Rosalind Krauss
[Writer, critic, and historian, b. 1941, Washington, D.C., lives in New York.]

 Contrivance is what ensures that a photograph will seem surrealist. 
 Photography’s vaunted capture of a moment in time is the seizure and freezing of presence. It is the image of simultaneity, of the way that everything within a given space at a given moment is present to everything else; it is a declaration of the seamless integrity of the real. 
 Within surrealist practice, too, woman was in construction, for she is the obsessional object there as well. And since the vehicle through which she is figured is itself manifestly constructed, woman and photograph become figures for each other’s condition: ambivalent, blurred, indistinct, and lacking in, to use Edward Weston’s word, “authority.” 
 Surrealist photography does not admit of the natural, as opposed to the cultural or made. And so all of what it looks at is seen as if already, and always, constructed, through a strange transposition of this thing into a different register. We see the object by means of an act of displacement, defined through a gesture of substitution. 
 It is the order of the natural world that imprints itself on the photographic emulsion and subsequently on the photographic print. This quality of transfer or trace gives to the photograph its documentary status, it undeniable veracity. But at the same time this veracity is beyond the reach of those possible internal adjustments which are the necessary property of language. The connective tissue binding the objects contained by the photograph is that of the world itself, rather than that of a cultural system. 
 Surely one of the most grotesque, but revealing suggestions about the possible applications of photography was the notion, breached in the 1890s, of the ‘post-mortem photograph.’ Breathtaking in its loony rationality, it involved the reprinting of a photograph taken during life by using the crematorial ashes of the departed sitter. They will adhere to the part exposed to light and a portrait is obtained composed entirely of the person it represents. 
 If we are to generalize the aesthetic of surrealism, the concept of Convulsive Beauty is at the core of that aesthetic: reducing to an experience of reality transformed into a representation. Surreality is, we could say, nature convulsed into a kind of writing. The special access that photography has to this experience is its privileged connection to the real. 
 The photographic record is part of the point of... family gatherings; it is an agent in the collective fantasy of family cohesion, and in that sense the camera is a projective tool, part of the theater that the family constructs to convince itself that it is together and whole. 
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