What Is Seen
Concerning the future perfect of the photographique

1839 was long spoken of as the year of the invention of photography – a notion since deconstructed and now considered an untenable cliché. There is no such thing as one kind of photography, nor even one single protagonist; rather, since the beginning there have been a diversity of photographic procedures and a substantial group of pioneers. However, 1839 takes on its full meaning when we look into the publication strategies linked to photography. In January of that year Jacques Louis Mandé Daguerre was the first to bring the procedure into the public arena – or the almost public arena. This article tries to reconstruct the reasons for a strange distancing: why did Daguerre never, in 1839 or afterwards, consent to display the results of a procedure so intimately linked to his name? The fact of the matter is that the beginning of the history of photographic exhibitions is actually an exhibition that never took place.

Prosper Lafaye, Conférence dans le salon de M. Irisson sur la découverte de la photographie en 1839, 1844, huile sur toile, 71 x 98 cm. © Musée Carnavalet, Paris.

Steffen Siegel is professor of theory and history of photography at Folkwang University in Essen, Germany. In addition to his thesis Tabula. Figuren der Ordnung um 1600 (Akademie Verlag, 2009), his publications include Belichtungen. Zur fotografischen Gegenwart (Fink, 2014), Ich ist zwei andere. Jeff Walls Diptychon aus Bildern und Texten (Fink, 2014) and Neues Licht. Daguerre, Talbot und die Veröffentlichung der Fotografie im Jahr 1839 (Fink, 2014). This anthology won the German Photographic Society’s “Photographie- Geschichte” prize in 2014 and the “Geisteswissenschaften International” prize in 2017. It has been published in English as First Exposures. Writing from the Beginning of Photography (Getty Publications, 2017).

Citation: Steffen Siegel, « Ce qui se donne à voir. Sur le futur antérieur du photographique », Transbordeur. Photographie histoire société, no. 2, 2018, pp. 16-27.

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