Roland Barthes’ punctum: film
between moving and
still images

T

by ROCCO GIANSATE

he Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto reflecting on photography and film—on still and moving images—, produced a work titled Theaters:

“I’m a habitual self-interlocutor. Around the time I started photographing at the Natural History Museum, one evening I had a near-hallucinatory vision. The question and answer session that led up to this vision went something like this: Suppose you shoot a whole movie in a single frame? And the answer: You get a shining screen. Immediately I sprang into action, experimenting toward realizing this vision. Dressed up as a tourist, I walked into a cheap cinema in the East Village with a large-format camera. As soon as the movie started, I fixed the shutter at a wide-open aperture, and two hours later when the movie finished, I clicked the shutter closed. That evening, I developed the film, and the vision exploded behind my eyes.”1

In Sugimoto’s photographs, a bright white comes out of the screen and illuminates the space around it. The film is projected in its entirety and through the process of photography it returns to its primal element: the pure light. Is this a still or a moving image?  

 

Roland Barthes on photography.

Camera Lucida was published in 1980, the year of Roland Barthes’ death. In the first chapter, he declares that the purpose of the book is “to learn at all cost what Photography was in itself, by what essential feature it was to be distinguished from the community of images.”2 

Taking the point of view of the spectator, he asks himself what makes us like a photograph. Submerged everyday by thousands of images, through which process a photograph stands out and we say of it “I like it”? To answer this question Roland Barthes introduces two concepts: studium and punctum. 

With the first he designates those elements in the photo in which we take a kind of general  interest.3. This interest is related to our culture and knowledge; in our attempt to read the artist’s intention, we open a dialogue with the photographer and try to understand and critique the image. The spectator recognizes the functions of the photograph (to inform, to represent, to testify, to shock) and invests it with his own studium. “It is by studium that I’m interested in so many photographs, whether I receive them as political testimony or enjoy them as good historical scenes: for it is culturally (this connotation is present in studium) that I participate in the figures, the faces, the gestures, the settings, the actions.”Conversely, punctum is the element that “will break (or punctuate) the studium”5. While for the latter we can say that it starts from us, the spectators, and moves to the image, the punctum “shoots out of it, like an arrow, and pierces me”6, the spectator.    

 

“This second element […] I shall call punctum; for punctum is also: sting, speck, cut, little hole—and also a cast of the dice. A photograph’s punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).”7

 

The punctum is a detail and needs time to come out. For this reason, Barthes argues, cinema cannot allow puncta.

“[…] The punctum is an addition: it is what I add to the photograph and what is nonetheless already there. […] Do I add to the images in movies? I don’t think so; I don’t have time: in front of the screen, I’m not free to shut my eyes; otherwise, opening them again, I would not discover the same image; I am constrained to a continuous voracity; a host of other qualities, but not pensiveness; whence the interest, for me, of the photogram”.8

 

Is Barthes’s discourse still valid today? Are there new arguments to consider and introduce in the discussion? 

In the post-analogue world of today, photos and films are produced with the same digital device. Photographs have almost lost their paper support in favor of screens; the contemplation of visuals is substituted by the slide show. The delete button in our devices has made images more fragile than ever, making photos and films easy to destroy. 

Movies can be stored, re-winded and stopped.

How have the changes in the production and exhibition of images, still and moving, influenced our viewing experience?

 

Cinema and Photography, movement and stasis.

To answer these questions, it is useful to take a step back and try to understand where the difference between photography and cinema lies. The nature of the still image has always been defined in opposition to the moving image.9 Roland Barthes cannot avoid mentioning, in his book, the relationship that ties photography and film, and so other theorists.   

In What is cinema? André Bazin locates this difference in the movement. Cinema is superior to photography because the moving images not only retain the objects they represent, as in photography, but also the duration of the objects; the possibility of reproducing time gives us a more complete representation of them. Cinema represents the flow of life.

