Between Bodies and Machines

Eve Forrest, ‘Between Bodies and Machines: Photographers with Cameras, Photographers on Computers’, pp.105-122, in:

Rubenstein, D., Golding, J., Fisher, A., 2013. On the verge of photography: imaging beyond representation. Article Press, Birmingham, UK.


This discussion has two aims. The first is to move discourse on photography away from the dominant representational framework that often ignores the doings of the photographer.

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Towards a philosophy instigated by photography

Henri van Lier, ‘Towards a philosophy instigated by photography’, pp.9-10, in:

Van Lier, H., 2007. Philosophy of photography, New ed. ed, Lieven Gevaert series. Univ. Press, Leuven.


A philosophy of photography could be taken to mean the act of philosophizing on the subject of photography.

One could enquire into its links with perception, imagination, nature, substance, essence, freedom and consciousness. The danger of such an approach is the projection onto photography of concepts created long before photography’s emergence, concepts which might prove to be ill-suited to it.

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On the Verge of Photography

Daniel Rubinstein & Andy Fisher, ‘Introduction: On the Verge of Photography’, pp.7-14, in: 
Rubenstein, D., Golding, J., Fisher, A., 2013. On the verge of photography: imaging beyond representation. ARTicle Press.

If this multi-layered reality comprising of bits of matter and bits of information appears homey and familiar it is in part due to the ease with which digital images are so readily translatable between different layers of data, code and matter.

However, it now seems that it is the humble photographic image, in all its hybridized digital forms, that encapsulates the interlacing of physical and algorithmic attributes, aesthetic and political forms, which characterise the age of information capitalism.

The Gestural Image

Frosh, Paul (2015) ‘The Gestural Image: The Selfie, Photography Theory, and Kinesthetic Sociability’, International Journal of Communication 9: 1607–28


The selfie is the progeny of digital networks. Its distinctiveness from older forms of self-depiction seems to derive from non-representational changes: innovations in distribution, storage, and metadata that are not directly concerned with the production or aesthetic design of images.

Instantaneous distribution of an image via Instagram and similar social networks is what makes the phenomenon of the selfie significantly different from its earlier photographic precursors.

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Gestures of Seeing: Amateur Photographers in the News

Becker, Karin., 2015. Gestures of seeing: Amateur photographers in the news. Journalism 16, 451–469. doi:10.1177/1464884913511566


Over the past decade, the camera in the hands of the amateur has become a common attribute of the news photograph.

The gestures associated with amateur digital photography have in turn gained meaning that alter the situations, places and settings where they are used.

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Biopolitics of gesture: cinema and the neurological body

“Biopolitics of gesture: cinema and the neurological body”, Pasi Väliaho in:

Gustafsson, H., Grønstad, A. (Eds.), 2014. Cinema and Agamben: ethics, biopolitics and the moving image. Bloomsbury Academic, New York.


[…] the gaze that Charcot cultivated and trained in his clinic was influential in establishing modernity’s epistemological practice: obsessed with moving, doing. breathing, sensuous individual in terms of the complex dynamics of mental and physiological forces meticulously scrutinized in the body’s outward appearance.



Emerging as a new kind of epistemic object  in the late nineteenth century (roughly, 1850-1870), this was not just a body composed of organs and tissues but one distinguished as having functions, performances and behavior.


Perhaps the two, the neurological body and the cinematic apparatus, were mutually constitutive.


In cinema, the unity between gesture and intention was rather broken down.


[Citing Wilhelm and Eduard Weber]

“Man binds his movements to certain rules even if he cannot express these rules in words. These rules are based totally on the structure of his body and on the given external conditions.”


So-called normal, healthy men can walk – that is to say, their gait has a style, which is expressive of personality and culture, of values, intentions and beliefs – whereas the diseased body merely produces “steps”. Deprived of style and rhythm, the diseased body is deprived of signification and thus appears as excluded from the realms of history and politics.


In at least one of its dimensions, producing and maintaining this decomposed image of the human is the function of the biopolitics of gesture in cinema.


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Towards a General Theory of Gestures

Vilém Flusser, Gestures, trans. by Nancy Ann Roth (London: University of Minnesota Press, 2014)

‘Towards a General Theory of Gestures’ pp.161-176


Gesture can be seen as a kind of movement.

What separates gestures defined in this way from other movements is their epistemological overdetermination.

When I lift my arm, I can explain the movement perfectly well as the result of a force vector affecting the arm from the outside.

The arm movement involves physiological, psychological, cultural, economic, and other factors in equal measure for example.

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Part Three: Photographic Behaviours

Van Lier, Henri. Philosophy of Photography, Lieven Gevaert Series, 6, New ed. (Leuven: Univ. Press, 2007)

‘Part Three: Photographic Behaviours’, pp.77-78


As with all other techniques, photography poses the question of the nature of the link between equipment and human activity in general. The humanist illusion suggests that equipment is a means in the service of man, and in his control. However, from the very start, our objects and technical processes are objects-signs, or object-indices, and we are signed animals, literally constituted by them through our languages.

