Notes from Campany, D (ed.) (2007) The Cinematic




Susan Sontag says ‘to collect photographs is to collect the world. […] Photographs really are experience captured.’[1] As the camera shutter closes, the experience that is photographed exits. The photograph is thus derelict (deriving from de- completely and relinquere relinquish, re- expressing intensive force and linquere to leave). [2] The experience may have gone to its death (people photographed may be dead now, or will die eventually), or onwards into the rest of its life (people photographed may now be elsewhere, otherwise engaged). Either way, the photograph testifies to a time now relinquished. Film too can evidence this: ‘As we watch a film, the continuous act of recognition in which we are involved is like a strip of memory unrolling beneath the images of the film itself, to form the invisible under-layer of an implicit double exposure.’[3] We recognise both the past that has departed the photograph, leaving its trace, and the present in which we view it. Pasolini says life only becomes visible after death has completed it, finalising the montage of images that can no longer be altered by further life events: Death performs a lightening-quick montage on our lives; that is, it chooses our truly significant moments (no longer changeable by other possible contrary or incoherent movements) and places them in sequence, conveying our present, which is infinite, unstable and uncertain, and thus linguistically indescribable, into a clear, stable, certain, and thus linguistically describable past (precisely the sphere of a general semiology). […]
‘Montage thus accomplishes for the material of film (constituted of fragments, the longest or the shortest, of as many long takes as there are subjectives) what death accomplishes for life.’[4]
Thus Kracauer’s busy street, a metaphor for life, is not comprehendible because its ongoing flow constantly dissolves and alters it. ‘The street, in the extended sense of the word, is not only the arena of fleeting impressions and chance encounters but a place where the flow of life is bound to assert itself. Again, one will have to think mainly of the city street with its ever-moving crowds. The kaleidoscopic sights mingle with unidentified shapes and fragmentary visual complexes and cancel each other out, thereby preventing the onlooker from following up any of the innumerable suggestions they offer. What appeals to him are not so much sharp-contoured individuals engaged in this or that definable pursuit as loose throngs of sketchy, completely indeterminate figures. Each has a story, yet the story is not given. Instead an incessant flow casts its spell over the flâneur, or even creates him. The flâneur is intoxicated with life in the street – life eternally dissolving the patterns which it is about to form.’[5]




Chantal Akerman


Film is a flow of images, a montage edition of times now passed, their flow reenacted in a contemporary interpretation that reflects the present as much as the past: ‘The moving picture creates its own time; the still photograph stops time and holds it for us. Herein lies, perhaps, the greatest power of the camera. What has been recorded is gone forever. Whenever a moving picture is projected, past time moves again. […] Our ways of looking change; the photograph not only documents a subject but records the vision of a person and a period.’[6]
'Seen as live evidence, the photograph cannot fail to designate, outside of itself, the death of the referent, the accomplished past, the suspension of time. And seen as deadening artifact, the photograph indicates that life outside continues, time flows by, and the captured object has slipped away.
'As representatives of these two opposite ways in which a photograph is perceived, the funerary portrait would exemplify the "picture". It protracts onstage a life that has stopped offstage. The press photograph, on the other hand, would exemplify the "event". It freezes onstage the course of life that goes on outside. Once generalised, these examples suggest that the time exposure is typical of a way of perceiving a photograph as "picture-like", whereas the instantaneous photograph is typical of a way of perceiving it as "event-like".
'These two ways are mutually exclusive, yet they coexist in our perception of any photograph, whether snapshot or time exposure. Moreover, they do not constitute a contradiction that we can resolve through a dialectical synthesis. Instead, they set up a paradox, which results in an unresolved oscillation of our psychological responses towards the photograph.'[7]
A photograph contains conjunctions of here and formerly, now and there, alive and dead, and we experience it through these cohabiting binaries.
‘According to Deleuze, the present is the actual image, and the past inherent in the present is its vital mirror image. He is referring to Bergson’s remarks on the déjà-vu, which points to the existence in the present of a recollection that takes place at the same time as the present: “Our actual existence, then, whilst it is unrolled in time, duplicates itself along with a virtual existence, a mirror image. Every moment of our life presents the two aspects, it is actual and virtual, perception on the one side and recollection on the other.”[8] As the past is formed not after the present but simultaneously with it, therefore time must divide itself up into present and past in each of its individual moments. This division implies a schizophrenia of the moment, from which Deleuze derives the metaphor of the crystal image: a synthesis of the passing actual image of the present and the preserved virtual image of the past. Both are different and yet indistinguishable: “The crystal always lives at the limit; it is itself the vanishing limit between the immediate past, which is already no longer, and the immediate future, which is not yet…
[…“It is a] mobile mirror which endlessly reflects perception in recollection.”[9] Thus, like a photograph, as described by Roland Barthes in La Chambre Claire,[10] each image and each moment is the index of its own transience, a sign of death.’[11]
Viewing a photograph, then, we recognize a past and a present, like layers of a palimpsest; and within the present moment, there also exists a past – like a déjà-vu that reminds us of the constant passing of the present.
Photography and film might both prompt these recollections, but they perform in different ways. Wollen writes: ‘Photography is like a point, film like a line. […]
‘[For Barthes] photography appeared as a spatial rather than a temporal art, vertical rather than horizontal (simultaneity of features rather than consecutiveness) and one which allowed the spectator time to veer away on a train of thought, circle back, traverse and criss-cross the image.[12]




