Enframing Identity

Brookhaven College Center For the Arts

Studio Gallery

Kathy Lovas, Karen Simpson: Photographs and Papers

January 5 - 29, 1998

Enframing Identity

Curator’s Essay

David Newman

Gallery Director

972.860.4101 dnewman@dcccd.edu


In Enframing, that unconcealment comes to pass in conformity with which the work of modern technology reveals the real as standing-reserve.
. . .
All coming to presence, not only modern technology, keeps itself everywhere concealed to the last.

Martin Heidegger 1



Between the subject and the world is inserted the entire set of discourses which make up visuality, that cultural construct, and make visuality different from vision, the notion of unmediated visual experience. Between retina and world is inserted a screen of signs, a screen consisting of all the multiple discourses on vision built into the social arena.

Norman Bryson 2



Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Juvenal 3



The collaborative installation Photographs and Papers by Kathy Lovas and Karen Simp- son interrogates the set of cultural practices in which: modern technology and formulaic procedures have obscured identity, encased and standardized uniqueness and selectively determined what is worthy of consideration and what is not. 4

Entering the gallery, one steps on the shredded documents covering the gallery floor, walking through the shreds as if through drifts of fallen leaves: underfoot, shredded, unreadable, the repressed beneath consciousness. Black and white gelatin silver photographs of the children in Kathy Lovas’ elementary school class lean against the base of the walls. The photographs are rendered in soft focus, and thus become somewhat generic through the mediation of a Fisher-Price video camera and television screen, differing in means but having something of the same effect of the appropriated photographs in Christian Boltanski’s installation pieces. 5 Printed 20 x 16 inches as tightly framed heads, and framed identically in black with an identifying number hand-written with black marker on each photograph, in syntactical contrast to the exaggerated pixelation in the digital rendering of the image, the images are matter-of-fact, evidentiary, forensic in feeling, notwithstanding the idiosyncrasies of individual facial gesture and animation. The semiotics of the chierographic alphanumeric signifier of the identification numbers contrasts with that of the optical-digital-chemical causal genesis of the images: enlarging the scale of the alphanumeric number makes it more legible, while enlarging the image dissolves it, first by the video pixelation, redoubled by the enlargement of the film negative made from the video image. Above the photographs, three rows of 12 x 9 inch evidence bags prepared by Karen Simpson are push-pinned to the wall to form a grid, each bag tagged with a manila label giving the provenance of the document contained within the bag. The uniformity of the presentation of the documents and of Lovas’ photographs is neutralizing in its effect and reiterated by the nearly achromatic hue range of the several documents, creates a sense of disinterestedness. The documents are birth, baptismal and confirmation certificates, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, passports, application forms, school records, writing exercises, personal letters, military discharge documents, miscellaneous legal documents, books: the textual detritus of lives lived. One supposes that none of the individuals whose lives are referenced by the photographs and documents in the installation would have imagined the images and texts which served to mark the daily routine or significant transitions in their lives would end on a gallery wall, object of the viewer’s gaze. The photographs and documents have undergone a detournement, 6 repositioned within the scopic space of the gallery to attain a self-referential criticality. On this turn depends an essential distinction between artworks and mere representations, as Arthur Danto notes:

The thesis is that works of art, in categorical contrast with mere representations, use the means of representations in a way that is not exhaustively specified when one has exhaustively specified that is being represented. 7
The repositioning of these documents and images within the gallery utilizes the “museum effect” 8of transforming into art whatever is placed within it to raise to visibility what is, in the quotidian world, beneath the threshold of the visible.

The quotidian invisibility of the system of representation outside the gallery is represented within the gallery by placing the top of the upper row of documents at approximate typical eye level. The installation as a whole thus remains below eye level, beneath the gaze, correlative with the position of the photographs and documents prior to their repositioning within the installation, fragmentary residue of an set of practices invisible in their transparency. Outside their exhibition in installation, the photographs and documents are beneath the gaze, outside the domain of visibility, at the eye’s punctum caecum. Within the gallery space, the photographs and documents are restored to visibility, confronting the viewer with “la mirada ciega de mirarse mirar 9 while simultaneously transforming the gallery space into a Panopticon.

