Since the invention of photography, our relationship with the medium, the image-taking apparatus and photographs as objects has always been invested with a set of beliefs in the excessive, pervasive, almost magical power of photography.
From early belief in the photography’s “soul-stealing” capabilities to the contemporary belief in photography’s “data-stealing” ones, our understanding of the origin of medium’s special power changed and evolved – for example from being anchored in the magical emanation of the objects onto paper to datafied signification within the omnipresent apparatus of social surveillance. But the belief in some sort of special power of photography persists, our continuous investment with mystical qualities making it one of the most enchanted technologies of present day.
This investment goes well beyond vernacular fascination with photographs of loved ones being something more than their mere pictorial representations and extends beyond professional and institutional settings into the very foundations of photographic theory. The magical element of photography was addressed in Benjaminian fissure between the shamanistic and chirurgic, in Barthesian insistence on photography as magic rather than art, in Piercean simultaneity of iconicity and indexicality, in Marxist and psychoanalytical notions of photography’s fetishism etc. In practices as diverse as photojournalism and spiritualism, photography has been invested with the notion that it can reveal more than the human eye, piercing the reality and turning unseen into seen, absent into present, distant into close, transgressing both the limitations of human perception and physical limitations of space and time. It is no surprise that it was and is intensively used to grasp the world further removed from our own senses but at the same time it could never be reduced to just being an extension of our senses.
It conjured up new dimensions of seeing – distinctly photographic ones – and had never stopped stirring the search for the unknown, unseen, incomprehensible, excessive, enchanted – the magical of the world, be it through spirit photography, UFO photography, cryptozoology, or even “thoughtography”. Through such “excessive” investments, photography came to be used as an object of societal magical rituals – either explicitly, as in voodoo practices, healing and curing rituals, spiritualistic rituals, or occultism, or implicitly, in its everyday uses, such as family photography, documentation of the rites of passage, or post-mortem photography.
Artists and Projects
We used to believe that photographs always “refer” to something beyond themselves that already exists, like an actual place, space, object or person(s). Even though this was never always true or completely convincing, such strongly held convictions have been profoundly shaken by the effects of popular digital culture. It is no longer a matter of any specific photograph itself being unreliable, so much as the whole edifice of social and cultural life, and its media platforms, being taken over by a pervading sense of doubt.
The idea and belief that photographs invoke a presence is increasingly compromised by the haunting sense of an absence. As explored in this work, a house in Germany is the site of a machinic vision, whose “consciousness” is implanted as an instrument of human vision.
The project shows the Korean shamans of the North Korean Hwanghaedo tradition in liminal moments. These are periods in which they experience ecstasy and trance because they seek contact with spiritual entities or are possessed by gods, spirits, or ancestors. They are in an intermediate position “betwixt and between” that is very difficult to describe and is in fact experienced in a manifold of ways. The shamans that came as refugees after the Korea war imported the Hwanghaedo tradition from North Korea to South Korea. The ecstatic and wild ritual practice survived in South Korea because many refugees perceived this tradition as part of their culture and identity. Among the several regional shamanism traditions practiced in South Korea today, Hwanghaedo shamanism is widely acknowledged as the one that retains the magio-religious traits that are the spiritual essence of Korean shamanism’s belief and practice.
Karen Smith (1966–2017) had long been interested in altered states of consciousness. In seeking help with her own psychiatric illness, she came across Agrippa’s works on occult philosophy and the use of spoken-word formulas for entering and exiting differential states of being. These steps over the psychic threshold are known as adorcism and exorcism – the summoning and banishing of demons or spirits. Over the course of a week in 1999, she decided to try out some of Agrippa’s techniques. She chose to be possessed and then dispossessed by the seven spirits associated with the planets of classical antiquity. She documented one ritual per day. For each action, she used the same devices – a bathtub filled with water, a lamp and an audio cassette player with a tape featuring incantations pre-recorded by a ceremonial magician. Published here are the results of these ontological experiments.
MEMBRANA Vol. 5, no. 1 / 2020 • ISSN 2463-8501 • https://doi.org/10.47659/m8
publisher: Membrana, Maurerjeva 8, 1000 Ljubljana • tel.: +386 (0) 31 777 959 • email: firstname.lastname@example.org
editors: Jan Babnik (editor-in-chief, independent researcher), Ilija T. Tomanić (Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana)
editorial board: dr. Mark Curran (Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland; Freie Universität Berlin, Germany), dr. Ana Peraica (independent researcher, educator, Croatia), dr. Witold Kanicki (UAP Poznań, Poland), Miha Colner (International Centre for Graphic Arts, MGLC, Ljubljana, Slovenia), Lenart Kučić (independent journalist, Pod črto, Slovenia), Emina Djukić (University of Ljubljana, Slovenia), Jasna Jernejšek (independent researcher, curator, Slovenia), dr. Asko Lehmuskallio (University of Tampere, Finland), Devon Schiller (independent researcher, USA), dr. Robert Hariman (Northwestern University, USA), dr. Murat Germen (Sabanci University, Istanbul), Alisha Sett (Jnanapravaha Mumbai, India), dr. Andreia Alves De Oliveira
contributors: Jan Babnik, Geoffrey Batchen, David Bate, Emina Djukić, Geska Brečević and Robert Brečević, Peter Burleigh, Lewis Bush, Laura Chen, Hana Čeferin, Jason Fulford, Ferdinando Gizzi, John Hillman, Witold Kanicki, Marianna Michałowska, Peter Rauch, John S. Seberger, and R. Aubrey Slaughter
image & projects contributors: Andreas Angelidakis, Marion Balac, David Bate, Lewis Bush, Bruno Caracol, Yannick Cormier, Jojakim Cortis & Adrian Sonderegger, Laura Chen, Roger Fenton, Amandine Freyd, Jason Fulford, Miha Godec, Miha Godec & Valerie Wolf Gang, Michał Grochowiak, Nicolas Grospierre, Lene Hald, Victoria Halford, Dorothea Lange, Renata Liszli, Simon Menner, Man Ray, Dirk Schlottmann, Špela Škulj, Sibi Bogdan Teodorescu, Lia Villevielle
translations: Jaka Andrej Vojevec • proofreading: Sonja Benčina, Sunčan Patric Stone
design: Primož Pislak
printing: Cicero • print run: 400
all images and texts ©Membrana, except when noted otherwise • front cover photograph: Yannick Cormier, “Zarramaco”, wild boar, carnival “del gallo” of Mecerreyes, Spain, 2019. © 2020 Yannick Cormier • back cover photograph: Lia Villevieille, Votos, 2019. © Lia Villevieille.