The Hallucinatory Space of the Darkroom Esther Teichmann May 2011

The Hallucinatory Space of the Darkroom Esther Teichmann May 2011

The Hallucinatory Space of the Darkroom             Esther Teichmann  June 2011

above and below; Esther Teichmann,  Untitled from Mythologies, 2011

The darkroom gives birth to the material photograph within the space of a red night, within a space of liquid, altered temporality, an unstable space of inverted, luminous non-fixity; a feminine, maternal space. The darkroom is an enclosed space we enter, stepping from the light of day, from a linear temporality, into this other parallel modality of time. Photographic time, mythical time, collapsing the past and the present into the futural- that which is about to appear and perhaps eclipse itself, appearing only to disappear, promising a reawakening of the lost body of desire, requiring a work of mourning at every moment. Bathed in the silent darkness of night, half light of red liquid as though I am opening my eyes within my mother’s womb, tinted light seeping through blood vessels and capillaries, I see differently here – half-blinded, there is a clarity within the inverted hovering projection, within the floating shivering movement of the image appearing upon its material support.

“Ultimately – or at the limit – in order to see a photograph well, it is best to look away or close your eyes. ‘The necessary condition for an image is sight’ Janouch told Kafka; and Kafka smiled and replied: ‘We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds. My stories are a way of shutting my eyes.’”[1]

Whether within the cloaked, shadowed night of the darkroom or within the blinding light of day, the photograph, like the mother’s body and the lover’s, may only ever be experienced as fragment, a remnant withdrawing from the world and from experience. The space of the darkroom as a space of night and death, a space of encountering loss and immateriality, as a sexualized, erotic and maternal space of liquid desire, is also the space of falling, fainting, sagging into sleep, into the imaginary space of dreams. Falling into sleep is to succumb to a falling in which we fall into ourselves. In this space of night within us, we become indistinguishable from this world and from ourselves.

This image one sinks into, falls into, within the darkroom, within the studio, also demands that what was there within the world, no longer exists, is no longer itself and no longer other or separate. It has become image, touching rather than being visible, and within this remove of distance and otherness also becomes removed from itself, suddenly neutral, impersonal and indeterminate. The thing, the figure, the other, then falls away, absent as the image emerges in its place. This is the violence of desire and fascination, this is the violence done to mother and lover, the violence of photography. Blanchot talks of the force of the maternal figure being exactly this force of fascination, as childhood is a time in which one lives within this gaze of fascination. Perhaps some of this ruthless, enchanted way of seeing is what lingers within the artist’s relationship to seeing; a liquid world of conflation where objects sink into themselves involuntarily.

“In the world things are transformed into objects in order to be grasped, utilized, made more certain in the distinct rigor of their limits and the affirmation of a homogenous and divisible space. But in the imaginary space things are transformed into that which cannot be grasped. Out of use, beyond wear, they are not in our possession but are the movement of dispossession which releases us both from them and from ourselves.”[2]

This withdrawal within fascination of the object from sense, as it sinks into its own ungraspable image, this oscillation and collapsing, between proximity and distance, is also then the paradox of the photographic- the desire to abolish distance, lying at the heart of the medium, only leads to more distance. This is the promise and the betrayal of the medium, this is the trap of desire and fascination. What is brought close to us with the image is not the thing itself, but really something else all together. This interruption and removal of the subject, as it is folded into its own image, negated in the process, is the inevitable embalming process of the photographic, a force which removes that which it desires and is trying to preserve. With desire’s gaze, that, which has reached out and grasped me is destroyed in its separate subjectivity, becoming image, becoming distance. Simultaneously, I have fallen into this image, have lost myself, fallen away from my own body and being, now one with image- a double loss then of desired subject and self.

Within the cloaked night of the darkroom this image hovers unfixed, spectral, projected, liquid. Within the spotlight of the studio set, the mother, the lover are once again projected onto the camera’s ground glass, unfixed, yet already image, already absent, otherness and subjectivity torn away, removed. This double negation of the subject- become- image, is perhaps a mourning for that which is to come and has already occurred within our very look and the very act of the photographic. Within these enclosures of hovering images, in which both my own body and those I desire are lost to me, I am able to speak of not only my own, but also their death before the event. This is the horror of desire, which I am unable to stop, the terror the photograph insists upon; “it certifies that the corpse is alive, as corpse: it is the living image of a dead thing.”[3]

Photography then makes real this always present grief within our relationship to the other. Photography as a mode of bereavement, as a process of mourning, returns to us that which is always already lost, whilst also having taken it away. The photographic encounter and image is an acknowledgement of the separation to come, of the losses to survive, a repeated and murderous farewell in desire’s gaze.


[1] Roland Barthes, “Camera Lucida- Reflections on Photography”, translated by Richard Howard, published by Vintage, London, 1993 (19801), p.53

[2] Maurice Blanchot, “The Space of Literature”, translated by Lydia Davis, published by University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1982 (19551), p.141

[3] [3] Roland Barthes, “Camera Lucida- Reflections on Photography”, translated by Richard Howard, published by Vintage, London, 1993 (19801)

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