After a short break, studies have recommenced, and the new module for the next couple of weeks shall be ‘Strategies and Surfaces’. The theme set for the first week of studies within this module was ‘Strategies of Looking’. During this week we spoke and read a lot about rephotography. So in this post I shall discuss how this photographic strategy, in its microcosm, encapsulates the (erroneous) prevailing common notion of temporality that is present in most discourse on photography in general. I will follow this with arguments by a prominent creator that refute this prevailing common view on photography. I will end this post with Levinas’ discourse on time and the Other.
“A repeat photograph, or ‘rephotograph’ is a photograph specifically made to duplicate selected aspects of another, pre-existing photograph” (KLETT 2011: 114). In its most basic form, rephotography thus consists in taking photographs “at successive points in time, which we designate Time 1 and Time 2.” (RIEGER 2011: 132). We then “compare the contents of the photographs, looking for evidence of change” (Ibid. 132). The baseline photograph, which permits comparison with successive photos taken form the same vantage point, is tacitly and unanimously assumed to be a representation, or a record, of the past. In fact, Ricard Martínez, talking about his work in rephotography, states: “the eye and the observer has the misleading impression of accessing the represented time” (2019). The photograph in general, is commonly believed to be such a representation, or record, of time past; and on viewing a photograph, the observer is supposedly magically drawn into that represented domain in the past.
My objection with this commonly accepted belief does not lie with what is effectively recorded by the photographic apparatus on the light-sensitive sensor/film – the photographic apparatus does indeed always attend and focus on what lies in front of it. My objection with this commonly accepted belief lies with the way it effectively thwarts our experience of the photograph by graciously assuming the manner of a truistic platitude.
Martínez states: “rephotography, and photography also, deals more about the future than the past. […] Photography itself, any photograph, is taken always in the future: when you are planning to take a photograph… this morning, or later… you think to take a camera (or the necessary equipment), because you want take a photo. When you are about to shoot, you also preview with your eyes these images in your mind – you are always in advance; you are thinking it always in the future. And finally, when the photograph is done, you print it and somebody observes this image, this observer is always in the future” (2019).
Levinas writes: “The other is the future” and “the very relationship with the other is the relationship with the future” (LEVINAS 1987: 77).
What am I trying to get at? If the photograph “deals more about the future than the past” (MARTÍNEZ 2019) and if “the other is the future” (LEVINAS 1987: 77), then, as I wrote elsewhere, we could experience the photograph as a record crafted by the photographer of the space s/he inhabited when taking the photograph, a record of the space that is nothing but the photographer’s mind.
In experiencing the futurity of the photograph, we experience the Other.
As Martínez states about rephotography (even though I assume the gist of this statement can be applied to all photography, irrespective of whether you are the photographer or the one experiencing the photograph): “rephotography is not about repeating a photograph, but standing on the very same place where another photographer was there before you – it is like an exercise of empathy” (2019).
KLETT, Mark. 2011. ‘Repeat Photography in Landscape Research’. In MARGOLIS, E. & PAUWELS, L. (eds.). 2011. The Sage Handbook of Visual Research Methods. SAGE Publications, 114-131.
LEVINAS, Emmanuel. 1987. Time and the Other (1979). Translated by Richard A. Cohen. USA: Duquesne University Press.
MARTÍNEZ, Ricard. (2019). Ricard Martínez – Guest Lecture on Tuesday 4th June 12:00–13:00 BST.
RIEGER, Jon H. 2011. ‘Rephotography for Documenting Social Change ‘. In MARGOLIS, E. & PAUWELS, L. (eds.). 2011. The Sage Handbook of Visual Research Methods. SAGE Publications, 132-149.