If photography were limited to recording pictures, things would be relatively easy. The photograph, however, is a magical, if not devilish, means of contact with reality. The devilish character of the photograph manifests itself through its description despoiling God’s creation — the world. The world we see in photographs is magically turned to unique icons which live their own lives. The photograph, like no other medium, tears images away from reality in order to rearrange them in a unique sphere, parallel and equivalent to reality.
The artist is often helpless in the face of outer reality. The volubility and substance of outer reality acts like an all-consuming flood or avalanche. Its inner order is so complex, that it is impossible to fathom and understand it. The outer visual sphere resembles a churning waterfall, in the face of which individual discoveries are banal, fragmentary and incomplete. To understand and harness outer reality, it is necessary to resort to a method which will eliminate the frightening feeling of nothingness and one’s own powerlessness. l think one such method was the prehistoric cave paintings of hunted animals at Altamira and Minateda. Animal paintings were a type of spell which introduced these animals to the painter’s inner reality.
Similarly, photography as a component of outer reality locks this reality in the crystal box of my imagination. Thanks to a photograph, that which is alien and outer becomes a part of inner reality. The photograph begins to play the role of a language (1) which pulls an idea out of a shapeless mass and, by giving it a name, makes it a part of our inner world. The difference is that words describe and photographs depict outer reality. A photographic picture, however, is the product of the action of light on sensitized surfaces, in the same way as an image is created on the retina of the eye. The photograph, then, bears the hallmarks of my inner self and finiteness, even though it records the outer world. The photograph allows me to see the essence of the world without being afraid of going blind – the punishment imposed by Yahweh on those who dared to look at him.
Thus, the photograph becomes a part of my inner reality and allows me to communicate with others with no fear of being swept away by the waterfall of the outer world, or struck by the lightning and infinite energy of the Absolute. Despite its apparent material character, the photograph becomes a carrier of the spiritual. It also belongs in the world of icons, created for centuries by man. The unique character of the photograph stems from the process of its creation; it bears the hallmarks of quotation, or rather pillage, as it brings energetic potentials from the outer world (2).
A certain exceptionally sensitive person thus describes her contact with a photograph: “…allows me to keep a snapshot of my brother; it’s a unique privilege… by no means will the photograph of my brother remind me of the world or earthly friendships, but it will carry my soul to the higher regions and make me forget about myself for the glory of the Lord and deliverance of souls. So, my brother, when l cross the ocean in your company, your photograph will stay with me, hidden in our poor cell…” (3). In this case, the photograph acts as an object endowed with an extraordinary energy, as through portrayal of a specific person, it becomes the key to the higher regions of spiritual experience.
So, what is the true role of the photograph? Is it only a picture of the visible world, or perhaps it becomes a source of revelation of mystical experience? In fact, we reach the border line where our inner selves play a peculiar game with the unspeakable. Such an attitude may reveal a great mystery of photography. We approach this mystery by intuition in the process of creation, for the creation is equivalent to conjuring up a new being which only partially remains in the area of our inner self. Art begins to live independently of the artist and, what is more, leaves his or her studio and enters the domain of inner reality, becoming its integral part. Nevertheless, art is in a peculiar way branded with the inner self of the artist, and shines like a diamond in the outer world. Art is not subject to the common principle of entropy. The world undergoes changes which lead to doom, to nothingness. In the face of the rotting world, only art has the power and the makings of immortality. Each material structure is doomed to nothingness and emptiness, and art makes use of the emptiness and nothingness while building an enchanted world of spiritual reality or virtual illusion.
The mechanisms described above are common for all of the artistic disciplines, but they are especially conspicuous in photography. l had been producing images (4) of trivial and banal activities until l realized that the “photographic image-making” or “photo-documentary” are unceremonious terms which fail to describe my own photographic activity. A photograph can sometimes be compared to a mirror reflecting reality, but at other times it acts like a monkey making funny faces. The photograph has been as common as the written word for more than a hundred and fifty years. l believe that Niepce and Daguerre made a wonderful present to humanity, and their invention is as important as Gutenberg’s. Furthermore, thanks to the knowledge of print, syntax and grammar, the photograph has been adopted in a number of fields. Millions and millions of art, press, industry, documentary, advertising, and other commemorative photographs form a unique PHOTOSPHERE in which the photographer can move with great freedom. The basic principles of picture organization are common for the professional and the amateur. What we observe is a kind of visual grammar of a photograph in which the basic rules are the same for all people, and understood in the same way in every culture.
Many years ago l was fascinated by the Muslim wedding ceremony which is divided into two parts: one devoted to the bride and the other focusing on the groom. l participated in a dozen or so wedding ceremonies involving wealthy girls in Kuwait and photographed all of the more important events. l was especially amazed by a certain ritual in which the groom’s envoy arrives at the bride’s dywanija, where after many hours of preparation by the maids the young girl is finally ready for the wedding. The envoy enters with a sword and performs a dance of reciprocating movements with the sword facing upwards. l wanted to record this dance in as much detail as possible, and therefore made a number of photographs of the sword tip moving from the ceiling to the floor. The bride and her maids found those pictures special, as the sword dance captured in them was in fact an announcement of the groom’s virility and a prelude to the bloody act of deflowering. Obviously, the whole act would have been captured more fully by video camera, but then the recording would have been a kind of tautology. While taking photographs l had to make constant choices; one of the reasons was that it takes two seconds for the flash to load, which makes continuous recording impossible. The choices l made, however, allowed me to befriend Nawal, who said that l had truly understood the event.
