Friday, November 9, 2012

The Outmoded

He was the first to perceive the revolutionary energies that appear in the 'outmoded', in the first iron constructions, the first factory buildings, the earliest photos, the objects that have begun to be extinct, grand pianos, the dresses of five years ago, fashionable restaurants when the vogue has begun to ebb from them.
Walter Benjamin on the Surrealist leader Andre Breton

Outmoded technologies are those which once seemed natural, but now seem peculiar, quaint, redundant. Because they are outmoded, we become aware of their specific properties and limitations.

A photograph is no longer a second-generation print enlarged from a negative - and before digital technology displaced film, the default state of a photograph went from a daguerreotype (1840s), to a black-and-white print (mid-nineteenth century until the 1960s), to colour slide (in the 60s and 70s), to colour print (in the 80s and 90s).

To their original users, all these technologies seemed intrinsic to the definition of what a photograph was.

To use an outmoded technology is not, therefore, an invitation to nostalgia; or it need not be. It is instead an invitation to consider the results as the product of a historical process.

In Reciprocity Failure, this point applies most obviously to the use of chemical photography by the narrator as a deliberate, 'reverse' anachronism. But it also applies to outmoded philosophies, which are used to frame and explain the photographs he creates: phenomenology and psychoanalysis.

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