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Sontag opens with reference to Plato’s cave. The shadows on the wall of the cave are a manufactured reality – manufactured by the prisoners chained to the cave wall. They have attributed the shadows meaning as the shadows are all they see. Humankind is confined in this way. Reality appears to us as the shadows appear to the prisoners. So what relationship does photography have with reality and what does this mean in relation to truth and the attribution of truth to things and experiences in the world?

“In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe.” Sontag p3

Sontag says quite enthusiastically that photography gives us the sense that we can hold the whole world in our heads as an anthology of images. A photograph is an object. Movies and moving images flicker on and off but a printed photo can be kept and stored. The camera is the ideal arm of consciousness as it reaches and acquires reality and reality-memories.

‘Photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can make or acquire.’ p4

‘Even when photographers are most concerned with mirroring reality, they are still haunted by tacit imperatives of taste and conscience.’ p6

Sontag brings up an important point re the presence of psychoanalytic influence when thinking about the photographic/cinematic image:

‘The camera doesn’t rape, or even possess, though it may presume, intrude, trespass, distort, exploit, and, at the farthest reach of metaphor, assassinate – all activities that, unlike the sexual push and shove, can be conducted from a distance, and with some detachment.” p13

There is a connection between looking and cruelty.

Context: to relate to the use of still images in my PhD practice – still frames amongst the moving image work.



Chapter 3 Athleticism

The three pictorial elements in Bacon’s painting: the large fields as a spatializing  material structure, the Figure (fact/body), and the place (round area, the ring, the contour which is the common limit of the Figure and the field).

Deleuze is describing the sense of movement that takes place between the field and the figure. The movement is simultaneously taking place in two directions: between the material structure and the Figure (I take this to mean the round area and the field – the material structure surrounding the Figure in total), and the Figure and the field (the positioning and shape of the Figure relating to the field). The round area is like a membrane through which this exchange flows. Even if there is no story, something is still happening in these paintings. Much as the bodies seem dead and the mouths hang open suggesting empty but loud screams, there is action in these paintings, even if no narrative.

Study for a portrait 1949

Figure with meat 1954

“Within the round area, the Figure is sitting on the chair, lying on the bed, and sometimes it even seems to be waiting for what is about to happen. But what is happening, or is about to happen, or has already happened, is not a spectacle or a representation.” Deleuze – p13

Deleuze claims that the spectator is excluded from Bacon’s painting. Spectacle is missing. What is left is waiting – the sole spectacle of Bacon’s art is the spectacle of waiting, or of effort. In this way, Bacon resembles Kafka.

“It is the extreme solitude of the Figures, the extreme confinement of the bodies, which excludes every spectator: the Figure becomes a Figure only through this movement which confines it and in which it confines itself.” Deleuze p14

This reads like a kind of nightmare where any movement confounds a terrifying confinement – like quicksand. Deleuze uses the term athleticism as it seems as if these Figures are moving and twisting their into and out of this confinement – like an athlete or a gymnast. Importantly, the movement is not a conscious subjective movement – as in many cases it seems as if the subject is somehow dead or in stasis – but a movement driven by something other and from within the body.  Spasm, vomit, excretion, and the scream (in which the body escapes through the mouth) are things that come to mind as relative and relevant. Deleuze interestingly  draws on the idea of passing through the eye of a needle. This is an abomination for Deleuze – a scene of hysteria.

“:… the body attempts to escape from itself through one of its organs in order to rejoin the field or material structure.” Deleuze p16




Chapter 2 Note on Figuration in Past Painting

The central question is around modern paintings relation to figuration or illustration with regard to painting of the past. Photography has taken over the illustrative and documentary role. Past painting was conditioned by certain ‘religious possibilities’ whereas modern painting is an atheistic game.

