The Lugubrious Game

In my last blog post (click here to read), I made my most concrete attempt to date at defining ‘the photographic’. In that blog post, I argued to the effect that ‘the photographic’ is the simulacrum. Implied emphasis on the use of the definite article preceding the word simulacrum should not be taken lightly, for then we were not arguing that ‘the photographic’ is some type of simulacrum. No! We categorically denied any simulacrum other than ‘the photographic’.

Further in that same blog post, we stated that “‘the photographic’ is the simulacrum of itself” (to elucidate this statement further, we could add here that there exists no reality outside the strict confines of the simulacrum). But, this morning, while reading the local news on a local news website, I stumbled upon an article about the bygone era of Gozo, Malta’s sister island. The text was illustrated with several digitised vintage photographs taken in different locations in Gozo. One of these photographs struck me particularly (see below).

CASSAR 1910s. Mgarr Harbour. [photograph]

Had I not read the caption that accompanied the above photograph before looking at the image, I would have surely believed that this image was a drawing. Maybe photographic film technology was not that advanced yet when this photograph was taken, and hence the reason why it looks pictorial. Also, the photograph seems to have been taken on a bright, sunny day, most probably at a time when the sun was at its strongest. This would explain the high contrast – highlights are white and shadows are black. With such a limited tonal range any photograph easily slips into the pictorial.

I come to realise now, that in my previous writings (see one example here), when arguing about the pictorial and ‘the photographic’, I might have given the impression that I was treating the pictorial and ‘the photographic’ as separate concepts, dichotomous even. If I did give that impression to my readers, I must immediately desist from letting such an intellectual aberration persist in my readers’ minds. The above photograph is proof enough, we shall shortly see how, that the two are not separate or dichotomous.

Clearly, when I first looked at the above image I knew it wasn’t a drawing, simply because I had read the caption accompanying the image before I looked at the image. And the caption accompanying the image clearly stated that it was a photograph, and even identified the photographer responsible for that work. But the argument that is founded on the premise “that one has to be told in order to know” assumes that there are two or more available distinctions and that one has to carefully pick the correct one. Now, we simply cannot apply that argument here because the present argument is intentionally working its way to proving correct the assumption that there are no distinctions to be made.

So what shall we do now?

‘The photographic’ is the simulacrum which simulates itself – we have stated that already. The above photograph evinces ‘the photographic’ in absentia – ‘the photographic’ in the above photograph is dissimulated. Here we seemingly run into a problem. If ‘the photographic’ can dissimulate, or be dissimulated, this would capably confer the rights to ‘the photographic’ to cover in entirety the territory of the pictorial. But no, this is not a problem! In fact, this is exactly the starting point we wanted to reach. For the pictorial is nothing but ‘the photographic’ dissimulating… itself. Put in another way: the pictorial is ‘the photographic’ dissimulating the simulation of itself.

Hence the reason why sometimes certain drawings or paintings, or even photographs (as evinced by the above photograph), notwithstanding their beauty and technical mastery, do not look true to the eye.

More can be said about ‘the photographic’ dissimulating itself, but to prevent further intellectual mishaps germinating in our readers’ minds, let us make it clear that when we say that certain works do not look true to the eye we do not necessarily mean to imply that “they look false”.


Salvatore Lorenzo CASSAR. 1910s. Mgarr Harbour. Times of Malta [online]. Available at: [accessed 23 Jun 2020].

Featured Image:

By anonymous medieval illuminator; uploader Carlos adanero – Fol. 279 of Codex Parisinus graecus 2327, a copy (made by Theodoros Pelecanos (Pelekanos) of Corfu in Khandak, Iraklio, Crete in 1478) of a lost manuscript of an early medieval tract which was attributed to Synosius (Synesius) of Cyrene (d. 412).The text of the tract is attributed to Stephanus of Alexandria (7th century).cf. scan of entire page here., Public Domain, Link