"Images exist; things themselves are images... Images constantly act on and react to one another, produce and consume. There is no difference between images, things and movement..." Gilles Deleuze
Thinking about temporality -- time -- and the pertinence of images. The image -- photography -- allows time to collapse in on itself and cease (fail) to adhere to its own directives: I look at a photograph of my grandmother on the porch of her first house in America, 1945, and access a moment that no longer exists, before I ever existed, experienced by someone who has ceased to exist. In approaching time -- temporality -- my first confrontation is, quite naturally, with the image. It and I have come to a standstill.
"Photography like autobiography is a paradox of time [ . . . ] The dilemma of the 'transsexual real' is also a paradox of time: how to reconcile an unlivable past with a fantasized idealized - but possibly unrealizable - future?" (Prosser, 6)
"It is the 'play of looks' that I want to explore, within the framework of desire and its visual representations. By unearthing some of psychical, social and sexual processes involved in representations of desire we can begin hopefully to examine the dynamics of desire present in the relationship between the photographer, the photographed and you." (Del LaGrace Volcano, "Dynamics of Desire")
Although this essay is certainly concerned with time and its indispensable relation to the image -- as well as to bodies, to gender, to sex -- Prosser's primary fixation is realness: "[LaGrace Volcano] makes real what would otherwise not be seen as such." Attempts to locate realness, however, inevitably miss the mark: there is no real -- the real is artificial, and, furthermore, "it is dangerous for any of us to believe we can achieve 'the real.'" The photographs do not seek to validate their subjects' realness, but to displace realness and render its in/validation irrelevant. Photographs contradict time, which ceases to make sense in the presence of the image: by capturing/freezing the transient and disallowing passing moments to pass.
Prosser draws connections between the passing of time and the passing of gender -- as well as other senses of passing, such as the aesthetic. LaGrace Volcano's aesthetic sensibilities make sharp, unexpected, shifts and transitions throughout the book, and even within a focused series. The relationship between bodily transitions, bodily mutations and time -- becoming precarious, transmutation, transmogrification -- and Prosser's interpretation of the photography of Del LaGrace Volcano rests on the comfort of uncertainty, wherein we may be assured that "The only certainty is change."
Sublime Mutations showcases a mere modicum of LaGrace Volcano's transgressive spirit. Love Bites, another collection of photographs highlighting the photographer's most controversial and heavily censored work; Sex Work, which chronicles a history of queer sex in pictures; and Pleasure Principles - Politics, Sexuality and Ethics, a book which seems to be largely about photography and desire, are points of interest for further investigation not only into the work of LaGrace Volcano, but also photography, gender, temporality, desire and their convergences.
I'm at somewhat of a loss as I try to recall the exact source which lead to my discovering the work of Del LaGrace Volcano. Something I read quite recently mentioned the name, I performed a search on the UMN library homepage, and one result presented itself: The Drag King Book-- a collaboration between the photographer and J. Jack Halberstam (located in the Annex, that dark hole in the basement of Wilson Library where deviant books collect dust)-- a book that slightly interested me, but not enough to make the trek to the lower depths. I found out about Sublime Mutations via LaGrace Volcano's website, and requested it through inter library loan, with no intentions of using it for this project -- the Prosser essay helped make its relevancy apparent.
Puar, Jasbir. "Abu Ghraib and U.S. Sexual Exceptionalism." Terrorist Assemblages. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007. 79-113. Print.
"The pictures will not go away. That is the nature of the digital world in which we live [ . . . ] it was the photographs that made all this ''real'' to Bush and his associates. Up to then, there had been only words, which are easier to cover up in our age of infinite digital self-reproduction and self-dissemination, and so much easier to forget."
