the problem of time

“The trace has a special relationship to the past, akin to that of photography. It is not depiction so much as forensic evidence that the thing outlined – whether literally by flour or photographically by light – was indeed there at one point in time. This is the temporality of the relic, proof (often by faith) that a person was there, that an event occurred. Performance is by nature ephemeral; it transpires, like a life, and disappears. The only way to fix it, to prove it, is to record it.” (from “The Geometry of Time: Some Notes on Francesca Woodman’s Video,” Jennifer Blessing, from catalogue of Francesca Woodman exhibition at SF MOMA, edited by Corey Keller, 2011). 

In 1865, young Lewis Payne tried to assassinate Secretary of State W. H. Seward. Alexander Gardner photographed him in his cell, where he was waiting to be hanged. The photograph is handsome, as is the boy; that is the studium. But the punctum is: he is 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 (aorist), the photograph tells me death in the future. What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence. In front of the photograph of my mother as a child, I tell myself: she is going to die: I shudder, like Winnicott’s psychotic patient, over a catastrophe which has already occurred. Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe. (from Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes, translated by Richard Howard, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc., 1981)