Where is a Photo? A Comment on The Platonic Nature of Photographies

I have been thinking a lot about photos during the last week, when I was supposed to think about painting. Trying to find a definition of painting got me thinking of photography, and what a platonic art it is.

I am running this artistic research project (Thinking Through Painting) together with Kristina Bength, Sigrid Sandström and Jonatan Habib Engquist. In a way I’m just trying to explain why I love painting. Because I already made the choice, it was before the words. So, now I’m just trying to put words to it.

In the beginning of this project we where talking a lot about language and painting. I used to work as a journalist so I have been very preoccupied with the idea of language being concept based whereas painting is not. But then on the other hand, that applies to all visual media; photo, film or whatever.

With a painting it is very obvious where a painting is, because it is here, you have it. But where is a photo? It is much more platonic, in a sense. Even more now when it is digital, but it was also true when you used film. You had the negative, which was the original in some way. But you never looked at the negative, you looked at the paper copies. You could develop them in different ways in the dark room. Or you had the positive, but you didn’t really look at the positive either. You shot light through the positive and you looked at the image on the wall or the screen. Very much like Plato looking at the shadows in his cave.

And now you have the digital RAW-file. You don’t look at that either. The resolution on the screen is only 72 dpi.  You can make prints in different resolutions but they all contain less information than the RAW-file.

So where is the photo? It is like a bleak mirror image of the world. You never really see the photo, you are always looking at some type of reflection of an invisible originial. In that way it is much less material than a painting. At the same time, for us the photo is much more related to the real world. Having thought about photo in this way, I now look at painting in a new way.


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