Júlio de Matos Photography

THE LEVEL OF PHOTOGRAPHIC CONSCIOUSNESS ACCORDING TO FLUSSER [back]
by Maria do Carmo Serén

Contributions - Photography Criticism


We know the influence of Vilém Flusser’s philosophy in the high culture of photography from the publication of his essay in 1983: the controversy and the Doctoral and Master’s theses prove it to saturation point. There are determinant reflections and a great deal of futurology that we partly see confirmed today. But Flusser, analysing the evolution of the paradigms of representation throughout history, did it precisely in that style which he says is removed from the ideological in mass culture; he establishes new concepts in new paradigms – that he sustains in levels of evolutionary consciousness - and so leaves us a reflection that is closer to erudite conceptualism than grassroots culture, which would, of course, consider him a utopian.

It becomes evident that his universe, which nourished as much as destroyed the postmodern movement, is frankly modernist; a modernism from Prague, his home town, where the Golem, a machine before the term was ever invented, of the mathematician and esoteric Rabbi Loew, is still mingled with the labyrinths of Kafka, the fantasies of Arcimboldo with those of Mucha, and always, always, the quest for eternal youth of its alchemists and the curse on machines that replace humans. Flusser has the name, Vilém, of a precursor of Frankenstein who nurtured romanticism in Prague. Czech culture, particularly in the capital that was briefly the capital of the Hispano-Austrian Empire, does not forget the vision machines, the Optica of Tycho Brahe, Kepler’s mechanism and the various automata that physics and mechanics of the 17th Century provided.

And so the keywords of his philosophy of photography will be the levels of media awareness, (man's relationship with the objects-world through mediators, matter, writing and image). The image, as a representation of the world, prevalent in the ancient civilisation in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance; in Modernity, with the press, written culture leads many, and then the majority, to a new mediation of the world: the conceptualisation of images of the world through written language; to write is to describe images. The new level of consciousness makes us conceive the sequence of determinism through the law of causality; the law is processed as our argumentative spirit, which we call rationality, will hence be processed; a seriation from left to right, grammatically organised and, of course, a linear story, follow the level of consciousness created by becoming accustomed to writing. Looking at the world starts to occur through the concepts of the paradigm of writing, a situation that was already announced with the discovery and use of the printing press in the 15th Century, which began to change the value of objects, since printing has no value as a material object – and neither has the printing matrix - but rather as the message that it supports, information.

Definitively abandoning the society of originals with industrialisation, we enter the society of the worthless copy; the machines that reproduce a matrix (information) are worth more than the serial objects that produce it, imperfectly printed. The value is truly in the matrix, which is already the path to the value of information in the communication society.

But even before information created the next level of consciousness (that of communication, which is a world where the value is in information transformed into a programme) photography already announced it, because a camera brings with it a programme to produce an image of the world through chemical and optical molecular processes. Today, the electronic camera is already built in full awareness of a conceptualisation of the world made of dots (like photography), of particles of the electro-magnetic field. Its programme includes the new categories of thought which it, with its molecular granulation, helped build; we accept a mathematical and conceptualised world made of dots (molecules, particles, genes ...). Post industrial objects, such as photography, bring with them programmes, repetitive information to be consumed. The programmes are inscriptions that trigger specific moves in an agent in order to create a specific situation.

Photographers, like all users of post-industrial objects, have to be informed on how to act with the programme and take photographs with the specific virtualities that informed by it, subject to this same programme.

Where is the reality of the world?

Inevitably where it always was, in the ideological perception with which we see it, through the tools that best signify it conceptually, even in pictures. The world of images that runs parallel to our level of consciousness is no longer that of writing. But the random organisation of particles and small forces. To imagine, today, is to make the abstract concrete, by calculation and computation. But as always, to imagine is to abstract surfaces from space-time and to project them back in space-time.

But the space-time of photography is still magic, as it was with alchemy, because it has nothing to do with historical linearity. What we see there are not events, but situations translated into images, mythically and endlessly repeating a time and place that no longer exist. They are found in the image, as metacodes of the program, the texts that inform us about the world; and in the texts it is the images that they signify that are the metacodes. Thus magical thinking is in conceptual thinking to give it meaning. It is a post-historical magical thinking, not wanting to change the world, only to change our concepts of the real: the ritualisation of the programme, producing symbols that simulate specific processes of reflection, like the categories of space (near, far, bird’s-eye view ...) and time (lightning-look, elusive, contemplative, thoughtful ...). It gives the photographer the possibility of combining them. But he cannot escape them, the categories of technical discourse trace his path.

This path that makes the road to freedom an increasingly complex labyrinth.

Maria do Carmo Serén
July 2010
mc.seren@sapo.pt


© 2010 Text by Maria do Carmo Serén

Bibliography: Flusser, Vilém, Una filosofia de la fotografia, edit. Sintesis, col. El espírito y la letra,Madrid, 2001


© 2009 All Photographs and texts by Júlio de Matos | All rights reserved | © Júlio de Matos, 2009