hoo d tou t court) . [2.7]2
When I wrote this passage l never imagined t hat rhe dist inct ion betw een "good" and
"bad" modes of objec tho od - un derstood as tenab le only in photograp hs, not in the
wo rld at large - might be relevant to any topic I was likely to work on in the furure;
rather, I took it to be a way of characterizi ng certain aspects of Welling's Lock, period.
Yet t he mo re I have reflecte d on t he work of the Bechers, the more I have become con-

304 why photography matters as art as never before

vinccd rhar suc h a disrincrion , or someth ing akin to it, lies near t he heart of thei r career-
long project. So ir is ro t he Bechers, the oldest figures rreat ed in rhis book, rhar I now

Bernd and Hilla Becher were born in Germany in 193 1 an d 1934 respectively, he in
Siegen an d she in Potsdam, just ou tside Berlin. ; H illa Becher (born Wobeser) learn ed rhe
rudiment s of ph otogra ph y from her mor her, and wh en still very young served as
an appre nt ice ro a local ph otograp her before defecting to West Germany in 1954.
Bern d - who died in 2007, afte r rhis cha pter was dra fted - began by stud ying "decora-
tive pa inting" and rhen pa inting and drawing, rhc larrer ar rhe State Acade my in
Srurrga rt . In his words:

I first made dra wings, etching s and paintin gs of indu stria l ob jects in rhe trad ition of
the Neue Sachlic hkeit [New Obje criviry]. My reacher in Srurrgart was close ro rhis
gro up in rhe !arc , 920s . Th en towards rhe end of rhe 1950s, in my nat ive region, a
mining area, rhe mines began ro close, an d t hen rhe bla st furnaces began ro close. And
I beca me awa re that rhcsc bu ildings were a kind of nomadic architec tur e whic h had
a compara t ively sho rt life - maybe 100 years, often less, then they disappear . It seemed
imporranr ro keep t hem in some way and photograp hy seemed the mos t app ropri ate
way ro do rhat. 4

By 1957 both had co me ro Dlisseldorf ro study ar rhe Kun srakademie; by 1959 t hey
were working togethe r, and wit hin a few years rhey arri ved, more or less, ar the typo -
logica l approac h rhey hav e pursued ever afte r. (They married in 1961, which is also
when their studi es ca me roan end.) In 1962 and '63 rhey ma de rheir first working rrips
abroad, and in 1966 a fellowship from rhe Brit ish Coun cil enab led them ro spe nd six
months phor og raphin g in rhe industri a l regions of Wales and England . Thr oug hout the
decades that followed they co nti nued ro trav el exte nsively throughout Europe and
the Un ired Stares in sea rch of subj ect matter. In 1976 Bernd Becher was appo inted to
the faculty of the Kun srakademie in Diisseldorf ro start teaching photo grap hy, whi ch
until then had not been part of the curri culum; among his early studen ts were Gursky,
Hofer, Ruff, and Strut h, as well as ot her no table figures not trea ted in thi s boo k (such
as Axel Hiirre and Petra Wunderlic h). In the course of t he 1970s the Bechers' work was
exhib ited wide ly (the ir first New York show, at Sonnabe nd , rook place in 1972) and,
starri ng in 1970 w ith the pub lication of Anony mous Sculpture: A Typology of Tech110-
logical Struct ures bur ga inin g momentum in the late 1980 s and '90s, they bro ugh t o ur
a series of remarkable books, for the most part ded icated successively ro a sing le t ype
of indus t rial struc t ure. In 2004-5 a compre hensive ret rospec t ive ex hibition of the ir work
was held at the Kun stsamm lung No rdrh ein-Wesrfa len in Diisseldorf, the Ce ntre Pom -
pidou in Paris, and the Hamb urger Bah nh of in Berlin.
Their manner of proceed ing is we ll kn own . For mont hs each year, ma inly in the spring
and fall when they were likeliest to find the " light ing" they requir ed - "t hat diffuse bu t

