Excerpt from chapter entitled "The Etherealized Figure and the Dream of Wisdom"

by Max Kozloff --- 1994

from his book "Lone Visions, Crowded Frames: Essays on Photography"

University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, pp. 268-272

I hope these remarks about iconography have not seemed to digress from the topic of time in the photographic medium. For I believe a connection exists between a kind of pictorial protest against the solidity of things, which looks forward to their incipient change of state, and the viewer's own sense of the moment. Despite their appreciable differences in program and sensibility, the artists I've just mentioned, and many others, have this one policy in common: they tend to etherealize the figure. The figural dissolve is meant to signify a somehow live transit at the viewer's moment of contact with the image, rather than when the transit must have been, at that past moment when it was recorded. It's crucial to insist on this contrast of time zones because the aesthetic of the artists is thoroughly embroiled in it.

How can such an insubstantial and really illusory matter be talked about? Ordinary language shows the way, as, for example, in Mary Beth Edelson's Raising Firebird Energy, where it would be quite natural to say that "something moved." The statement recognizes the motion as anomalous. Everything else in the picture has been put on hold but for this one, weirdly exempted thing. The studies Edelson did along these lines suggest a motion that occurred after the picture was taken and is therefore, to say the least, suspect. Just as we settle into the peaceful and assuring immobility of the landscape and, of course, the paralysis of photography, the eye catches a flicker, a fluttering shadow, which gainsays the status of the picture itself. With such a blemish, it dawns on the viewer that not everything in the field is available for scrutiny.

If it were a matter of the camera having been jolted, then all the appearances would seem to have streaked or to have been sideswiped by a shift of viewing position. Unlike the lens, the eye does continually scan its objects in order to supplement the minute information given in anyone glance. But the scanning takes place so fluidly that the breaks within it are no more remembered or even experienced than the involuntary blinks of the eye. The jolted photograph does not necessarily imply anything about movement "out there" on the horizon. It transcribes a movement of the machine/perceiver. Since such a picture enacts the scan itself, we don't make out (stabilize) any of the contents. They seem to have taken leave of their erstwhile positions, but it's merely the shock of the camera's departure that comes through, with a horrible vertigo memorialized by the photograph itself. In contrast, the Edelson photos develop a situation favorable to the leavetaking of only one element, while all the others are restrained. The procedure is very selective. Regarded simply by the effect it produces, that element strikes us as very alien, even more bizarre in presence than the touchability of Edgerton's bullet in flight. I referred to that object earlier as traveling in inhuman time. Edelson's specters, on the other hand, seem to be rising outside photographic time, in a malignant soufflé. Though they reside in the photograph, they don't appear to be part of it, and the two are no more to be reconciled with each other than Bergson with Zeno.

However, one obviously doesn't use the same language to evoke the effect, as one does to reason through and analyze the cause, of a phenomenon. A logician's eyebrow would surely have been raised at the proposal that a feature in a photographic frame is not visualized at the same time as the other features. (We're not talking about collage fields or manipulated prints or double exposures, where temporal heterogeneity is fabricated from different sources.) If we deal with one untampered negative, with one exposure, then we should have one discrete temporal instant represented by the photograph. My metaphor of an impression that had been smoked out a posteriori from frozen pictorial surroundings makes no sense logically, however it may suggest a bodily empathy with a photographic process. But the metaphor does nevertheless indicate something about the mechanical explanation for the blurred figure.