Kaja Silverman at nonsite:
We have grown accustomed to thinking of the camera as an aggressive device: an instrument for shooting, capturing and representing the world. Since most cameras require an operator, and it is usually a human hand that picks up the apparatus, points it in a particular direction, makes the necessary technical adjustments and clicks the camera button, we often transfer this power to our look. The standardization of this account of photography marked the beginning of a new chapter in the history of modern metaphysics—the history that began with the cogito, that seeks to establish man as the “relational center” of all that is, and whose “fundamental event” is “the conquest of the world as a picture.”1 It did so by fixing a problem that had emerged in the previous chapter: the problem posed by human perception. In order to replace the sky and earth with his mental representations, Descartes had to “call away all of [his] senses” and “efface even from [his] thoughts all of the images of corporeal things.”2 His camera-wielding successor could picture the world—or so he claimed—without closing his eyes.
When we challenge this account of photography, it is usually by appealing to the medium’s indexicality. Since an analogue photograph is the luminous trace of what was in front of the camera at the moment it was made, we argue, it attests to its referent’s reality, just as a footprint attests to the reality of the foot that formed it.