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MACHINE DREAMS

Alexei Taylor, Author

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SNAPSHOTS OF THE DREAM WORLD: THE POWER OF THE CAMERA

Besides harnessing the camera’s powers to depict a clearly
visible image of the unconscious, (which Freud defined as supressed, and inaccessible) thus symbolically assigning it a measure of accessibility, (a motive for the surrealists who sought to access the unconscious through the Paranoiac Critical
Method and Automatism), Dali must have accessed other powers of the camera in the creation of La Persistencia De La Memoria. In ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, the German philosopher and literary critic, Walter Benjamin, described the camera as possessing the ability to expose certain features of an object that escaped the scrutiny of the naked eye but rendered themselves much more easily to the camera lens, a machine that exercised more control over the angle through which the object was viewed than its biological equivalent. Equally, he enumerated the camera’s ability to modify the perception of the object through certain processes utilized in photographic reproduction (ie slow motion enlargement, etc). As noteworthy as it is obvious, is the fact that these modifications are not replicable by the human eye. Instead these processes cast the object in a new light (sometimes literally), supplanting whatever mundane value we may attach to the object in real life with, often, an altered significance.  William Mumler’s invention of Spirit photography in the late 19th century is an amusing example of this phenomenon. Accidentally discovering that an image could be imposed over another in a photograph through double-exposure, Mumler proceeded to feed off the superstition of the 1860’s American society, and the wish by some to reconnect with dead loved ones after the Civil war, deceiving the public that the superimpositions in his photographs, were images of the spirits of the dead. Although his fraudulence was soon discovered, the myth’s popularity continued to grow, surviving into the early twentieth century and amassing such popular proponents and patrons as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Mary Todd evidently patronized this idea. The picture below, taken by Mumler himself, portrays her with her husband Abraham Lincoln, who was already dead at the time the picture was taken.



This phenomenon, this ability of the camera to alter significance, coupled with its ability to almost perfectly reproduce reality,
in turn endow it with the capacity for profane illumination, as defined by Walter Benjamin.  Benjamin presented profane illumination as the



“…transformation of ordinary experience to the marvelous
through perception.”



In other words, the camera offers the opportunity to alter an image or an experience, and perhaps to exaggerate its significance, yet without the loss of an inherent authenticity sourced from the camera’s ability to accurately reproduce reality.      




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