Sunday, December 28, 2008

A photograph, footprints

Here is a joke, courtesy of Groucho Marx, when
asked to show his identity card: “Sorry, I do
not have a photograph. But you can have my
footprints. They are upstairs in my socks.”

A photograph, footprints.

The first is a clear case of self-manifestation.
Yet, what is often forgotten: a photograph is
the fruit of man’s demand for visualization, a
demand that has been around for thousands of
years, which began to broaden since the days
of Plato. We live in an oculocentric culture:
we almost fully equate the “known” with the
“visible” and thus all things related to the eye
crowd in to fill language …

Granted, an oculocentric culture has ushered
in a remarkable plethora of visual technology.
Yet in all that there is a history of power that
cannot be dismissed – that is, when space is read
as a map, the Divine World as Holy Book and
darkness as a flaw, As Derrida says: “There is a
sacred and ancient friendship between light
and power.”

A photograph is the result of an aggressive
process; they use, after all, the words “shooting”
and “shot.” As an identity marker, a photograph
is validated by the very power that created
the symbolic order – language, laws, customs,
the state. It is fixed and framed by that order.
“Look, a Negro!” cried a little girl on a street of
Paris, pointing at Franz Fanon. At that instant,
Fanon knew he did not decide who he was.

It is for that reason Groucho Marx’s utterance,
spoken in jest, is, in fact, a resistance. He did
not place the photograph in a defining position.
He pointed, instead, to the second element in
our dichotomy: footprints in socks …

Traces of passage, signs with multiple
meanings, something that may be wiped clean
tomorrow by a new journey …

Goenawan Mohamad
- On God and Other Unfinished Things (pp157-8)

1 comment:

Rob Baiton said...

When my son was born the hospital inked his feet and made footprints on the official letter from the hospital that we are using to get the little fella's birth certificate.

They kinda look like the photo in your post :D