..good" versus "bad"" obJecthood: James welling. bernd and h1lla becher. Jeff wall 305
steady light un der a sligh tly clouded sky rhar keeps any shado wing, with all rhe emo-
tion al associations suc h might evo ke, ro a minimum " 5 - they traveled to one or anot her
ind ust rial sire or ot herwise pr omis ing locale (so far only in Euro pe and the Un ired Srares)
and photog raphed various structures that rhey found there (Figs. 194-7). They did this
at first with an old-fas hioned plate-bac k camera, using long expos ures that yielded black-
and -whi re images wit h remarka ble detail and dept h of field; subse quen tly, they worked
with modern large-for mat cameras, whic h are ca pable of shar per focus, and wit h fine-
gra ined film t hat enab led t he motif to be ph orographed in a highe r resolurion. 6 (Ir is one
of rhe hallmarks of rheir wor k rhar borh of rhem did everyth ing; rheir pho rographs are
t herefore rhe producr of a joint efforr in rhe fullest sense of rhe rerm .7 ) From rhe srarr
rhey discovered rhe virt ues of photogra phing their chosen structures from a raised
vantage poinr; rhis had the double function of revea ling some t hing of rhe srrucrure's
immediare surround ings and of allowing rhe st ru ctur e itself "ro appea r .. . in its full
reach and free of distortio n." 8 Anot her earl y decision was to phor ograp h rhe st ructures
in q uestio n as "o bject ively" as possible, by choosing as head-o n a viewpo int as cou ld
be found (rhe elevated vantage point played a role in t his) and by centering rhe struc-
tu re in the im age rectangle and reduci ng the enviro ning space co a bare minimum by
cropping (bur nor elimina ting ir ent irely; more on rhis fart her on ). H illa Becher to James
Lingwood: " I was interested in a srraighrforw ard 19rh-cenr ury way of photograp hing
an objecr. To photogra ph things frontally creares the stro ngest prese nce and you can
elimina re rhe possibiliries of being too obviously sub jecrive" (194). In the same inter-
view, Bernd Beche r com pa res rhe resulting images w irh rheir "clear outer form " to sil-
houerres, an intriguing assoc iat ion on several cou nt s (194) . 9 In dealing wirh more
co mp lex srrnc rures or ent ire indusrr ial landscapes, more than a single phorogra ph was
needed. As rhey remark ro Susanne Lange:
Principally you coul d say rhar rhe object is rhere in irs ent irery and shou ld be depicted
wirhour alrerarion in irs typ ica l form . Some objects have to be photographed from
vario us perspect ives - a frontal view, in profile, and from an angle. Thar depends on
rhe srru crural rype and irs co mpl exiry, as well as rhe co ndit ions in which the phoros
are ta ken. Bur wirh some objects we have raken photos from eighr different perspec-
tives, for example, by wa lking around rhe object and pho togra phing it at a 45-degree
angle. The re are also details rhar we have pho tograp hed from the support st ructures
of rhe headgear rower or photos show ing the func t ional elements of a bla st furnace.
And fina lly we show some objects, for example ... in the indust rial landscapes, in
t heir entire surroun ding s. Th is ap proach was followed from the very beginni ng and
basica lly carri ed ou r for every group of pho tos we rook. 10
In t he decades since rhey began working toge t her, man y of the srrucrures they photo -
graphe d have bee n torn down, and entire indust ria l sites no longer exist as such. "Time
has a differen t dimension in t his field," Bernd Becher remark s in rhe interview wirh
James Lingwood already cired. "Ten years in rhis archirecru re mighr be eq uivalent to
roo years in another kind of archi recrure. Ten years of sreel architecture is equivalent
to 100 years in stone . Planrs are created, develope d, and abandoned very quickly, in
relat ion ro eco nomic needs and circ um srances" (192). 11 A significa nt aspecr of rheir

306 why photography matters as art as never before

194 Berndand Hilla Becher, Wiater Tower, Trier-Ehrang, 195 Bernd and Hilla !lecher, Cooling Tower, Zeche Vicro-
Germany,1982. Black and white photograp h. 91.6 x ria Nlarhias, Essen, Germany, t963. Black and whire phoro-
75.5cm framed graph . 91.6 x 75 .5 cm framed

achievement was th us ro d ocument a rapidl y vanis h ing rea lm. Yet they also insisted that,
in Hilla Becher's wo rds in t he Lingwood interview, "p reservation wasn't the mot ivat ion.
It's a side effect " (r 92 ). (Bernd Becher, less ab so lute than his wife, imm edia tely adds
that it is neverthe less " an impor ta nt point. " He goes on: " lf you visit a Go th ic ch urch ,
you have the poss ibilit y ro go back to its time, to the cultur e which built it . Our ph oro-
graph s of industrial p lan ts create t he possib ility of being in this indu stria l time " f 192 J.)
Another source of interest might loo sely be ca lled esth etic an d invol ves t he recog nition
that, as the Bec hers pu t it in 19 69, "The o bjects th at interes t us have in common that
they were co nce ived with out con sidera tio n for prop o rt io ns o r o rnamenta l structu res.
Their esthetic co nsists in the fact tha t they were cre at ed w ithout esthet ic inte ntion ." 12
Or as Bernd Becher sa ys ro Ulf Erdmann Z iegler, "It's not a case o f phorog raphing every-
thing in the world , but of pro ving that the re is a form of arc h itect u re tha t consists in
essence of appa ratu s, tha t has no th ing ro do w ith design, and nothi ng ro do with a rchi -
tecture eithe r. They ar c enginee ring con st ructi ons wi th their own esthet ic" ( 140) . For a
moment, around 1969 - 70, rhey rook up rhe norion of "anonymo us sculpture" as a

