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Where is Trotzkij?

First published in 'Living', 8/95

If a photographic image of a drink makes me thirsty, I can experience the fact that although my thirst is real, the drink is not. Assuming I recognize that what is pictured is beer and that this also generates a desire to drink a beer, this does not guarantee that there was ever actually a beer positioned before the camera that generated the photographic representation. It must have been something that came closest to corresponding to my visual imagination of beer. This function can be better fulfilled by tea with whipped white of eggs, for example, than by a freshly tapped beer, which stops looking freshly tapped much too quickly in front of the camera in the warm studio.
The picture caption of a printed reportage photo furnishes information about a topic not shown in the photo itself. The conclusions we draw regarding what to consider true and untrue devolves to our willingness to trust the author and his or her subjective view in the picture and text. This credibility is composed of the most diverse assortment of criteria - criteria that lie outside the photograph. In this regard, the technique used to generate the photograph plays nearly no role at all.
The photo on one's ID strikes us as foreign not simply because everyone is used to seeing a laterally inverted image of him- or herself in the mirror. The portrait of someone we know can be considered to have hit its mark if associations arise as a result of the image, which can be reconciled with what we know about the person. But this knowledge, too, lies beyond the photograph itself.
A photography can only be a document of its own existence. What makes a photograph autonomous is not the 'What is pictured there' with reference to 'reality' rather, what makes a photograph autonomous is the "How is something pictured."
The question with regard to the "How" not only poses the question as to the requirements of the medium, but also as to the selection of the medium itself.
One of the requirements of photography is to work with a pictorial space that is already filled. The possibilities for reduction are confined to the selection of detail and the kind of lighting to be used. The further photographic process may include retouching, silhouetting and montage. Depending on the type and effort through wich one has gone, it is difficult or even impossible to discover any alterations in the end result. Alterations of this sort have been around as long as photography itself.
To start with, image processing computer programs represent a (technical) refinement or transformation of these processes. Transmitting image information from exposed film or paper to the computer changes the medium. Thus, new requirements apply for any further processing. In this regard, during processing of certain parts of the image, it becomes less important than it once was that these image parts are also vehicles of meaning. Rather, the emphasis rests with their characteristics on the picture plain.
This will lead to confusion if the view of photography is determined by that which points beyond the photograph itself.
Without a doubt, the view of a good many things changes due to computerisation, and yet only a few of the questions now posed are in fact new. Perhaps posing them was previously less popular.

Jörg Sasse, 1995