The Reality Behind

The “Equivalents” remain photography’s most radical demonstration of faith in the existence of a reality behind and beyond that offered by the world of appearances. They are intended to function evocatively, like music, and they express a desire to leave behind the physical world, a desire symbolized by the visual absence of horizon and scale clues within the frame. Emotion resides solely in form, they assert, not in the specifics of time and place.

— Andy Grundberg, 1983 on Alfred Stieglitz “Equivalents”

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Exchange Value

At stake will have always been the murderous power of images, murderers of the real, murderers of their own model, as the Byzantine icons could be those of the divine identity. To this murderous power is opposed that of representations as a dialectical power, the visible and intelligible mediation of the Real. All western faith and good faith became engaged in this wager on representation: that a sign could refer to the depth of meaning, that a sign could be exchanged for meaning and that something could guarantee this exchange – God of course. But what if God himself can be simulated, that is to say, can be reduced to the signs that constitute faith? Then the whole system becomes weightless, it is no longer itself anything but a gigantic simulacrum – not unreal, but a simulacrum, that is to say never exchanged for the real  but exchanged for itself, in an uninterrupted circuit without reference or circumference.

— Jean Baudrillard, Simulation and Simulacra

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