 

“Film is no longer content to preserve the object, enshrouded as it were in an instant… The film delivers baroque art from its convulsive catalepsy. Now for the first time, the image of things is likewise the image of their duration, change mummified as it were.”10

 

The ‘flow of life’ is a concept that Bazin derived from Sigfried Kracauer; the latter, referring to the theories of Bergson and Husserl, used the term ‘flow of life’ to designate the distinctive property of film. Kracauer believed that the most important thing that differentiates the two media is that “film [as opposed to photography] represents reality as it evolves in time.” 11

Film gives the possibility to represent reality with all its changing and transient aspects. It is a notion that unites what Kracauer considered to be the specific aspect of film: its natural propensity to describe the movement of everyday life in the modern industrialized society.12

 

If Bazin and Kracauer privilege cinema because of its movement, Roland Barthes, instead, finds the stasis that characterizes the photographic image a strong point in comparison to cinema. The cinematic image does not possess the totality of the photograph:

 

“Because the photograph, taken in flux, is impelled, ceaselessly drawn toward other views; in the cinema, no doubt, there is a photographic referent, but this referent shifts, it does not make a claim in favor of its reality, it does not protest its former existence; it does not cling to me: it is not a specter. Like the real world the filmic world is sustained by the presumption that, as Husserl says, ‘the experience will constantly continue to flow by the same constitutive style’; but the photograph breaks the ‘constitutive style’… it is without future… Motionless, the photograph flows back from presentation to retention.”13

 

The photograph, motionless, stands in front of the viewer who has time to explore the image with his eyes and wait for a punctum, if there is one, to strike him. Barthes believed that with cinema this experience was not possible, because the moving images impose a different behavior to the viewer.

 

If the moving nature of cinema makes it impossible for the spectator to discover puncta then what we need to ask ourselves is if we can refer the concept of stillness to the moving images. 14 

 

 

 

The new visual experience of the long-take cinema.

Starting from the late 1960s, filmmakers have been making films that in many ways challenged Barthes’s discourse, works that reflected on the practice of filmmaking and on the relation between cinema and other forms of art.

Andy Warhol’s eight-hours long stillness of the Empire (State Building)15 may stand as a radical manifestation of a trend present in contemporary cinema: feature filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Manoel de Oliveira, Danièle Huillet/Jean-Marie Straub and others were making films that had the long take as their central structural element. Rediscovering the special relationship between cinema and theatre,16 these auteurs gave the spectator the possibility to experience the cinematic images in a way similar to photography: the eye could wander in the image and be struck by it. 

 

The images of the long-take cinema acquire a density inside which the viewer can immerse himself.

 

The opening sequence of Sacrifice (1986), a long single shot that, at nine and a half minutes, is the longest in any of Tarkovsky’s films, depicts a man planting a tree with a little boy besides him. Two figures are immersed in the landscape: there’s a wooden house far in the background and the sea on the right side of the frame. The man tells a story to the boy, then a postman arrives on his bike and a conversation starts between the two. While talking, the three characters walk. No cuts in the sequence, a slow tracking shot follows the movement of the scene, as if the camera instead of directing the action is subordinated to it. The changing light gives us an indication of the time passing. With our eyes, we explore the image, moving from the foreground to the background, discovering little by little the elements of the composition. Finally, we embrace all that is inside the frame.

Too early too late (Straub and Huillet, 1982) consist in a series of long static shots and slow pans which are arranged and patterned in such a way as to undermine the creation of the filmic narrative. The relation between the shots is serial rather than continuous; each shot is separated in time and space from the other ones so that the viewer will not be absorbed by the continuity of the narrative.17

Expression of a cinema of resistance, Straub/Huillet’s images fight time to persist and therefore resist on the screen, challenging the patience of the viewer that has to come to terms and deal with what he sees on the screen. 

In Sicilia! (Jean Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, 1999) the actors, all non-professionals, still in front of the camera, deliver their lines to each other. There is no camera movement: shot in black and white, the images seem old archival photographs featuring traces of the past.

 

Opening Night (John Cassavetes, 1977): again, theatre and cinema, again long takes. Cassavetes avoids the false set up of the filmic medium and bases his films on the improvisation with the actors. His stretched close-ups make possible for us to relate to the person that was in front of the camera, an experience similar to the one with photographs. The audience goes back to the time of the filming, the film’s present but the spectator’s past.

