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Peter Lamborn Wilson – Back to 1911 Movement Manifesto: Photography

Everything has already been said about photography. We have it here in 1911 but even now we can see how it may have been a big mistake.

The Byzantine Iconoclasts were no mere smashers of idols – their arguments ran deep, subtle & profound. They claimed that the Image colonizes the Imagination – other people’s magic overcomes your own personal magic & imprints itself on your soul. Only the Imagination free of such (mis)representation can truly be called autonomous & capable of poiesis, the creative act. To depict the sacred (& all things are potentially sacred) is to degrade it & thus to blaspheme. Only the Eye of the Heart can actually see.

Many Sufis would agree with these sentiments, as would many Jewish & Protestant mystics. The more accurate & scientific the representation the more it lies & blasphemes. “Abstract” art is more moral than any form of realism. Music & architecture, which are simply themselves (ideally), are considered permissible, although Islam suspects even music of threatening the soul’s integrity. But painting & sculpture & especially photography must surely be damned. Looking itself is a compromised or even guilty pleasure, lacking the intimacy of touch or smell or even hearing – too akin to “pure reason” – to cruel.

Against these arguments however we might assert the possibility of Hermetic Imagery – which (as Giordano Bruno or Athanasius Kircher would say) can allow us to free ourselves from the Image through the Image.

Certain symbols, Emblems, hieroglyphs or works of art can liberate the Imagination rather than “enchain” it. These images stimulate your own creativity rather than stifle or suffocate it under their beauty or shock-value or subliminal potency etc.

In the Renaissance this theory of art was called “Egyptian,” thanks to a fortuitous misunderstanding of the ancient hieroglyphs (ie that they were “magic”). Cagliostro was pushing the same notion in the late 19th Century. I believe we need such a theory in order to redeem our various arts – to save them from merely forming new chains, like advertising or propaganda.

Does this argument rescue photography from its own special hell? Maybe not. But maybe there’s something to be said for a touch of damnation. Maybe photography is a vice, like pornography, but then perhaps it could be a magical vice.

If we must have photography in 1911 let it be slow, clumsy, alchemical, rare – somehow still innocent of theory – not so much a spectral doubling but rather Magic Lanterns, a kind of stained glass, primitive & luminous, posed & formal, static, sepia-toned, nostalgic & slightly comical.