(Susan Sontag, "Regarding the Torture of Others")
Where do I begin to summarize this chapter -- or even simply summarize its relevance to my discussion of time and the image? This chapter, and this book in general, is something that I must come back to, and have been coming back to, over and over again. Before I encountered this book, but after it was written, Errol Morris made a documentary about these images -- not so much about the torture, the scandal, or even the politics, but the images themselves. Opening the film is a series of photographs unrelated to those that comprise the heart of the movie's content: pictures of sunrises and sunsets. As the credits begin to scroll across the screen, the sunset photographs recede into the distance and are soon surrounded by numerous other photographs, floating in a virtual void. The infamous images in question begin to take their place alongside the first. These pictures exist within the same context at the same moment: sunrise, sunset, sexual torture. Directly after this opening sequence, we see photographs of then Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, visiting the notorious prison, and we're told that he cut his tour short -- he did not want an image of the prison or the goings-on within its walls. It doesn't exist if the images don't exist: that which can't be proven never happened. (And, as Lynndie England comments later in the film, some of the photographed horrors would not have taken place had the camera not been present.) Now that Rumsfeld, the rest of the United States, and the world have been confronted by these pictures, they "will not go away," as Susan Sontag notably stated.
Jasbir Puar claims that Sontag "got it wrong," that the pictures have gone away, but really it's Puar who's gotten Sontag wrong, whose statement, "the pictures will not go away," is meant concretely -- she's referring to the photographs themselves, their digital immortality. They cannot be burned or discarded: they are all right here, and here they will be, regardless of whether or not they are ignored.
I have not summarized the chapter, I don't yet know how to approach the task. But I promise to return to it shortly. The reason I was compelled in the first place to include this chapter specifically in this series concerning time and image is because of my intellectual relationship to these photographs and to photography in general. Sontag has long informed my thoughts and opinions of the photographic medium, of digital media and the like. Abu Ghraib has never gone away in my own mind, in my memories of the Bush years and my thoughts about this war and the U.S. military. Puar and the arguments she raises have only recently entered the equation I've been struggling to sort out -- to solve, as it were. The above discussion of uncertainty and images of time may eventually become necessary in informing my thinking about these photographs -- may allow me to depart from this standstill without solving anything, without proving any thesis. For now, I'll continue to sit with this.
Jarman, Derek, dir. Blue. Zeitgeist Films, 1993. Film.
"The image is a prison of the soul, your heredity,
your education, your vices and aspirations, your qualities,
your psychological world.
I have walked behind the sky.
For what are you seeking?
The fathomless blue of Bliss.
To be an astronaut of the void,
leave the comfortable house that imprisons
you with reassurance.
To be going and to have are not eternal -
fight the fear that engenders the beginning, the middle and the end.
For Blue there are no boundaries or solutions."
I conclude this series about images with the absence of image. Derek Jarman's last film demands its viewer to look fixedly at a blue screen whilst its narrator, Jarman himself, speaks of his blindness, his pain, his loss, his disease and his pending death. He speaks of cafes, Bosnian refugees, the drip of DHPG, the death of his friends. His musings range from philosophical questions: "If I lose my sight will my vision be halved?" to angry commentaries on the evils of political indifference: "Charity has allowed the uncaring to appear to care and is terrible for those dependent on it. It has become big business as the government shirks its responsibilities in these uncaring times. We go along with this, so the rich and powerful who fucked us over once fuck us over again and get it both ways. We have always been mistreated, so if anyone gives us the slightest sympathy we overreact with our thanks." The common thread of all that is contained within this film poem is Blue -- all are inhearsed in Blue. Blue represents many things throughout Jarman's film -- time being one, loss perhaps another; wretchedness, death, joy, desire.
As somewhat of a supplement to thinking about and engaging with the film, I read through Sontag's Illness as Metaphor and AIDS & its Metaphors and have since been concerned with the disease metaphor, and metaphors in general. Jarman, of course, is not speaking metaphorically -- his reflections are profoundly concrete, his anger and disappointments soundly evinced. Sontag remarks in the latter work that "AIDS is a disease of time" -- an inescapable truth that Jarman finds himself consumed by, as time slowly and brutally escorts him out of this life.
I first heard of this film nearly five years ago while having coffee with a friend -- I finally got around to locating it and watching it nearly three years ago, and have since been somewhat obsessed by it. It fits well here, in this discussion of images: images of desire, images of horror, and this, an image of non-image, all contradictions -- paradoxes -- of time.