Such a voyage does not necessarily imply great movements in extension; it becomes immobile, in a room and on a body without organs—an intensive voyage that undoes all the lands for the benefit of the one it is creating. (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 319)
Edward Burtynsky’s manufactured landscapes – large-format, photographic compositions of industrially-transformed environments, simultaneously precise and dynamic, static and complex, ordered and irrepressible – feature deliberate, disembodied perspectives of uncontrollable spaces harnessed by the camera and corralled by the frame. The topographic and tectonic images compel a shifting eye and reveal a liminal space neither natural nor cultural, a stratigraphic duration neither primeval nor modern, an image of thought neither rationalist nor empiricist. The visual framing detaches from human perception and reattaches to pure affect in order to interrogate the vast obscurity and silence of the contemporary sublime.
In interviews, exhibition catalogs and his writing, Burtynsky invariably interprets his photography in mimetic and moral terms, rhetorically transforming them into a didactic discourse on ecology, cautionary tales against technology and prophesies of excess-induced dystopias, especially the precarious transgressions by humans into nature and excursions of industry into otherwise pristine environments.[i] Burtynsky posits his photographic subjects as machines in the garden and reinforces a divide between the natural and built environments, as well as the authentic and the artificial, belying the real aesthetic power and intensity of his images, which lie in the revelation of sensation that compel viewers into the material vitality of this world. Any crisis of ecology is more accurately considered a crisis of vision and less important than the extraction of resources and profit ostensibly represented by the photographs is the extraction of affect and sensation expressed through them.
In the transition between the two volumes of his cinema project, Deleuze provides a critical framework for (re)considering such images and their immanent dynamics when he relates any-space-whatevers to the process of ‘Tearing a real image from clichés’ (Deleuze 1989: 21). No longer an objective view of reality from which to judge a situation, photography as any-space-whatever posits an indiscernibility between what is real and what is created, between actual and virtual, and it creates contingent spaces in which relationships and connections take lines of flight that undermine habitual recognition, enabling thought to continually emerge anew. Deleuze writes, ‘And the visual image for its part frames an any-space-whatever, an empty or disconnected space which takes on a new value, because it will bury the event under stratigraphic layers, and make it go down like an underground fire which is always covered over’ (Deleuze 1989: 279). This protean process moves the spectator from the transcendent to the immanent, from a capture of objects to new strategies for looking and feeling, from cliché to exhaustion.
In Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, Deleuze asserts ambivalence toward photography, which is too easily treated as an immobilized truth and a direct reification of the representational modes of thought and practice he devoted his oeuvre to overturning. Photography, like all perception, is too often conflated with naïve empiricism, the acquisition of knowledge and experience through immediate sense perception, especially sight. He repeatedly associates photography with cliché, drawing on the double meaning of the word in French as both stereotypical thinking and a snapshot of reality. Cliché marks a mechanical and instantaneous act that requires little effort or thought and results in a temporal freezing and spatial sectioning of an image of reality from its virtual and durational context.
However, Deleuze also recognizes that photography is not innately mimetic, stressing that, ‘The photograph, though instantaneous, has a completely different ambition than representing, illustrating, or narrating’ (Deleuze 2003: 8-9). Because photography gives the illusion of merely capturing reality, it is often reduced to that role, diminishing all objects within its purview to clichés. If reality were static, then capturing something new would be impossible and photography would rightly be considered merely representational. Therefore, Deleuze’s attack is not specifically on photography but on representational modes of thought that conflate the empirical, especially the visual that gives itself to sight as presentational immediacy, with absolute truth, ignoring the element of excess revealed through forces of sensation and intensities of affect.
To combat cliché within the visual regime, Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism refuses to conflate sensation and affect with the faculties or the sensory-motor apparatus of causal logic, nor does it organize experience through categories. In such representational modes of thought, the transcendent is traced from the empirical, merely reinforcing what and how we already know without yielding anything new. For Deleuze, on the other hand, sense, understanding and identity emerge from the virtual, the unconditioned and pre-individuated plane that constructs percepts and concepts. Sensibility must be liberated through constant innovation to repel representational thinking and dogmatic images of thought through intensities. These events are transcendental only insofar as they posit an immanent potential as a necessary condition, while rejecting epistemological foundations, and they are empirical because they emerge from actual conditions of experience.
