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Clear Liquid Thought: The Photographs of Jim Dine

Powerful Essays
Clear Liquid Thought: The Photographs of Jim Dine

The camera sees even beyond the visual consciousness.

--Ralph Eugene Meatyard

Argument: The Photographic Unconscious

In his article "Photographie avant analyse"1 photography critic François Soulages discusses

the reciprocal influence between photography (as an emerging technology in the nineteenth

century) and the study of the unconscious (prior to the invention of psychoanalysis). To what

extent, he asks, did a new technology such as photography enlighten, modify, or enrich the

understanding of the unconscious? And, conversely, how did what he calls "the hypothesis of the

unconscious" allow for a better understanding of a new technology? These questions, inherent in

the beginnings of photography and essentially linked to its role in the comprehension of the

visible and the invisible body, have gained considerable importance today.

The photographic works I will discuss here participate in our understanding of the

unconscious in a paradoxical way, since they do not imply disclosing images of the artist's

unconscious specifically encoded into symbolic meaning. On the contrary, my concern is with

these works' potential to generate visual equivalents of inner life perceptions in a variety of

puzzling formal patterns whose disclosure of meaning is cunningly deferred. The photographic

compositions of Jim Dine are not narratives of inner life, but forms of visual experience that

inform our ways of thinking the unconscious.

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1 François Soulages, "Photographie avant analyse", Photographie et inconscient (31-35). In this study,

Soulage primarily deals with the beginnings of photography and with its paradoxical uses in psychiatry
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...rundberg, Andy. "Now, the Camera's Eye Turns Inward", in The New York Times, May 28.

1989.

Hamon, Philippe. Imageries.Littérature et image au XIXe siècle. Paris: José Corti, 2001.

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19 The phrase used in the title of this article is coined after the title of one of Dine's black-and-white

photogravure prints, "Clear Liquid Talking", 1996.

Krauss, Rosalind.The Optical Unconscious. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, 1993.

Meatyard, Ralph Eugene. Caught Moments -- New Viewpoints. Exhibition catalogue. London:

Olympus Gallery, 1983.

Powers, Richard. Three Framers on Their Way to a Dance. New York : W. Morrow, 1985.

Sibony, Daniel. "Une technique de l'instant ou la machine à clicher", La Recherche

photographique 7 (1990)

Soulages, François. "Photographie avant analyse", Photographie et inconscient, Soulages ed.

Paris: Osiris, 1986.
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