Quote Originally Posted by TheFlyingCamera View Post
I take issue with the insistence of imposing a gendered/sexual structure on the process of image-making. I'm not saying you can't make the case (which I think he can argue, but it's certainly not absolute or indisputable). If you want to go down that road, you can open yourself up to a queer theory critique of heteronormatization of the photographic process, imposing a feminine gender on the camera and a masculine gender on the photographer who by virtue of the process as outlined by Van Leir would become the insertor of the content into the camera. The whole world is not organized into phallic and vaginal dualities - there are things which are clearly neuter (rocks, rivers, oceans) and things that are utterly gender-defiant (are all trees phallic and all caves vaginal? what about trees with knotholes? Stalactites within caves? Is the dome of the US Capitol phallic? Is it a female breast? what about trans-people/hermaphrodites?). The camera would certainly fall into that hermaphroditic tradition - the function may be genital/vaginal, but the object itself is outwardly phallic. The process of taking the photograph has been described throughout the history of photography as an invasive, dominant, penetrative act, which makes the decision to locate the act of photographic creation as genital/vaginal rather counter-intuitive. As a photographer, regardless of personal physical gender, I must employ a phallus that is in turn itself penetrated and impregnated by the action of taking the picture? No matter the locus of and relationship of genders of the subject and the photographer, the camera becomes a queer object because it both penetrates and is penetrated. It is both intimate and alienating by interposition between the photographer and the subject.
Very interesting and stimulating commentary. I agree totally that attempting to relate the universe to ourselves through physiological gender determination is absurd, and Van Lier doesn't make that claim; rather I think that his postulations on the (very loose) gendered quality of photographic activity is in response to the thoughts of a guy like Vilem Flusser (IIRC, it's been a while since I last read him) employing common english parlance about photographic activity which relates to the camera as male, and photographing as shooting (like a rifle) to think about the act.* The other thing to remember is that we're reading an english translation of a french text, and french being what it is carries along with it certain minimum cultural biases which does gender the world in (highly arbitrary and inconsistent) particular ways.
In fact, Van Lier's encounter with this analogical description of photographic activity describes the camera not as a gun, but as a trap--leaving behind gendered concepts and thinking about it again as just an artifice. See ch. 12

*Flusser's philosophy of photography ends up no where near this intial position, imbuing the camera with a kind of technical imperative that subsumes all human intention, and stuff like that. He's pretty cool, but his work doesn't try to connect taking photographs to being human in the way that Van Lier does.

Quote Originally Posted by TheFlyingCamera View Post
I refuse to buy into the "unknowable black box" approach to describing the camera and the photographic medium, because we can and do know absolutely what happens when each and every photograph is made. If we did not, cameras would not work. They would work as well as magic does - upon performing the ritual, if the ritual succeeds, it is because we performed it correctly, but if it fails, there was something we did not take into account or failed at, despite everything being performed in a scientifically controlled environment. I CAN take the exact same picture twice in a studio. I cannot guarantee the harvest with a ritual sheep sacrifice, even if I were to do everything in my power to control equally consistent with the first time I sacrificed a sheep and got a good crop.
Of course, he's not ignorant of the development of photographic technology, which only came about as our understanding of the physical properties of light and chemistry evolved combined with very very specific and applied intention to create photographs. As well, he's using a theoretical postulate (the black box) as a way to relate his ideas about the unknowable realness of photos to the reader. To that end, it's not even that we can't be in a camera and see with our own eyes what's happening (plenty of room size cameras around these days). The black box aspect of the process, even deeply technically understood, is that it isn't "uninterruptedly describable" in all the aleatory aspects to the process--the way we see light is all at once and not in its infinitely variable wavelengths,* as a reflection from something else and not it itself (but for those blinding instants our eyes are overwhelmed by it), or in the way that we cannot organize the emulsion and the eventual silver precipitate grains with the kind of intention that we can the dithering of inkjet droplets. The black boxness of it all is that there is a perceptual gap, and a knowledge gap.
As well, the idea that you can take exactly the same picture in a studio over and over and over is not quite true, at this considered level of the chemical, atomic, temporal, etc. Of course, to our perception it is essentially indistinguishable--but then again so can the visual effect of a hybrid or fully digital photographic image be equally so. But, I'm sure we all here can agree that there is still a difference, although much larger than the difference between two perfectly identically produced, exposed, and developed film negatives.

*Yes, we have only gotten as far as we have with our understanding of the physical world because of experiments with directly observable results, but it's not quite the same as seeing light in the ways that we have deduced it "really" is.