Vilém Flusser on the apparatus

Vilém Flusser’s book ‘Towards a philosophy of Photography’, first published in 1983, talks about the technical image making beyond the camera but hones in mainly on photography and talks, at length, about the apparatus. According to Flusser the photographers are playing a game that the apparatus has set the rules for.

According to Flusser “the latin word apparatus is derived from the ver apparare meaning ‘to prepare”. When thinking about my practice in terms of this you can look at how much of the work i make and out comes I get are 90% preparation and and the actual work only seconds to make or set up once prepared. Accordingly it is the apparatus job to wait and be ready for something. It anticipates that something will happen. However an apparatus could not exist with out its maker and controller. On page 27 Flusser says this “They are not working, they do not want to change the world, but they are in search of information”. I really enjoy this simple way of looking at the apparatus and photography. I am not trying to change the work, mearly I try to capture information that open up different ways of looking.

Images are meant to represent something or signify something that is out there. In real time and space. Making it understandable to us as abstractions. We need creativity to be able to create surfaces out of space and time and turn them into pictures and we need imagination to read them and learn from them. Essentially a photographer is in pursuit of information by using but also pushing against the rules of the apparatus. Fusser goes on to say that this method of working and looking has to be fruitful or it would all ready be over.

“The program of the camera has to be rich, otherwise the game would soon be over. The possibilities contained within it have to transcend the ability of the functionary to exhaust them, ie of its functionaries. No photographer, not even the totality of all photographers, can entirely get to the bottom of what a correctly programmed camera is up to. Its a black box.”

What Flusser is saying here as I understand is that no matter how well we program a camera, there is a magic to it that we do not control and therefore the possibilities are endless and keep photographers wanting to take more and see more. He continues to talk about the black box and more to what I can relate too…

“It is precisely the obscurity of the box which motivates photographers to take photographs. They lose themselves, it is true, inside the camera in search of possibilities, but they can nevertheless control the box” He then goes on to talking about how photographers do not literally know what goes on inside the box which is not relevant to me as that is where I literally make my images inside the darkened chamber.

Flusser, for me, talks about the importance of the apparatus. He explains but does not answer what it is that is so magic about photography that keeps so many photographers searching for information provided by the camera. To be inside the camera and work from within the black box it becomes a very bodily and mediative experience of the apparatus. The apparatus has a job to do and so do I. Together we search of information, motivated by never quiet being able to grasp what one in other actually do.

Flusser, Vilém. (2007). Towards a philosophy of photography. Reaktion Books. Pg 21- 33


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