..good" versus "bad" o b1ecthood: 1ames welling. bernd and h1lla becher. Jeff wall 307
196 Bernd and Hilb Becher, Gasometer, Havercrofr, Wake- 197 Bernd and Hilla Becher, Blast furnace, Steubcnvill<
field, United Kingdom, ,997. Black and white photogrnph. Ohio, U.S.A., 1980. Black and wh ite phorogrnph. 91.6
91.6 x 75.5 cm framed 75.5 cm framed

mea ns of presenting rheir work, bur rhey seem quick ly ro have recognized the inappro-
priateness of that rubri c, 13 and in genera l the idea of "provi ng" the existence in late
nineteenth- and rwentierh-cenrury industrial structu res of an independent, non-design-
based esthet ic stops far short of providing an adequate explanation for their tireless,
decades-long acriviry.
Rather, as co mmentators have nor failed ro recognize, rheir essential motivation, at
least from early on, was typological. T here are two distinct aspects ro what this has
turned our to mean. In the first place, they painstakingly recorded the appearance, in
the sysrematic, "objective" manner discussed earlier, of a large number of particular
instances of a much more restricted array of different types of structures - warer towers,
cooling rowers, gasometers, winding rowers, preparation plants, gravel plants, lime
kilns, gra in elevators, coal bunkers, and blast furnaces, to list the types included in their
recent retrospective exhibi tion and illustrated in the volume Typologies. (They also
photographed entire industrial landscapes, as Hilla Becher remarks in a srarement cired

308 why photography matters as art as never before

earlier, but such images a re a minority in their oeuvre.} In t he second place - it is above
all here that their project revea ls the depth of its originality - they pro ceeded to se lect
from th e ent ire corpus of their work a fairly sm all number of photograp hs (typ ically
nine, twe lve, fifteen, or sixtee n, though some t imes more} of a part icular type of st ru c-
ture and to arrange them in t hree or fou r or even five close-packed rows, one directly
above the ot her (Figs. 198-2.or}. Th e overall im pressio n made by such a compound
image - Lange in her recent monograp h refer s to t hese as "tab leaus" - is of a grid, bur
the grid form itself was never a posiri ve desi deratu m , merely a conseque nce of rhe
Bechers' dete rm inatio n to present rhe photog raph s in relat ion to one anot her as direc tly
and, once again, as "o bjecrively" as possi ble. 14 Th e po int of such an arrangement is
above all compara tive: the viewer is thereby invited to int ui t from rhe nine, twelve ,
fifteen, sixtee n or more ind ividua l instan ces t he latent "p resence" or ope ratio n of a single
type and at the same rime to enjoy a heigh tened appre hensio n of th e individuali t y or
unique ness of t he particular instances relat ive both to one anot her and to the latent or
implied type .
Often but not always, the Bechers in inte rviews em phasized th e im porta nce of the
similari ty amo ng individual elements wit hin a single typo logy. "The gro up s of photo -
gra phs are m ore about simi lari t ies than dis t inct ions," t hey exp lained in 1974:

The group is decided by t he fami ly to w hich each im age belongs. By looki ng at the
photogra phs sim ultaneously, yo u sto re t he know ledge of an idea l type, which can
be used the next t ime. You see the aspects wh ich rema in t he same so you un derstand
a litt le more abou t the functio n of the structure. Our selections are obvious but it
has taken us many years to realise t hey are obvious. W hen you first sec a group
of coo ling rowers th ere are perhaps five differe nt ways to form them into relat ion-
ships: shape, size, materials, date and area. But as t he collect ion expa nded t hese
categories became very crude. Within each gro up the re ar e t he same di stinct ions and
more. It is nor our select ion that is important but what t he st ructure s reach us about
themselves. 11
In fact individual groupings do rend strong ly - especially on first viewing - to underscore
the relative sim ilarity of the pa rticu lar instances, as for exa mp le in all th e compoun d
studies of Gasometers and Cooling Towers in t heir recent retrospect ive exhibi t ion - "t he
more sim ilar the constructio ns, the more co nvincing the typologies," as Zieg ler says and
Bernd Becher agrees ( roo) - though every now and th en an exception is delibera tely
made, with almo st co m ic results, as in the gat hering of st ru ct urall y diverse, partly for
that reaso n "ant hropomo rphic "-s eeming water rowers from Belgium, France, German y,
Great Britain, Italy, a nd the United States that illustrates the cover of Typo logies (Fig.
202). 16Yet what in the end ma tter s mos t , as the Bechers acknowledge mor e than once,
is the inseparab ility of similarity and difference in their art . "You can very well perceive
things that differ little from each ot her as individual eleme nt s, if yo u assemble t hem in
groups," H illa Becher rema rk s to Zieg ler. "T he workers' houses or the w inding rowe rs
(for hoist ing) look very similar, an d you co uld thi nk that they came from a produc tion
series, like ca rs. Only whe n you put them beside each oth er do you see t heir ind ividu -