Deleuze complicates the notion that photography is simply a replacement for the documentary role of painting. Photography has a completely different ambition than representing, illustrating or narrating. Bacon himself attests that photography is not a figuration of what one sees, it is what modern man sees. Deleuze provides a visual analysis of El Greco’s The Burial of Count Orgaz. He claims that it is not religious sentiment that sustains paining in the past. On the contrary, religious sentiment made possible a liberation of figures. It is looking toward death as a reunification with cosmic being that in fact allows everything to be permitted – both morally (think of war and violence in the name of religion) and aesthetically. He goes on to say that the renunciation of figuration in modern painting was not an easy evolution. Deleuze relates photography (the modern age) to cliches and claims that these clishes are lodged on the canvas before the painter even begins to work. Photography claims to reign over vision, and thus over painting. Thus, wedged between atheistic impulse (which Deleuze has equated with figuration) and the assertion of photography over painting, modern painting found itself in an extremely difficult position. Abstract painting was necessary in order to tear modern art away from figuration.

Deleuze finishes the chapter with a question:

‘But is there not another path, more direct and more sensible?’ 

El Greco: The Burial of Count Orgaz


Epstein’s essay: Freud ou le Nick-Carterianisme en psychologie” purports to refute psychoanalysis as a method for understanding the subconscious. The subconscious has a fundamentally elusive nature: motivations and associations are fundamentally elusive and un-graspable. He refers to Edgar Alan Poe’s ‘The Imp of the Perverse.” Epstein posits Lyrosohpy as a concept to describe the transformation of subjectivity in modernity. The modern world creates lapses in conscious attention which allows the subconscious to flood the conscious mind with emotion and revelatory analogy between what is in the world and what one perceives the world to be about.

“Beauty is a thing in itself, that is to say, in us. It can be projected on almost any object or person who, immediately, will become beautiful. Everything depends on the quality, the force of our subconscious..”

In this way love too is a projection and this theme – this structure – pervades much of Epstein’s film work. This is a kind of Kuleshov effect in which meaning is projected onto a subject via the contextualisation from the subjective point of view: the person is beautiful, because I am looking at the person and thinking beauty. Figures in Epstein’s films are mirrors that reflect and deflect desire.

Epstein’s conception of photogenie is equally reflective and deflective. It is allusive and ungraspable as the subconscious. It cannot be reverse engineered via creating logical connections between motivation and association as psychoanalysis attempts to do. Photogenie is resistant to a foundation in words as words are static. To describe beauty is to destroy beauty. A good approach to photogenie is a shotgun – scatter shot approach of description. Epstein’s direction is that of the nexus between the human mind and the world and the appearance of beauty and love.

In summary, psychoanalysis is ocular-centric. It seeks to explain the act of looking in terms of what is being looked at. Epstein’s thinking gives way to general phenomenological approaches that reconstitute the role of the body in visual perception. Epstein sees the camera, and by proxy the cinema, as an instrument to make visible the interior life of human beings that cannot be seen by the naked eye.

From A Temporal Perspective: Jean Epstein’s Writings on Technology and Subjectivity by Trond Lundemo

Epstein often describes the processes forming subjectivity in cinema as an alternative to psychoanalysis. Actors do not recognise themselves on the screen. Cinema counters our self impressions and reveals true identities. This is why cinema produces a split of the subject, as an on-going process of individuation. Already the simple technique of shooting in reverse motion disturbs our conception of the universe. Cinema allows us to look at things in a different way because it is not governed by the principles of human psychology and consciousness, but instead disturbs our conception of the universe as well as our image of ourselves. 


‘Sight or sound, pure cinema is a cinema that would like to dispense with words: the cinema, as the etymology already indicates, is essentially the painter, the narrator of mobility, of all mobility, of mobility alone, because it alone is photogenic… But the word constitutes a fixed form, a stable state, a stop, a crystallization of thought, an element of immobility.” Jean Epstein – Cinema Pur? 1946

At the heart of this thought is a contradiction and contradiction is always a useful tool for the theorising of art. The friction between ideas and perceptions allow for new imaginings. Photogenie strives for a shifting image-experience. Time is an essential ingredient. But the shifting is not simply what is shifting on screen. The shifting takes place in the mind of the viewer. The image-experience is relative to the shifting and waining perceptions and imagining of the viewer. The entertainment is not in the narratives themes and subtexts but rather in what the viewer brings to the situation. Therefore narrative is a problematic ingredient for cinema and moving image work. It must be handled with reservation – a last resort to being meaning to an artwork. Bacon’s figures – see Deleuze’s analysis summarised below –  reject narration in order that the physicality and flesh of the world is what is left.