 

While Tarkovsky and Cassavetes were shooting their films, photographers like Halla Becker or Matha Rossler were questioning the nature of photography in relation with its practice. 18

Chris Marker’s La Jetée represents a point of convergence of these two moments.

La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1962) is a fictional work that encourages avant-garde reflection on the place and function of still photography in cinema.19 A body of black and white photographs edited on a 35mm film composes the film; a voice over and sound effects accompany the photographs and help to structure a narrative. The slide show20 gives to the photographs a cinematic quality, a vertiginous stillness in movement. 

 

Artists such as Jeff Wall and Cindy Sherman were making photographs that reflected on the relationship between photography and cinema or paintings. In the end of the 1970s Jeff Wall exhibited his transparencies in light-box. The photograph, like a film, is revealed by the light and contains a complex narration that, reminiscent of the paintings of Velasquez or David, retains a cinematic scale, a moving image spirit. The creation of Wall’s photos goes through a filmic modus operandi: he creates a set, carefully plans the lights, casts the characters and rehearses. 

With the discovery of the digital technology, Wall introduced in his work the montage.

A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) was created by digitally combining and adjusting over a hundred of photographs shot at different times at a cranberry farm on the outskirts of Vancouver. “Each model was photographed singly, blending the documentary aspect of photography with artifice and performance to create a ‘realistic’ probable scene.” 21

Cindy Sherman in Untitled Film Stills photographs performances that recreate archetype scenes from classical movies. Again, a narration is evoked and the photographs then break out of the frame, to reunite in the narrative continuity of one long film, the film of all films.

It can be noticed, then, that while film was going towards the stillness that distinguishes photography, the latter was focusing on its own relation with the moving image. These two shifts contributed to a renewal of the visual experience in both media: to watch a film like looking to a photograph and to look to a photograph like watching a film.  

 

Technological Revolutions and the fragmented (re)viewing experience.

The last three decades have seen a radical change in the way images are consumed and produced. 

The introduction of the VHS system and the DVD systems first and then the spread of the digital technology afford the possibility of playing with time: to go back and forward along the film’s timeline, to freeze the image, to stop and to re-watch the movie as many times as we want. 

The viewer can choose which sequence to see or can stop the flow of life that Bazin praised and fix his eye on the film still. Easily, the film can be ‘consumed’ as a body of photographs. 

Like surgeons, the contemporary spectator can cut open the film to analyze it, to discover its hidden beauty, to let the punctum stand out. 

The act of viewing has radically changed. If in the past the movie theatre was the locus of film with its rituals and behaviors, today films are ubiquitous, expanding and taking over every possible screen anywhere. 

 

In The Dreamers (2003), Bernardo Bertolucci romantically depicts the golden age of cinéphilie. The film’s young protagonists spend their days at the Cinémathèque Française; sitting in the first row they devour the moving images, trying to capture every beam of light coming from the screen. This intense filmic experience that Barthes probably witnessed, feels like a relic from the past. 22

In the cinema hall, the appearance of other screens, much smaller in size, with their blue and cold light, are the visible manifestation of the possibility of a distraction that can fragment any viewing experience.  

 

The fragmentation of the experience can lead to a radicalization of the film’s structure or an expansion of its ‘spectacle.’ While there are films which confront the dispersion of meaning of the contemporary—refracted in the endless representations of reality— with a radical approach to the narrative form (for example the cinemas of Amos Gitai, Atom Egoyan, or Chantal Ackerman23), the majority of films rely on a spectacle of cinema to engage the spectator: the use of special effects or breathless editing cuts glue the distracted spectator to the screen.

If Paul Greengrass conceives a fast paced, hyper fragmented Bourne Ultimatum (2007), Elia Suleimann, on the other hand, focuses on repeated fragments. 

In Chronicle of a disappearance (1996), the camera never moves and just registers the actions on the scene. The sequences, repeated with small but significant changes, challenge the viewer and describe the life in the Occupied Territories as if closed in an unstoppable loop.

Amos Gitai re-films the same locations to find new meanings in reality. 24

Home (1980) documents the renovation of a house in Jerusalem that once belonged to an Arab family and now is property of an Israeli professor. Gitai positions his camera and lets the objects come to new life on the film. After 20 years in A house in Jerusalem (1998), he returns to the same locations of Home rendering the filmed spaces powerful because of their complex temporal connections. Here, cinema does not reproduce the flux, the flow of life; the timeline is broken and the scenes relate to one and other through the wounded memories of the people that have occupied those spaces.    

