IMAGES: SIGNS AND PHENOMENA OF TIME

A trans- and interdisciplinary conference at the University of Hamburg

12—14 November 2015

Fog, clouds and ghosts – unstable time-images in photography


Uncanny signs occur in our digital image culture. Shortly after the terroristic attacks of 9/11, images circulated on the web, which proved – in the opinion of some (hilarious) commentators – the appearance of the devil's face in the pixelated smoke clouds around the World Trade Center. The great promise of photography is to give an objective and automatic picture of the world, taken without a potentially faking human hand. But photography's myth of a self inscribing nature provoques a unclear and uncanny photographic ontology of reality itself.
Taking a look at older photographs by Louis Daguerre and Eugène Atget people disappear or only leave ghostly traces due to long exposure times (Janis, 1989).
Indexicality serves as a semiotic ground for photography (Doane, 2002), but indexicality provides a rather temporal and material unstable connection with reality. In good old analog times the indexical grounding of the photographic image consisted in blurry formations of silver in the photographic emulsion. In the digital age, the indexical bond depends on the measurement of light and quantum-mechanical uncertainity principles in the CCD-Chip (Hagen, 2002). To decide if it is „noise or nature“ (Geimer, 2000) that appeares on a photo along its technical processing, a semiotic stabilisation is necessary. The automatic inscription of reality is not self evident but needs a rather variable semiotic grounding.
Ghost photography for example (Stiegler, 2001; Krauss, 1992) makes an aesthetic use of blurry phenomenons and plays with the ambivalent status between reality and fake (Gunning, 2004). In this photographic ontology of the supernatural, photography has different and contrasting functions. Either it reveils a reality invisible to the human eye (photography of energetic invisible fluids) or it induces and documents mediumistic communication with the hereafter (mediumistic photography) (Chéroux, 2004).
Based on the research for my PhD-Project: „Blurring – Technics and aesthetics of the unstable image“, I am going to look on unstable image phenomenons in photography from a media theoretical perspective. I would like to combine these observations and their aesthetical and ontological consequences with time philosophical concepts by Henri Bergson and Alfred N. Whitehead.


Nicolas Oxen (M.A.) works as a research assistant at the chair for Philosophy of audio-visual media (Prof. Dr. Christiane Voss) at the Bauhaus University Weimar. He studied Media Theory at the Bauhaus-University Weimar and at the Université Lumière Lyon 2. His phd-project „Blurring – Technics and aesthetics of the unstable image“ asks for the role of blurred and disturbed images within the developement of technical time-images. Using time- and process philosophy the project tries to develop his very own temporal aesthetics of the technical image.

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