Reciprocity

Reciprocity – a failure to communicate investigates photographic reciprocity failure, a technical term in photography for the instances in which photographic materials reaction to light stops behaving in a linear way. In these situations the medium has a kind of autonomy and requires more from a scene than is precisely measurable. Under these conditions the photographer can only make an educated guess about how best to capture the scene.

In the work reciprocity failure becomes a parable for the relationships between subject, photographer and the photograph itself. There seems to be a sort of “reciprocity failure” in each these relationships: the photographer and subject obviously have an asymmetrical exchange, but the photograph exists beyond both of them drifting loose in the world with has a visual power of its own that can be harnessed by other people across time and space.

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Excerpt from Reciprocity — a failure to communicate, a printed iteration of the project commissioned and published by C Magazine for Printed Matter’s 2015 LA Art Book Fair:

To make an image is to accept that the house always wins. Photography is a hungry medium, wanting more, more light, more exposure — if the ostensibly linear sensitivity of the photomechanical process can break down within fractions of a second, how can one guess the exposure a photograph may receive in five, ten, twenty years — more. All texts can be reinterpreted but there is something about the photograph that is hyper susceptible. The image, when freed from its caption, is vulnerable, open to penetration from immediate and personal subjectivities.

If we — the viewer, the potential makers-of-meaning — are the thinking-perceiving bodies Massumi describes when he tries to give a material grounding to Deleuze and Guattari’s fast and loose musings on Spinoza, yes if we are these bodies, “moves(ing) out to its outer most edge, where it meets another body and draws it into an interaction in the course of which it locks onto that body’s affects (capacities for acting and being acted upon) and translates them into a form that is functional for it (qualities it can recall). A set of affects, a portion of the object’s essential dynamism, is drawn in, transferred into the substance of the thinking-perceiving body. From there it enters new circuits of causality.” If we are these bodies, the ones with the obvious power, the ones with the power to translate, to draw on an object’s dynamism, to take it, but to take it into relationship with ourselves, perhaps we are the bodies that can project this exchange back on top of the image, leaving a residue of our exchange for future viewers, sometimes a residue so thick that the image is at risk of disappearing entirely. Perhaps the thinking-perceiving body must become the thinking-questioning body.

Now I could be wrong but I think something is happening here, I think the area — the discursive and diffuse sphere — around the image, the paths of circulation and dissemination, the ways of talking to and about the image, evoke a different sort of aura, one perhaps created by the relationship between the photographer and the subject, the film plane and light and the asymmetries therein. But this is an aura that doesn’t wither unless the image becomes rarefied to the point of almost total erasure. It mutates, it is mutilated, misshapen and redetermined. Whither is it bound? To take a photograph may be a violent, intimate act, but surely to interpret and circulate one is equally violent if not more so.

By virtue a photograph is an agent that dissects and expands time, and we know this happens not in a linear way — the photographic space is one of past, present and future all existing in one site, each connected and intersecting, but unpredictably. The photograph is perhaps, and thus always has been, an atemporal object. It’s apparent connection to its moment of production is no more permanent than it’s relation to any other moment in time. As we look at a photograph now, we perhaps shape it’s future as much or more than any presence, including the photographer’s, that came before us.

But how does one view the photograph outside of themselves, outside of the culture of their own thoughts, own desires, for we exist, and perhaps the photograph doesn’t exist or exists only in relation to us. For I see it, but also you do and they do and it’s doing different things for all of us. Now wait, maybe they want to control it — what was that idea of a “semionaut” changing the direction of a sign in the world, “riding” a sign off it’s usual course, taking it to a strange new place, bending it into an unfamiliar shape? Isn’t that what anyone looking at an image does? Certainly anyone circulating one does this. That’s what happens anytime an image enters the world, but also what happens when the world is fractured into a finite image. The signs are always there but we must edit them to produce order.