Furthermore, devices are not so much a meas as a milieu; and a milieu we are steeped in rather than it being at our command. In fact, photography nowadays comprises millions of apparatuses and billions of photographs and lenses. It might be we who push the shutter, but, as we have seen up to now, it is, above all, we who are triggered.

There is something peculiar about speaking so extensively of the photographic act.

It is perhaps because it concerns a domain where human action is at once both violent and most decentered, as in the case of the surgical act for instance. Both surgeon and photographer cut and trigger. And both operate on the level of living humanity, and engage with a specific death. The one works predominately with bodies, while the other predominately engages with signs.

Photography appears the most blatantly anthropocentric act, but this is without accounting for what the photographic apparatuses we produce state quite bluntly: “Put us down somewhere, allow us to release the shutter by ourselves, we will manage to make you something, to produce things often better than you have, which you will never understand absolutely anyhow, as you are concocting mostly anthropomorphic, thus irrelevant theories. […]”


Therefore, we will use the phrase photographic behavior, without denying the link between the photographic and surgical act, and without failing to recognize there are scientifically, artistically, commercially, and erotically committed photographers.

Following from the indicial and therefore overlapping nature of the photograph, these behaviors will not be as distinct and separable as is the case with sign systems. In addition it will also prove difficult to clearly distinguish the one who makes the photograph from the one who looks at it. Thus we will consider them together when addressing the major attitudes or behaviors.

Photographic Initiatives: The Initiative of the Photographer

Van Lier, Henri. Philosophy of Photography, Lieven Gevaert Series, 6, New ed. (Leuven: Univ. Press, 2007)

Part Two: Photographic Initiatives: 4. The Initiative of the Photographer: Trap and Switch Mediumism, pp.71-74


Photographs, even of psychological or social situations, are obtained through the automatic application of objectives, films, developers, and fixatives; they frequently offer interesting or even important results, while texts or aleatory paintings hardly ever do. Still there are those effects that can only be obtained through the intervention of a human agent, the photographer. Both optional and last, and yet miraculous, the photographer undoubtedly has a status even more difficult to define that that of the photographs he makes, or, to be more precise, he helps to make.

Like the sexual act, the photographic activity has its stage of arousal, a stagnant phase, a phase of quasi vegetative triggering, followed by he various stages of pregnancy in the darkroom with its techniques of burning and dodging, cutouts and re-centerings, and various layouts before reaching a resolution in simple or multiple deliveries.

In this metaphor, the moment of the shot is the orgasmic instant.


Cartier-Bresson speaks of his tiptoeing in order to find the most intense angle and what he himself dubbed ‘the decisive moment’. He compares the release of the shutter to a fencer making a lunge.

What is essential to the role of the photographer is vision, photographic vision.

One has concluded too rashly that the photographer as shot-taker is a ‘hunter of images’. The word conjures up loading, to aim, fire, and capture; to take, shoot and snap. However the camera is certainly not a revolver, despite the sound of the shutter and the phallic protuberance exploited in publicity. Neither is it, to keep with the sexual imagery, a suction pump.

The camera is rather a trap that must lead its prey into getting caught. The photographer as shot-taker resembles the hunter-trapper. The trapper is as passive as he is active. For the animal to enter man’s scheme, man must take in beforehand the animal’s behavior.


 The word trapper is used by North American Indians and indicates precisely the complicity between the hunter and his prey as the uttermost brotherhood.


The classic trope of the proximity between photography and sexuality is evocative only if one keeps in mind the idea of a reciprocal rhythmic coaptation.

In addition, the metaphor of the trap also indicates that the photographer remains on the outside. The trapper is satisfied with connecting the trap with the prey. The photographer as shot-taker connects the spectacle of the camera obscura. He never sees exactly as the film ‘sees’.

If the viewfinder is distinct from the lens, the eye sees simultaneously with the camera, but from another point of view. If we are dealing with a reflex camera, the eye sees from the same place as the camera, but at another moment, i.e. prior to it.

What strange type of hunter-trapper is this who does not even catch his prey but merely its traces? And what to think of ‘game’ consisting of wild rabbits, the curves of a lover’s smile and Orion’s nebula?


If it is true that even a highly indexed and indicial photograph contains fragments of reality against the frame of the real, then every photograph is mediumistic. Innocently or not, both the photographer as developer, printer and the one responsible for the layout, and especially the photographer as the taker of shots are mediums – mediums between reality and the real.

Here, the English language can help us, as medium applies at the same time to the object as to the subject, to the photograph and the photographer at the moment of capture, so that both are not quite separable. Furthermore, in its meaning of intermediate, the word medium brings out that, for the photo as well as for the photographer, we are not dealing with mediation or dialectic, which are unifications proper to signs, nut only with go-betweens, like the interventions of stockbrokers – suited to overlapping centripetal and centrifugal indices – for the most substantial activation of mental schemas.

Simulation, Automata, Cinema: A Critique of Gestures

Väliaho, Pasi. ‘Simulation, Automata, Cinema: A Critique of Gestures’, Theory & Event, 8:2 (2005) pp.1-39



The experimental, bare life that the hysterical body crystallizes in its distorted gestures, spasmodic jerks and abnormal physiognomy is rendered visible and known — and perhaps even brought into existence — by modern technological media.