Deleuze also inveighs against the hegemony of perception conceived additively and dualistically as external reality plus human consciousness rather than a Bergsonian subtraction in which perception operates through a complex process of selecting from a virtual flux that which is interesting, relevant and useful. Following Bergson, Deleuze assumes an overwhelming abundance of images from which the challenge is to extract feeling and sensation and with which to express the inexpressible. That is, there is an anthropomorphic and centered sphere of perception that dissociates matter from movement and an acentered variety of perception that posits images in themselves merging with all physical interaction as pure movement. Deleuze (quoting Bergson) writes, ‘In other words, the eye is in things, in luminous images in themselves. “Photography, if there is photography, is already snapped, already shot, in the very interior of things and for all the points of space”’ (Deleuze 1986: 60).
Like Jacques Derrida, who writes, ‘we would not be reducing the specificity of…photography were we to find it pertinent elsewhere: I would say everywhere’ (Reprinted in Richter 2010: xxii), Deleuze seeks to address the proliferation of visual registers that exacerbate the tendency toward cliché in perception and comprehension. He writes, ‘We are besieged by photographs that are illustrations, by newspapers that are narrations, by cinema-images, by television-images. There are psychic clichés just as there are physical clichés – ready-made perceptions, memories, phantasms’ (Deleuze 2003: 87). That is, clichés inundate the myriad visual and narrative registers confronting our daily lives and our thoughts.
In fact, clichés precede all arts, perception and creative acts. These clichés on the canvas represent the habitual thought with which the artist must try to break in order to express a new concept rather than recreate a pre-existing idea already categorized. Deleuze writes, ‘Clichés are always already on the canvas, and if the painter is content to transform the cliché, to deform or mutilate it, to manipulate it in every possible way, this reaction is still too intellectual, too abstract: it allows the cliché to rise again from its ashes, it leaves the painter within the milieu of the cliché, or else gives him or her no other consolation than parody’ (Deleuze 2003: 87). Neither critique nor irony is sufficient to combat the insidiousness of cliché. The goal of the artist is to transcend and break from these clichés, drawing attention to the act of perception.
It is unfortunate that Deleuze’s most prolonged engagement with photography occurs in his book on Francis Bacon, because while the painter used photography as an intermediary, a dubious and provisional necessity, rather than the ultimate image of expression, Deleuze’s relationship with the photograph is infinitely more complex. Photography prefigures the “powers of the false” Deleuze will develop in relation to modern film in Cinema 2, and he associates the medium with the affirmative powers of simulacrum, a concept developed in Logic of Sense as a potentialized copy without model rather than an inferior copy. Deleuze writes:
The photograph “creates” the person or the landscape in the sense that we say that the newspaper creates the event (and is not content to narrate it). What we see, what we perceive, are photographs. The most significant thing about the photograph is that it forces upon us the “truth” of implausible and doctored images. Bacon has no intention of reacting against this movement; on the contrary, he abandons himself to it, and not without delight. Like Lucretius’s simulacrum, photographs seem to him to cut across ages and temperaments, to come from afar, in order to fill every room or every brain. He therefore does not simply criticize photographs for being figurative or for representing something, since he is very sensitive to the fact that they are something, that they impose themselves upon sight and rule over the eye completely. They can thus lay claim to aesthetic pretensions, and compete with painting. (Deleuze 2003: 91)
Paradoxically, but without a hint of contradiction or irony Deleuze writes, ‘I am convinced that what Cezanne himself wanted was representation. He wanted true-to-life representation. Only he wanted it more true-to-life’ (Deleuze 2003: 88). The “more” here is the excess that pervades the purview of experience ensuring that ‘figurative givens are much more complex than they appear to be at first’ (Deleuze 2003: 90). In other words, expression of sensation entails realism without naturalism. Photography expresses, but never prescribes, a process of selection and focus, actualizing something singular within an inexhaustible flow of virtual potential. What Alfred Whitehead called the ‘‘capture of intensity’’ and the ‘‘clutch at vivid immediacy’’ are thus the defining characteristics of both photography and life (Whitehead 1978: 105). This is not unlike the more recent working methods and expressive tendencies of Jeff Wall, who writes:
I think it’s the picture that indicates, or hints at, what makes Adrian want to draw the specimen. The specimen can’t reveal that, no subject of a depiction can. What reveals it is the feeling in the picture, the feeling that drawing is something one loves and needs to do, in order to make depictions properly. I like to think my picture is made properly too. And that, if it is beautiful and gives pleasure, then that pleasure suggests the pleasure of all depictions, Adrian’s included. So, to me, it’s not so much a cognitive model, but a depiction of the love of depiction.’ (Wall, reprinted in Latour 2008: 31)
That is, photography opens up space, time, subjectivity and individuation so that we not only perceive particulars but also develop affect, a form of sensibility that structures how we experience an environment.