The Lumière brothers


Wollen then says that a photograph’s written caption tells us whether it signifies a process, event or state. In this way, though photographs are points and not sequential narratives like films, they are nevertheless elements of stories. In a Lumière brothers’ film, for example, three types of aspect could caption the diegesis: a man is watering his garden (progressive process), a boy stamps on his hose-pipe (simple event), and finally, the man is soaked (state). Any photograph can be categorised like this (though some are harder to categorise than others) and thus form part of a succession; what could become a simple film. Wollen continues, ‘what this implies of course is that the semantic structure of still and moving images may be the same as, or at least, similar, in which case it would not be movement but sequencing (editing, découpage) which made the main difference by determining duration differently.
‘Still photographs, then, cannot be seen as narratives in themselves, but as elements of narrative. Different types of still photograph correspond to different types of narrative element.’[13]





Pier Paolo Pasolini


Wollen draws the discussion towards an overlap between photographs and film, explored explicitly by Bellour: ‘What happens when the spectator of film is confronted with a photograph? […] Without ceasing to advance its own rhythm, the film seems to freeze, to suspend itself, inspiring in the spectator a recoil from the image that goes hand in hand with a growing fascination. […] ‘the sudden stillness of the image. This has nothing to do with the stillness of those shots where inanimate objects await the arrival of a human being. Rather, it works against the movement of the film. […]
‘The photo subtracts me from the fiction of the cinema, even if it forms part of the film, even if it adds to it. Creating a distance, another time, the photograph permits me to reflect on cinema. Permits me, that is, to reflect that I am at the cinema. In short, the presence of the photo permits me to invest more freely in what I am seeing. […]
‘The photo thus becomes a stop within a stop, a freeze-frame within a freeze-frame; between it and the film from which it emerges, two kinds of time blend together, always and inextricable, but without becoming confused. In this, the photograph enjoys a privilege over all other effects that make the spectator of cinema, this hurried spectator, a pensive one as well.’[14]
In this case, if a photograph appears in a film and disrupts its flow, the viewer is allowed to take time back, momentarily. Film controls the speed images are viewed, while photography allows the viewer to take his or her own time. Maya Deren says, ‘when you read a text you’re in your own time. That’s not the case in film. In fact, in film, you’re dominated by my time. But time is different for everyone. Five minutes isn’t the same thing for you as it is for me.’[15]




Jeff Wall


Ang Lee creates this type of play between images that are 1 frame for several seconds and 24 frames for one second, still and moving. The effect manipulates our perception of time and speed: ‘[…Film] doesn’t flow as much as freeze into a series of tableau-like scenes. Like a single image, the film simultaneously slows down and extends time, demanding the same of our attention span.’[16]
While photography enters filmmaking, either implicitly or explicitly, film also influences photography. Photographer Jeff Wall: ‘I would say that no picture could exist today without having a trace of the film still in it, at least no photograph.’[17]



Cindy Sherman

Gregory Crewdson


Cindy Sherman’s photographs are like screen shots, while Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson’s evoke film-stills in tableau format. Often ‘photographs are arranged in sequence to give an impression of action by continuity of space, or the effect of one picture is heightened by the close juxtaposition of another. Photographs of portions of objects (close-ups) were most uncommon before the moving picture.’[18]
In this case, the photograph turns towards film, implying action beyond its paper body. When photography enters film – most strikingly in Chris Marker’s La Jetée, composed entirely of photographs – film turns to the photograph. The two forms play together, gaining strength from mingling with, and differentiating from, one another.



Chris Marker


Quotes from: Campany, D (ed.) (2007) The Cinematic Cambridge, MA: MIT and London: Whitechapel 

[1] Sontag, S (1977) ‘On Photography’ p.174
[2] Chambers English Dictionary (1988) p.1240
[3] Deren, M (1960) ‘Cinematography: The Creative Use of Reality’ p.172
[4] Pasolini, P P (1967) ‘Observations on the Long Take’ p.87
[5] Kracauer, S (1927) ‘Photography’ p.82
[6] Newhall, B (1937) ‘Moving Pictures’ p.105
[7] de Duve, T (1978) 'Time Exposure and Snapshot: The Photograph as Paradox’ p.52
[8] Bergson, H (1919) L’Énergie Spirituelle Paris
[9] Deleuze, G (1986) Cinema 2 (trans. Tomlinson, H and Habberjam, B) Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press p.81
[10] Barthes, R (1980) La Chambre Claire (Camera Lucida)
[11] Gaensheimer, S (1999) ‘Moments in Time’ (trans. Cumbers, P) p.77
[12] Wollen, P (1984) ‘Fire and Ice’ p.108 
[13] ibid.
[14] Bellour, R (1984) ‘The Pensive Spectator’ p.119-23
[15] Akerman, C (2004) ‘In Her Own Time: Interview with Miriam Rosen’ p.195
[16] Starkey, H (2007) ‘On Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm’ p.80
[17] Wall, J (1996) Interview p.102
[18] Newhall, B (1937) ‘Moving Pictures’ p.105