Narrative Baggage Check

Over at her always thoughtful site the space in between, Stacy Oborn threads together three writers and their relationship to photography in perfect images, written photographs and the absolute.

For all three writers — Hervé Guibert, Roland Barthes, and Marguerite Duras —the photographs they most admire are either imagined or images from their family or even both. In each case the photo, real or imagined, comes along carrying a lot of narrative baggage. It's the narrative baggage, more than the image, that gives value and power to each photograph. And specifically, personal narrative. The authors will not see this photograph ("their" perfect photograph) as others will see it.

Here at home and far from France, Courtney's been collecting a fair number of found photos. A large part of their charm is that once stripped of their original narratives, these photos float free in complete polysemous weightlessness. Are these cute? Creepy? Tragic? Sure, they tend to bear witness to the commonality of cultural rituals: the happy couple, the new baby, the kids clustered beneath the christmas tree. Should we look at them as inscrutable? Should we invent new narratives for them? Can we help but do so? Do these photos somehow seek to be reconnected with their original stories? Is that comforting to us, are we as viewers simply trying to resolve our own invented narratives?

One of the photos on Stacy Oborn's entry is Hervé Guibert's self portrait, who photographed himself apparently laid-out in death. It's hard not to compare it to the self-portrait of Duane Michaels, who through some darkroom tricks showed himself alive looking at himself, deceased. Both photos seem to reflect on the death of a moment and the lasting life of the sitter in our imagination. This moment was burning with life, but now it is gone. All we have left is a fragile photographic ash.

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