One – Forget me not
Theorist and philosopher Roland Barthes has written extensively about the Punctum, that special element in the photograph that pierces the viewer’s attention, mainly through a wide range of photographs on his book – ‘La Chambre Claire’ (Camera Lucida in English). We can examine the photograph he presents, taken by William Klein on 1954, for instance. As he describes his feelings and thoughts while setting his eyes on Klein’s unfolding scenery. Behind, or perhaps – Above the mock execution seen on this picture, the Punctum does not lie in the cold contact between an unknown adult, pointing a toy gun to the head of an amused child, but rather in the child’s rotten teeth, an element that was, perhaps, negligible in the eyes of the photographer, but grabs more attention than anything else in this picture.
These four characters are performing, perhaps for a brief moment, in front of the camera in order to present a toned down, joyous display of violence, yet the more curious realization rises accidentally, behind the smile of the boy who accepted the role of the victim.
Two – And into the flesh I shall return
Now I am looking at this Victorian era photo, serving as a fine example for post mortem photography, showing the wife and her husband together with their dead daughter. With high rates of mortality and a new technology that could make moments last forever, a new way to remember lost loved ones was presenting itself through this morbid ritual. Although it is well agreed that in nowadays’ western culture, this situation is unheard of, one can understand the rationality behind this simulation of life. The parents have lost their daughter and for the last time, her dead body is being sculptured into life, or into the imitation of life, through her finest clothes and make up.
Three – Without me, my rifle is useless, without my rifle, I am useless.
The ethics of photography, concerning the moments after killing an animal for pleasure, have some similar characteristics to the post mortem photography. The subject of the photography, a murdered animal instead of a dead family relative, is also being positioned in order to simulate the grace of life. Blood, gore or any deformation caused by the assassination (A hunter does not fight, chase or confronts his victims, he kills them silently and from a safe distance just like sniper assassins do) should not be visible to the camera, because it reveals the brutality of the deed, instead of painting the hunter with the colors of heroism and proficiency. In this picture, the hunter displays the shear majesty of the zebra, presented under his obvious superiority, and in order for us to appreciate this majestic proxy for the hunter’s self esteem, we cannot witness the vile, fatal death-blow on the body of the victim.
In our realm of passive voyeurism as viewers, the line between justified heroism and excessive cruelty lies in the assembly of the composition shown to us. We differentiate between a picture showing brave hunters and their dead victims, and a picture of malicious people holding an animal they have killed in the street in the same way we tell apart a frozen steak, made from a cow that was killed a month ago, and a month old piece of dead flesh – by how clean, sterile and presentable it looks. Had the hunter in the above picture been braver, attacking the Zebra in a face-to-face battle while holding a knife, this blooded picture would be considered as a documentation of cruelty.
Four – The death of God is art
I am examining this picture. Barthes would have possibly written about the studium, the cultural and political context of this scenario, being of a miserable attempt in fantastic romanticism. Dramatizing the well known happy ending in which the hero has killed the beast and won the princess (or is it the other way around in this picture? Who shot the Giraffe?), without giving much thought to the fact, however, that the peaceful giraffe is as far from being an evil dragon as possible.
The punctum, in my eyes at least, lies in the enforced parallel lines that are the woman’s right hand and the giraffe’s neck. Why are these lines enforced, or at least artificial? The woman lift her hand in order to touch her man’s beating heart at this glorious moment, while the neck of the giraffe was put down carefully in this shape in order to look peaceful, as if the giraffe is asleep, and in order to fit into the picture. I am staring at this picture of one miserable Giraffe and two heinous people, and I am thinking about the amount of time and preparation it took in order to create this seemingly spontaneous moment.
Five – Nothing and again nothing
There is a strong aura of fear and shame, infusing the visual culture of the hunting community. Unlike the butcher, who effortlessly and brutally slays dozens of living beings every day while staring at their begging eyes, the hunter, as mentioned above, acts like an assassin in the dark, killing unsuspecting living beings from afar and taking pride in the sly act with pictures and trophies that present the victims in the cleanest way possible in order to simulate life back into them. The myth of respect that hunters have towards their unsuspecting victims can then be validated as the dead, clean carcasses are being frozen in time through pictures, but it is, after all, just a myth. Hunters respect their victims in the same way a serial killer is fascinated by the next person he is going to kill. This is a notion similar to the sweet misery of nostalgia, only it has dwelling and anticipation instead of longing and remembrance in it. In the end, nothing lasts between the hunters and whatever imagined connection they believe they had made with he victim, only a brutal death, hidden from the eye of the camera.