 

The fragmented cinema becomes possible thanks to the extreme lightness of the ‘digital’ film-video equipment, that allows the producing of images that are so immerged in the complex and disintegrated reality to be unexpected and striking. 

The film 9 Star Hotel (Ido Haar, 2007) was shot during a year, with a digital camera and very little artificial light. The camera follows a group of undocumented Palestinian workers entering Israel to work in the construction business. The film shows the everyday reality of these people that has the potential of becoming poetry: suddenly the camera registers a lonely figure crossing the border at night under the rain repairing himself with a huge beach umbrella.25

The artists Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno filmed Zidane’s last match in the Spanish Liga: Zidane, a Portrait of the XXI century (2006). The filmmakers used seventeen digital cameras positioned in different sections of the stadium to capture the entire performance of the French player, the time of the film coinciding with the time of the game.

These images, focused exclusively on Zidane, are inter-cut with wide shots of the pitch taken from the Spanish television coverage. 

As for the images, the ‘sounds of Zidane’ are edited with the sound of the stadium, of the journalists of the television, of the supporters.

A strange effect is produced: the player part of a team of eleven becomes a solitary figure, isolated from the movement that goes around. 

The images of Zidane resemble stills taken by a photographer from the side of the pitch: the flux, the continuity of the football game is interrupted and frozen in the moving image of the French player. He attracts our attention: the filmic portrait substitutes the photographic portrait.  

 

Produce, re-use and re-edit.

Today’s world, overcrowded with signs, is a space where anyone can take and reuse images, concepts, and references in order to give a new life and meaning to those same elements.26

If an image has just been consumed and discarded without being noticed, we can assume that this same image can return to the spectators in another context; it can be reasonable to think that, in this new context, the viewer may have a novel experience of it. 

The artistic manipulation of images can offer a new life to cinema.  

For example, when Douglas Gordon expands Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) for 24 hours in an art gallery (24 Hours Psycho, 1997), the intervention of the artist creates an original viewing experience that can produce new puncta.

“For many, Hitchcock’s film is symbolized by the iconic footage of its lurid shower scene. The temporal dilatation of 24 Hour Psycho works against such symbolic condensation to deny the pleasure of this sight: it takes too long to reach the climax […].” 27

The film is liberated by its legend and all the images now can become prominent for the viewer. “Gordon’s 24 Hours Psycho allows us to scrutinize any particular moment of Hitchcock’s Psycho – the actors and the details of the set but not so much the movement of the action – in excruciating slow-motion. For instance, the one-minute cut-and-thrust of Janet Leigh’s shower scene rolls on for ten banal minutes…”28

Liberated by the plot, the spectators are also physically freed of the constraints of usual viewing: they can wander around the image since the film is rear-projected on a double-sided screen “hovering in the space like a knife-blade”.

 

“Like music, images gain a new life in the re-editing process”.29

The contemporary art scene offers many examples of this movement to new life of the images. The French artist Pierre Huyghe projects an interview with John Giorno and an Andy Warhol film one next to the other; Angela Bulloch creates a new soundscape for Tarkovskij’s Solaris. Candice Breitz loops different sequences of famous films and presents them together. 

Moving in the intersection between art and cinema, Jean-Luc Godard re-edits and re-plays the entire history of cinema: the images ‘liberated’ from the films they were in, re-propose themselves in a new Histoire(s) du Cinema (1998) that becomes the history of our century. 

 

The spectator acquires a complex visual experience: the references and the meaning multiply, and the loop-pitched modes, more in harmony with our time, render the images receivable and more likely to produce an impact on the viewer.

 

Ready to re-make.

This post-modern sensibility has its way in feature films too.  It is interesting to notice how Alfred Hitchcock inspires both artists and filmmakers involved in the operation of re-using images.

Gus van Sant has re-made Psycho (1998). A philological remake, this film is an exact copy of Hitchcock’s film. 