As a result, we encounter photography extensively and intensively in media res or in milieu, in the fullest sense of the French word that signifies a general setting, a specific space in the middle and an act of filling in. As Deleuze and Guattari writes, ‘one has made a necessarily communicating world, because one has suppressed in oneself everything that prevents us from slipping between things and growing in the midst of things. One has combined “everything” (le “tout”): the indefinite article, the infinitive-becoming, and the proper name to which one is reduced. Saturate, eliminate, put everything in’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 280). In other words, photography and perception resist habit and cliché by refusing immediate extension into action, refusing direct sensory-motor causality, invested by the senses before action occurs. Photographs take on an autonomous, material reality, which gives them an importance in themselves. This is a novel and contemporary means of addressing the perennial divide between realism and constructivism that has beset the history of photography. The documentary role of photography consigns it to a representational mode of thought slave to mimetic aesthetic strategies, while the aesthetic role of art photography can often be read as inferior painting, mauling the image without deforming it to definitively break with cliché.
In “Photography’s Discursive Spaces,” Rosalind Krauss contends that landscape photography has always elicited an uneasy tension between objective, practical approaches and subjective, aesthetic ones. She distinguishes the empirical from the rational in photography through the concepts of landscape – an objective representation of the world requiring mapped and grounded coordinates to make the space homogeneous and relatable as scientific data – and view – an aesthetic act of visual creation in which the reality of space gives way to sensation. She argues that the landscape photograph had to satisfy specific, historically situated requirements and formed a coherent discourse, distinct and often opposed to the aesthetic discourse of painting and the museum.
Krauss exemplifies this perpetual dichotomy with a comparison between the original photographic (1867) and the lithographic reproduction (1875) of Timothy O’Sullivan’s Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake (Nevada). The original operates as ‘a model of the mysterious, silent beauty to which landscape photography had access during the early decades of the medium,’ while the lithograph, ostensibly produced for scientific purposes, ‘is an object of insistent visual banality.’ In ‘the demotion of this image from strange to commonplace,’ obscure ambience has been explicated, hazy masses have become clearly demarcated geological features, the ambiguous boundary between earth and sky in the former has been clearly demarcated as a shoreline in the latter, and the lake has been transformed from an abyss in which objects are suspended, partly obscured and partly revealed, into a clearly articulated body (Krauss Winter 1982: 311).
Krauss argues that such a transformation posits these two images, the photograph and its translation, as part of two different spheres of culture, assuming a different audience and disseminating two distinct forms of knowledge and ‘representations within two separate discursive spaces, as members of two different discourses’ (Krauss Winter 1982: 311). The lithograph serves as part of an empirical discourse within geological sciences, while the photograph belongs to the discourse of the museum exhibition, spatially and critically related to ‘the continuous surface of wall, a wall increasingly unstructured for any purpose other than the display of art’ (Krauss Winter 1982: 312). Analytic perspective provides ‘an image of geographic order’ while exhibition ‘represents the space of an autonomous Art and its idealized, specialized History, which is constituted by aesthetic discourse’ (Krauss Winter 1982: 315).
