Jalal Toufic

Made without Hands

 

Gilbert Hage’s book 242 cm2 (Underexposed Books, 2012) presents twenty-two landscape photographs that were taken in 2006, in the aftermath of the latest Israeli war on Lebanon; each of these photographs is 242 cm2 in area and is titled “242 cm2.” Why did he title each thus? What made him consider that each of these photographs had to be in a one-to-one reproduction ratio in relation to its referent? Did he try to zoom in on them but failed to successfully do so notwithstanding that according to the technical specs of his camera, he should have been able to do it? Whether he tried to or not, one cannot zoom in on such objects—thus they are auratic natural objects!1 While moving away after taking one of these photographs, did Hage have a similar impulse to the one a spectator is likely to feel when having ostensibly concluded looking at Hans Holbein the Younger’s The Ambassadors (1533) he or she moves away toward the right to leave the room in the National Gallery in London: to turn and look again at the object? Did he yield to the impulse? What would he have seen then if “242 cm2” is a rigorous title of the photograph that is 242 cm2 in area? If he could still at that distance discern the specific “small” piece of land he photographed, and distinguish it from the surrounding ostensibly largely similar landscape, he would have seen that that piece of land would have overlapped part of what was the adjoining area! Toward any of these 242 cm2 zones that Gilbert Hage photographed, one cannot move without either undergoing a lapse of consciousness only to find oneself at the right distance from it, the one from which it would occupy 242 cm2 of one’s field of vision; or becoming entranced, thus concurrently not moving, again since, irrespective of one’s movement, it continues to occupy 242 cm2 of one’s field of vision. As with an anamorphosis, where there is one point of view from which it becomes clear what the anamorphic stain or smudge is, there is a specific distance from which the part-object that is the referent of one of these Hage photographs (themselves part-objects: an image that can only be in a one-to-one reproduction ratio in relation to its referent functions as a part-object) appears to be fully part of the landscape, fitting seamlessly in it: the distance from which it covers exactly 242 cm2 of the field of vision (it is when standing at this distance to that spot that one may naively assume that one has taken a normal photograph in terms of its relation to its referent); at all other distances, it does not fit seamlessly in the landscape to which one has presumed it belongs, but is too small or too big for the relative size one expects it to have, either leaving a blank between it and the surrounding landscape (this blank acts as a frame) or else overlapping part of the latter (this sort of anomaly would have been easier to notice had the photographed area been, say, 10,424 cm2—how lucky Hage happened to be, or how intuitively prudent he was, to have photographed a smaller area!). Is Lebanon bigger than one of these 242 cm2 zones that Hage photographed? It is bigger than one of them from the reference frame of someone close enough to these zones; as one moves away (in trance) from them, while they continue to occupy 242 cm2 of one’s field of vision, the rest of Lebanon appears smaller and smaller, until, past a certain distance, it appears to be as small as and then, as one’s distance to them becomes even larger, smaller than the sum of these 242 cm2 zones that are ostensibly part of it, and then, as one’s distance to it becomes still larger, smaller than a single one of these 242 cm2 zones. Indeed, from a certain distance, Lebanon, with its 10,424 square kilometers, about which Lebanese nationalists (chief among them Bachir Gemayel, the one-time commander of the Lebanese Forces militia, who was imposed as president of Lebanon by the Israeli occupation forces only to be assassinated three weeks into his term) stood their ground and stuck to their guns, would look tinier than the various 242 cm2 zones Hage photographed in that country, since these maintain their size of 242 cm2 in the field of vision from any distance. I would term the referents of these Hage photos icons. Hence I consider that one would be well advised to look for icons in Lebanon less, if at all, in that country’s many Orthodox churches than in the referents of the photographs of Gilbert Hage’s book 242 cm2. Hage’s “242 cm2” photographs are indexical representations of icons, but they are not themselves icons2 (for the photographs of these 242 cm2 zones to prove to be themselves icons, they have to continue to occupy 242 cm2 of the field of vision irrespective of one’s movement toward or away from them; this is not the case with Hage’s photographs). Hage’s photographs of these 242 cm2 zones are far more deserving of becoming iconic, this time in the sense of “very famous and well known, and believed to represent a particular idea” (Macmillan Dictionary), than such frequently photographed and filmed touristic attractions as Raouche’s Pigeons’ Rock in Beirut and the cedars in Lebanon and on the Lebanese flag.

One can find Gilbert Hage’s book here at the artist’s website.

Notes:

1. A line in my book What Were You Thinking? (Berlin: Berliner Künstlerprogramm/DAAD, 2011) appears to imply that black holes and their event horizons from the reference frame of an outside observer are the only natural objects that have aura: “If there is a natural object that has aura, it is the black hole and its event horizon from the reference frame of an outside observer” (pp. 27–28).

2. Were the referent of one of these 242 cm2 photos titled “242 cm2” to be filmed, the filmmaker has to specify on which screening format (for example the huge screen of an IMAX theater, a large TV screen or a small computer screen) it is to be shown exclusively or make different versions for the various screening formats so that the image of the object continues to be 242 cm2.