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Sleeping in Dark Rooms and Caves

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Sleeping in Dark Rooms and Caves

Ultimately -or at the limit- in order to see a photograph well, it is best to look away or close your eyes.

''We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds. My stories are a way of shutting my eyes." [1] Roland Barthes quoting Kafka

Within the darkroom our eyes are half-open and sight is other, intensified, as we animate, project and enlarge the images we are try­ing both to remember and forget. The inverted, immaterial image of the lover is more precise, more alive and accurate than flesh, and so we breathe in and touch our insubstantial ghosts within this dream space of awakening.

Inherent to the photographic, as to desire and love, is the para­dox and impossibility of grasping a body, the quest to close this gap between oneself and the other/image, and the inevitable distance, which always remains. As much as the photograph is a question of this body, it is also a moment of violence, of wanting to pos­sess that which is always beyond reach. Momentarily photography delivers the perhaps univer­sal and timeless desire to become one with another, sought within the lovers' embrace. I fall into the image, into the projected, min­iature crystalline glow of the body I will lose. The apparatus makes this possible, makes loving pictures and picturing love a vertiginous extended moment of absolute proximity and distance at once.

In Francois Ozon's short film of love and death, La Petite Mort [2], the darkroom occupies this space of possibility and re-finding, a par­allel world of escape and discovery. The main protagonist, Paul, is a photographer who narcissistically and compulsively photographs himself and his lovers in a state of orgasm. After being coerced by his sister to visit his estranged dying father, only to not be recognized by him, Paul returns home enraged and freneti­cally develops and prints his most recent images. Fragmented heads thrown back in ecstasy, contorted faces verging on pain, emerge on the blank photographic paper. Leaving the makeshift tomb of his darkroom he enters the light of day in his apartment; bedroom, darkroom and stu­dio become one space. We then follow Paul as he returns alone to the hospital at dusk, camera in hand, and surreptitiously photographs his sleeping father's naked body in frag­mented detail. Once again, within the liquid space of night, Paul prints these violently taken images, only to see his father's face emerge with eyes wide open looking directly back at his son. Later, unable to sleep, Paul returns to the darkroom and with a scalpel, removes his father's eyes. Holding up the photographic mask, his own eyes merge with his father's face, as he stares back at this altered self in the cloaked red mirror of the darkroom.

The obso­lescent darkroom, this crypt of spectral inversion, this womb of night only comes alive when the lights of the world are switched off, the red lamps activated, noxious chemistry poured into lapping basins. Like the sleeper who sees the eclipse itself, "not the fiery ring around it, but the perfectly dark heart of the eclipse of being," [3] so the darkroom offers a different way of seeing, offering a slice of reality best viewed cautiously, lids half closed, as one might view the sun.

Esther Teichmann 2012 (Foam Magazine issue #32/Talent)

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[1] Roland Barthes. Camera Lucida-Reflections on Photography. Translated by Richard Howard. London: Vintage, 1993 (1980[1]), p. 53.

[2] Francois Ozon, La Petite Mort, short film, 20 mins, 1997

[3] Jean-Luc Nancy. The Fall of Sleep. Translated by Charlotte Mandell. New York: Fordham University Press, 2009, p. 8.

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