Surveillance is sur-veillance: super-vision. Supervision by surveillance is intrinsic to the architecture of the Panopticon. As the English utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham proposed it in 1791, the Panopticon consists of a prison, so devised that a guard concealed and unobserved in the center can observe all the inmates in their cells arrayed around the central axis. Surveillance is a notion that this installation of documents and photographs, and its digital extensions, extends and continues. 10 Installed to wrap around the walls of the gallery, the documents and photographs place the viewer in the place of the guard within the Panopticon. Analogous to the function of the reflected image of the king and queen in Velázquez’ Las Meninas, 11 this positioning of the viewer within the work enables a representation of a system of representation. 12 The two levels above and outside the Studio Gallery from which it is possible to view the viewer viewing the installation within the gallery reiterate the gallery space as site of the representation of representations, a physical correlative of a metalanguage engaging vision and visuality as an object language. Self and other, subject and object. The instruments and procedures of textual and photographic representations render the self as other, the subject as an object of the gaze. In the process of rendering the self an object, certain aspects of the self are abstracted and selected for appearance in the archive, while other aspects are disregarded. Thus an identity is constructed, parallel to but distinct from the self, a simulacrum of the self. The several fragmentary references to the self are a synecdoche, a part representing the whole. Consideration of the archive of texts and images must consequently address not only what is present as re-presentation, but what is absent and invisible: at the level of the singular document and image, at the level of the constellation of documents and images, and at the level of the viewer. Thus Norman Bryson:

What the image needs to include is the fact of the object’s remainder, the other views which pass out from the object to all those unaccountable places where the viewer is not. And what the image has also to acknowledge, even while it records the narrow passage of light that travels to an empirical observer, is the viewer’s remainder, the sum of other views that the viewer excludes by assuming this view, the surrounding envelope of invisibility. 13

Photographs and Papers addresses the modern scopic regime in its application to the con- struction of and use as a surrogate for individual identity, a simulacrum substituted for the identity of the lived, embodied self. Inherent in this set of practices is the range of pivotal cultural positions which photography as a system of re-presentation occupies: at once a practice of mass culture and high art, at once having the potential of mastery and an instrument of tyranny. As Allen Sekula has noted:

We are confronting, then, a double system: a system of representation capable of functioning both honorifically and repressively. This double operation is most evident in the workings of photographic portraiture. On the one hand, the photographic portrait extends, accelerates, popularizes, and degrades a traditional function. This function, which can be said to have taken its early modern form in the seventeenth century, is that of providing for the ceremonial presentation of the self.
. . .
At the same time, photographic portraiture began to perform a role no painted portrait could have performed in the same thorough and rigorous fashion. This role derived, not from any honorific portrait tradition, but from the imperatives of medical and anatomical illustration. Thus photography came to establish and delimit the terrain of the other, to define both the generalized look—the typology—and the contingent instance of deviance and social pathology. 14
A long tradition in western thought underlies and enables this application of photography. 15 The invention of photography in the nineteenth century was contemporaneous with rhetorical and philosophical discourses 16 imputing the status of nature to the photographic image. The causal genesis of the photographic image by optical and chemical means vitiated the apparent role of the photographer, so that William Henry Fox Talbot titled his opus on the nascent photographic process Some Account of the Art of Photogenic Drawing, or the Process by which Natural Objects may be made to Delineate Themselves without the Aid of the Artist’s Pencil, and his subsequent exposition The Pencil of Nature. 17 Robert Hunt, in a superfluity of Victorian prose titled his texts Popular Treatise on the Art of Photography, including Daguerréotype, and All the New Methods of Producing Pictures by the Chemical Agency of Light and Researches on Light, an Examination of All the Phenomena Connected with the Chemical and Molecular Changes Produced by the Influence of the Solar Rays, Embracing all the Known Photographic Processes, and New Discourses in the Art. 18 Examples might be multiplied almost indefinitely, for the ascription of a mechanistic causal genesis as underwriting the mimetic claims for the photographic image was intrinsic to the discourse of the nineteenth century scopic regime. That the characterization of the photographic image perdures is a commonplace; to cite but one of a plethora of possible examples: “Photography affects us like a phenomenon in nature.” 19 The strategic rhetorical move here is that of myth, in its sense in Thomas McEvilley’s assertion that “a myth is a device to mediate between culture and nature, either by culturizing nature or by naturalizing culture.” 20 This is to assimilate the move to a venerable Latin adage: Cultura fit secunda natura, culture becomes second nature. The rhetorical force of the move is to position the photographic image as truth.