More recently, Gerhard Richter has addressed the relationship between mechanical and aesthetic reproduction, techne and poiesis, singularity and universality, insisting on the inspection of specific photographs rather than photography. Richter returns to the perennial issue: ‘Does photography, at least in its classical technical formulations, depict what is already present in the object world, or does it create its own reality?’ (Richter 2010: xxxiii) only to move beyond these staid dichotomies by invoking Derrida who ‘prefers to distinguish between two forms of invention, namely “invention as a discovery or a revelation of what already is there in the invention of the other” and “invention as technical intervention, as the production of a new technical apparatus that constitutes the other instead of simply receiving him’ (Richter 2010: xxxiv). In either case, the other must remain beyond comprehension, unrepresentable and enigmatic. Richter writes:
The call of the other, if it is yet to come, can only be staged in multiple voices, and this future staging itself can only be written and thought about in multiple voices, ones that remain elusive and spectral. “The spectral,” Derrida reminds us, “is the essence of photography.” We could say that, by the same token, the other of invention, the other that cannot be invented, also unhinges the binary opposition between invention as finding and invention as the techné of production or as poiesis. Does the photograph, understood in its most radical form—that is, as a name for certain complex figures of thought, experience, and their reproducibilities—not also participate in a movement that places the strict demarcation of the two senses of invention quietly under erasure? Is not photography itself a name for the impossible possibility of invention? (Richter 2010: xxxvii)
Any-space-whatevers constitute a similar two-fold inventive process in which images are selected from the matter flow of reality and constituted via an other understood as an outside of thought. Deleuze writes, ‘And just as the image must attain the indefinite, while remaining completely determined, so space must always be an anyspace-whatever, disused, unmodified, even though it is entirely determined geometrically’ (Deleuze 1998: 43). Artists invent percepts and affects as singularities, as well as virtual universals that precede any specific affects or percepts. Any-space-whatevers experience two creative geneses: a universal, non-human one and a singular, subjective one. As the former, any-space-whatever submits movement without subject or object, lacks definite qualities and refuses to invite direct engagement, opting instead for indeterminacy and indiscernibility rather than critical interpretation. As the latter, any-space-whatever evinces ineffable spaces and situations to which we don’t know how to react.
Photography as a generous medium, amenable to the accidental and the unintended, informs Roland Barthe’s concept of the punctum. In Camera Lucida, Barthes describes how, initially, photography photographed the notable, but that soon it made ‘notable whatever it photographs. The “anything whatever” then becomes the sophisticated acme of value’ (Barthes 1981: 13). However, Barthes tacitly accepts a passive role for the photographer and a realist, indexical concept of photography as a representational trace of the real. While the accidental and chance are important to any-space-whatever, its creation is not passive, subjective or dependent on a viewer constructing meaning without intentionality.
Deleuze’s any-space-whatevers – irrational, disconnected, aberrant, schizophrenic spaces – no longer obey laws of traditional, commonsensical causality. As a locus of production in which time and space are detached from causal logic and reattached to a logic of events, sense and sensation, any-space-whatever frustrates the hope for resolution, combining all possible spaces and spatial geneses in the concrete without abstraction. However, more than sites that confound, any-space-whatevers also create by revealing the infinite potential of virtual connections through space and time. Deleuze’s most concise definition asserts, ‘Any-space-whatever is not an abstract universal, in all times, in all places. It is a perfectly singular space, which has merely lost its homogeneity, that is, the principle of its metric relations or the connection of its own parts so that the linkages can be made in an infinite number of ways. It is a space of virtual conjunction, grasped as pure locus of the possible’ (Deleuze 1986: 109).
It is through this concept of any-space-whatever that Burtynsky’s photographs oppose representation, linear causality and the duality of nature and culture. Instead, they reveal a nonhuman dimension of consciousness linked to the virtual realm of possibilities always already waiting to be utilized when thought is conceived anew. He sublimates particular spaces and times, subjects and objects, as well as duration, globalization, industrial and post-industrial dynamics as a machinic assemblage, deterritorializing the invisible dynamics of industrial operations rather than capturing and territorializing a moral position. Burtynsky’s landscapes are “manufactured” insofar as the term is not conflated with the synthetic and artificial. His images are real and form an important part of a new generation of landscape photographers.