Katie Kirkland provides an insightful unpacking of Coure Fidele and takes aim at Epstein’s own dismissiveness of his formal exploits. Epstein on Coure Fidele:

‘In Couer  Fidele the turns of sleight of hand of the fete foraine have very much unbalanced the way I would wish that the film be understood … If this abstract cinema enchants some, let them buy a kaleidoscope, a toy for a second childhood, in which  a very simple device can give a speed of rotation, regular and variable at will. As for me, I believe that the age of the cinema-kaleidoscope has passed.’

This notion of a ‘kaleidoscopic’ aesthetic however still has relevance in understanding the era and the thinking. The kaleidoscope relates to modernity. To resist and subvert conventional forms is to create a kaleidoscopic affect. To favour sensation over narrative logic or psychological realism is kaleidoscopic. The eruption of mobility, magnification, and plastic deformation in the fete forraine sequence is a victory for sensational affect – a conquering of the spectator as the spectator submits and is moved – and the image acts – force.

What is a kaleidoscope? A relationship of fragments – images – mosaic – objects – as created by a device which itself remains invisible. What matters here is not the properties of images/fragments  themselves but combination and movement. There is also a sense that a kaleidoscope is enjoyable as it somehow connects us with the uncanny / other – worldly. It is no accident that Epstein had such interest in fair grounds, circus’ and carnivals. There is a sense of the spectacle and a sense of an adventurous interaction with modern technology – gadgets, ferris wheels, roller coasters, halls of mirrors etc etc.


“For Epstein, love and aesthetic pleasure are both general sentiments that reside in subconscious memory, periodically erupting through the threshold of consciousness in search of an object.”

Irrational, unreflective, irresistible. Frightening.

As always Epstein is looking for a path of artistic advance for the cinema.

Chapter 1 The Round Area, the Ring

What is the round area? The area occupied by the figure. The figure might be seated, lying down, doubled over or in some other position. Bacon creates compositions in which the figures are placed in relation to this round area – a kind of amphitheatre.

Two Men Working in a Field

This is a technique used to isolate the figure. Bacon also uses shapes and forms to isolate the figure such as his famous cubes:

seated figure 1961

These spaces/areas do not confine the subject to immobility. Rather, they render a sense of movement and progression: the figure relates to the space and becomes an image. Isolating the Figure is important as it avoids the figurative, illustrative and narrative character the Figure would necessarily have if it were not isolated. Rather than abstraction, Bacon moves toward the purely figural. Figurative (representation) implies the relationship of an image to an object that it is supposed to illustrate, as well as the relationship of an image to other images in a composite whole which assigns a specific object to each of them. Deleuze argues that narration is the correlate of illustration – when the image is intended to represent an object, narration occurs. Isolation of the Figure is a technique to break with representation – to disrupt narration and liberate the Figure.

Figuration – the figural – is Deleuze’s description for Bacon’s isolated figures. They are wrenched from narration and free from the things-in-the-world that they represent (Figuration). This may be a source of the horror and the disturbance that these images project.

My research: my take away from this thinking on Bacon is the isolation and the sense that the task is to separate the Figure from representation. Being that Epstein asserted that photogenie enhances the moral dimension of a thing-in-the-world, I would alter this to say that photogenie is the enhancement of the moral dimension of the image-in-the-world – it is less about representation and the narrative that representation implies. In the same way that a gun is no longer a gun, a Figure is no longer figurative.

Bacon distinguishes three fundamental elements in his painting: material structure, the round contour, and the raised image. Deleuze explains this as the field operating as a ground, and the Figure functioning as a form, on a single plane that is viewed at close range. This coexistence of two immediately adjacent sectors constitutes an absolutely closed and revolving space.

Deleuze is outlining a simple framework for the discussion of the figure in Bacon’s painting. This chapter is a set up – groundwork – for broader analysis to follow.



