Thursday, September 07, 2006

Between the lines


by Geoff Dyer @ The Guardian
Criticism sometimes achieves the condition of art; certain works of art are also a form of commentary or criticism. Roland Barthes's meditation on photography, Camera Lucida, is a classic example of the former. How to respond creatively to a book that has profoundly shaped the way the medium is regarded? A writer might feel compelled to follow George Steiner's grand advice and "write a book in reply". And if you're not a writer, but a photographer? If you do what Barthes is writing about?

Idris Khan's response was to photograph every page of the book and then digitally combine them in a single, composite image. The result of this homage to - and essay on - Camera Lucida (English edition) is a beautiful palimpsest: a series of blurred stripes of type in which the occasional word can be deciphered and one of the images reproduced by Barthes - a portrait of Mondrian by Kert├ęsz - glimpsed. Khan did the same thing with On Photography by Susan Sontag. The whole of the book can be seen in an instant, but the density of information is such that Sontag's elegant formulations add up to, and are reduced to, a humming, unreadable distillation. Already slight, the gap between texts and Khan's images will shrink further if the books are reissued with his "readings" of them - surrogate author photos? - on the covers.

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