What is lost in representation? What happens in the liminal space of transformation? When an object is photographed there takes place a technical and a perceptual change. A skull, when photographed, ceases to be bone and instead becomes an image similar in appearance to the original. The representation in the photograph seems to be mired in the liminal space, that “space of transformation between phases of separation and reincorporation; a period of ambiguity, of marginal and transitional state.” (Victor Turner)
And so, in this way, the photograph is the only reality, and what we refer it to, what it represents, is lost. However, we still feel that a photograph represents something – we may decide that it represents a concept, although there is nothing in the photograph that would sensually give a clue to such a reference. What gives us the clue are the connections we make in our minds with what we are seeing and what we have been accustomed to take that to mean. Our sense data is taken by our minds and ordered in a way that is peculiar to us.
By looking at the the action of viewing a photograph, one can see the process of representation as an action of the mind, rather than of the object. While this may seem obvious, it’s often the case that we act as though representation were the action of the objects themselves – as though the referent holds something of the reference within it. With a photograph, there is no connection to an original object, and we create not only a connection, but a referent as well. Representation is not a quality of the object – what is lost in the transformation is everything except the existence of the original.
What we are judging is the representation we have in our mind of the photograph, which itself represents reality (the phenomenal object), which represents universal forms (the noumenal object). We always return to ourselves when viewing art, for it is the only way we know of interacting with the world. According to Kant, we view the world in terms of a subject/object dichotomy. We, as the subject, objectify everything we come in contact with as a means of ordering and controlling the world around us. Everything is subjected to our rational minds, and in this way, for Kant, everything is for our use. Martin Heidegger calls this idea “standing reserve;” the belief that everything in our world is conceptualized, objectified and then set aside for use. We, as rational agents, stand over and against everything in the world, and when we encounter an object, we are not encountering the object as itself, but in terms of means to our ends, and therefore we are confronting ourselves.