William J. T. Mitchell
[Writer, theorist, and architect, b. 1944, Melbourne, Australia, lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.]

 What we need is a critique of visual culture that is alert to the power of images for good and evil and that is capable of discriminating the variety and historical specificity of their uses. 
 An interlude of false innocence has passed. Today, as we enter the post-photographic era, we must face once again the ineradicable fragility of our ontological distinctions between the imaginary and the real, and the tragic elusiveness of the Cartesian dream. We have indeed learnt to fix the shadows, but not to secure their meanings or to stabilize their truth values; they still flicker on the walls of Plato's cave. 
 ...the fear of the image, the anxiety that the “power of images” may finally destroy even their creators and manipulators, is as old as image-making itself. 
 The tools of traditional photography were well suited to Strand’s and Weston’s high-modernist intentions—their quest for a mind of objective truth assured by a quasi-scientific procedure and closed, finished perfection. 
 Illusionism is the capacity of pictures to deceive, delight, astonish, amaze, or otherwise take power over a beholder; in the trompe-l’oeil, or the special effects of cinema, for instance, the point is to provide a simulation of the presence of objects, spaces and actions, to trigger a responsive experience in the beholder. Realism, by contrast, is associated with the capacity of pictures to show the truth about things. 
 The “taking” of human subjects by a photographer (or a writer) is a concrete social encounter, often between a damaged, victimized, and powerless individual and a relatively privileged observer, often acting as the “eye of power,” the agent of some social, political, or journalistic institution. 
 ...the thing that’s really fundamentally changed is we all become a sort of locus of surveillance and being surveyed at the moment. So it’s a decentralised system, it’s not a centralised system in the same way that the original panopticon was. A very good example of that is what’s happened with camera phones. They’ve just got themselves worked into the culture and all of a sudden all over the world we have these millions of wireless devices that have video capture devices on them. And any place in the world is potentially electronically visible instantly any place else, it’s absolutely amazing. But it’s not a centralised thing, it’s a decentralised candid system. 
 Picture, what do you want of me? 
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