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The Miracle of Analogy


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Table of Contents

Contents and Abstracts0Introduction chapter abstract

The introduction discusses the shortcomings of the three categories into which we have slotted the photographic image: representation, index, and mechanical copy. It shows that the first leads to a Cartesian account of photography, that caters to our will-to-power; that the second anchors the photographic image in the past, and associates it with absence and loss; and that the third promotes the belief that photography is about "sameness," and that capitalism can be defeated through its own operations-rationalization, consumption, disillusionment. It argues that the photographic image is actually an analogy, and it offers a preliminary definition of this term.

1The Second Coming chapter abstract

This chapter argues that the user of the room-sized camera obscura attributed its images to the world, and imputed an aesthetic value to them. They were self-portraits, drawn with the pencil of nature, and he was their receiver. When the camera obscura was transformed into a portable box, into which he could peer, and equipped with lenses and mirrors that rectified its inversions and reversals, the device's user began thinking of it as a tool, with which to "take views." This narrative began anew when Louis Mande Daguerre and Henry Fox Talbot unveiled their rival processes. Photography's early practitioners and viewers attributed its images to the world, emphasized their aesthetic properties, conceptualized them as self-portraits, and thought of themselves as receivers. Industrialization fostered the illusion that photographic event begins with the human eye, and transformed the camera into a device for "taking pictures."

2Unstoppable Development chapter abstract

This chapter argues that early photographs were as labile as the camera obscura's image-stream. Because they required such long exposures, they emerged slowly, through the gradual accumulation of luminous traces, and they often vanished, blackened, or continued to change after they were chemically "fixed." Early photographs also changed in tandem with the world, revealing that it, too, is constantly evolving. After the photographic image was chemically stabilized, it no longer changed internally, but it continued to develop in other ways: through the memories and associations it triggered in the viewer's psyche, through trans-historical and cross-medium analogies, and through the "reproduction process."

3Water in the Camera chapter abstract

This chapter theorizes the developmental impulse in photography through Jeff Wall's notion of "liquid intelligence," and the human drive to master the world through his notion of "dry" or "optical intelligence." The human drive to master the world motivated the search for "fixative" agents. It also led to repeated attempts to equate photography with the camera, and to subordinate the camera to the human look. These goals proved surprisingly elusive; only after half a century of technological innovation did the verb "to receive" fall into disuse, and three other verbs-"to take," "to capture," and "to shoot"-become standard usage. Chapter 3 traces the journey leading from the former to the latter.

4A Kind of Republic chapter abstract

This chapter argues that photography does more than disclose the world to us. It also shows us that we are linked to each other through the most binding of analogies: the one called "chiasmus." Chiasmus is the most binding of analogies because it stitches the seer to what is seen, the toucher to what is touched, and visibility to tactility. Photography reveals these reversible and reciprocal relationships to us through the inversion and lateral reversal of the camera obscura's image-stream, the positive print's reversal of the reversal through which its negative was made, the chromatic variety of Fox Talbot's prints, the two-way street leading from the space of the viewer to that of the stereoscopic image, cinema's shot/reverse shot formation, and the cross-temporal practices of some contemporary artists.

5Je Vous chapter abstract

After the industrialization of the chemical medium, photography went elsewhere. Chapter 5 discusses three instantiations of this "photography by other means": Freudian psychoanalysis, Proust's In Search of Lost Time, and the opening sequence in Chantal Akerman's The Captive. The tropes that were associated with the camera obscura and early photographs resurface in Freud's account of the psyche, and Proust's account of art-making. Both writers conceptualize the psyche as a receptive surface on which perceptual images are traced, identify the world as the source of those images, maintain that many of them never become conscious, and compare those that do not to undeveloped negatives. Both also liken the process through which unconscious images become conscious to photographic development, and Proust's narrator compares his relationship to Albertine to the relationship between a negative and a positive print. Akerman carries this project further in The Captive, her filmic adaptation of Proust's story.

6Posthumous Presence chapter abstract

This chapter argues that the most famous passages in Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of it Technological Reproducibility" come from "Little History of Photography," which privileges similarity rather than sameness, and reprises and expands upon the tropes associated with the camera obscura and early photography. Benjamin arrives at this account of photography while gazing at three nineteenth century photographs, and ruminating on a series of passages from Der Geist Meines Vaters, Max Dauthendey's memoir about his father. These passages all turn on the look-the male look, the female look, and the look that the figures in early photographs direct at the viewer. These passages inspire an astonishing claim: the claim that during the long exposures of early portrait photography, the sitter "grew" into the "picture," allowing the figures who appear in them both to solicit and to return the viewer's gaze.

About the Author

Kaja Silverman is Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author, most recently, of Flesh of My Flesh (SUP, 2009).


"Not simply a new counter-history, The Miracle of Analogy marks a paradigm shift after which photography will never again be thought of in the same way. Kaja Silverman's book sets the stage for future debates about the range of photography studies." -- Natalia Brizuela, University of California * Berkeley *
"This is a lovely, intriguing book, powerfully argued, compellingly illustrated-a major provocation. Challenging all the ways we're so used to thinking about photography, its richly textured counter-history invites us to rethink the very meaning of the 'analogue' in the contemporary digital age." -- Rebecca Comay * University of Toronto *
"[T]his is not the usual chronology of great photographers or sample case studies, but a genuine attempt to contribute towards an intellectual history of the medium....Silverman takes the orthodoxies of photographic theory and its history and shakes them up together." -- David Bate * Source: The Photographic Review *
"The Miracle of Analogy is a must-read. Driven by careful study of various practitioners while masterfully juggling historical analysis with theoretical insight, Silverman unearths a missed opportunity in understanding what photography was, is, and will be." -- Jacques Khalip * Brown University *
"The Miracle of Analogy or the History of Photography is a methodically argued and meticulously textually-documented book. The central ideas of this carefully researched volume are important and original." -- George Lzroiu * Review of Contemporary Philosophy *
"A masterly account of how photography strengthens the binds that connect us with others and the world, this book argues that each picture holds within the instant of its making an opportunity to see anew the dense and entangled relationships that ground our understanding of what it means to be here." -- Paul Chan * artist *
"[This book] is overflowing with excellent and challenging explorations of photography and the extensive interaction of photography with visual life. Silverman provides a superb overview of photographic making and thinking . . . Her intensive investigation of ideas and pictures through careful analysis of the writing of significant authors is remarkable and very effective in communicating her broad investigation of photography's effects on human thought and action. The writing is excellent and makes for satisfying reading . . . Highly recommended." -- C. Chiarenza * Choice *

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