Christian Metz

Above: Christian Metz. Credit: AUP.


As Christian Metz described--in 1984--two of the most important aspects of photographic authority are immobility and silence. For Metz these two qualities, "are not only two objective aspects of death, they are also its main symbols, they figure it." As Metz notes, photo-images of the dead are a basic usage of photography but so too, as he elaborates, all photo-portraits are an index of vanished time and evidence of our own aging. Equally, for Metz, the snapshot photo is connected to death in that it removes the object into another world, it becomes an "immediate and definitive" fragment, "photography is a cut inside the referent, it cuts off a piece of it ... cutting off a piece of space and time, keeping it unchanged while the world around continues to change." The photo is what Metz calls a "past presence." These three aspects--the cut/fragment, silence, immobility--are basic to Metz's thoughts on the photograph and its relationship to death. (Metz cites Philippe Dubois and Barthes as other thinkers who have also discussed the photograph in this way.)

We might consider Metz's components in relationship to the familiar scene of Instagram photography today. If a photo-theorist were to observe that the Instagram image is tied to death and tends to refer to death no matter what its subject matter, then the user might be perturbed. However, it is easy to see that Metz's conceptualization is as cogent to the digital selfie-era as it was in the analogue photo epoch. It is quite plausible to argue, following Metz, that Instagram is deeply connected symbolically to death. In a way it could be posited that what underpins the success of Instagram is actually morbid fascination and rituals of mourning.

(3 February 2020)