Photographic Death

Day 030/100

“All young photographers who are at work in the world, determined upon the capture of actuality, do not know that they are agents of Death”

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, 1981.

Sitting reading a photography magazine today and trying to figure out what work I could submit for an upcoming call for entries, I kept returning to creating works that evoke or symbolically represent death. Since its inception in the early nineteenth century photography has always been in the shadow of the Grim Reaper. To explain further initially photography was utilized to document the dead, with the family having a personal visual memento of the deceased, this tradition of capturing the dead is continued from the earlier practice of mourning or postmortem painting, Jay Ruby’s text Securing the Shadow¬†explores it in greater depth. Over the course of the twentieth century photography’s engagement with the theme of death continues the documentation of the dead for memorial purposes, but now includes artistic exploration relative to photographic theory and practice. According to some theoretical postulation no matter what the subject of the photograph, the mere act involved in taking the photograph is tantamount to a death. Just by depressing the shutter the photographer has stopped time, the moment is frozen, it can not regress nor advance. What Barthes has determined is that any and every photographer is an agent of Death, applicable through the mere action of taking their chosen photograph. My question is this, is this something we actually consider when taking a photograph, that it is not just merely a visual memento of a child’s birthday, fairy-tale wedding or a long lost love, but when the same photographs are considered and reflected upon at a later, more distant time, become the visual evidence of a lost moment never to be reenacted. A small but significant photographic death.


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