In the late 1970s photographers, including James Welling, Jeff Wall, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Thomas Demand, Rineke Dijkstra, Candida Höfer, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Luc Delahaye, deterritorialized the relationship between space and photography by making images large and creating them for the wall. As Michael Fried argues, photography developed an ontological depth that neither mimics painting nor purports to objectively represent reality. Jean-Francois Chevrier, labeling these new photographic images “the tableau form” writes:
Their images are not mere prints – mobile, manipulable sheets that are framed and mounted on a wall for the duration of an exhibition and go back into their boxes afterward. They are designed produced for the wall, summoning a confrontational experience on the part of the spectator that sharply contrasts with the habitual processes of appropriation and projection whereby photography images are normally received and “consumed.” The restitution of the tableau form (to which the art of the 1960s and 1970s, it will be recalled, was largely opposed) has the primary aim of restoring the distance to the object-image necessary for the confrontational experience, but implies no nostalgia for painting and no specifically “reactionary” impulse. The frontality of the picture hung on or affixed to the wall and its autonomy as an object are not sufficient as finalities. It is not a matter of elevating the photographic image to the place and rank of the painting. It is about using the tableau form to reactivate a thinking based on fragments, openness, and contradiction, not the utopia of a comprehensive or systematic order. (Reprinted with translation alterations in Fried 2008: 143)
In other words, photographs were actively constructed rather than passively captured. As Fried notes, the word tableau is significant because it denotes constructedness, the result of an intellectual and physical act of creation. Tableaus are neither representational nor purely aesthetic, but rather intentionally staged and meticulously constructed expressions, every element of which is carefully selected for exact purposes.
The large format highlights empirical details, but it exceeds the reduction of presentational immediacy by staging confrontations. As Michael Fried writes, ‘The size highlights visual density of details that are only visible at this increased scale, and as such, the act of contemplation before the image, the relationship between the viewer and the photograph, became crucial to the experience of photography. The density of the image serves to exclude and distanciate, allowing the photography to operate independently of its milieu, reinforcing the object as artistic spectacle as much as social document (Fried 2008: 21).
Production for the wall implicates composition and framing, which introduce an interval that forestalls movement and makes us think, an interstitial space and time separating perception, action and affect or as Elizabeth Grosz, echoing Bergson, calls it, ‘the zone of indeterminacy between subject and object’ (Grosz 2008: 73). Photography, like perception, is neither subjective experience, as phenomenology would have us believe, nor a radically empirical and quantifiable concept. Photography organizes and actualizes consciousness and perception by constituting a material intensity and reveals sensations that are neither in us nor wholly outside of us.
Framing reminds us of the process of selection by which we delimit the chaos of our environment. However, chaos is not disorder as much as a Bergsonian flow of matter-images, or those ‘forces that cannot be distinguished or differentiated from each other’ (Grosz 2008: 5) and from which order as the excesses of spatial and temporal movement must be extracted in order to comprehend the forces motivating, enacting and transforming cultural production. Grosz continues:
Art engenders becomings, not imaginative becomings—the elaboration of images and narratives in which a subject might recognize itself, not self-representations, narratives, confessions, testimonies of what is and has been—but material becomings, in which these imponderable universal forces touch and become enveloped in life, in which life folds over itself to embrace its contact with materiality, in which each exchanges some elements or particles with the other to become more and other…Art is the opening up of the universe to becoming-other. (Grosz 2008: 23)
The twofold process of invention and becoming-other through specification and differentiation is most discernible in the visual act of framing, a provisional and artificial method of enclosure that defines the screen as a working area and reveals perceptual strategies of selection or the basic act of choosing parts from a durational whole. ‘However, visual framing,’ Deleuze argues, ‘is now defined less by the choice of a pre-existing side of the visible object than by the invention of a point of view which disconnects the sides, or establishes a void between them, in such a way as to extract a pure space, an any-space-whatever, from the space given in objects’ (Deleuze 1989: 251).
Framing allows photography to filter the environment rather than represent it, and it acts to separate, cutting into milieus and spaces. Grosz writes, ‘Territory frames chaos provisionally and in the process produces extractable qualities, which become the materials and formal structures of art.’ (Grosz 2008: 16). The frame then includes, excludes and determines an out-of-field (hors-champ), which serves to tie images on screen to images off the screen or outside of its direct purview. As Deleuze writes, the out-of-field has two facets: ‘the actualisable relation with other sets, and the virtual relation with the whole’ (Deleuze 1986: 18), or, in other words, relative movement, which is spatial and actual, and absolute movement, which is temporal and virtual, constituting change, duration and becoming.
However, if the act of selecting is to be understood as one of creation, the screen as frame serves to disorient as much as to unite. The frame into which the photograph is situated forces entities of all sizes and shapes, from cosmic landscapes of the universe to the microscopic worlds of atoms, to occupy the same frame. Far from a deceptive practice, however, Deleuze finds in this destabilizing practice of framing a means to ensure a constant deterritorialisation of the image. That is, deframings and out-of-fields ensure that the image can never be absolutely codified, assigned to a particular section of space or time. Images are always revealed as moving parts of a whole that also moves.
