Difference Engine

Regarding the tyranny of voice, although don’t like Acker’s take on the problem, it is still a problem. Especially for a photographer. In a certain sense, you could say that photography involves “cutting up the world” and refashioning it into different pieces. If you look at it this way, just where is the voice? Photography need not be impelled by the desire to communicate a message, nor a desire to discover significance. In the first case photography might speak the ventriloquized voice of the camera operator, and in the second it might be described as listening to some transcendental voice outside the operator—a voice from an otherwise dumb world. Both these notions seem more than a bit self-important; they anthropomorphize the machine.

Maybe a camera is more like a calculator. Cameras demonstrate the difference between what we see and what the camera sees. Images created by the camera are no more what we see than words are the substantive form of what we say. A word cannot smile or wink. Words are far too rigid. I don’t know how everyone else experiences things, but I don’t think in words. Sometimes I try to match word to thought and say it, but the result is always a ghost, a shadow of the full complexity of the thing I hold in mind. There is always a remainder, something left behind—a difference between thought and expression, or sight and depiction.

But we want to possess these things—I think it is unnatural to claim that we surrender our words or our visions by the act of constructing them as something which must stand separate from ourselves. I think the act of making these things is how we define ourselves. I started to read Breton’s Nadia again. The opening words ring.

Who am I? If this once I were to rely on a proverb, then perhaps everything would amount to knowing whom I “haunt.” I must admit that this last word is misleading, tending to establish between certain things and myself relations that are stranger, more inescapable, more disturbing than I intended. Such a word means much more than it says, makes me, still alive, play a ghostly part, evidently referring to what I must have ceased to be in order to be the who I am.

To photograph something is to make it past. In each moment that you see something or say something, you move forward to be a thing constructed by that ghost of a thought that you have fixed upon your memory or uttered. Because it was you that experienced its departure, you can only compare your thoughts with others to try to fix a place for it as “real.”

I strive, in relation to other men, to discover the nature, if not the necessity of my difference from them. Is it not precisely to the degree that I become conscious of that difference that I shall recognize what I alone have been put on this earth to do, what unique message I alone may bear, so that I alone can answer for its fate?

I feel that, if I have a voice, it is only because that voice can be said to be different from others. I cannot accept the position that voices are always the construction of circumstances or experiences, nor that they are stolen from others we meet. Selves are not stable, or consistent, or anything like it—they seem to be a constant matter of calculating difference, and accepting responsibility for that difference. Not difference for the sake of being different, but difference for the sake of determining who one is not.