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  • A Memorandum on the Photograph: Movement and Time in Blurs and Stills
  • Kanai Mieko (bio)
    Translated by Hannah Osborne (bio)

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Yoneda Tomoko, Abe Kobo’s Glasses–Viewing the Manuscript of The Box Man, from the series Between Visible and Invisible, 2013. Gelatin silver print.

© Tomoko Yoneda. Courtesy of the artist.

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Prints taken and developed by a photographer used to be called “pictures,” and films taken by a cinematographer used to be called “photographs,” nowadays, however, we never see or hear these words being used in this way; except by those who delight in bucking the current trend (or, at least, appearing to), with the pride of a computer geek.1

Of course, this kind of inverted snobbery may well have been shared by the avant-garde who set themselves against bourgeois perspectives on Art, as defined by Gustave Flaubert’s Dictionary of Received Ideas: “What is its point now that its place has been taken by mechanical processes that are ‘faster and superior’?” And it is precisely from such bourgeois conceptions of Art that “paintings,” “photographs,” and “films” might in turn be seen as graduated technological advancements with each development superseding the last, so that whereas daguerreotypes simply “take the shine off painting,” photographs “consign painting to the dustbin.”2

Having said that, there are a few instances where various terms used to describe projected images were initially formed in relation to their specific technological innovations—“plate” for the icon that the pinhole camera obscura copied onto a silver coated plate; “paper prints” for the printed image of the photograph upon paper; and finally “film” for the material on to which photographs are strung together to make moving images—but have now shifted in the application of their meaning. At first, then, naming these parts was simply a matter of technical accuracy; calling “videotapes” that we watch on our television screens “films” as we do now, however, seems like a completely different exercise. [End Page 227]


When I started this essay, I intended to write about how photographs appear in films; but before I do so, I wish to write about how, within the moment of the unmoving fixed image of a photograph (or drawing of light)—a moment measured by the speed of the camera’s shutter—there lives a subtle cinematograph (or drawing of movement):

In summer, canna lilies of all colors bloomed. In our garden they grew taller than the adults, and to me they seemed like a grove of trees. One day, our whole family formed two lines in front of those lilies. I can picture it now; a box-shaped camera pointing toward us, next to which stood a man I didn’t know. I was being held by my mother at the end of one line. We faced the main road, so our main residence was off to the left; and I could see my grandmother perched on its veranda. My elder sister and brother took turns to go and speak to her about something, but she didn’t get up. So then, having decided to leave my grandmother out, we must have all turned toward the box-shaped thing; but, this time, the strange man started talking very earnestly to me. Saying things like, “Hey, wait for the lil birdie to pop up!” he tried very hard to catch me smiling, as he pointed to the box covered with a black cloth. In our house we never once used baby words like lil birdie, so I remember that phrase extremely well; and I of course realized that the man was doing his best to divert me. Well, that lil birdie never did show its face. And it wasn’t until many years later, when looking at the photograph, that I realized what had been going on at that moment. While everyone else had appropriate smiles fixed upon their faces, only I, being held by mother, have this smudgy blur. Although I remember the scene well, I was surprised to see that I’d been so young that I’d not been able to stay still even for the duration of a photograph...