My Goldsmiths colleague Sarah Kember and I are just putting finishing touches to this chapter on photographic mediations. It is part of a book we’re currently completing for the MIT Press, titled Life after New Media. If, as Susan Sontag has it, ‘To live is to be photographed’, then, contrary to its more typical association with the passage of time and death, photography can be understood more productively in terms of vitality, as a process of differentiation and life-making. It is in its efforts to capture the flow of life -- beyond singular photographs’ success or failure at representing this or that -- that photography’s vital forces are activated.
Photography for us is therefore an active process of cutting through the flow of mediation on a number of levels: perceptive, material, technical and conceptual. The recurrent moment of the cut -- one we know not just from photography but also from film-making, sculpture, writing, etc. -- is both a technique (something that is, or something that is taking place) and an imperative (as evidenced by the command: ‘Cut!’). Yet if we must inevitably cut, and if the cut functions as a key component of any creative, artistic, and especially photographic practice, then what does it mean to cut well?
The practice of cutting is crucial not just to our being in and relating to the world, but also to our becoming-with-the-world, as well as becoming-different-from-the-world. It therefore has an ontological significance: it is a way of shaping the universe, and of shaping ourselves in it. Deleuze and Guattari claim that a concept, any concept -- which is for them an attempt to find a solution to a problem or a different way of looking at things -- is a ‘matter of articulation, of cutting and cross-cutting’ (What Is Philosophy?, 16). The process of cutting is one of the most fundamental processes through which we emerge as ‘selves’ as we engage with matter and attempt to give it (and ourselves) form. Cutting reality into small pieces -- with our eyes, our bodily and cognitive apparatus, our language, our memory -- we enact separation and relationality as the two dominant forces of material locatedness in time.
Photography is particularly well predisposed to take on this task of incessant 'cutting and cross-cutting'. In this, it produces life forms, rather than merely recording them.