In the film Elephant (Gus van Sant, 2003) some sequences were shot with different camera positions and edited together to create a strange effect of re-use. The images are re-represented with a different visual perspective, setting for the viewer a kind of definitive geography of the story.

Again, on The Dreamers: Bertolucci fills his film with sequences taken from the great classics of world cinema. These iconic images are re-used and re-edited to become the personal, intimate film-memory of the protagonists. They re-enact those same sequences (the run in the Louvre like in Band à part30) to possess them, to experience them, to make them alive.

Sans Soleil (1983) is Chris Marker’s meditation on television, Africa, Tokyo, guerrilla, nostalgia, Tarkovsky, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. 

These images run through our eyes and, evocating concepts and changing perspective on ideas, impress themselves in our mind. 

Marker intercuts shots from the original Vertigo with his images of the same locations in San Francisco. Reflecting on time and memory, an articulated visual experience is traced here. The Vertigo obsession started in La Jetée crosses twenty years and returns in Sans Soleil. Memory is not a linear succession of events but “a series of discontinuous snapshots31.” The images move in a non-constitutive style, breaking the Husserlian flow of life, that Barthes considered possible only in photography. 

Jaime N. Christley defines it as “the cinematic equivalent of a stone being thrown into a pond, wherein you are the pond.32” Is it not in this way that the Barthesian punctum works?

 

Conclusions.

Can we experience the punctum in front of the moving images? The answer is yes. 

There are films that structurally allow us to do so because they work with fixity, long takes and slow pace. There are films that because of their fragmentation do not render the flow of life and do not hypnotize the spectator with the flux of the narrative; they just open themselves to the world, giving the possibility to concentrate on the image. 

 

The digital technology has made possible to transform our films in photographs. The film viewing is like going through a collection of photographs: we turn the pages, we stop, go back and jump forward, waiting for a punctum to arrest our erratic movements. 

 

Finally, the re-use of images and film sequences by artists and filmmakers gives them another possibility to get noticed and be liked. Not all images are consumed and binned. While the television works like a sort of magic box that re-presents obsessively all the images re-edited each time in a different way, some are re-discovered and re-proposed by artists and filmmakers in a new context, where they bring different meanings and values.   

 

Post-scriptum.

In the second part of Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes introduces a different punctum “which is no longer of form but of intensity, is Time, the lacerating emphasis of the noeme (that-has-been), its pure representation.” 

Presenting a photograph of Lewis Payne in his prison cell he writes “The photograph is handsome as is Lewis Payne: this is the studium. But the punctum is: he’s going to die. I read at the same time: This will be and This has been; I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake. By giving me the absolute past of the pose…the photograph tells me death in the future. Every photograph reminds us of Death, Death in all its stillness.”

Bill Viola, in the preliminary notes for his project Going Forth by Day, writes: “I want to create a space, an absolutely real objective representation of the place where death is – or more, to make a work not about death but the place beyond death. This is the new landscape that needs to be represented. This is where I am in over my head.”34  

In Going Forth by Day 35 the images projected on the walls of the gallery space reference Giotto’s cycle on the life of Saint Francis. The stories are narrated simultaneously and, here, in loop so that the viewer can move from one image sequence to the other and then re-experience the work from the start. 

During the time of the vision the passage from life to death and then the rebirth to life is realized in front of the spectator. 

These moving images, then, reconnect to the after death, the moment of rebirth: when looking at the old man dying in the shed on the cliff, the viewer grasps the portrait not of death to come, but of the impossible future, the rebirth in the unknown.  

 

Bibliography

Daniel Abadie, Catherine Lampert, Kevin Consey, Jeff Wall, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1995.

Nora M. Alter, Chris Marker, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 2006.

Burlin Barr, Lyrical Contact Zones: cinematic representation and the transformation of the exotic, Thesis (Ph. D.) Cornell University 1999.

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, Vintage Classics, London 2000.

Roland Barthes, Image Music Text, Fontana Press, London 1977.

André Bazin, ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’ in What is cinema? Volume 1, University of California, Berkley 1967

Marcella Beccaria, Candice Breitz, Skira, Torino 2005.

Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction: Culture as screenplay: how art reprograms the world, Lukas & Stemberg, New York 2005.

