One must imagine an image before, as, and after it comes into being. To imagine is to permit oneself to experience surprise. To say, “that is not what I had imagined; that is more.” To imagine is to learn and unlearn what images are, what they do, what they enable. It is to surrender to the image. To straddle image-making and image-surrender. The image-maker surrenders to an encounter with surprise, delight, disappointment, failure. One says, “this is not what I had intended.”
Image-making is a lesson in un-intending. The accident. The coincidence. The perhaps, the maybe, the if.
One slides in and along the imagination. One learns to anticipate surprise.
And, sometimes, the light changes.
Sometimes the light changes and the image-maker changes with it. One searches for angles, shadows, the hidden-there, the unhiding possibility. This is image-making as play. As what has not yet been envisioned. One is taught how to move by light and shadow, by grasping and failing, by the life of objects one might have imagined to be inanimate. By vibrant matter.
To make images is to vibrate with matter, to resonate with the subtle and demanding frequencies of what is there, what is coming into being, what eludes grasp. One must surrender to these vibrations.
What we call failure, the blurry image, the shaky hand, might be considered the insistence of vibrant matter, when the image-maker surrenders to the image. Listens to the insistent demand: see me, see me, see me, see me, but never too well.
We might ask, with the image-makers, what it means to surrender to the playful image, the demanding image, the image that commands attention, the image that eludes our grasp.
Images can toy with us, play with our minds, our hearts, our bodies. Make us break into sweat. Make us long for food, sex, violence, quiet. And when we are quivering, desperate, in agony, images continue to toy with us.
Beware the image that plays with you.
One can’t not desire this play. One surrenders to the image’s play. This is not art as therapy or masochism. It is, properly speaking, the role of the gaze.
One might discuss the indifferent image. The image that does not disclose. The indifferent image, a mistress from Venus in Furs.
Images move on without us. Indifferent to us.
You come expecting a familiar story, a well-told tale, one that does not require attention or imagination. A roster of familiar concepts: resistance, writing back, emerging talent, realism, the politics of art and the art of politics. I am interested neither in ungrounded universalisms nor in ossified particularities. Instead, I want to ask how images tug at each other, how they make each other visible, possible, and impossible.
A more strictly political intervention would insist that image-making and images make collectivities possible, make a we and an us possible. We assemble here drawn by images. By now this is a familiar story, so well known that to repeat it is to ask for your yawn.
I am drawn to the image at the faultline of geo-histories, the one that straddles and multiplies places and times, the one that calls others to itself. This might be described as the image as repository. We cannot know in advance what is in that repository.
Images generate geo-histories: spaces where geographies emerge as histories, where histories emerge as geographies, where time and space fold in and on each other. To surrender to the image is to be caught in this folding, to risk where unfolding might lead.
To speak of Kenyan photography is to risk getting caught in multiple foldings and unfoldings, multiple geo-histories as they encounter each other. One loses one’s way.
Traveling across space and time, marking place and event, images disorient. Leave us here and not here, provincial and cosmopolitan, bored and titillated.
To encounter an image is to re-encounter it. For to encounter an image is always to encounter the imagination. And to encounter the imagination is always to inhabit the ghosts of who we have been as we imagine.
To encounter—and inhabit—the people we have been as we have imagined is to risk the madness of becoming legion. Of learning to speak as the multiplicities we are always becoming. Because the work of imagining is ongoing, and so the ghosts we are multiply.
Do not mistake the space of encounter as benign or innocent or even welcoming. It always threatens to unmake. One stands in front of an image and begins to cry. One sits with an image and experiences terror. One feels disoriented. One smiles at friends to avoid the gaze of the threatening image, to avoid re-encountering the unmade “I.”
We are invited to be unmade.
To risk everything. And more.