Photographic Translation

My contribution to the forthcoming Routledge Companion to Photography Theory has the working title “Out of Language: Photographing as Translating”.  The essay emphasizes Flusser’s conviction about communication making worlds–generating meaning–by various means, e.g. drawing, speech, writing–and photographs .  He particularly emphasised photography’s potential as a means of translating concepts–the products of writing–into images.

Could his two very playful sketches of two theories of photography be considered translations?  In one, a council of angels is debating the existence of human beings.  The author-angel has submitted a camera in support of his argument that human beings are qualified to be angels.  The second sketch is in the voice of vampyrotheutis infernalis, a deep-sea squid.  He proposes that a kind of photography should be developed for undersea conditions. Squid would be able to record the light from their own tentacles, and so be able to fix and share their thoughts, hopes, fears and dreams.

The image shown here is Boyd Webb’s Trophy, from 1989, from an exhibition Flusser reviewed for European Photography.  Flusser points out that the possibility of a cosmic “scene” is always ridiculous (and photographs, in his view, are always scenes.)  In this sense the image “translates” from the concept of a cosmic image being ridiculous, that is, from someone saying or writing it, into an image that “says” the same thing far more quickly and economically.



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