If we deduce the process of thought, creation and meaning from the image and sign as they appear for themselves without any formal, aesthetic, or ideological influences, absent a pre-determined or pre-existing foundation from which to judge works, these spaces become singular rather than symbolic or iconographic. The industrial sublime works in part by resisting a specific function, thus opening a flux of possibilities and by resisting attempts to confine it to preconceived forms. As Burtynsky conceives it, the contemporary sublime connects us with a pre-individual state of becoming, neither reaffirming nor disaffirming an image of self we might hold. Burtynsky’s photography in fact can only be considered in relation to excess. The objects in the images – ships, their parts, the landscape, the geological stratification, temporal duration that lies virtual in each landscape – are larger than life, exceeding the capacity of categorization into immediate functionality or moral discourse. The images invoke the sublime intensity of scale while undermining anthropocentric views of the universe that suggest our aim is the control or maintain nature.
Kant comprehends the vertiginous sensation of the sublime as the inadequacy and incommensurability of seeking an appropriate unit of measure only to be thwarted when one’s choice fails. There is always within the sublime and any-space-whatever a disjunction between parts that preclude totality, wholeness, unity, causal logic and sequential composition. Our supposed structures of empirical perception and rational understanding explode. However, unlike Kant, who conceived of the sublime as a means of expressing absolutes (infinity, the divine, the end of history), Deleuze’s any-space-whatever expresses and gives rise to affect as centers of indetermination, eschewing absolutes. As Deleuze and Guattari write, ‘Affects are precisely these nonhuman becomings of man, just as percepts – including the town – are nonhuman landscapes of nature’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 169).
Burtynsky’s Shipbreaking series (2000) is exemplar. Through a series of dozens of photographs, the artist documents the dismantling of decommissioned sea vessels during which their parts and materials are salvaged for recycling and reuse. Obsolete ships arrive at the beach – at Chittagong in this case – gear and equipment are removed, the ships are physically disassembled and deconstructed, and the steel is reconstituted as rebar. Here the space is decidedly non-modern. Without a pier, dry-dock or slip, the workers set the ships 50 kilometers from shore during high tide, drive them toward land at full speed, lodging them in the effluvial flats of the Ganges River. The tide then recedes affording access to the ships. Despite the suggestion of a linear causal disassembly process, the non-linear numbering of the images distances them from any rational sequencing. As any-space-whatever, relationships between use-value, human scale, industrial scale, ecological events, as well as the complete series of shipbreaking images, fail to tell a coherent and linear narrative, revealing instead the never-ending dynamics and potential of a virtual elsewhere.
The Chittagong Shipbreaking Beach operates to disorient through framing and perception. Any pre-conceived image of the landscape must give way to new images of thought as the introduction of these sublime forms separates the structure from the environment rather than reinforcing any idealized notions of it. The frame, however, remains permeable without a rigid demarcation. There is no predefined cause for subsequent effects and no clear action and reaction that can result from the introduction of this industrial element into the environment. The sublime form and space operates as vectors and contingencies arranging relationships and linkages rather than delimiting space.
In all of Burtynsky’s images, alien structures act to frame the environment and landscape, introducing a foreign element into the field of perception, and gives rise to a forestalling of action, an ambivalence in the presence of the sublime magnitude and absence of a clearly stated purpose or origin. Affect is introduced in the interval between perception and action as the structures become faces in the landscape, expressive of excess. The clover leaf-shaped road network, despite serving a clear function to transport vehicles, nevertheless resists reduction to this intended purpose. The function here is less significant than its insistence on challenging habitual recognition and undermining symbolism by allowing (or forcing) one to project new forms of identity into the spaces opened up by the autonomous force of its scale and its relation to duration. Its incapacity to be fully grasped from any one perspective gives rise to a sublime expression of excess.
