The Idiosyncrasies of Speed: Light, Vision and Photography

The history of photography has produced a fascinating wealth of theoretical narratives. However, a surprising proportion of existing narratives relies on a rather problematic assumption: that it is possible and appropriate to equate photography and vision. In this article, I demonstrate that this questionable equation depends on certain physical circumstances and particular technological operations dictated thereby, and mediated by various constraints of speed. I dwell on a number of strategic moments in the history of photography for a critical reading of these circumstances, the applications and the interpretations of various types of speed, and their relationship to photography. This article concludes with the claim that in recent decades, one important type of speed, namely shutter speed, has undergone a transformation that now makes it possible to challenge the ontological model binding vision and photography together. The probable disappearance of the shutter in the near future, moreover, retrospectively opens up an alternative media history of photography that renounces the traditional hierarchy in which photographic images are less important than the technological and conceptual systems producing them.