Kaja Silverman, The Miracle of Analogy, or, The History of Photography, Part I (review)

in History of Photography, Volume 41, Number 1 (February 2017)

‘The photographic image does not belong to the natural world’. So wrote Hubert Damisch, in Five Notes for a Phenomenology of the Photographic Image. The photograph, he claimed, is ‘a product of human labour, a cultural object whose being – in the phenomenological sense of the term – cannot be dissociated precisely from its historical meaning and from the necessarily datable project in which it originates’. The indexicality of the photographic image, the spatial conventions on which the camera obscura and the photographic camera are based, and the industrial character of photographic activity itself: the essence of photography is constituted, Damisch writes, by historical circumstances, such as these, that have marked photography’s emergence and its use.

But what if photography was not a human invention? Rather than an index or a trace of an absent referent, what if the photograph was part of the world – the world’s way of announcing its presence? These are among the claims that Kaja Silverman makes in The Miracle of Analogy. Photography, Silverman suggests, is not a medium invented by certain individuals at a specific point in history. In fact, she argues, it is ‘the world’s primary way of revealing itself to us – of demonstrating that it exists…’, and the means by which it does so is not representation, but analogy.  And in photography’s short history, as Silverman shows, can be found analogies for some of the most urgent questions shaping the past five centuries of Western metaphysics.