photography
  ---- by Alan Cholodenko
  Baudrillard comes to photography in two ways: as theorist of photography as image, object and medium in its own right; and as photographer whose photographs offer him a singular means with which to demonstrate and perform his theory of photography, indeed with which to theorise photography. Baudrillard's fatal theory conceptualises photography, not as of the order of production, reproduction, representation, resemblance, meaning, truth, reality, the subject, identity, psychology, the good, all of which constitutes second-order 'reality' and the reality principle, but as seduction, as seducer of all that constitutes second-order 'reality' and its principle. Baudrillard aligns photography with his sovereign forms and processes of seduction, illusion, evil, fatality, destiny, irreconcilability, radical exoticism, the Object, the radical Other, with the illusioning of the world as radical, irreducible apparition.
  Baudrillard gives attention to photography from the 1960s (Baudrillard, 1963). However, it is his essay 'Please Follow Me' (SV) - where he comments on Sophie Calle's Suite vénitienne, theorising her seductive game of photography as an art of disappearance, of shadowing and being shadowed, of reciprocal absence, of vanished presence, of the trace - that seems to be the animating moment that leads him to the development of his theory of photography. Thereafter, photography will occupy an increasingly significant theoretical focus for him - one seemingly commensurate with his activity of taking and exhibiting his own photographs, a reply on his part to photography's seductive call of 'please follow me'. That activity of taking and exhibiting his own photographs started in 1983 when his partner, Marité Bonnal, gave Baudrillard a camera with which to take images of their trip to the United States that year (one of a number of trips that would result in America (1988b [1986])). These images afforded Baudrillard his first 'exhibition', in two venues: in Bonnal's book Passage (1986) and at the launch of that book in Paris. Over the following decades Baudrillard would have a number of exhibitions of his photographs, the most significant being perhaps the 1999 show at the Neue Galerie in Graz, Austria (PH). Nevertheless, despite this success he rejected the label of 'professional photographer' and being 'a part of photographic culture' (AA, 35), even on occasion refusing the tag of 'photographer' period, seeing himself as just a maker of images (Baudrillard, 2004c).
  Initially, Baudrillard sees his photographing as something unrelated to his theoretical practice, rather a kind of avocation; but his position soon reverses. It becomes for him a second mode of fatal theorising, with images rather than words, taking the form of the fragment - 'a snapshot' (F, 98) - in both cases. As a form of seduction, photography is for Baudrillard a mode of disappearance. In seducing reality, the photograph makes reality, the subject and so on vanish into it. He writes that 'everything pivots upon the art of disappearance. But nevertheless, this process of disappearing has to leave some kind of trace, be this the site at which the [O]ther, the world or the object appears' (AA, 28). In short, 'Every photographed object is simply the trace left behind by the disappearance of everything else' (AA, 28).
  For Baudrillard, the disappearance of the subject is 'in a sense, an invocation . . . to the Other, the object - to emerge . . . to exist in order to make me exist' (LA, unpaginated). In this leave-taking, the Other (the radical Other, not the other in a system of the same and the different), the world or the object (the object 'as such', what he calls the pure Object) do not simply appear. The photograph shows not the Other, the world or the object 'as such' but rather what remains of them as traces in its image and of its image itself as trace, trace of what at once appears in its disappearing and disappears in its appearing, even as the photograph is the trace of not only the object photographed but the subject, too, including the photographer as subject.
  The photograph shows not simply what takes leave but what takes leave of taking leave, showing what returns and remains of the Other, as apparition, as illusion. Insofar as Baudrillard declares the model exclusion, the model of all Others, that of 'the dead and of death' (SED, 126), the photograph shows what returns from the dead and death, in so doing 'to exhume its [the world's] otherness buried beneath its alleged reality' (PH, 132).
  But the photograph does not show the dead and death directly. Nothing could. It shows 'what remains of the Other when s/he isn't there' (PH, 147). For Baudrillard 'Photography is always . . . the veiled message from death in the Samarkand story' (LP, 103), offering the subject a penultimate encounter with death, with death as Seduction, as Illusion.
  In this regard, Baudrillard concurs with Roland Barthes, who in Camera Lucida (1982) makes death the eidos (that is, appearance, constitutive nature, form) of the photograph, designating Barthes' punctum as 'that figure of nothingness, absence and unreality . . . at the heart of the image which lends it its magic and its power' (PH, 139). For Baudrillard the photograph brings the subject 'to the heart of the illusion of reality' (P, 91), singularly literalising the reality of the illusion in the form of its (the photograph's) fiction (IEx, 142).
  Asserting 'photography's affinity with everything that is savage and primitive, and with that most essential of exoticisms, the exoticism of the Object, of the Other' (TE, 151), Baudrillard proclaims: 'Photography is our exorcism' (TE, 153). Not only is the photograph for Baudrillard 'the purest of images' (TE, 154), it brings us 'closest to a universe without images, or in other words to pure appearance' (PH, 132). Insofar as, for Baudrillard, the photograph is analogical and aligned with and 'retains the moment of the negative' (AA, 30), in the unconditional sense, that of 'the sovereignty of illusion' (BL, 62), the hyper-realist ('real-time', virtual, digital, computer-animated, technologised) photograph is for him no photograph at all.
  Passwords
   § death
   § disappearance
   § fatal
   § following
   § image
   § seduction

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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