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  • Writer's pictureBhang, Youngmoon

Into The Lens 2 - The Apparatus

<장치 The Apparatus, 2017>

Tools in the usual sense tear objects from the natural world in order to bring them to the place (produce them) where the human being is. In this process they change the form of these objects: They imprint a new, intentional form onto them. They ‘inform’ them: The object acquires an unnatural, improbable form; it becomes cultural.

This production and information of natural objects is called ‘work’ and its result is called ‘a work’. Many works, such as apples, are admittedly produced, but have hardly been informed; others, such as shoes, are strongly informed, they have a form that is developed from animal skins (leather). Apple-producing (-picking) scissors are tools that inform very little; shoe-producing needles are tools that inform a lot. Is the camera then a kind of needle since photographs carry information?

Tools in the usual sense are extensions of human organs: extended teeth, fingers, hands, arms, legs. As they extend they reach further into the natural world and tear objects from it more powerfully and more quickly than the body could do on its own. They simulate the organ they are extended from: An arrow simulates the fingers, a hammer the fist, a pick the toe. They are ‘empirical’. With the Industrial Revolution, however, tools were no longer limited to empirical simulations; they grasped hold of scientific theories: They became ‘technical’. As a result they became stronger, bigger and more expensive, their works became cheaper and more numerous, and from then on they were called ‘machines’. Is the camera then a machine because it appears to simulate the eye and in the process reaches back to a theory of optics? A ‘seeing machine’?

When tools in the usual sense became machines, their relationship to human beings was reversed. Prior to the Industrial Revolution the human being was surrounded by tools, afterwards the machine was surrounded by human beings. Previously the tool was the variable and the human being the constant, subsequently the human being became the variable and the machine the constant. Previously the tool functioned as a function of the human being, subsequently the human being as a function of the machine. Is the same true for the camera as for the machine?

All these questions, even though they are ‘good questions’, do not appear to grasp the basic function of apparatuses.

The basic category of industrial society is work: Tools and machines work by tearing objects from the natural world and informing them, i.e. changing the world. But apparatuses do not work in that sense.

Their intention is not to change the world but to change the meaning of the world. Their intention is symbolic. Photographers do not work in the industrial sense, and there is no point in trying to call them workers or proletarians. As most human beings currently work on and in apparatuses, talk of the proletariat is beside the point. The categories of cultural criticism must be rethought.

- from <Towards a philosophy of photography> by Vilém Flusser

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