Ivanovic heads the ball

Above: Ivanovic heads the ball during the football match West Ham v Chelsea, March 2015. Credit: Press Association/Irish Mirror.

Optical Unconscious

The football sports photographer captures haunting and unnatural photo-images that are often compelling and reminiscent of Capa's photo of the Falling Soldier (one of the most contested and vexing photos in the canon).

The freeze effect of the sports photographer's capture is weird. (Since video highlights clips came in these photos are absolutely redundant; footy supporters just glance at such images for a nanosecond--they exist to fill a space on a newspaper page and are of no real interest to the fans.)

For me these photos are wonderful--and the more unnatural the better. Such pictures are par excellence bang-on-the-money examples of what German philosopher Walter Benjamin dubbed the "optical unconscious." That is, some aspect of reality which is hidden from ordinary visual perception (due to its being so fleeting, or microscopically small, etc.) and only revealed by the still photograph.

The enjoyment of the fixed-footballer photo is often the horrifying expression on the face of the frozen player. The grimace that uncovers real pain, utter concentration, etc., which cannot be discerned at all in real-time. (Footballers generally want to look--as much as possible--rather cool and elegant when they play.) Such photos are slowly fading out as the video clip takes over and the hard-copy daily newspapers close down. It will be a shame when they go for good because they bring-to-light aspects of the game that are not otherwise manifest.

(28 June 2018)