"good"' versus "'bad'" ob1ecthood: james welling. bernd and hilla becher, Jeff wall 309
t98 (Ibis and facing /}age)
Bern d and H illa Becher,
Wiater Towers, Belgium ,
Fra nce, Germany, Gre a t
Brirain , Luxembourg,
U.S.A., 1967-83 . Black
and white photograp hs.
Each panel 46.5 x 56.5 cm
fram ed

, 99 Bernd an d Hilla Becher, Cooli11g Towers, Germany, 1963-2001. Blac k a nd white photographs. Each panel
46.5 x 56.5 cm framed
200 Bernd and Hilla Becher, Gasometers, Gear Britain and Germany, 1966-97. Black and white photographs.
Each panel 46.5 x 56.5 cm framed
20 1 (this and facing 1,age)
Bernd and Hilla Becher,
Towers, U.S.A.,
1974-8. Black and wh ite
photographs. Each panel
46 .5 x 56.5 cm framed
202 (this and facing page)
Bernd and H illa Becher,
Water Towers, Belgium,
France, Germany, Grear
Brirain, Iraly, U.S.A.,
1970-98. Black and whire
phorograp hs. Each panel
46 .5 x 56.5 cm framed
203 August Sander, Working
, 926 . Gelatin silver print. From
People of the Twentieth Century

ali ry. When you approach the theme of indus t ry and every th ing that goes with it in this
manne r, you make discoveries" (97-8) . 17
Two part ial analogies wit h the Bechers' typo logical prac t ice are often me nt ioned. The
first is w ith the science of comparat ive mo rp ho logy of ani ma ls and plan ts, as pract iced
by Linnaeus an d others in t he eighteent h and nineteent h centuries.'8 In part icular the
Beche rs' em phasis on form as reve latory of function - the ir preference for "struct ures
that had an inn er form rhar was reflected in t he outer appearance," as they put it 19 -
has its analogue in m or phological thinking, ar the same time as it ex plains their lack of
inte rest in photographing certain types of co nremporary st ructures, such as nuclear
energy pl ants, whose exteriors are wholly inexpressive of the act ual processes that rake
place wirhin .20 (I note in passing that this is a disti nctly an t imin im alist atti tu de, the char-
acte r ist ic mini ma list ob ject - Tony Smit h's Die [ 1962] is the arch -example - having pos-
it ively courted an effect of m ystery w it h respect to its ho llow int erio r.") The second
ana logy is close r to ho me - the Cologne photographe r Aug ust Sander's am bitious
documenta ry project, start ing in , 9 10, to por tr ay a representative cross-sec tion of
t he Ge rm an pop ulation by se lecti ng ind ivid ua ls from diverse wa lks of life who, when
photographed, stood for, in stant iated, a wide range of t ypes (farmers, workers, artists,
students, po liticians, various professions, and so on). Agains t the racist physiog nomies
al rea dy preva lent in Germany, Sander emp hasized soc iological factors virt ually co the
excl usion of all others . In Alfred Dob lin's wo rd s from a sho rt essay of 1929 on Sander's
work :

People are shaped by what they eat, by t he air and light in w hich they move, by the
wo rk they do or do no r do, and also by t he peculiar ideology of their class. One can
learn more abo ut t hese ideo logies ... mere ly by glancing at t he pictures in gro up 3,
t hose of the wea lthy m iddle class and their ch ildren . The tensions of our t ime become

318 why photography matters as art as never before

204 August Sander, Middl e-Class
Family, 1923. Gelatin silver print.
From People of the Twentieth Century

clear when we compare the phot ogra ph of the wo rking st udents wit h that of t he pro-
fessor and his so peaceful family, nestling con tentedl y and st ill unsuspecting [Figs. 203
and 204 ). 22

