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Samra Sabanovic - Photographing Photographs

Review by Bassam El Baroni, 2019

I begin where Samra begins her thesis, with the following quote by a character in an Italo Calvino story: “Perhaps true, total photography, he thought, is a pile of fragments of private images, against the creased background of massacres and coronations. He folded the corners of the newspapers into a huge bundle to be thrown into the trash, but first, he wanted to photograph it.”

Samra Sabanovic’s thesis “Photographing Photographs” shuttles between an intimate, disquieted relationship with photographs as the visual documents communicating and structuring our relationship to disasters, wars, catastrophes and bare life to an attempt at rethinking this relationship inside-out as it were by displacing representational power from first-hand images or photographs to the clones of such images or what she calls Photo-Photographs.

My use of the term clones here is no coincidence since it is a term that the French philosopher Francois Laruelle uses within the framework of his complex philosophical system which calls non-philosophy. A clone in Laruelle’s non-philosophy is not a simple representation, presenting once again the original, nor is it a copy of the original. Rather it something that carries within it the underlying code of the original but simply refuses the idea that it is or ever will be synonymous with the real or reality in the first place.

And why Laruelle, because Samra uses his non-philosophy and non-photography (a book by Laruelle) to extremely effective ends. Her hypothesis is creative and novel, focusing on the meta-practice of Photo-Graphing-Photographs (first represented in the Italo Calvino quote) could be explained as a rejection of a given first source reality - a kind of refusal to depict the World as seen through human eyes and their technological extensions. This can be flipped over and it can also be understood as advocating a form of fictionality, positioning the photograph as a world parallel to the World.

Samra is really an emerging philosopher of visual culture, she lacks some aspects of mastery, yet is extremely capable of developing an articulate grasp of how to reorient or reengineer a reader’s perceived views on a topic. In fact, Samras thesis engages with the ideas of multiple thinkers such as Blanchot, Foucault, Sontag, and K. Silverman among many others to ground the idea that Photo-Photographing has a legitimate reasoning behind it that emerges from the complex history of the concept of representation.

The sheer quantity of images circulating the world means that they are enmeshed with our existential core, we should then articulate our relationship with images as one with a community of images that is imminent rather that than transcendent. This is where the notion of the Imaginal developed by Chiara Bottici as a concept different to imagination or the imaginary. To quote Bottici the starting point of the Imaginal is:

“neither a subject separated from the world nor a world independent from the subject, but, simply, images. The reason for this is easy to understand: without images there can be neither a world for us nor a subject for the world. Human beings are not only rational animals but also, and even prior to that, imaginal animals.”

Samra’s thesis is an excellent attempt to start the world from images, it attempts to locate a political agency within this Imaginal space. 

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