Photography is the result of scientific and technological discoveries; it is a type of image different to all of its predecessors, which is produced by devices in accordance with a predefined program. The photograph is the first technical image and constitutes the basis and model for all following technical images (film, television, and video). Images have always assisted humans as orientation within their world, serving as a map or “window-type” illusion through which we had to look to understand it, or use it (the Latin word perspectiva means “seeing through,” as, for instance, Albrecht Dürer pointed out). According toVilém Flusser, the photographic image sticks, so to speak, in the plane of this window; it creates a new surface and thereby obstructs the possibility of seeing through it: “Images disguise what they present and mean, they position themselves in front of what they are supposed to present.” (“Television Image and Political Space in the Light of the Romanian Revolution” , in: “We Shall Survive in the Memory of Others,” 2010, p. 17; translated from the German).
The advent of linear writing destroyed the magical supremacy of images by decoding them as stories, unravelled their meaning, and thus brought history into being. Photography intervenes in history, which is determined by a chain of cause and effect, by “taking” (in both senses of the word) fragments out of its progression, transforming them into scenes, and in this way robs them of all context, of what went before and what came after. This action of taking annihilates the historical moment, indeed history itself; it is thus the first type of post-historical image, the prototype so to speak.
Thus photography is not only a turning point because it produces images automatically as a result of scientific and technical innovations, of recoding equations, and because it can be reproduced and disseminated like a flyer, like a printed text, but also because it is post-historical: it catapults every recorded scene into the eternal present. Though generally considered a form of documentation, photography is in fact less objective than a painting. A photograph is an image of concepts that are subordinated to the program of the apparatus.
To understand the essence of technical images, we must accept that the space of individual freedom in this world is shrinking. How, despite this situation, we can nevertheless open up spaces for freedom is a philosophical question. One model for this is experimental photography, an art form in which following a program is abandoned in order to explore new and unknown possibilities. The age of photography ends with the digital screen, which is at the same time an interface for a new image world and projection.