The Bechers often acknowledge d an affinity wit h Sander, bur it goes wirhour saying char
there is a basic difference between his subject ma tter and rheirs, besides which Sander's
project was partl y concerned wit h mak ing co ntem porary tendencies visible - as Doblin's
remarks mak e clea r - in a way tha t theirs was no t .2 J Moreove r, t he individua l example ,
understood as repr esentativ e of its typ e, was bas ic to his pract ice, whereas the Bechers
juxtapose multipl e exampl es in a sing le "tableau" in ord er to evoke the t ype. In an y
case, they seem to ha ve become aw are of Sande r's work only afte r their ow n pro ject
was under way. 24
Another, equ a lly instru ct ive analogy is that of the so-called co mp osite photograph , as
developed and theo rized by Fran cis Galron betw een 1878 and :c888.25 Basica lly, Galton
advocated superimpo sing a cert ain number of photo grap hic portraits of a circumscrib ed
cohort of persons (also of thoro ughbr ed hor ses) in such a way char a somew hat blurr ed
and imprecise bur nor entirely general composi te pictur e was produced as a result . (Allan
Sekula: "Ea ch successive image was given a fractional expos ur e based on rhe inverse of

"good" versus "bad" obiecthood: James welling. bernd and hilla becher, 1eff wall 319
205 Co mpo site photograp h of twelve so ldiers,
from 1-1.P. Bowd itch, "Arc Compos ite
"'-- ... ...,, .. .,......,......, ~"" 1111.1 ~-~ "- n, ~-.., ,,.. ~.- ... ._
Photogra phs Typ ical?"

th e tota l numb er of images in the samp le. That is, if a com posite were to be made from
a doze n ori gina ls, eac h wou ld receive one- t welfth of the requi red tota l expo sure. " 26)
Such a pict ure, in Ga lto n's wor ds, "re pr esent s no man in parti cular, but port rays an
imaginary figure possess ing the average feat ures of any gro up of men. Th ese ideal faces
have a surpr ising air of reali t y. Nobody who ha s glanced at one of them for the first
t ime, would do ub t its being the likeness of a living person, yet , as J have sa id, it is no
such thin g; it is t he portrait of a type and not of an ind ividual. " 27 Galton's proced ure,
in ot her wo rd s, was typological, and eventuall y came to take the form of a gr id of photo-
graphic po rt rai ts of indi vidual s wit h the composite portrait in the center, wh ich may
app ear at first glance to bear an uncan ny if pa rt ial resem blan ce to the Bechers' ensem-
bles (Fig. 205) . Ho wever, the differen ces betwee n Galton's gene r ic portra its and the
Beche rs' typo log ies far outwe igh the similar it ies. In t he first place, Galto n's approac h
require d tha t the pho tographer make a pre-selection of individ ua l cases t hat seemed to
him to "clus ter towa rds a co mm on cent re," a choice t hat under the circu mstances-
dea ling with faces rat her t han wit h w at er towe rs, oft en in an attemp t to identify t he
type of men co nvicted of larceny (wit h and wit hout vio lence), or of Jews, or of pht hisi-
ca l an d non-pht hisical hospital populat ions - was bound to be not just sub ject ive but

tendenrio us. 28 (Th e very no ti on of a "co mmo n cen tre " is forei gn to the Beche rs' way of
proceeding.) In the seco nd , the fact rha r Ga lron's co mpo site ph otograph s pr od uced rhe
image of a type meant rha r rhe individual specimen s were o f no furt her interest - ind eed
Calton held rhar the type was inevitably "be tt er look ing" than its compone nt s, "beca use
the average d po rt rait of man y perso ns is free from the irreg ula rit ies rhar va riously
blemish rhe looks of each of them . " 29 In contrast, the Bechers' principled insistence on
seeking not ro depict bur rath er ro evoke rhe t ype has rhe conseque nce of gra nt ing special
visibility ro rhe relation s of resembla nce and difference among its various instances and
by implication - bur on ly by implication - between those instances and rhe type. The
Bechers' t ypo logies in t heir ent iret y are thu s far mor e compell ing t ha n the Galronian
composite photogra ph , quire apart from t heir vastl y greate r philosophical significance,
which I am about co cons ider.

One way of broaching rhe to pic is ro recognize rhar rhe Bechers the mselves almost always
speak of the subj ects of th eir photo graphs as objec ts - or, less often, things . " Ir is revea l-
ing to note here," Armin Zweitc writes in his introdu ctory essay in Typolog ies, "rha r
Bernd and Hilla Becher initially quite deliberate ly eschewed the term motif. For in th eir
eyes the technica l insta llation s we re 'obj ects, not mo t ifs. The phoro is merely a subst i-
tute for the object, iri s useless as a picture in rhe usual sense of the word.' " 30 As Bernd