Amy Cappellazzo, Making Time: Considering Time as a Material in Contemporary Video & Film, Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art, Lake Worth 2000.

Jaime N. Christley, Chris Marker, Senses of Cinema, July 2002.

Suzanne Cotter, Candice Breitz: Re-Animations, Modern Art Oxford, Oxford 2003.

Douglas Gordon, Black Spot, Tate Gallery, London 2000.

David Green & Joanna Lowry (edited by), Stillness and Time: Photography and the Moving Image, Photoforum & Photoworks, Brighton 2006.

Naficy Hamid, An Accented Cinema, Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking, Princeton University Press, Princeton 2001.

Naficy Hamid (edited by), Home, Exile, Homeland: Film, Media and the Politics of the place, Routledge, New York 1999.

Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality, Oxford University Press, 1960.

Laurent Kretzschmar, Is Cinema Renewing Itself? Film-Philosophy, vol.6 no.15, July 2002.

Peter Matthews, The End of an Era: a cinephile’s lament, Sight and Sound, October 2007.

Philip Monk, Double Cross: The Hollywood Films of Douglas Gordon, The Power Plant Art Gallery of York University, Toronto 2003.

Laura Mulvey, Death 24x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image, Reaktion Books, London 2006.

Jean-Luc Nancy, The Sense of the world, University of Minneapolis Press, Minneapolis, 1998.

Jean-Luc Nancy, L’Evidence du film: Abbas Kiarostami, Yves Gevaert Editeur, Brussels 2002.

Cindy Sherman, The Complete Untitled Film Stills, The Museum of Modern Art, New York 2003

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Theaters, Sonnabend Sundell Editions, New York 2000.

Bill Viola, Going forth by day, Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin 2001.

Jeff Wall, Transparencies, Schirmer/Mosel, Munich 1986.

Jeff Wall, Photographs 1978-2004, Tate Publishing, London 2005.

 

Filmography

John Cassavetes, Opening Night  

Bernardo Bertolucci, The Dreamers  

Amos Gitai, Bait  

Amos Gitai, A House in Jerusalem  

Jean-Luc Godard, Histoire(s) du Cinema  

Jean-Luc Godard, Band à Part  

Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, Zidane, a portrait of the XXI century 

Paul Greengrass, The Bourne Ultimatum  

Ido Haar, 9 Star Hotel 

Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho

Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo  

Abbas Kiarostami, Where is my friend’s house?  

Abbas Kiarostami, And life goes on  

Chris Marker, La Jetée 

Chris Marker, Sans Soleil  

Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo  

Walter Ruttmann, Berlin: die Symphonie der Grossstadt  

Jean Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, Too early too late 

Jean Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, Sicilia! 

Elia Suleiman, Chronicle of a disappearance  

Andrei Tarkovsky, Sacrifice  

Gus van Sant, Psycho  

Gus van Sant, Elephant 

Dziga Vertov, The Man with the Movie Camera 

Andy Warhol, Empire  

 

Video-art

Angela Bulloch, Solaris 1993 (1993)

Candice Brietz, Soliloquy Trilogy (2000)

Candice Breitz, Mother+Father (2005)

Douglas Gordon, 24 Hours Psycho (1997)

Pierre Huyghe, The Third Memory (1998)

Bill Viola, Going Forth by the Day (2002)

  1.  Hiroshi Sugimoto, Theaters, Sonnabend Sundell Editions, New York 2000.

  2. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, Vintage, London 2000.

  3.  Ibid.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Ibid.

  8. Ibid.

  9. “[…] Most conventional histories of the origins of cinema, for example, tend to privilege its relationship to photography. Whatever arguments may be mustered on behalf of cinema’s debts to literature and theatre, the technological bases of film have guaranteed photography a primary role in any account of its early development and perhaps continue to inflect an understanding of film as being –first and foremost- a pre-eminently visual medium. But the fact that photography and film have always been seen as closely intertwined has also proved to be the spur to differentiate between them. That this process of the differentiation of photography and film has revolved around a polarisation between the still and the moving image, and the different temporalities associated with each, should come as no surprise”. David Green, Marking Time: Photography, Film and Temporalities of the Image in David Green and Joanna Lowry, Stillness and Time: Photography and the Moving Image, Photoworks Photoforum, Brighton 2006. 

