When we see pictures intended to make us recognise what we are seeing, we can always grasp them, for we have a concept of what we are seeing. Pictures find their expression in captions that provide con-text. Therefore, what we see are concepts, things we have grasped, encountered before. No picture is free of meaning. We may understand the meaning; if we are unable to do so, cannot comprehend what the picture represents, nor gain an insight into it, we may well be seeing something but ultimately have not beheld a thing.


Of course there are pictures that hold no meaning for us. This may even be true for most pictures assaulting us. They are stereotypes of an insolent presence that appears to persecute us wherever we go. Initially at least, they may often be surprising. We soon realise, however, that they are no better than the ones we would much rather have been able to ignore long ago. Produced in staggering quantities, the only purpose of the relentless repetition of such pictures is to prove that they represent reality – a reality intended to cement our own mental images through the crystallisation and recall effect of stereotypes.


How can this happen? It is a fact that our imagination, which enables us to generate images, is continually deceived. Also, in contrast with the alphabet of letters, we would never be able to generate any kind of generally approved visual code for the way in which we view our world, the vast universe of life’s forms and colours. In this pre-symbolic structure, the likes of delusion and deception, seduction and intuition are variations on topical conditions. This is also why our dream images can do with us exactly as they please. They fascinate and frighten us; and they vanish – just as they appeared: disembodied phantasmagoria.


The freedom to ascribe contents to this wealth of forms is also a pre-condition for the creation, rhythmification and acrobatic mobility of images. It is not only fixed pictures that can be replaced and destroyed by new ones. The same is true for images in motion. For, as soon as we have seen the image sequence, we have seen enough. The impression left by pictures – be they individual ones or image sequences – is a moment of attention that our gaze sweeping across the pictorial surface or penetrating visual space has wrested from the flow of time.


Similar to other areas of perception, what is at issue when we see pictures is the troika of re-cognition. A decision is made as we focus on the present moment, the instant at which contrasts fuse into unity. Because the world presents itself differently to each «ego», only the individual who finds him or herself in a given life situation can assess the extent to which any of their decisions is either autonomous or governed by outside forces. Even when viewing the same object, our points of view will be different. Therefore, any communicative interaction requires an agreement on that which is and that which should be. As any one of us focuses on a particular point in their biography, the point shifts so that we find ourselves in a different situation.


Motion and emotion are the push and pull of the continued life energy, of whose governance we are more or less unaware. It is the performative to which we are all subject, the passing of a period in our lives when we act according to momentary circumstances. To some extent, that which we determine will depend on ourselves, while in other situations, from a different angle, we will be told what to do. To a high degree, however, we will be driven by contemporary history, which co-determines our own biography. We are «perforated» by the performative.


Discourse and reasoning enable us to realise that – despite our differences, and in full awareness of our circumstances and the vagaries of life – we can reach some kind of agreement. The objective gives us the stability that we require as we find ourselves in the contingency of immeasurably diverse global complexities. Media technology enables us to exchange insights in real time, as senders and receivers. Also to process history and to be aware of what is better – including which is the better image of life, i.e. one that fills us with greater enthusiasm than the picture frames filled with shallow content, the stereotypes, hyped-up political slogans and pornographically abused bodies.


While objectively existing and interpreted pictures may well be some sort of fixed point in our attempt to grasp the wealth of pictorial interpretation and mystery, the notion of the picture itself remains intangible. Not least because – against the objective’s desire – the performative cannot be fixed. Ultimately, it is the objective that is the medium, the visual framework in which the performance takes shape, a shape that in its turn imparts the content of the respective visualisation, for being a more or less interesting piece of information, or by inspiring us to engage with the contents of the picture.


Iconogenesis and iconoclasm always occur side by side, even though images may gloss things over, losing their allure and being eclipsed by other images. Images of openness and playfulness with their inherent interactivity will be the constant in a treasure trove of images that represents the very substance of our notion of the picture. Our reach for the picture, our fascination with images, is caused by the appearing and vanishing image that we have of the picture as the original image of the world, that our mind has grasped and yearns for. This is the quasi proto- image as a variable with a kind of fundamental structure of the pictorial that helps us not only experience the qualities of our own mental images, but to access and interpret new pictures.


Our notion of the picture oscillates between the momentarily perceived picture, the pause, the erasure and the «darkness», from which pictures re-emerge into «light» – both in our minds and live, in ourselves, in the observer. The conflict is between picture and anti-picture. Like matter and anti-matter, concrete manifestation and white noise. Akin to the phases of the moon, waxing and waning, full moon and new moon, but condensed into milliseconds; akin to our comprehension of language as a succession of syntax, correct/incorrect, hearing/understanding/comprehending. The notion of the picture could also be compared with the genesis of art, with signs and pictorial representations preceding script/writing and meanings that we can interpret and understand. Nevertheless, pictures will always remain evanescent and will always require explanation and interpretation. The notion of the picture.



© Translation from German, September 2012: Margret Powell-Joss •