Demonstrating that it exists, and that it will forever exceed us

Greene Street (Being, Or What I Will Be Calling “The World”) ©MAIERMOUL
Greene Street (Being, Or What I Will Be Calling “The World”) ©MAIERMOUL

Photography isn’t a medium that was invented by three or four men in the 1820s and 1830s, that was improved on in numerous ways over the following century, and that has now been replaced by computational images. It is rather, the world’s primary way of revealing itself to us— of demonstrating that it exists, and that it will forever exceed us.

Photography is also an ontological calling card: it helps us to see that each of us is a node in a vast constellation of analogies. When I say “analogy,” I do not mean sameness, symbolic equivalence, logical adequation, or even a rhetorical relationship— like a metaphor or a simile— in which one term functions as the provisional placeholder for another. I am talking about the authorless and untranscendable similarities that structure Being, or what I will be calling “the world,” and that give everything the same ontological weight.

Most of us are willing to acknowledge some of these similarities, but extremely reluctant to acknowledge others, particularly those that call our authority, agency, unity, and primacy into question.

Photography is the vehicle through which the profoundly enabling but unwelcome relationships are revealed to us, and through which we learn to think analogically. It is able to disclose the world, show us that it is structured by analogy, and help us assume our place within it because it , too, is analogical.

A negative analogizes its referent, the positive prints that are generated from it, and all of its digital offspring, and it moves through time, in search of other “kin.” As I discovered over and over again while writing this book, photography also analogizes the analogies that reside at the heart of human perception: those through which we see and are seen. Since it almost always does so in a visual way, it gives them a second power; it holds open the perceptual “open,” helping us recognize what we might otherwise foreclose.

Every analogy contains both similarity and difference. Similarity is the connector, what holds two things together, and difference is what prevents them from being collapsed in to one. In some analogies these qualities are balanced, but in others similarity far outweighs difference, or difference, similarity. One of the most miraculous features of analogy is its ability to operate in the face of these imbalances: to maintain the “two-in-one” principle even when there is only a narrow margin of difference, or a sliver of similarity.

– Kaja Silverman, introduction, The Miracle of Analogy, or The History of Photography, Part 1

excerpt of The Miracle of Analogy at NonSite.org