"What’s the Matter with this Picture?"

"What’s the matter with this picture?" With this question my paper launches into an examination of photographer Tim Davis’ fall show Permanent Collection, comprised of photos of paintings. I argue that Davis calls attention to how forces that reveal an image, that deliver immediacy, at the same time can threaten to obliterate and obscure images’ objecthood, hereby creating problems for viewer’s embodiment before images. Included in my paper a "close reading" of Davis’ Fugitive Slaves, based on Eastman Johnson’s painting "Fugitive Slaves – Ride for Freedom," as this image is most acutely invested in problems of representation and embodiment – the "subject" being individuals’ deprived of representation and possession of their own bodies. These matters are further complicated by Johnson’s use of eyewitness accounts while travelling with the Union army, putting his own body on the line as testament on behalf of the slaves dispossessed of their own bodies, putting his own voice forward on behalf of others’ unheard voices. Davis’ photo, which replaces the riders in the original painting with a bright burst of light, suggests how Johnson’s practices (and mediation more generally) at once reveal and obscure their purported subject. Davis encourages us to come into contact with "what’s the matter" by interrogating the materiality of the image, as well as the material and discursive practices invested in the production, transmission, and exhibition of the image. The result is an endless chain of representations nested within limited context which must be interrogated at each level of transmission, recontextualized and reinterpreted, to carry beauty and meaning.

Working Bibliography

W. J. T. Mitchell: Iconology; "Narrative, Memory and Slavery" in Picture Theory

Walter Benjamin "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" in Illuminations

Erwin Panofsky: Perspective as Symbolic Form

Joel Snyder: Picturing Vision

Jacques Lacan: "Anamorphosis" in The Four Fundamental Conceptss of Psycho-Analysis