  10. André Bazin, ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’ in What is cinema? Volume 1, University of California, Berkley 1967. 

  11. Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality, Oxford University Press, 1960.

  12. Let’s just think about films like The Man with the Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1928) or Berlin: die Symphonie der Grossstadt (Walter Ruttmann, 1927) as examples of representation of this ‘flow of life’. Kracauer writes: “The street in the extended sense of the world is not only the arena of fleeting impressions and chance encounters but a place where the flow of life is bound to assert itself. Again one will have to think mainly of the city street with its ever-moving crowds. The kaleidoscopic sights mingle with unidentified shapes and fragmentary visual complexes and cancel each other out, thereby preventing the onlooker from following up any of the innumerable suggestions they offer. What appeals to him are not so much sharp-contoured individuals engaged in this or that definable pursuit as loose throngs of sketchy, completely indeterminate figures. Each has a story, yet the story is not given. Instead, an incessant flow casts its spell over the flaneur or even creates him. The flaneur is intoxicated with life in the street – life eternally dissolving the patterns which it is about to form” (Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality. See note 10). 

  13. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, see note 1.

  14. Laura Mulvey writes: “For Barthes the cinema’s relentless movement, reinforced by the masquerade and movement of fiction, could not offer the physic engagement and emotion he derived from the still photograph. Unlike the photograph, a movie watched in the correct conditions (24 frames a second, darkness) tends to be elusive. Like running water, fire or the movement of the trees in the wind, this elusiveness has been intrinsic to the cinema’s fascination and it’s beauty. The insubstantial and inetrievable passing if the celluloid film image is in direct contrast to the way that the photograph’s stillness allows time for the presence of time to emerge within the image, New moving image technologies, the electronic and the digital, paradoxically allow an easy return to the hidden stillness of the film frame. […] The frozen frames restore to the moving image the heavy presence of passing time and of mortality that Bazin and Barthes associate with the still photograph”. Laura Mulvey, Death 24x a Second, Stillness and the Moving Image, Reaktion Books, London 2006.

  15. Empire consists of a single stationary shot of the Empire State Building filmed from 8:06 p.m. to 2:42 a.m., July 25–26, 1964. The eight-hour, five-minute film, which is typically shown in a theater, lacks a traditional narrative or characters. The passage from daylight to darkness becomes the film’s narrative, while the protagonist is the iconic building that was (and is again) the tallest in New York City. Warhol lengthened Empire’s running time by projecting the film at a speed of sixteen frames per second, slower than its shooting speed of twenty-four frames per second, thus making the progression to darkness almost imperceptible. Non-events such as a blinking light at the top of a neighboring building mark the passage of time. According to Warhol, the point of this film—perhaps his most famous and influential cinematic work—is to “see time go by.”

  16. In Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes writes, “Yet it is not (it seems to me) by Painting the Photography touches art, but by theatre. […] The camera obscura, in short, has generated at one and at the same time perspective painting, photography, and the diorama, which are all three arts of the stage; but if Photography seems to me closer to Theatre, it is by way of a singular intermediary (and perhaps I am the only one who sees it): by way of Death. […] Photography is a kind of primitive theatre, a kind of Tableau Vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead”.  

  17. Burlin Barr, Lyrical Contact Zones: cinematic representation and the transformation of the exotic, Thesis (Ph. D.) Cornell University 1999.

  18. “The generation of the 60’s and the 70’s tested the validity of photography. That generation really did take a look at the photography, dismantle it and take it to bits. Ed Ruscha, Bernd and Hilla Becker, Dan Graham, Douglas Huebler, Martha Rosler deconstructed and broaden the scope of expression of photography”. Sheena Wagstaff, The Labouring Eye in Jeff Wall, Photographs 1978-2004, Tate Publishing, London 2005.

  19. Nora M. Alter, Chris Marker, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 2006.

  20. Nan Goldin presented her photographic work in slide shows with music. 

  21. Sheena Wagstaff, The Labouring Eye in Jeff Wall, Photographs 1978-2004, Tate Publishing, London 2005.

  22. Peter Matthews, The End of an Era: a cinephile’s lament, Sight and Sound, October 2007.

  23. On fragmented cinema refer to: Naficy Hamid, An Accented Cinema, Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking, Princeton University Press, Princeton 2001.
    Naficy Hamed (edited by), Home, Exile, Homeland: Film, Media and the Politics of the place, Routledge, New York 1999.

