Habib Fanny speaks French

Photography as text

La traduction française de ce texte a fait l’objet d’une publication dans La Revue internationale de photolittérature, partenaire de Sens public.

& ldquor; Photography as text & OpenCurlyDoubleQuote; sounds a little absurd, like one contradictio in adiecto. Beer without alcohol may still work, but photography as text? That would be like film history without films or art history without pictures. But in fact it should be precisely about: profiling a photographic history in which the focus is not on the images, but on the texts that not only accompany the photographs, but sometimes produce them in the first place. I would like to add that my current research projects are in no way restricted to this area or even correspond to it. But that's not important here either. It is more interesting to explore and present possible forms of photography as text, beyond the pure thought game. However, I should also emphasize at the beginning that I am by no means looking for a vision à la & ldquor; The world is text & OpenCurlyDoubleQuote; familiar from post-structuralist debates in the 1970s and 1980s. I don't want that visual turn keep turning until you get back to the text. It is more important to me to put a dimension of the history of photography, which has hitherto been in the shadows, a little in the right light and in the context of a reflection on the visual culture to take photography seriously.

I would like to concentrate on three different forms of photography as text, of which - admittedly - only the first two could largely do without photographs. I would like to call these three options the metaphorology of photography, the history of theory of photography and the praxeology of photography.

1. The metaphorology of photography

As is well known, the research project in metaphorology was primarily profiled by Hans Blumenberg in theory and practice. In his wide-ranging work, however, Blumenberg hardly refers to material images and much less to photography. Anyway, his metaphor theory, which he is mainly into Paradigms to a Metaphorology(1997) and Theory of non-conceptuality(2007) is not directly transferable to photography. The translation to photography requires the inclusion of a further level, since the metaphors find their subject in photography as a reference to the world. In other words, photography is the medium of this relation to the world. The metaphors relate to photography, which in turn relates to the world.

Perhaps some very brief theory markers are helpful at this point. For Blumenberg it is not decisive which meaning could possibly be hidden behind the metaphors, but in which way they are important for the self-understanding of the human being. They are highly concrete modes of human confrontation with reality, which obey different rules than the propositional-conceptual form of the sciences. At the same time, however, they are also enabling conditions for thinking that makes use of certain metaphors, Blumenberg calls them "absolute metaphors & OpenCurlyDoubleQuote;" in order to be able to think something that eludes conceptual language. This is what lies behind Blumenberg's theory of "non-conceptuality & OpenCurlyDoubleQuote;". Metaphors are images of thought in the best sense of the word.

If I have my own project that was already a few years ago Images of photography(Stiegler 2006) should describe theoretically more ambitiously than I did back then, I would certainly not exclude Blumenberg as I did at the time, but rather try to position the history of photography as a metaphor story in the broader sense of culture and anthropology. What does that mean? A photographic-theoretical positioning of a metaphorology would have to start from observation - and I am quoting from the introduction of Images of photography - that the & quot; history of photography is characterized by the fact that it has absorbed and produced numerous metaphors that determine its theory and its practice alike. & OpenCurlyDoubleQuote; In other words: The history of photography is not just a picture history, but a picture history that sits on top of a metaphor story, continues it and at the same time feeds on it. When people started talking about photographs in 1839, they looked for descriptions for the new medium and made use of numerous metaphors. These metaphors in turn shape the perception and possible tasks and fields of application of photography. Steffen Siegel's edition New light(2014), which bundles and presents the texts from 1839, shows the abundance and complexity, but also the redundancy of these images. My thesis would now be that these images of photography, these metaphors for photography, determine their program decisively. If one wants to understand photography as a historical-cultural phenomenon appropriately, one must also reconstruct this history of metaphors.

The history of photography as a metaphorology goes beyond a mere historical reconstruction and also sees itself as a cultural anthropological project. I quote again from the introduction - and now Edgar Morin:

& ldquor; Photography [& mldr;] encompasses the entire anthropological area that starts from memory and ends with the phantom, because it realizes the amalgamation of the related as well as different qualities of the mental image, the mirror image and the shadow. & OpenCurlyDoubleQuote; And she does this by including metaphors in her pictures as well as in her texts and spelling them out. (Morin 1958)

An important dimension of the history of photography is therefore its anthropological-metaphorological one. This has a double starting point as well as theoretical-practical consequence, since these metaphors lead to certain images, i.e. photographs, favor certain types of images and exclude others, and also enable thinking in images and texts about these images. From a metaphorological perspective, the history of photography distinguishes itself as a special form of pictorial thinking: thinking of and thinking in Images. Both - that is, thinking in pictures (one could also say conceiving pictures) and thinking of or about pictures - continue to understand and define themselves as modes of human confrontation with reality in the sense of the cultural anthropological program of Blumenberg and the cited Observation of Morin. The images are by no means thrown away, but are necessarily associated with texts, metaphors, etc. and analyzed together with them. They are part of “Epistemic Cultures & OpenCurlyDoubleQuote ;, of knowledge dispositifs, of“ Technologies of the Viewer & OpenCurlyDoubleQuote; to include three common terms.