Similarly, the Three Gorges Dam (Fig. 2.05), despite its utility, resists codification, acting as an interval in which occupants become centers of indetermination linking the perceptual framing of the sublime form with the aleatory nature of the action to follow. In this way, space and photography are symbiotic. They both imbue their moment of capture, and they communicate a mutual construction of surplus and differentiated production. As Grosz writes, ‘Art, like nature itself, is always a strange coupling, the coming together of two orders, one chaotic, the other ordered, one folding and the other unfolding, one contraction and the other dilation’ (Grosz 2008: 9). Burtynsky’s photography never depends on the ephemeral nature of its content. His images are of events slow to change, so there nothing impromptu or urgent in them. Nevertheless, the spaces have a certain contingent characteristic. Burtynsky gives us spatio-temporal assemblages – manufactured multiplicities that reveal relations and processes at work in the world and in which identity is lost in any-space-whatevers while connecting us to pre-subjective modes of thought and individuation.
The aesthetic fascination with the technological sublime can be attributed to its capacity to invest the built environment with a form of transcendence to counter the fragmentation and alienation of an increasingly secularized world without absolutes. Morally, the industrial sublime is conventionally conceived as either an enormous force for good as when it accommodates machinery, functions and aids the human body in repetitive or complex tasks, or as a force for evil as when it overwhelms and defies human productivity, becoming spaces of oppression as evinced in the dehumanizing scale of the factories Burtynsky photographs.
However, Art endures intensities that humans and landscapes cannot experience, but we miss this important role for art if we see it as representational. Any-space-whatever makes the visual image archaeological, stratigraphic, tectonic, as well as a new discursive strategy, asking questions about creation and emergence and the situations under which the new is produced rather than about criteria of right and wrong or values of good and evil. Any-space-whatever replaces epistemological questions (e.g. what can we know?) with ontological ones (e.g. under what conditions did this arise?). ‘What counts in the image,’ Deleuze insists, ‘is not its meager content, but the energy—made and ready to explode—that it has harnessed’ (Deleuze 1998: 160).
For Deleuze, any ethical imperative is inseparable from an aesthetic one. In both cases, the aim is to exhaust images. As with any-space-whatever, the exhausted must remain indefinite and determinate. Images must not seek to preserve content, must be new rather than acting as obstacles to novelty, as repetition without difference and parody as accumulations of same and insignificant variations on it. The ephemeral nature of images and events disconnects them from established concepts, spaces, dimensions and reconnects them to processes of production and creative genesis. Deleuze continues, ‘There is a time for images, a right moment when they can appear or insinuate themselves, breaking the combination of words and the flow of voices. […] The energy of the image is dissipative. The image quickly ends and dissipates because it is itself the means of having done with itself. It captures all the possible in order to make it explode. When one says, “I’ve done the image,” it is because this time it is finished, there is no more possibility. The only uncertainty that makes us continue is that even painters, even musicians, are never sure they have succeeded in making the image’ (Deleuze 1998: 161).
Deleuze carefully distinguishes exhaustion from the tiredness of cliché. While the latter is limited to the possible and what has already been conceptualized and categorized, the former occurs through a formation of a series, a drying up of a flow, extenuating potentialities and dissipating the power of the image. Deleuze writes, ‘The possible is only realised in the derivative, in tiredness, whereas one is exhausted before birth, before realising oneself, or realising anything whatsoever’ (Deleuze 1998: 152). Tiredness is a state in which the image causes an assumption of what will follow, while the exhausted precludes any notion of what will occur next. Exhaustion is altogether affirmative insofar as it remains a pre-individuated condition in a constant state of becoming, leading to something other than a content that simply accumulates without variation. The image never becomes a barrier to the new or processes of differentiating by conserving or solidifying content. The image is ephemeral, part of a serial composition continuous with the production of the new and ‘inseparable from the movement through which it dissipates itself,’ (Deleuze 1998: 168).
Beyond these general dynamics of contemporary photography, there are for Deleuze three ways of answering the questions, “How can any-space-whatever be constructed (in the studio or on location)? How can any-space-whatever be extracted from a state of things, from a determinate space?” (Deleuze 1986: 111). First, the strategic use of shadows, which breaks contours and endow objects with a non-organic life in which they lose individuality, potentializing space and making its power unlimited. Second, lyrical abstraction emphasizes movement towards a ‘pure, immanent or spiritual light.’ Finally, color emphasizes intensification and saturation, the absorption or obliteration of lines, figures and faces. More than formal elements, these characteristics impose weak sensory-motor connections, disconnections and vacuity of material and spiritual planes.
