Visual Irony II: The Ironic Return of the Analog

Marx remarks somewhere:

“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”

Marx has forgotten to add: the third time as irony.

I was thinking this, to myself, as one usually does, as I was inspecting a roll of freshly developed TriX. I had found it stuffed into my Olympus Mju II, which I had found stuffed into the pocket of an old jacket.

I must admit that I had forgotten all about it. Apparently, some while back, I had brought it to a party to take some snapshots. Judging from the pictures, it was a birthday party, but I must admit that my memory is kind of fuzzy in this regard as well.

What I did remember, using the negatives as reconstructive reminders, was that at some point during the celebrations someone had come up with the idea of “analog tagging”, that is, the practice of manually assigning tags to everything using post-it notes:

#NeedsMoTags

Of course, this activity in itself was quite dumb, unless considered as an ironic repetition of the “digital tagging” spreading across the web (via Twitter, Facebook etc.). In that case, the analog repetition of the digital tagging would tear this activity from its original frame of reference and thus display its inherent lack of meaning. Things don’t really need tags.

Naturally, as I like to think about photography, this led me to consider the relation between analog and digital photography. Why do people chose to shoot film today, when digital photography is readily available to everyone?

Earlier, this was not even a question, because film was the only game in town. If you wanted to photograph, you were stuck with film. Photographers were born into the analog. In the 90′s, all this changed. Photographers started migrating, moving towards the digital world, taking it in and making it their home.

Today, most people shooting film have arrived there by way of the digital. The analog has become a conscious choice rather than a necessity. This particular self-conscoiusness inhabiting and effectuating the repetition of the analog separates it from its original occurrence (if there ever was such a thing). Film photography consciously chosen and performed against the grain (pun intended) of the digital cannot be equated with film photography born out of necessity. As Marx is aware, the repetition of the past does not repeat unconditionally but re-presents its content through a shift in the modality of its representation: First time tragedy, second time farce. Third time irony.

#SummerSmoke

So why do people chose film over digital today? One rather predominant reason, I think, pertains to a certain ghost of nostalgia haunting our otherwise seemingly unrestricted dedication to the wonders of a digitalized world. We long for simpler times and simpler things. In relation to film photography, the simple is equated with the original, the chemical-physical manifestation of an optically enhanced world, which does not lend itself to the endless reproduction and dissemination so characteristic for our treatment of digital images. But as such a statement tacitly or explicitly criticizing “digital behavior”, the nostalgic repetition of the analog inevitably turns into farce: The innocence of the analog, if there ever was such a thing to begin with, cannot be repeated unconditionally in a digital age. What the nostalgic film photographer fails to see is precisely the great irony that today even the analog has been digitalized, that analog photographs are turned into digital images and are shared, disseminated, and enjoyed on equal terms with their bastard binary offspring. Just like the analog tag attached to physical objects, the analog photograph is a repetition of the digital image, albeit not in any simple sense. Tragically, farcically, or ironically: The child is the father of the man.

My suggestion with all this would thus be that the future of film photography, if it is to be a future proper, cannot be effectuated through the nostalgic longing for its past, but must self-consciously embrace its re-birth in and as irony. If a critique of the digital age is to be voiced through analog means, it must be done so ironically, without nostalgia and without thought of the original significance of photography. Like analog tagging, analog photography needs to evoke the absurd in order to display the absurdities of our digital behavior. Film photography should, absurdly and ironically, repeat the digital image, tearing it from its stable frame of reference and its functioning within a psychological, social and economical space of exchange, thus displaying the inherent absurdities and shortcomings of this “system”. The exact form of this absurd-ironic repetition of analog photography and the precise means of its critique of the digital, however, still remains to be seen. It is a photographic promise but, I think, one that must be made if film photography is to have a future in a world reduced to systems of tags and images.