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Fitting networks : documentary proofs and aesthetic ambiguities - the case of 9/11


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DOBREVA Neli

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Fondation maison des sciences de l'homme
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Fitting networks : documentary proofs and aesthetic ambiguities - the case of 9/11

In New York, September 11 (Editions Magnum, 2001), Thomas Hoepker claims : “I strongly believe in documentary photography, in taking pictures of real life. When I looked at the pictures from our photographers, there were some that were wonderful or clever compositions, but they emphasized the artistry in photography rather than telling the story. We didn’t put those pictures in this book. I don’t think they belong in this book because they do not serve its purpose, which is to bear witness. In a moment like this you must be very humble. When something like this happens, nothing you do can adequately respond to the monstrosity of the event.”
In my paper I argue that the photographs of 9/11 appear as the Real in Zizek’s terms (Welcome to the desert of the real ! Five essays on September 11 and related dates, Verso, 2002), and that immediately afterwards, the form of that Real shifts from the written medium to the photographic (visual) Sublime.
This appearance of the Real as a photographic proof poses two problems: the first concerning what it is to “bear witness”; the second concerning the relationship between a document and an artwork.
I will focus on four perspectives on the event : Camilo Jose Vergara (Twin Towers Remembered, Editions Princeton, 2002) and his “mapping of the buildings” in a wider context; James Nachtwey, the famous war photographer; Frédéric Sautereau (N§ 40ø42’42’’00’45’’, Editions 779, 2003) who focuses “inside the bodies and the gaze” of the New-Yorkers faced with the emptiness after the explosion; Joel Meyerowitz who, for nine months, photographed moraly ambiguous yet fascinating scenes.
As Paul Auster claimed, that time is necessary for a painful event to become an artwork, as the novel of Stephen Crane did with the Civil War, I will explore the argument that what seems painful are words, such as : artwork, Sublime, spectacle. Since in everyday life such words recall “seeing as” in Wittgenstein’s terms, could we think about the limits between art and document in the case of the photography as a Sublime proof?

 

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