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