A Blind Field

Roland Barthes, an influential theorist for photographers, speaks of the flatness of images made to shock, and of his boredom with images that provoke a general interest in a non-particular subject. Against photos that are “simple” and “free of useless accessories” (think of journalistic photos that attempt to directly tell you everything in an event, with precision), Barthes prefers a “photo that thinks;” a “blind field” in other words. Barthes prefers “texture.”

Long live texture. For Barthes, any photo that contains a mechanism to “conceal, delay or distract” might be one that textures its object. Against a composition striving for some sort of clean unity, he prefers a photo that disturbs with duality and indirection, opening up a “blind field” that intrigues us. Somehow, texture is part of this blind field. 

In more complex terms, from an article by Tom Gunning, this textured, concealing approach to photography allows us to shake photography from its exclusively referential, semiotic, truth-bearing role (though not entirely abandoning it). It is truth that shows our fantasies to be empty and unfulfilled, which destroys our imaginations, suggests Giorgio Agamben. So when photography stops bearing the responsibility of truth, I guess our imaginations are at play. (It is strange and problematic that the texture of an image, like digital grains and film looks, speak, for many, to the authenticity of an image. Because the image is flawed, possessing a sort-of blind field opposed to hyperreal images, it must, to some, feel authentic. So, in the inability of the image to convey perfect truth in detail, the image becomes a representation of earnestness, of that feeling of truth. But, you know, earnestness becomes kitsch with time.)

I’m not quite sure if or how texture plays the imaginative role. Maybe for photography, a textured photo reveals itself as a photograph of its object. I guess that could be disarming, to feel that something is just a photo and not an immediate reality.  And because it is just a photo, our imaginations come into play, allowing us to bring a subjectivity to a silent, indifferent object that would otherwise refuse us.