The predication of a photograph as a true description of that which was photographed entails a correspondence theory of truth: a proposition is true if it corresponds to what is. In the contemporary application of terminology developed in the nineteenth century by C. S. Peirce, the photograph is said to be an index, an indexical sign of what was photographed. For Peirce, an index is a sign with a direct, causal, relation to its referent; an icon is a sign resembling its referent, while a symbol denotes a sign having a conventional relation to its referent. 21

The photograph as indexical sign, causally related to its referent and thus true because of the absenting of agency from its facture is a fallacy of synecdoche, an account which naively ignores the inherence of human agency in the facture of the photograph, and indeed in the constitution of the photographic process itself. As Craig Owens notes:

the argument that the properties of the photographic image are derived not from the characteristics of the medium itself but from the structure of the real, registered mechanically on a light-sensitive surface, may describe the technical procedures of photography. But it does not account for the photograph’s capacity to internally generate and organize meaning. 22
To regard the photographic 23 as exhaustively characterized by indexicality is to posit the photograph as correlative of the myth of the innocent eye, 24 the natural attitude 25 within the domain of the sensa. Indeed, the photographic image is quite distinct from human vision, innocent or not. The distinction between human vision and the photographic image was not unknown to the nineteenth century. The distinction was particularly manifest in photographs of moving entities; the photographs of Eadweard Muybridge and Étienne-Jules Marey were notable in manifesting aspects of movement invisible to unaided vision. In so doing, their photographs rendered conventional vision problematic and unnatural, separating it from an association with static form. 26 As Aaron Scharf notes:
Not only did the Muybridge photographs contradict many of the most accurate and up-to-date observations of artists, but phases of locomotion were revealed which lay beyond the visual threshold. The meaning of the term ‘truth to nature’ lost its force: what was true could not always be seen, and what could be seen was not always true. 27
The notion of the transcendental subject 28 looking at the same scene through eternity is problematized. John Berger notes:
The camera isolated momentary appearances and in so doing destroyed the idea that images were timeless. Or, to put it another way, the camera showed that the notion of time passing was inseparable from the experience of the visual (except in paintings). What you saw depended upon where you were when. What you saw was relative to your position in time and space. It was no longer possible to imagine everything converging on the human eye as on the vanishing point of infinity. 29

Recognition that vision is contingent on the particularity of here and now entails deixis. 31 A deictic regard of vision valorizes the incarnated glance, rather than the disembodied gaze. 32 Restoration of the embodiment of the observer via the incarnated gaze is a return of reciprocal intersubjectivity; a mutual subjectivity rather than a relation of subject and object. To utilize Martin Buber’s terminology, this is the ground of the relation of I - Thou rather than the relation of I - It. 33 It is by application of “technology and formulaic procedures” that a Thou may be regarded as an It, an object of a disincarnated gaze rather than a subject, an incarnated glance. A subject, like the quasi-subject of an artwork, is of an inexhaustible depth. 34





Biographical Notes


Kathy Lovas received the Master of Fine Arts from Texas Woman’s University and the Bachelor of Science in biology from St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana. Lovas received a Mid-America / National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in photography in 1995. Recent one-person exhibitions include Conversation Pieces, Women and Their Work, Austin, 1997; Tracings II, Galveston Art Center, 1996; “M” Train, Lawndale Art and Performance Center, Houston; Tracings, Moreau Gallery, St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana; and The Alamo, E. J. Bellocq Gallery, Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, Louisiana, 1995. She is Adjunct Professor in the School of Visual Arts, University of North Texas.

Karen Simpson received the Master of Fine Arts from Texas Woman’s University, and the Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Rhode Island, with post-graduate studies at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, The University of Rhode Island, and Brookhaven College. Recent one-person exhibitions include: Mixed Media Works by Karen Simpson, Gallery 1114, Midland, Texas, 1996; Mixed Media Works by Karen Simpson, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas, 1995; Collages by Karen Simpson, Studio Gallery, Brookhaven College, 1994.