And that brings me to the second step. If one understands the history of photography metaphorologically, that also means that one embeds it in a cultural anthropological question or, more modernly formulated, in the theoretical project of one visual culture. The question then arises as to what role photography plays in the visual cultures, now in the plural, the last one now plays for almost two centuries. I quote a third and last time from the introduction to my old book, only to give the argument a slightly different twist:

The special metaphoricity of photography is also due to the fact that photography has been precariously ambivalent since its inception. It was always called mortification and Vivification, as truth and Lie, as extinction and Rescue viewed and described. The availability of photography for metaphors is the result of this peculiar openness as well as a reaction to it: the metaphor uses this openness and at the same time restricts it. She has a Janus-headed face: on the one hand, she disguises what is shown by referring to something else and showing what is represented as something else; on the other hand, it brings something to appear that would otherwise have remained invisible, namely the interlocking of what is represented with tradition, its anchoring in a story. (Stiegler 2006)

What is completely missing here is the cultural anthropological dimension. The Janus-faced nature of photography, together with its metaphorical punch line, is a pictorial-cultural self-reflection of societies that seek to locate themselves with photography and their images in their relation to reality. Photography is a medium of reflection that tries to think about reality or the relation to reality of societies in images. It is therefore not enough to state in which way the history of photography is a history of metaphors or is based on such a history, but one has to examine and analyze their work on metaphors as a change in the relation to reality of societies and as forms of articulation of changed models of reality. Photography is one of the media that allows ambivalences to be translated into images and thus made operational at the same time. If photography in the 19th century is actually exposing the zone of conflict between art and science, then it does so in the form of a metaphorological pacification or, more precisely, as an attempt to find metaphors in images and texts for these ambivalences.

To name just one example: Adrien Tournachon alias Nadar jeune and Rejlander not only provided books by Duchenne de Boulogne and Darwin with photographic illustrations, but also made portraits and tried to develop early forms of photography as art. Both projects try to find out the grammar and spelling of a & ldquor; langage des passions & OpenCurlyDoubleQuote; to determine. This is how the metaphor is named: "Language of feelings & OpenCurlyDoubleQuote;". She not only associates culture and nature, contingency and necessity, but also science and art - and photographs are one of her central forms of media expression. The photographs are therefore not simple illustrations of theories, but forms of pictorial thinking that is not just about deixis, showing, but allows areas that are conflicting with the help of metaphors to coexist.

2. Theory history of photography

This brings me to the second option: a theoretical history of photography. If one looks at the history and also the theoretical history of photography from a cultural-anthropological-metaphorological perspective, one must also understand speaking about photography, the theories of photography, as forms of articulation of such a practice of reflecting on reality. Theory history then does not mean looking for a generally valid theory of photography, but rather also understanding theories as metaphor-guided thinking, which is then articulated on the one hand in theories and on the other hand in images. Many of the well-known theories of photography are directly linked to very concrete forms of image production. The resulting images were created in close interaction with the theories. This is by no means to be understood unilaterally: It is not the case that there were certain theories which then led to predetermined and theoretically calculated images, just as, conversely, the theories cannot be derived from existing images. The relationship is more that of a complex interference, in which both elements, theory and images, each act as a stimulus and a corrective. Metaphors are of crucial importance here, as they have a double permeability to the text of the theory and to the images of photography. They make something vivid and conceivable. Therefore, many of the & apos; incunabula of the history of photography & OpenCurlyDoubleQuote; not simply representations of facts, i.e. pictorial statements about reality, but complex modeling, which is about access to reality as a whole.

If one wants to understand and analyze the history of photography in this sense as a cultural anthropologically oriented metaphorology or as visual culture, the theories play a central role. In previous photohistoriography, these have often been examined in narrowly defined historical contexts (if one tries to understand the new way of seeing, for example, relevant theories must not be missing), but mostly serve as ideas - or impulses for an analysis or interpretation of the images. The theoretical history of photography is more than that. It is precisely that linguistic spelling out of the guiding metaphors that the photographs themselves render figuratively. Both images and texts are therefore complementary.

