The TV set is today acknowledged as one of the most important components of any household and is practically present everywhere although the computer is rapidly also taking up this space. Although Michael Rush states that with appropriation, one may go back to television in its black and white form as art. Contemporary photography such as the photography of death is also an important art form which is perhaps slightly overlooked today and which has created several potential angles in the tackling of such art forms.
Death in photography has always been a controversial subject and this continues to elucidate comments especially when considering the ethical implications of photography itself. Nostalgia is also an important element of photography and this has been revealed in several artist’s work most notably those like Sally Mann and Luc Delahaye who have both treated the subject of death with some detail especially in their portrayal of dead and decomposing bodies. When one writes about death in photography, we also have to deal with the ‘death of the subject’. After we press the shutter the subject 'dies' at that moment. They will never be the same as in the moment when the photograph was taken as they will be older, their mood will change, their energy or facial expression will also change. This also applies to landscapes and with practically everything else we photograph since things are not the same even a second after the picture was taken.
This statement which is briefly the topic of Roland Barthe’s ‘Camera Lucida’ demonstrates that the death of the subject is an intrinsic part of photography. It is intriguing to note that Barthes was not a photographer but he essentially understood the philosophical implication of taking a photograph which is forever imprinted in time. The same argument is made by Susan Sontag in her seminal essay ‘On Photography’ which deals with historical views and the role of photography in the capitalist driven ambience of the 1970’s. A typical example of subjects which died after they were photographed were the examples of photography taken during the Depression by Diane Arbus. These photographs showed the situation on farms during the Depression and are full of striking and emotionally disturbing imagery especially in their portrayal of children who were suffering from malnutrition. One could argue that this is subjective but there is no denying the power behind the images and that they freeze a moment in time which will never return. Thus we also have the argument of relating photography to politics which confirms the news value of photography as an important medium for preserving events.
While Barthes and Sonntag are chiefly concerned with the death of the subject in their seminal photographic essays, other writers on photography such as Ashley le Grange and Liz Wells have also focused on the importance and immediacy of the subject in question. The art of photographing the dying has certainly been perfected by artists such as Luc Delahaye and Sally Mann who have taken this photography image to another level. What is definite is that photography and its ability to freeze a moment in time will be forever debated.
Sontag Susan; On Photography, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977. ISBN 0-374-22626-1.
Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida New York: Hill and Wang, 1981.
Erina Duganne, Photography After the Fact, pgs. 57 70, Beautiful Suffering, Williams College Mus. of Art/U. of Chicago Press, 2007