Apertura: Photography in Cuba Today - Page 15

and developing a photograph, and the photographic object itself. In the first case, what is emphasized is the operation of photography, the process that Walter Benjamin called “writing with light,” and the way it represents by capturing what is in front of it—a capacity that distinguishes photography from any other form of artistic representation. However, co-presence between photographer and object does not mean objectivity. In his essay “Seeing Photographically,” Edward Weston wrote that the camera is an instrument that allows the photographer to look into the soul of the object and capture its true essence. The photographer’s contribution is the “clear insight that the beholder may find the recreated image more real and comprehensible than the actual object.”6 Photography is then that mechanism that allows for capturing what is in front of the camera, turning it into a bi-dimensional representation, and producing an image that allows us to see better and understand more deeply. The second and very compelling aspect of photography is the material reality of the printed image. In The Nature of Photographs, Stephen Shore defines photography as, “in most instances, a base of paper, plastic or metal that has been coated with an emulsion of light-sensitive metallic salts.” 7 If the most basic definition of photography as an object does not mention a reference to the camera it is because, as the philosopher Hubert Damisch suggests, the magic of photography resides in its capacity to forget, at least in part, the very existence of the camera.8 Once the technology that made a photograph possible is forgotten, what is left is a concrete, physical image subject to cultural and political interpretations. According to John Berger, “we think of photographs as works of art, as evidence of a particular truth, as likenesses, as new items. Every photograph is in fact a means of testing, confirming and constructing a total view of reality.” It is precisely the understanding of the image as likeness that has traditionally lent the medium its ideological capacity. For, as Berger notes, every image is “a weapon which we can use and which can be used against us.” 9 It is important to think of this double aspect—that is, the notion that photography is both an idea and an object— to better grasp the subtleties of the medium.10 It is partly true that, while the idea of photography has changed with technology, some elements remain constant. Even when artists experiment with the medium, photography still depends on co-presence: the camera and the object need to be in the same place at the same time. It is true that images can be manipulated to include something that was not there (or to delete something that was), but this can on ly be done through tricks that have always existed in photography without altering its definition. Besides co-presence, photography still needs an optical apparatus, a platform to make it visible (whether material, like paper or digital), and an eye to appreciate it. Nevertheless, the relationship between these two aspects has become troubled. What we see in Apertura is a reflection on how the two aspects, the concept of how photography works and the printed image, interfere with each other, and redefine photography along the way. Thinking of the photograph as an object—rather than an idea or a practice—allows us to better reflect on its political function. The effectiveness of a given image depends on its social life. Indeed, its meaning is largely determined by the logic of its presentation, the associations suggested by contiguous images and by the way in which a given 9