Occasionally, however, the theories, especially if they see themselves as culture-critical or culture-diagnostic, are for their part forms of articulation of an epistemic unrest that seeks to renegotiate its relation to reality in photography. To put it somewhat casually: The theory of photography does what the Tatort does (almost) every Sunday evening: to reflect society's self-image of reality and to present it in images and text. The fact that there is not only murder and manslaughter and also other ways of thinking and practicing photography does not matter here, since this self-image is exemplary and universal at the same time. The theory of photography is a picture of the world.

A - somewhat large-format - example here too. If in the course of digitization the end of the photographic age was proclaimed and in many cases justified theoretically-ontologically, this has less to do with photography than with a crisis in the social systems of representation. What is being negotiated here is society's reference to reality. If radical constructivism disappears, then radical ontological skepticism also disappears. Many of the photographic practices survived the end without any problems, and indeed in almost unchanged realistic form. To name just three: press photography, private photo albums, and amateur photography.

3. Praxeology of Photography

If one studies metaphors and theories of photography, one ends up in practice. If one understands photography as a medium of reflection in the sense of a metaphorological-cultural-anthropological project, this also means looking at it above all else as a practice. It is a medium that can be accessed through its modes of use and has proven to be extremely versatile, versatile and almost universally applicable. Our image of photography reconfigures itself when we look at it from this point of view. The praxeological turn opens up a different history of photography and with it both surprising and illuminating insights into the 19th and early 20th centuries. As Michel Frizot with his large-scale manual a quarter of a century ago A new history of photography promised, the modes of use already played an important role - and yet traditional categories such as epochs and groups, schools and styles were retained. At the time, the reorientation was primarily directed against the appropriation of photography by art history. Photographic recordings were primarily viewed as works of art and assessed against the guideline of art worthiness. If, however, one regards the history of photography as a sequence of partly stable, partly changing practices and the images as part of highly concrete modes of use, this distinction plays a subordinate role. The ennoblement of photography as art is irrelevant; The decisive question would rather be the way in which photography was used in the field of art. In the place of old categories, which mostly follow famous photographers and their schools, inventors, pioneers and innovators, functions are now taking place. Names become fields of application and nouns become verbs.

The everyday language of photography is spoken in very different countries and fields, areas and areas: from private to public life, from art and science to the family and society, from moments to long periods of time, from the visible The shimmering spectrum of photographic uses extends from the world near and far to the worlds invisible to the naked eye. A picture of another history of photography is emerging, in which it is not the pictures that are placed at the center of the photographic universe, but what happens to them, what they are used for, what is done with them.

In a somewhat exaggerated way, this leads to a Copernican turn in photography theory. Because what photographs mean or represent in this logic of use is not due to the nature of photography, but is the effect of its use. The ontology of photography is being replaced by a praxeology, its documentary character by specific ways of using it. These sometimes use the same images in very different ways and thus give them a different meaning. Since verbs rule this new ABC of photographic imagery, we see a world in motion. Photographs no longer show a world at a standstill, frozen movements and recorded views, but are part of actions that focus on change, on action."How to do things with photographs? & OpenCurlyDoubleQuote;" one could formulate the central question based on the title of a famous book by the American philosopher John L. Austin. It does not know one answer, but necessarily many of them. If you want to answer this question, you have to look for the pictures in their concrete ways of using them. These make the photographs what they are for us and at the same time show what they once were for us. The images remain the same, but ways of using them change. Seen in this way, photographs are agents of history. They are not simply documents that authenticate and thus naturalize the existence of what is represented, but instruments within historical practices, highly concrete evidence of a changeable world. That they sometimes produce history first and foremost and also provide forms of remembrance, commemoration, storytelling or ordering is not their least task.


Blumenberg, Hans. 1997. Paradigms to a Metaphorology. 6th edition Frankfurt / Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.

Blumenberg, Hans. 2007. Theory of non-conceptuality. 2nd edition Frankfurt / Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.

Morin, Edgar. 1958. Man and the cinema. An anthropological study. Stuttgart: E. Klett.

Siegel, Steffen. 2014. New light. Daguerre, Talbot, and the publication of photography in 1839. Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink Verlag.

Stiegler, Bernd. 2006. Images of Photography: An Album of Photographic Metaphors. 4th edition Frankfurt / Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.