Author’s Preface:

Deleuze describes Bacon’s painting as violent – his painting is of a very special kind of violence. This violence is not ementaing from the subject matter of his paintings: spectacles of horror, crucifixions, prostheses and mutilations. Violence is correlated with colour and line – and described as a sensation. Maybe a texture of violence is an appropriate rewording. Sensation over representation: ‘a static or potential violence, a violence of reaction and expression’. This aesthetic outline appeals to me as it is a step away from the singular dimension of representation and identity politics. Deleuze is establishing a discussion with parameters set outside the norm of linguistic deconstruction and image analysis.

Bacon’s paintings are a ‘relationship not of form and matter, but of materials and forces.’ There is a foreboding of these invisible forces. This language reminds of a childhood nightmare I had: a recurring nightmare in which I would stand at the bottom of a large, spiral staircase in terror, fearful of what was at the top of the stairs. Voices would emerge from a multitude of directions, from adjacent rooms and hallways and I would be compelled to wander up the stairs almost against my will and the terror and fear would exponentially exaggerate until I woke up. In this nightmare was a forebording of the invisible and a force of inertia that carried me up the stairs. Deleuze describes a force of inertia in Bacon’s paintings. The figures and and the bodies are being carried somewhere – the flesh hangs and is shaken from the body. Bacon’s art is an art of materials and forces. It makes unseen forces visible. THere is a concern with time – or a temporal element built into the images. Movement contrasts with stasis. Things fall, stretch, are pulled and pushed. Movement is an affect – something that happens to an immobile body. Deleuze points out here that the violence is tied up therefore wit ha sense of pity and pathos. Flesh and the movement of flesh (decay / violence) is an essential life element.

“The entire body becomes plexus”

1a network of anastomosing or interlacing blood vessels or nerves
2an interwoven combination of parts or elements in a structure or system


The next element of Bacon’s aesthetic for discussion is colour. Bacon’s fields of colour are without depth or consist only of shallow depth. The figure detaches itself from the colour field – the figure ‘executes .. taunting acrobatics’. These two pictorial elements draw life from one another – they are not indifferent. Colour is related to many different systems in Bacon’s work. It corresponds to the figure/flesh and to the colour field/section. Deleuze cites Cezanne and describes two problems of painting: “how, on the one hand, to preserve the homogeneity or unity of the background as though it were a perpendicular armature for chromatic progression, while on the other hand also preserving the specificity or singularity of a form in perpetual variation?” This set of problems needs some unpacking.

Armature an organ or structure (such as teeth or thorns) for offense or defense

The first problem is a problem of painting realism: the background must appear as unified as human visual perception of the world unified (is coherent – the spectre of colours are all relatable). However, the world (both in reality and in perception) is perpetually varied. To depict the figure/form, this variation needs to be built in to the colour and composition. The second problem is a problem of painting flesh. For the first problem, Bacon took the path of not representing life through variations in hue, but rather through subtle shifts in intensity or saturation determined by zones of proximity. These zones are induced by sections of fields of colour. The problem of painting flesh is resolved by producing broken tones; ‘as though baked in a furnace and flayed by fire.’

Bacon’s genius according to Deleuze lies in the coexistence of these two aspects:

“… a brilliant pure tone for the large fields, coupled with a program of intensification; broken tones for the flesh, coupled with a procedure of rupturing or ‘fire blasting,’ a critical mixture of complementaries.”

Deleuze next introduces the importance of the triptych. The triptych typically presents three distinct sections that negate any narrative that would establish itself amongst them. For Bacon, the sections are simultaneously linked by a unifying distribution (distribution of colour and field?) that makes them interrelate in a way that is free of any symbolic undercurrent. It is important to note that according to Deleuze Bacon is not a symbolist, expressionist, realist or a cubist – he fits no genre. All that we need going forward is to understand that Bacon has broken with figuartion by elevating the Figure to prominence.

The following blog posts on this topic will seek to understand Deleuze’s ideas on Bacon. I will be looking for ways in which these ideas might intersect with my broader research around photogenie.