The Miracle of Analogy

A conversation about photography, the world, and the human psyche


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Artistic legacies

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Slought and the Department of the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania are pleased to announce "The Miracle of Analogy," an event featuring Kaja Silverman in conversation with Homay King and Alex Klein, on Friday, February 27, 2015 from 5-6:30pm. The event will open with remarks by Homay King and will close with a reading by Kaja Silverman, and marks the release of Silverman's new book, The Miracle of Analogy, or The History of Photography, Part 1 (Stanford University Press, 2015).

The first volume in Silverman's two-volume reconceptualization of photography, The Miracle of Analogy is primarily focused on the nineteenth century. It argues that photography originates in what is seen, rather than in the human eye or the camera lens, and that it is the world's primary way of revealing itself to us. The photographic image is able to perform this function because it is an analogy, rather than an index, a representation or a copy, and because this analogy is an ontological extension of its so-called "referent." Analogy governs every other aspect of photography, as well; a positive print analogizes the negative from which it is generated, every other print that is struck from that negative, and all of its digital "offspring."

Photography is also unstoppably developmental. It began with the pinhole camera, which was more found than invented, morphed into the optical camera obscura, was reborn as chemical photography, and lives on in a digital form. It moves through time, in search of other "kin," some of which are visual, but others of which may be architectural, philosophical or literary. Finally, photography develops with us and in response to us; it assumes historically-legible forms, and when we divest them of their saving power, as we always seem to do, it goes elsewhere. The Miracle of Analogy starts with the camera obscura, and ends with Walter Benjamin's "Little History of Photography," but it is primarily focused on the nineteenth century and a few of its contemporary progeny.

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"Photography isn't a medium that was invented by three men in the 1820's and 1830's, that was improved in numerous ways over the following century, and that has now been replaced by computational images. It is, rather, the world's primary way of revealing itself to us—of demonstrating that it exists, and that it will forever exceed us. Photography is also an ontological calling card: it helps us to see that each of us is a node in a vast constellation of analogies."

"Most of us are willing to acknowledge some of these similarities, but extremely reluctant to acknowledge others, particularly those that call our autonomy, agency, unity and primacy into question. Photography is the vehicle through which these profoundly enabling but unwelcome relationships are revealed to us, and through which we learn to think analogically. It is able to disclose the world, show us that it is structured by analogy, and help us assume our place within it because it, too, is analogical."

-- Kaja Silverman

Kaja Silverman is Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, and author of eight books, including Flesh of My Flesh (2009); James Coleman (2002); The Threshold of the Visible World (1996); and Male Subjectivity at the Margins (1992). Silverman wrote Speaking About Godard—a book about couples--with Harun Farocki, her life partner from 1992-1999.

Homay King is Associate Professor of History of Art at Bryn Mawr College. She is the author of Lost in Translation: Orientalism, Cinema, and the Enigmatic Signifier, and the forthcoming Virtual Memory: Time-based Art and the Dream of Digitality. She is a contributor to the Metropolitan Museum of Art catalog for "China: Through the Looking-glass," which accompanies an exhibition opening at the museum in May 2015.

Alex Klein is the Dorothy and Stephen R. Weber (CHE'60) Program Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, and curator of the current exhibition at ICA, "Barbara Kasten: Stages," which is the first major survey of the artist's work. She is currently an "Agent" in the Carnegie Museum of Art's Hillman Photography Initiative as well as the editor of the critical volume on photography, Words Without Pictures (LACMA / Aperture, 2010).