The captured image

What exactly is it to “capture an image” when the image does not actually exist before it is captured? What does “to take a picture” of something actually mean? You can also “put something into pictures,” just as you can “put into words,” “put on stage,” “put to music” and, by extension, “put in order,” “put in place,” and so forth. In each case, there is a preexisting material reality that is shaped to fit a certain desire or certain objective. What is this magical process (once chemical, now electronic) through which the light reflected by people, places and objects is captured to create that mysterious and yet familiar visible trace that is an image? In truth, what we see throughout the day probably contains as many representations through images as directly visible realities.

“Capturing images” has become the easiest thing to do, as the billions of photos taken every day with smartphones go to prove. We take this act, which is easy and free, for granted. We no longer think about the practical aspects, however wondrous the technology. Aesthetic considerations are rarely an issue. The visible world is an inexhaustible source of images, an ever replete storehouse for new “image capturings.” It seems like the image has something to do with energy saving and sustainability, as if it were produced by the wind, or by river currentsor by sunlight, to be precise. An image appears to consume nothing, deplete no resource. And yet it still takes electricity, sometimes, to light up the subject, and energy, stored in a battery, to “take the picture” and then illuminate it, making it visible on screens of every size, even huge billboards. The energy used by and for an image, no matter how large, goes unnoticed. Recording images both manipulates the worldwhich is recast, reduced or enlargedand covers it up.

In every image, there is a big share of déjà vu, which is necessary for it to be recognized, or in other words, to be successful. And yet in each captured image there is also the hope of the never-before-seen. There has to be something unique in the ordinary, something peculiar in the familiar. A portrait or a landscape has to be recognized as belonging to the portrait or landscape genre before it can be appreciated as a new imagean image of something that has already ceased to exist and will never return.

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