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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Becoming photographs : aesthetics of immanence James, Joy


The "eventfulness" of the photograph—the force of its becoming and its continued potentiality—is the primary concern of this dissertation. My work is informed by recent philosophical discussions regarding processes of thinking and seeing, and by the multiple histories and theories of photography that have arisen since its invention as a reproductive technology. I work with a small selection of photographs, all of them portraits of one sort or another, dating from the end of the nineteenth century through the first few decades of the twentieth century, and produced in diverse geographical, cultural and political settings. From the moment when I first encountered each of these photographs, they appeared to exceed any signification that can be attributed to them by current theories of photography. In the course of my analysis, I argue that this is because all of the images are "atypical" in a way that, according to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in their interpretation of minor literatures, heralds potentiality. These photographs were implicated in political economies of transformation. I propose that, at the time they were made, all of these pictures were futural: the stuff of collective becomings. The images present as multiples: how they were seen was dependent on who was doing the looking. The "atypical expression" that I claim for each photograph emerges only at distinctly marked sites and under exceptional conditions of "seeing." Here my findings intersect with, and modulate, concepts of "seeing photographically" that have recently been put forward by a number of scholars, most notably by Celia Lury in "Prosthetic Culture: Photography, Memory and Identity" (1998). Deleuze and Guattari both did and did not extend their understanding of atypical expression to include photographs. Whereas, in "A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia" (1987), they suggest that the photograph is closer to a "tracing" than to a "map" (21), in "Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature", they show the ways in which that author figures photographs as maps of the most potent kind I believe that Deleuze and Guattari's theory of expression, as most recently elaborated by Brian Massumi in his introduction to "A Shock to Thought: Expression after Deleuze and Guattari" (2002), can be productively engaged to revitalize our perception of what these photographs did. An investigation of how these photographs functioned is important for the way in which it opens on to another tremor in the shock to thinking/seeing, the move into virtual reality and digital imaging.

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