Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Thomas Bernhard on Photography

Some entertainment from Thomas Bernhard. It is actually his narrator Murau in Extinction. (The Penguin edition of the book has a photograph on the cover which looks strangely like the one he talks about in the book and one of which actually prompted this rant. I wonder whose photograph is this. I have a different edition of the book with a rather drab cover.)

"Basically I detest photographs, and it has never occurred to me to take any, except for the ones taken in London and Sankt Wolfgang, and another that I took in Cannes. I have never owned a camera. I despise people who are forever taking pictures and go around with cameras hanging from their necks, always on the lookout for a subject, snapping anything and everything, however silly. All the time they have nothing in their heads but portraying themselves, in the most distasteful manner, though they are quite oblivious of this. What they capture in their photos is a perversely distorted world that has nothing to do with the real world except this perverse distortion, for which they themselves are responsible. Photography is a vulgar addiction that is gradually taking hold of the whole of humanity, which is not only enamored of such distortion and perversion but completely sold on them, and will in due course, given the proliferation of photography, take the distorted and perverted world of the photograph to be the only real one. Practitioners of of photography are guilty of one of the worst crimes it is possible to commit--of turning nature into a grotesque. The people in their photographs are nothing but pathetic dolls, disfigured beyond recognition, staring in alarm into the pitiless lens, brainless and repellent. Photography is a base passion that has taken hold of every continent and every section of the population, a sickness that afflicts the whole of humanity and is no longer curable. The inventor of the photographic art was the inventor of the most inhumane of all arts. To him we owe the ultimate distortion of nature and the human beings who form part of it, the reduction of human beings to perverse caricatures--his and theirs. I have yet to see a photograph that shows a normal person, a true and genuine person, just as I have yet to see one that gives a true and genuine representation of nature. Photography is the greatest disaster of the twentieth century. Nothing has ever sickened me so much as looking at photographs..."

It goes on for some more...

Also, you can see him speaking and reading from his book on This Space.

9 comments:

Szerelem said...

Eh...I don't agree with him! He's being a bit too harsh...plus we can and need to look at photography as an art as well...akin to painting (whoever said artists depict reality as is).

Perhaps I'm biased because photography interests me.....

Alok said...

It is not supposed to be taken at the face value. You have to actually read one of his books. He himself is a master of distortion and exaggeration and harsh judgments.

but that said I don't think there is an artistic medium more susceptible to sentimentality and kitsch than photography.

Szerelem said...

but that said I don't think there is an artistic medium more susceptible to sentimentality and kitsch than photography

That's true but there are some wonderful artists in the field of photography. Cartier-Bresson of course....but my all time favourite is probably Steve McCurry.

KUBLA KHAN said...

this is one of my favourite passages in this novel. one must try to see that this rant is based inside the character, not outside, and the melliflous destruction of the word or words themselves provide the flavour of the mood he creates. in Gargoyles, Bernhard does the same to the word boredom.......
it is this distortion, i agree with you, this exaggeration that makes Berhard supremely readable.
as for photography being sentimental, at times yes. in the end all photos are untrue and facile.

Cheshire Cat said...

This is why I love Bernhard. He doesn't seem to be against photography itself so much as the democratization thereof. All these people calling themselves artists just because they can now steal pieces of the world for themselves...

tom said...

I used to work with a woman whose thinking was just like this character, and she used to spout this kind of extreme negativity in any and all directions, at all times and occasions, not limited to any one subject, but in regards to practically every aspect of humanity. Sometimes she was very funny, but after awhile ... you wanted to give her "a chill pill"

Alok said...

szerelem: I had seen some of the photographs of McCurry but that website is amazing. thanks for the link.

kubla: yes that is absolutely necessary, to see it as part of the character's monologue. It is just an act of negation, a very deliberate one.

cat: yes and also the sentimentalization and falseness. His Old Masters has a hilarious long rant on painting and art critics too. Haven't read it in full but he comes back to this subject again and again in his other books too.

tom: yeah I know what you are talking about. You will feel the same about Bernhard's narrators too. The reader will be breathless after a while but the narrator won't stop his rant...

Cheshire Cat said...

"Old Masters" is somewhat mellower than the others, but it does have its share of entertaining rants. I remember it for the phenomenal tirade against Heidegger...

Alok said...

Haha. Yes I remember it. I will copy it some time. It is preceded by an equally entertaining one on Stifter.