The Eternal Return…..

Gala will be our guide for this article and I will let her post the discussion questions next week. I loved this article and have so many questions that I would like to discuss. One issue that I would like your feedback on is whether or not you think these ideas pertain to photography only. I have published an article utilizing the notion of punctum and the reception of the Well of Moses; in other words, I find the concept of representation’s ability to both preserve and kill an image simultaneously, to serve as a screen, a fetish, a source of punctum and studium, and site of performativity —viable in painting and sculpture as well as in photography. (I am not speaking here of the subtle refinements that Jones contributes to the definition of self-portraiture—which are amazing!). What do you think about the weighty role given to the viewer? The notion of embodiment —discuss! In footnote 22 Jones invokes O’Dell’s theory re: the photographic document of the performance as a link between the body of the performer and the body of the viewer. In my work on the Entombment sculptures, I write about them as embodiments of the suffering of the community witnessing the death of Christ. They perform this moment in time, so that the worshiper may project him or herself into the narrative, engendering a type of catharsis. Does that sound plausible? On page 971, how do the self-portraits of Sherman, Wilke, Ashton Harris, and Aguilar differ in their invocation of death from Renaissance memento mori? Doesn’t Jones’ statement on page 972 re: art’s capacity to embrace the other and the radical benefits thereof make you want to sing an aria to the whole discipline?

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7 responses

  1. A few other cumulative questions, in no particular order (sorry):

    Through what process(es) does the photographic portrait fetishize the subject?

    Through what process(es) does the screen implicate the viewer?

    Jones repeatedly brings up the “exaggerated performance” of self-portrait photography produced by the likes of Sherman, Wilke, Cahun, etc—how do these artists unhinge the convention of photograph a factual document?

    Describe/unpack the paradox of mortality in portrait photography. How are they “death-dealing” and how are they “life-giving”? How, in this respect, does self-portrait photography differ/expand upon portrait photography?

  2. I struggled with this article more than I have struggled with any article this semester. A few sections lost me for a while before pulling me back in so, 1. I apologize if my comments aren’t very accurate, and 2. I hope you, Gala, can help shed some light on everything for me (no pressure.)

    The mortality of portrait photography, from my perspective, reminded me of vanitas paintings. We are shown a photograph of someone, which makes them feel accessible to us, but the moment we are viewing them in has passed and is therefore unattainable to us. It’s a reminder of the passage of time and how all things must end, reminding us of our mortality in the same way that a vanitas painting reminds us of mortality with skulls or dead flowers, (There is obviously a difference in messages between these two styles of art. I am just highlighting their similarities.)

  3. Okay—I admit it—I love this article. Yes, it is tough going, but how can you not love the concept of the screen, punctum, absent presence, and the life-giving and death-dealing properties of self-portraiture all served up in one cool article? I especially like your last question, Gala, and hope we can discuss that in class—this idea of spectatorial engagement and how it works! Others—I would like to hear your comments. Your participation in this class lacks heart and soul.

    • Punctum vs Studium: The studium comes from historical, cultural, social context relegated to an image. The punctum points to those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognizable symbolic system. This kind of meaning is unique to the response of the individual viewer of the image. It is a ‘hole’ in the figurative screen of viewer engagement…
      The viewer bears so much responsibility! Photos are like a double mirror, reflecting our [inherently male] gaze back to us, so that we get implicated as we see…WE can never know the subject behind or in the image, only our interpretation of what we are seeing… Apparently we also give life to visuals of people who have long since passed (or at least that event that no one can ever travel back to return to)—I think of celebrities, [Warhol’s Marilyn diptych], our hyper visual culture, our obsession with memorials—it guarantees in a way that the image of a woman like Nefertiti or Marie Antionette or Anguissola or Sherman gets immortalized, “eternal life through spectatorial engagement.” If the photograph serves as a field of engagement, then we the audience become embodied (do we unconsciously perpetuate fetish?)

  4. I absolutely LOVE this article!!! The focus of this class is on women’s production of images in general, including portraiture, so I enjoyed approaching this from a different perspective. That being said:

    Alas, it seems there is no escaping the male gaze…or male viewers’ castration anxiety…(pardon my ensuing frankness)

    • The double fetish develops as result of capturing and then viewing. The photograph replaces the penis women do not have, as a mode of projecting a gaze that Jones says is always masculine. It also replaces the women’s lost body, fixed in time.
    • I read the footnote 11 on page 953 that notes that portraiture as we know it developed in part from the death mask: By commemorating a person with a visual representation, one could outlive the inevitable (death). It reminds me of memento mori, which were similar to vanitas still life paintings in the undercurrent, You are human and you are going to die, so live worthy of honor (merit as suggested by the fact that someone paints/sculpts you…)
    • It also makes me think of vintage photographs and miniatures of soldiers, people living on through some living person’s memory of them (which is forever mediated by the screen of a photograph…)—or their ability to see them… The subject/object experiences death by becoming inactivated, becoming an object…

    • Photographs present an image that seems quite authentic, since they do freeze and encapsulate a moment in time. This image often appears as “fact,” when it is simply representation—how one chooses to show self, a public façade, yet we the audience regularly engage and identify with the sitters in a portrait… Wilkes, Sherman, Cahun construct their bodies as symbols in setups that give us context to define them as they appear in that moment.

  5. This article dropped a lot of truth bombs in a small number of pages. To answer Gala’s question about the redefinition of a photograph as a factual document, these artists certainly do that. Since the artists are the objects of the self-portraits as well as the makers, they can portray themselves in any manner they want, and in these examples that are talked about in the article, it is in a performative manner, thus not an objective or factual representation. One typically thinks of portrait photographs as factual documents, but they never were really that case, the sitter can portray themselves however they want, think of family christmas portraits, presidents, etc. to show a certain aspect of themselves. Also Jones mentions that the photographs discussed in the article, because of the punctum the viewer sees, it serves as a reminder of memories, repressed or not, which are different for each individual viewer. So each viewer places themselves in some way or another in the image, making the viewing experience different for everybody. So they are not really objective after all.

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