Endnotes


  1. Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt. (New York: Harper, 1977), pp. 3-35. Heidegger’s essay Die Frage nach der Technik was initially published in two of his works: Die Technik und die Kehre (Pfullingen: Günther Neske, 1962) and Vorträge und Aufsätze (Pfullingen: Günther Neske, 1954). Lovitt uses ‘Enframing’ to give something of the active sense Heidegger gives Ge-stell as a calling-forth rather than a static framework; see Lovitt’s n. 17. ‘Unconcealment’ renders Unverborgenheit, and refers to the realm where aletheia, truth, happens. ‘Standing-reserve’ renders Bestand, which in ordinary usage denotes a supply as standing-by; Heidegger uses Bestand to refer to the manner in which things ordered by modern technology presence as revealed; see Lovitt’s n. 16. ‘Coming to presence’ here translates Wesende; this is obscured in the use of ‘coming to presence’ to render Wesen; see Lovitt’s n. 19. Thus to paraphrase: In calling-forth, that revealing comes to pass in conformity with which the work of modern technology reveals the real as revealed . . . . Return
  2. Norman Bryson, “The Gaze in the Expanded Field,” in ed. Hal Foster, Vision and Visuality. Dia Art Foundation Discussions in Contemporary Culture Number 2 (Seattle: Bay Press, 1988), pp. 87-114. Return
  3. Decimus Iunius Juvenalis: “Who will watch the watchers?” Return
  4. Kathy Lovas and Karen Simpson, Exhibition Prospectus, 1996. Return
  5. Marjorie Perloff’s “What Has Occurred Only Once: Barthes’s WinterGarden / Boltanski’s Archives,” Artes 2 (1995), pp. 110-125; online at http://wings.buffalo.edu/epc/authors/perloff/boltanski.html is a useful treatment of some of the implications of Boltanski’s installation works. Return
  6. Détournement refers to the technique of the Internationale situationniste in repositioning items from the effluvia of the Spectacle of mass culture in order to reverse their ideological function. On the Situationist International, see Elizabeth Sussman, ed., on the Passage of a few people through a rather brief moment in time: The Situationist International 1957 - 1972 (Boston: Institute of Contemporary Art / Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1989, 1991); Griel Marcus, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989); October 79 (Winter 1997) is a Special Issue devoted to Guy Debord and the Internationale situationniste. Détournement has, in ordinary usage, the sense of diversion, rerouting, hijacking.Return
  7. Arthur Danto, The Transfiguration of the Commonplace: A Philosophy of Art (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), pp. 147-148. Return
  8. Svetlana Alpers, “The Museum as Way of Seeing,” eds. Ivan Karp, Steven D. Lavine, Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991), pp. 25-32. Return
  9. Octavio Paz, “Más allá del amor,” Octavio Paz: Early Poems 1935 - 1955 (San Francisco: New Directions, 1973), pp. 20-23: “the blind look of seeing oneself seeing”. Return
  10. On the Panopticon, see inter alia, Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, ed. J. Bowring (New York: Russell and Russell, 1962); Gertrude Himmelfarb, “The Haunted House of Jeremy Bentham,” Ideas in History: Essays presented to Louis Gattschalk by his former students, eds. Richard Herr, Harold T. Parker (Durham: Duke University Press, 1965); Jacques-Alain Miller, “Jeremy Bentham’s Panoptic Device,” October 41 (Summer 1987), initial publication as “La despotisme de l’utile: la machine panoptique de Jeremy Bentham,” Ornicar? 3 (May 1975), pp. 3-36; Michael Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage Books, 1979); David Lyon, The Electronic Eye: The Rise of the Surveillance Society (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994), particularly Chapter Four, available as “From Big Brother to Electronic Panopticon” at http://www.rochester.edu/College/FS/Publications/Lyon.html; Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” October 59 (Winter 1992), pp. 3-7, initial publication in L’Autre journal 1 (May 1990), on-line at http://www.dds.nl/~n5m/texts/deleuze.htm. Return
  11. Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez, Las Meninas (1656) oil on canvas, 125 x 109 inches, Prado, Madrid. Return See, among what has become a host of texts treating Las Meninas, chapter 1 of Michel Foucault’s Les Mots et les Choses (Paris: Gallimard, 1966) [English translation as The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage, 1973).] and John R. Searle, “Las Meninas and the Paradoxes of Pictorial Representation,” Critical Inquiry 6 (Spring 1980), pp. 477-488; reprinted in ed. W. J. T. Mitchell The Language of Images (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), pp. 247-258. Return
  12. Norman Bryson, Norman Bryson, “The Gaze in the Expanded Field,” in ed. Hal Foster, Vision and Visuality. Dia Art Foundation Discussions in Contemporary Culture Number 2 (Seattle: Bay Press, 1988), p103. Return
  13. Allen Sekula, “The Body and the Archive,” October 39 (Winter 1986), pp. 3-64. Earlier versions of Sekula’s essay were presented at the National Gallery of Art, Ottawa, 2 October 1982 and the College Art Association Annual Meeting, New York, 13 February 1986; it is reprinted in Richard Bolton, ed. The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1989, 1992), pp. 342-379. Return
