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Fragility / Permanence / Locality

THE MACRO SHOT AND THE MAGNIFIED EYE IN DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY

All images are – by their own definition – problematic. An image is and can only be partial of the actuality it attempts to depict; although it may latently align itself with a privileged subjectivity, and a facsimile which limits the reality of a situation to the purely optical sense. Even the seemingly benign selfie or generic ‘gram is a forcible framing of ourselves into an attractive image in a visual economy of envy.

There’s a crucial intention and ambition involved in the act of taking a photo and in deciding what should be photographed and how. The photograph is not a pristine, frank reflection of its subject – and it would be dishonest if it claimed to be – but a visual confession of subjectivity and of an alternate reality, a facet of a totality. Whatever sincerity we may appreciate in a photograph is not from our own hypothetical relation to what it depicts, but from the palpable subjectivity of the photographer and of his or her perceived position – one of dominance, inflated equivalence or sentimental relation – to the article being photographed. A photograph is not a report – it’s a sub-ordination to the limits of your own perception. In bleak prescience, the German philosopher and anthropologist Ludwig Feuerbach observed the photograph as the presentation of a world more desirable than reality, one which favors appearance before experience. The unobstructed applicability of Feuerbach’s theory to Instagram’s cubic pseudo-art reveals a kind of predictability of human behavior and to the social patterns of avatars that emerge in systems that fail to sustain or engage their artistic and intellectual inhabitants.

Hiroshima, mon amour, Alain Resnais (1959) 

Instagram has conveniently – compassionately – abbreviated the rituals of film development into a swipe-enabled motherboard of digital filters and modifications so that any mildly dexterous smartphone holder can participate in its collective hallucination and game of avatars. As a forum of pure aesthetic fantasy, Instagram has become the apparatus par excellence for the Millennial identity – for a generation whose self-image is constructed through ‘personal branding’ and publicly aligning with desirable people, organizations or objects. While fiction or fantasy itself is not unethical, presenting stylized, sterile static images as the empirical – rather than fantastical, or supernatural – reality of ourselves is not only dishonest, it is unethical. Admitting its synthetic intentions is one thing but posturing these images as concrete reality plants the seed of cognitive dissonance – a reality sanitized of dirt and bacteria. We know that life isn’t photogenic, curated and glamorous – and yet we allow ourselves to be emotionally affected by these slick images anyway. But in response to a landscape of false engagement, some Instagram photographers are slicing through the molasses of visual excess and are subliminally subverting the gram’s artificial simulacrum from within itself.

The Macro shot – or the extreme close-up – imposes a scrutinizing, pensive and confrontational perspective into the virtual realm of blurred detail and postcard portrayal. While a static image doesn’t seek to represent its subject but to obscure it, the Macro examines – but also accepts-phenomena and detritus in brutal clarity. The tension between each non-sequitur shot wafts between Instagram’s three-per-tier limits to mimic human memory: modicums of texture, fragrance, warmth. It magnifies its subject to grotesque proportions and hovers on its new canvas – the curve of a hip, a side profile, natural symmetry – on details appearing where they shouldn’t, the absence where they should.

Les Larmes, Man Ray (1932) 

Keenly aware and passively sympathetic, its raw, unflinching gaze has always been harnessed in orthodox art to draw the eye to the magnetism of imperfection and to require the act of viewing to become interpretative, introspective. Consider Les Larmes, Man Ray’s enlarged portraiture of a woman’s eyes from which pearls of glass descend in an enactment of tears, while her ambiguous source of despair and recipient of her despondent gaze remain notably anterior to the frame. Or the voyeuristic opening scene of Alain Resnais’s “Hiroshima Mon Amour” in which the intimacy of the cinematic gaze immediately forces the eye to create a new, ambiguous form of a lover rebuilt from and with its Other. The contained forms of a gendered body are dissolved – any contours of individuality are incoherent, unrecognizable and useless. Set in the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Resnais postures his new epicene body as a tabula rasa cleansed of emotion, morality and politics – but also of context and memory.

Two or three things I know about her, Jean-Luc Godard (1967)

The infamous Macro shot of Jean-Luc Godard’s film “Two or Three Things I Know About Her” blandly, apathetically stares into a stirred cup of coffee as its foam swirls against a whispered, agonized philosophical monologue, intensifying the narrator’s voix off lamentation of the solipsism of subjectivity in this specific scene. His extended analysis and unnaturally prolonged focus on an everyday object of habit makes it seem at first strange – the centripetal swirls of the coffee resembling a view of a terrible cosmic storm, a rotating galaxy or abyss – but which darkens to morbidity and suffocation, at how alien, flat and indifferent the modern world appears. Godard’s obsessive examination of minutiae doesn’t collapse to reveal a robust proto-reality – but a vacuum, the heart of unreality itself.

Two or three things I know about her, Jean-Luc Godard (1967)

What the Macro achieves through its provocative proximity is a return to a molecular way of regarding the ‘ordinary’ – a vision which renders the loss of this very quality. The static image is problematic because it fortifies the garish false reality of perfection, which has become the norm, even authority, for the way things appear to us. These false images of ourselves and our lives convert objects of desire into something obscene, commodified and profitable –achieved through the ‘right’ combination of material experiences – and by proxy, becomes an aestheticizing of desire itself.

Instead of depravedly obsessing over subjects and insignia as a sinister endorsement of certain lifestyles and consumption patterns, the Macro doesn’t tell us what to desire – it shows us how to desire. Its fragmented presentation of scars, failure, fragility, distortion, disorder reveals a visual virginity, a chastity left in a world saturated by its own fantasy. To consider ourselves on a microscopic, fragmented level not only severs old ideas of permanence, but recovers an organic fragility and transience – we are encouraged to embrace strange reality and all of its inconsistencies, desiring and desired negativities. The Macro strives for a de-territorialization of desire – not by shattering its illusion, but by sincerely, unapologetically, confessing its own parameters and geometry of subjectivity. Only through this honesty and the confession its own restrictions is the Macro-able reframe the terms of our existence and offer a re-vision of the visual flux of the world, and remind us of the true coordinates of our reality.

Text by Marianne Kodaira 

Hiroshima, mon amour, Alain Resnais (1959)