In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction


“The aperture of a camera forms a two-way portal through which both subject and viewer peer into another time. The subject, conscious of the permanence of the document, posts forward a memory. The viewer, aligning with the memory at some later date, works to preserve the sight from disintegration. Both are present at both moments; both experience the revelation of being adrift in time, sampling it laterally.

“The moment of recording and the moment of interpretation lose their basic distinction. Somewhere in time, observer and observed reverse roles. Conscious of being watched through the asynchronous screen, both modify their behaviors, presenting their best profiles: interpenetration of looker and participant, audience and authority, aesthetic escape and polemical display, welded together and mechanically propagated through time.

“To look at a thing is already to change it. Conversely, acting must begin with the most reverent looking. The sitter’s eyes look beyond the photographer’s shoulders, beyond the frame, and change, forever, any future looker who catches that gaze. The viewer, the new subject of that gaze, begins the long obligation of rewriting biography to conform to the inverted lens. Every jump cut or soft focus becomes a call to edit. Every cropping, pan, downstopping receives ratification, becomes one’s own.

“Consider a print of you and a lover standing by the side of a house. You can shrink or enlarge it to any size. You can print it on matte, glossy, or color stock. You can mask the negative, tint it, print it up as Christmas cards. You can crop it and edit out your mate or yourself as appropriate. Finally, you can take a twelve-dollar camera and repeat the scene with a new lover, as many time as it takes to get it right.”

-Richard Powers, “Three Farmers On Their Way To A Dance,” 1985