Photographs on the Brain

Photographs on the Brain

Edited by Bryan Formhals


Pics and It Didn’t Happen


There’s always tension between experience-for-itself and experience-for-documentation, but social media have brought that strain to its breaking point. Temporary photography is in part a response to social-media users’ feeling saddled with the distraction of documentary vision. It rejects the burden of creating durable proof that you are here and you did that. And because temporary photographs are not made to be collected or archived, they are elusive, resisting other museal gestures of systemization and taxonomization, the modern impulse to classify life according to rubrics. By leaving the present where you found it, temporary photographs feel more like life and less like its collection.

The photograph, for all its promised immortality, always hinted at death. This was central to Roland Barthes’s analysis in Camera Lucida, that the enduring image “produces Death while trying to preserve life.” Documenting the present as a future past, as conventional photographs do, asserts the facts of change, impermanence, and mortality. The temporary photograph does the opposite: It interrupts the traditional photographic fixation of the present as impending history by positing a present moment that’s not concerned with the past or the future. As such, the temporary photograph is necessarily less sentimental and nostalgic. By being quick, the temporary photograph is a tiny protest against time.

Nathan Jurgenson for The New Inquiry


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