  14. Joel Snyder, “Picturing Vision,” Critical Inquiry 6 (1980), pp. 499-526 [reprinted in ed. W. J. T. Mitchell The Language of Images (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), pp. 219-246] presents a particularly useful analysis of the category of realistic images and the development of photography. See Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth Century French Thought (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993) for a magisterial treatment of both the earlier precedents and recent variations in ocularcentric discourse and its oppositions. Return
  15. For a brief introduction, see Dennis P. Grady, “Philosophy and Photography in the Nineteenth Century: A Note on the Matter of Influence,” Exposure (February 1977); reprinted in eds. Thomas F. Barrow, Shelley Armitage, William E. Tydeman, Reading Into Photography: Selected Essays 1959 - 1980 ( Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982), pp. 145-160. Return
  16. William Henry Fox Talbot, Some Account of the Art of Photogenic Drawing, or the Process by which Natural Objects may be made to Delineate Themselves without the Aid of the Artist’s Pencil (London: R. and J. E. Taylor, 1839); The Pencil of Nature (London: 1844 -1846). Return
  17. Robert Hunt, Popular Treatise on the Art of Photography, including Daguerréotype, and All the New Methods of Producing Pictures by the Chemical Agency of Light Art (Glasgow: Richard Griffin and Company, 1841); Researches on Light, an Examination of All the Phenomena Connected with the Chemical and Molecular Changes Produced by the Influence of the Solar Rays; Embracing all the Known Photographic Processes, and New Discourses in the Art (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1844). Return
  18. André Bazin, “The Ontology of the Photographic Image,” in ed. and trans. Hugh Gray, What Is Cinema? (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), p. 13. Return
  19. Thomas McEviley, “Heads its Form, Tails its Not Content,” Artforum 17:5 (January 1979), p. 50; reprinted in his Art & Discontent: Theory at the Millennium (New York: Documentext / McPherson and Company, 1991), pp. 23-62. Return
  20. Charles Sanders Peirce, “Logic as Semiotic: The Theory of Signs,” ed. Justus Buchler, Philosophical Writings of Peirce (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1940; New York: Dover, 1955), pp. 98-119. Return
  21. Craig Owens, “Photography en abyme, “ October 5 (Summer, 1978), p. 81; reprinted in Craig Owens, Beyond Recognition: Representation, Power, and Culture, eds. Scott Bryson, Barbara Kruger, Lynne Tillman, Jane Weinstock (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), pp.16-30. Return
  22. “The photographic” is not meant here only in A.D. Coleman’s sense of ‘the photographic,’ but in an broader application of his sense. See A.D. Coleman, “The Directorial Mode: Notes Toward A Definition,” Light Readings: A Photography Critic’s Writing 1968-1978 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 246-257. Return
  23. E. H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960, 1961), p.298. The term ‘innocent eye’ to denote unbiased natural vision was given currency by Ruskin; alas, normal natural visual perception is always already structured, we do not see a raw confusion, but things. Return
  24. See Norman Bryson, Vision and Painting: The Logic of the Gaze (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), pp. 1-12. Cf. Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, trans. David Carr (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970) section 38, pp.143-147. Return
  25. Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth Century French Thought (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), p. 133. My argument in this section largely follows Jay. Return
  26. Aaron Scharf, Art and Photography (Hammondsworth: Penguin, 1968, 1974), p. 211. Return
  27. See Robert C. Solomon, Continental Philosophy Since 1750: The Rise and Fall of the Self (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988). Return
  28. Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth Century French Thought (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), p. 134. Return
  29. John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London: British Broadcasting Corporation / Penguin, 1972), p. 18. Return
  30. Deixis, deictic, from deiknonei, ‘to show’: in linguistics, a deictic utterance is one that shows the locus of utterance. See Norman Bryson, Vision and Painting: The Logic of the Gaze (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), p. 87ff. Return
  31. Norman Bryson, Vision and Painting: The Logic of the Gaze (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983). Return
  32. Martin Buber, I and Thou, trans. Ronald Gregor Smith (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958). See Robert E. Wood, Martin Buber’s Ontology: An Analysis of I and Thou (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1969). Return
  33. Mikel Dufrenne, The Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience, trans. Edward S. Casey et al. (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), pp. 146, 387-425. Return





URL http://rampages.onramp.net/~dnewman/photpapr.htm 01.08.98 David Newman