On the threshold of the birth of the mass consumer society, in late nineteenth century, photography had taken over not only the documentary account of the events, but, despite its more or less serious intentions, the visualization of the supernatural, increasingly inscribing it within the dense and effervescent fin-de-siècle spectacular landscape.
This paper is dedicated to the photographic coverage of the alleged miraculous apparitions, which occurred in the small French village of Tilly-sur-Seulles between 1896 and 1897. These photos, circulated as postcards and appearing in popular magazines of the time such as L’Illustration and Le Monde illustré, were presented – by virtue of the authority of the photographic as an indexical trace – as “authentic” testimonials of the supernatural events, though in fact neither recognized nor approved by the Catholic Church. These photographs used the already-known double exposure process of spirit photography, bringing these exotic visual materials into the tradition of religious “authentic fakes”. But more importantly, such images manifested the “visionary fervour” of late nineteenth-century France, that is, the growing desire of the modern crowd to see the invisible in more and more spectacular and convincing ways. Such a new spectatorial desire – that can also be found in the very successful genre of the photographs of the real bodies of mystics, saints, and seers – would be perfected by a whole series of contemporary forms and attractions, and finally, by cinematographic special effects.
Photographs are more than a sedimentation of image that sits on the world, referring to the world, a kind of shingle that lays on top. Rather, as real enfoldings of the virtual and actual, they are the territories of a multiplicity of sensations that are a genesis, the real actual of a diagrammatic structuring of the world in registers of time and space.
What is a photograph? What a spurious, redundant start! After all, a photograph is clearly an image, a technical image of something. What a photograph is – such a stupid question! Yet, the casual announcement of the photograph as signification relies on an a priori truth that orients our thinking, our identities, our institutions. For it is “in terms of this self-apparent image of thought that everybody knows and is presumed to know what it means to think.” Collaging Deleuze and Bergson, intuition teaches us that an image is a nexus of force in itself, or as Anne Sauvagnargues suggests, what is crucial to images is how they cut into the world. As real enfoldings of the virtual and actual, photographs are the territories of a multiplicity of sensations – a genesis, the real actual of a diagrammatic structuring of the world in registers of time and space. Roger Fenton’s The Queen’s Target made at Queen Victoria’s opening of the first Rifle Association in 1860 is an entry point to thinking deeper signalisation in photographs. While the 3-D work by Andreas Angelidakis indicates photogenetic zones of intensity, temporal dislodgment, and the event of photogenesis actualized in physical form.
What makes photographs so complex is how they render visible that which should not be possible to see. Therefore, in some way, all photographs teach us how to see and set out the co-ordinates for our visual understanding.
Photography shares little with the logic of simulation and simulacrum, instead it facilitates a dimension within which people and objects we photograph emerge from an impossible frame. Its intrigue resides in the palpable sense of impossibility that photographs render visible to us. This sleight of hand obfuscates the question of how appearance appears. In Finders Keepers, Dutch photographer Laura Chen works with imagery sourced from undeveloped films purchased from eBay and car-boot sales. When Chen develops the films, the real of someone else’s reality is transformed into art. Left undeveloped, these images occupy nowhere in particular, but Chen makes appearances fill in a void and poses a question which is not one of “why” but of “where” are images? Furthermore, in seeking out meanings, the magic of photography is understood through the misdirection of illusion and appearance. What is more useful is to ask how photography appears to appear?
Varied versions of hauntology, such as the Polish ‘duchologia’ or ostalgia describe the state of mind in which the view of the past and its material object clash with the present. The specters live in everyday life, they are not really unusual.
Photography has been associated with the specter, spirit, and the apparition ever since the theory of photography first emerged. André Bazin and Edgar Morin saw the spectral features of photography as the basis for phenomenological interpretation. However, the most creative exposition of ghosts in photography is linked to Jacques Derrida’s concept of hauntology. Nowadays, hauntology is often cited in relation to nostalgia – longing for “the lost futures”. However, when Derrida wrote Specters of Marx in 1993, he was interested in the ontological repetition of ideas through history. Photographs created by two contemporary Polish photographers (Michał Grochowiak and Nicolas Grospierre) are an excellent illustration of the French philosopher’s thoughts, as their works focus on the same theme – architecture of the socialist era. The recurring specter of the past manifests itself through it. Grochowiak’s photographs from the Breath series (2010) depict the interior of the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw – fragments of a monumental memorial from the socialist era. In turn, Grospierre’s series of photographs titled K-Pool and company (2011) documents modernist buildings in the post-Soviet republics. In the article, the reference to hauntology allows me to discuss photography as a carrier of eeriness as well as an invisible tool of disclosure. What’s more, it seems that hauntology may explain the role of photography in discussing the political and social contexts of the past.
The latest advances in cognitive computation are a move inexorably towards a shamanism of the machine, a magical phenomenology based on fanciful but effective latent structures that we lack either the capacity or the sensorium to interrogate.
Bridging concerns from human-computer interaction (HCI) and media studies, this essay theorizes deepfake images in terms of their phenomenological implications: the extent to which they enfold the human viewer in a world of the otherwise unseen. Drawing on comparative phenomenology of Vilém Flusser and Louis Bec, we focus on variational autoencoders (VAEs). We contend that the processes underlying deepfake image construction, as much as deepfake images themselves, evidence a parallel, prosthetic, and computational phenomenology: a study of “that which appears” to a computer, and which appears secondarily to a user-human as image. We use the example of VAEs to argue for the emergence of a second-order, received phenomenology of the augmented human as we reside in an increasingly computational world.
In the Victorian age new technical props became humanised, transformed into anthropomorphized characters of fairy tales – the camera monk, the telescope giant, the microscope servant, magical assistants helping the wizard main character to reveal the secrets of the universe.
In contemporary horror, the photographic image is often used as the object of horror or even represents the main antagonist of the story. We can trace the origin of such depictions to the very invention of the technique of photography in the 19th century, which was also the heyday of spiritualist theories about photography making the soul of the deceased visible to the human eye using chemical compounds. A notorious example is the case of photographer William Mumler who offered well-off relatives of recently deceased people in the States to make portraits with the ghosts of their loved ones. There are also reports of some peoples that allegedly also consider the soul to be closely bound to photography and in consequence abhor photography, as the film is supposedly capable of capturing and depriving the photographed person of their soul. Films like The Ring, The Others, Peeping Tom, and The Invisible Man demonstrate how frequently uncanny photography appears in the horror film genre and open questions about the reasons of such depictions. While the theory of horror claims that horror uses specific iconography of fear to reflect the common fears of the time (e.g. an invasion of giant insects and carnivorous plants in the 50s as a consequence of American fear of a communist invasion), the article explores the issue of photography as the main antagonist in the horror genre of the 21st century and whether this means that it appears as the universal fear of digital identity, surveillance, and identity theft.