  24. Going back to re-film is a significant point also in Abbas Kiarostami’s cinema. In 1987 he made Where is my friend’s house? The film, set in the villages of Koker and Potesh, tells the story of a boy, Ahmed, who tries to return a dropped notebook to his friend. So he travels from Koker to Potesh to find is friend’s house. A couple of years after the shooting, the locations of the film were devastated by a big earthquake. Kiarostami went back there with his camera to film And life goes on. See Laura Mulvey, Death 24x a Second, Stillness and the Moving Image, Reaktion Books, London, 2006. 

  25. Jean-Luc Nancy’s writings on the cinema of Abbas Kiarostami are an original way of analysing this new modern cinema. “[…] Nancy’s philosophical twist is that the loss of a meaningful world is actually a gain because a world without signification is the world itself. Not that the world is nonsense, but the ‘sense of the world’ is only conceivable once we have acknowledged that the world is not about meaning but is more a locus for the meanings. And while we are becoming aware of that simple reality, the world opens itself. […] On the basis of this modern conception of the world, Nancy argues that cinema is freeing itself from its obsession with the loss of meaning and begins to tackle the beings themselves. The natural posture of cinema is […] to present the world itself. Nancy concludes ‘the evidence of film is that of the existence of a look through which the world can give back its own real’. In front of a world that is self referential, and whose lack of meaning is no longer missing since it is rather a condition of existence, this new cinema is an art of looking and presenting the world and the beings for themselves, without organising them towards a meaning (the limit of classic cinema), without consciously representing the lack of meaning (the limit of modern cinema), and without obsessively playing with the forms of the past (the limit of postmodern cinema). Laurent Kretzschmar, Is Cinema Renewing itself? Film-Philosophy, vol.6 no.15, July 2002. Jean-Luc Nancy, The Sense of the world, University of Minneapolis Press, Minneapolis, 1998. Jean-Luc Nancy, L’Evidence du film: Abbas Kiarostami, Yves Gevaert Editeur, Brussels 2002.

  26. Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction: Culture as screenplay: how art reprograms the world, Lukas & Stemberg, New York 2005.

  27. Philip Monk, Double Cross, The Hollywood Films of Douglas Gordon, The Power Plant and Art Gallery of York University, Toronto 2003.

  28. Ibid.

  29. Nicholas Bourriaud, see note 22.

  30. Jean-Luc Godard, Band à part (1964)

  31. Nora M. Alter, Chris Marker, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 2006.

  32. Jaime N. Christley, Chris Marker, Senses of Cinema, July 2002.

  33. Blob is a program of RAI3, the Italian state television channel, which is based on this concept. Created by Enrico Ghezzi and aired every evening, Blob is simply an edit of images taken from the day before television schedule. Sometimes there’s a theme or idea beyond the work of assemblage, other times the montage is random, like the one we do each time we switch from one channel to the other. 

  34. Bill Viola, Going Forth by the Day, Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin 2002.

  35. Going forth by day is a five-part projected digital image cycle that explores themes of human existence: individuality, society, death, rebirth. The work is experienced architecturally, with all five-image sequences playing simultaneously in one large gallery. To enter the space, visitors must literally step into the light of the first image. Once inside, they stand at the centre of an image/sound world with projections on every wall. The story told by each panel is embedded within the larger narrative cycle of the room. Viewers are free to move around the space and watch each image panel individually or to stand back and experience the piece as a whole. The five image sequences are each approximately thirty-five minutes in length and play synchronization on a continuous loop. Sound from each panel mixes freely in the space, creating an overall acoustic ambience. The images are projected directly onto the walls – without screens or framed supports – as in Italian Renaissance frescoes, where the paint was applied directly into the plaster surface of the walls. The title of the work derives from a literal translation of the title of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, “The Book of Going Forth by Day” – a guide for the soul once is freed from the darkness of the body to finally “go forth by the light of the day”.