A compelling and innovative reflection on the way photography captures and condenses time
Two photographs, connected by a ladder, separated by a century. First, William Henry Fox Talbot photographed a faithfully realistic image of a ladder against a haystack in the English countryside.One hundred years later, an anonymous photographer captured another ladder, “photographed” alongside an incinerated man by the blinding light of the atomic bomb. These two images underpin a poetic and theoretical reflection on the origins of photographic technique, the imaginative power of montage, and the relation of photography to time itself in Jean-Christophe Bailly’s The Instant and Its Shadow, translated into English for the very first time.
A rare find of intellectual caliber and theoretical rigor, The Instant and Its Shadow pursues a unique and powerful reflection on the first hundred years of photography’s history and on the essence of the photographic art in general. Inspired by the unexpected coming together of these two iconic images, the book begins by retracing Talbot’s invention of the photographic calotype in the early nineteenthcentury, highlighting the paradox that saw Talbot wishing to imitate the representative arts of painting and drawing while simultaneously liberating the image from any imitative paradigm. This analysis leads Bailly to elucidate photography’s relation to material and visual reality. A meditation on photography’s seeming ability to stop time follows, concluding with the photographs of Hiroshima and the photographic nature of the atomic bomb.
Building on an inspired juxtaposition of The Haystack with the Hiroshima photographs, the book becomes a testament to the potency of photomontage, arguing that “the more singular an image, the greater its connective power.” Bailly’s book is at once a lyrical homage to some of the founding texts of photographic theory and a startling reminder of the uncanny power of photography itself. Part theoretical reflection, part lyrical reverie, The Instant and Its Shadow is packed with profound and stellar insights about the medium.