Can you identify this esoteric film/photography theory quote?
October 24, 2010 10:15 AM   Subscribe

"The gunsight frames an image for destruction, whereas the camera's viewfinder frames one image for preservation, and all other possible images for destruction." Help me find the source of this paraphrased quote?

I'm pretty sure the quote was either a from a reading in one of my undergrad documentary film history courses, or a photography reading from one of my early graduate media history/theory courses. I've skimmed the likely suspects in the course packets and textbooks I still have, and can't find it, and the professors I'm still in contact with can't place it. The context was definitely a discussion on the "objectivity" of the film image, probably as relates do the ontology of documentary film. It might've been a verbal comment by a professor, which would explain why I can't find it in print, but I'm pretty sure even if spoken during a class lecture, it was attributed to somebody. Google can't find anything even close. HelpMe?
posted by Alterscape to Education (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
No actual source, but the sense of poetry and the discussion of both photography and warfare make me think of Walter Benjamin. I don't think it's in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, though.
posted by cmyr at 10:36 AM on October 24, 2010

"Just as the camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a sublimated murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time." – Susan Sontag
posted by Nomyte at 10:44 AM on October 24, 2010

Thank you, Nomyte! I think you're right that it's a Sontag quote, but I do believe I read a version that's closer to how I phrased it, with the preservation/destruction dichotomy. I will go dig through the Sontag articles in my bibliography again and see if I can pull out exactly where I read the version I remember, and report back.
posted by Alterscape at 10:51 AM on October 24, 2010

Fascinated by your quote, I Googled around a bit; maybe you've mixed in a little bit of Haron Farocki's Images of the World in with your Sontag? I didn't find a perfect quotable line (and I'm not familiar with the original work), but this critical essay is a very close examination of the preservation/destruction dichotomy; as when a reconnaissance plane takes an aerial photograph, or an SS officer photographs a Jewish woman, the very act of preservation prepares for the destruction of the subject.
posted by rafter at 11:01 AM on October 24, 2010

Clarification: That's Harun Farocki (whoops) and the essay I'm specifically referring to (the link goes to a whole collection) is Light Weapons by Tom Keenan—but many of the essays discuss preservation/destruction, especially in relationship to the voiceover in Images of the World and the Inscription of War—maybe your quote is in there! Here's the one excerpt I can find on YouTube.
posted by rafter at 11:09 AM on October 24, 2010

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