All three of these strategies are pronounced in Burtysnky’s photography, the landscapes of which are never reducible to utility, instead introducing a spiritual element, less religious than duration’s introduction of intervals and points of indetermination that entail new images of thought. In Logic of Sense, Deleuze suggests an ethical role for the image when he writes, ‘This is how the Stoic sage not only comprehends and wills the event, but also represents the event and by this selects it, and that an ethics of the mime necessarily prolongs the logic of sense. Beginning with a pure event, the mime directs and doubles the actualisation, measure the mixtures with the aid of an instant without mixture, and prevents them from overflowing’ (Deleuze 1990: 147).
Deleuze associates the darkness of shadows with a struggle of the spirit. Burtynsky contrasts shadows, often in the foreground, with the hazy sky of the background and in the ship parts themselves. Formally and aesthetically, shadows obscure contours and prevent form from fully developing. Shadow, that is, ‘endows things with a non-organic life in which they lose their individuality, and which potentialises space, whilst making it something unlimited’ (Deleuze 1986: 111). If shadows and scale overwhelm human presence, color exhausts and creates any-space-whatevers through absorption and by decontextualizing bodies and landscapes. In Burtynsky’s images, characters tend to meld with their settings, becoming imperceptible.
Ontologically, Burtynsky’s photos ask why there is variation and novelty rather than static identity and creatively replay the eternal return through disjunctive series, the genesis of which is a nonhuman seeing, disconnected from privileged points of the body or human vision. Perception here connects space and time in any way imaginable despite being incommensurate from human perspectives. Absent a clear point of view and tied to the camera’s own vantage point without objective reference, photography becomes a void, a non-anthropocentric view of the world that ‘goes beyond perception […] in the sense that it reaches to the genetic element of all possible perception, that is, the point which changes, and which makes perception change, the differential of perception itself’ (Deleuze 1986: 83).
The event must be actively willed rather than passively accepted. Actors and mimes accomplish this task by repeating the event differently, representing it to the maximum of its singularity, affording it novel sense and significance. The problem Deleuze outlines, following the Stoics, is one of how to break the egg, rather than how to avoid breaking it. In other words, the artist’s task is to create sensation and harness affect in the face of inevitable events rather than preventing or denying the events. Moral problems are poorly posed if they begin with denial, ignoring ideas, desires and phantasms. Creativity of the event demands a new and parallel creativity, a progressive rather than acquiescent maneuver.
Lyrical abstraction, according to Deleuze, addresses the alternatives of the spirit, revealing its capacity to choose and is perhaps most pronounced in the gradients of earth tones that comprise the rusted and used ship parts, the components of which blend with the surrounding environment of water, sand and dirt, as well as the obscure sky above. In offering gradients of grey in between white and black, abstraction resists the dualistic conflict set up by shadow, reflecting stages of uncertainty in between pure evil and good. If there is a morality lurking in Burtynsky’s pictures, it is in the revelation of choice rather than a clear sense of right and wrong. In other words, these are spaces that do not facilitate ready incorporation into conventional images of thought. They reveal the circuits of interpretation and selection, the contingencies of design and development, creating a new relationship with the natural landscape and duration. They necessitate interpretation.
To manufacture and will these spaces is not to resign oneself to them but is rather a release from their narrative, anthropocentric and utilitarian connections. They contain no inherent good or evil, so transcendental guidelines only serve to impose one’s personal events on others through the artifice of universal values or credos. Burtynsky does not deny the event but rather returns to it by expressing its geological, physical and aesthetic duration. These spaces demand scrutiny, an image of thought in which philosophical interpretation is suspended in favor of absolute singularities, relations and qualities requiring different responses, which cannot be generalized but only communicated in their very refusal to be mollified and subsumed.
Morality is neither an issue of imposing order or consensus (though some order is useful) nor of resistance, mediation or conservation. Rather than a paralysis, this approach is a necessary condition and generative feature for evading the imitation and confirmation of the status quo, the repetition of the same and the similar. A productive event demands we select something to affirm in it and affect a constant reinvention to alter its sense. We cannot be worthy of the event unless we strive to express it through others and for others and in response to others’ expressions, unless we strive to connect it to others, as far as its potential and our potential can carry it. In the aesthetic, we no longer explain things away; instead, we are compelled to feel the insufferable intensity of the real.
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[i] The artist statement on Burtynsky’s website is indicative of a dualistic approach and his ethical conundrum. He writes:
These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by desire – a chance at good living, yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times. (Burtynsky)