And so, this Bedouin woman living in a desert could understand my photographs as if they were words; read them as if they were a written text. At this point l wish to draw the reader’s attention to another characteristic feature of the photograph which amazes me. Namely, the role of the photograph resembles that of music. In the wild medley of sounds bombarding us every day, music is a very special sphere governed by order and integral harmony. l do not mean the music of celestial spheres heard by astrologists endowed with perfect intuition, who ascribed individual sounds to the altitude of the celestial sphere. l only want to show how much photography and music are related to or rather dependent on the human psychophysiology. While painting, graphics, sculpture, and partially architecture are products of the rational human mind, photography and music are perfectly suited to the organs of hearing or vision and dependent on the inner need of man to segregate and systematize the signal. l suspect that both the visual and hearing systems have developed in the process of evolution the ability to organize the visual or acoustic space. This inner ability to organize allows us to easily recognize visual “mumble” or acoustic noise. However, some visual organizations can be ascribed to one and only one acoustic organization. Maybe that is the reason why l could write Wagner’s music to the film Brunhild’s Dreams, although in this case l had heard the music before the film was created.
What is the aim of photography and where does it end? What else can it express and what sources of energy can it find for a radical break and refreshing radicalism? These are the questions l often ask myself.
l am sure that new developments in the field of electronics will help the artist greatly and lead him out of the darkroom. l spent one third of my youth in the darkroom simply because it takes two minutes to reduce silver bromide to silver, and it is impossible to make a decent photographic copy any faster.
Electronic or digital photography allows one to avoid the chemical process and the visual result is produced incredibly fast. Since the former laborious, manual montage can now be made by a computer with no need for using scissors and glue, l am convinced that the future lies in digital photography. Thanks to this quality, photography holds an advantage over painting in the age-old rivalry between the two. Photography makes use of human inventions in a most natural way, and becomes richer thanks to technological development. There is no need to send man to Mars in the near future, it is enough to use a virtual photograph which will show a record more authentic and documentary than an ordinary photograph obtained in a chemical process. Nevertheless, the latter will be more reliable, and all the electronic products will offer only a fraction of reality.
Photography will definitely utilize the written word. A comment accompanying an artistic creation can open the door to a domain of unique exploration. An inter-medial photograph with a notation and manual intervention already carries a number of meanings.
Because a thought has a specific energetic value and can be recorded with the aid of an electroencephalograph, one cannot rule out the existence of a thought camera which, without the use of photographic or electronic equipment, records our thoughts and the will to record what we see and think is worth recording. In fact, such a photograph will be a part of our self-awareness, our deepest selves. This will bring photography immeasurably closer to philosophy, as every one of such records will bear the hallmarks of eidetic, essentialist cognition. In fact, art and photography allow us to experience reality holistically (5), while our everyday life and science are governed by the iron rule of cause and effect. Nevertheless, it is better to experience reality holistically, even if the experience is incomplete, than to toil over an analysis of individual signs. Photography will eventually prevail, as it is such a young discipline. So far, not enough time has passed for artists to sufficiently exploit it. Moreover, the photograph carries an enormous veil of mystery. We can never be completely certain what meaning a given photograph entails, even though we see all of the dramatis personae. Maybe photography is the art of the darkroom? After all, pictures are created in complete darkness.
The fundamental problem, however, lies in the application of photography as a genre. l believe that the language of photography will eventually become more universal than its verbal equivalent, and the bulk of newspaper and magazine articles will be based on the photograph with a short written comment. Undeniably, verbal language is a wonderful tool, but it can only be used within the same language group. The temporal limits of human life prevents one from learning all of the world languages fully and instantly. Due to the extreme simplicity and, at the same time, paucity (6) of the English language, people will use English for the next century, enriched by regional ethnographic novelties, such as French, German, Polish, or Russian words. But the basic source of interpersonal communication will be television in the Volapük dialect, as well as the “summarizing” photograph, i.e. a photograph with a short text which includes as much content as a multi-page essay.
But what will happen to the artistic photograph? Why, it l will exist in old-fashioned darkrooms where artists will meet and breathe methyl, hydroquinone, odourless sodium sulfide, and thiosulfate fumes in an effort to preserve that which is most beautiful and sensitive. The phenomenon which l call YHPARGOTOHP will once again become an understandable, for me and for everybody else, PHOTOGRAPHY.
Michałkowa, 2 December 1997
(1) Natalia LL: Hypothesis, published by. PERMAFO Wrocław 1977.
(2) A. Lachowicz: Energetic Levels of Art, Art As Thought, Wrocław 1978.
(3) Sf. Teresa of the Child Jesus, Volume l, pp. 689, 690, Kraków 1971.
(4) The Art of Consumption, 1972, SUMA – PERMAFO, Wrocław 1973.
(5) A. Lachowicz: Holism as Art, PERMAFO, 1976.
(6) Translate into English the Polish name of the mushroom “Twardzioszek
Translated by Jarosław Fejdych
Proofreading Kevin Hannan