Icons & DidymusFriday, February 14, 2020
I have always had an admiration for Didymus (twin), the apostle Thomas who had those doubts.
He wanted to know for sure that he was seeing the real thing. He had to touch to be certain.
These days I have been giving some thought to this touch of real things. I have two beautifully printed (by Grant Simmons of DISC) inkjets of the picture you see here that I took of Rebecca some years ago. On the yellow envelope you can read that I consider it to be an icon. In its Greek origin the meaning is resemblance. For me this slide of Rebecca is more than a resemblance. In some way when I gaze at it is my eldest granddaughter. Holding the slide between my thumb and forefinger makes it seem even more direct. Are there shades of that old idea that a photograph took away a bit of a person’s soul?
In this century, this digital century, the hard copy photograph like journalism is on life support. Photographers get car loans to buy cameras with extensive megapixels and then view their efforts on a monitor screen or on their telephone.
In my past and even now I was careful to use cotton gloves to touch my negatives. They are tactile but finger grease can lessen their archival performance.
I have behind me and to my side as I write this seven four-drawer filing cabinets with tons of pictures, negatives and slides. I am doing my best to thin them out. They occupy precious space in a small oficina. On the other hand my digital friends have many pictures, digital files stored in all kinds of backup procedures. And yet can they hold in their hand any of these images?
I have a friend who when I show him some wonderful photographic accident (be it digital or on film) he tells me that he can imitate it with Photoshop. I believe him. But at the same time I think that imitation implies seeing an original.
My argument that it would be close to impossible to imitate the Mona Lisa if one had never known of its existence is lost on those I try to explain my idea of the tactile original. Perhaps I am delving into philosophy. It was not only God who died (according to Time Magazine) in the 20th century but also philosophy. That kind of critical thinking that the ancient Greeks perhaps invented why lying under a shady tree on a Sunny day is a lost art in a century of Netflix and Apple phones.
And yet I could be completely wrong on the above as Plato determined that the idea of a tree was more real than the physical tree. A practitioner of this startling idea may have been American photographer Minor White who enlarged on Ansel Adams’s concept of previsualization of an image. White would look at a landscape. He would see it in his mind’s eye and then would shoot it with his camera and process the film with the goal of seeing a physical representation (resemblance?) of what he first saw with his mind.
All the above makes it just more difficult for me to throw stuff.