Vilém Flusser

Andreas Müller-Pohle

Müller-Pohle’s photographs are the result of a theoretical reflection. His theory of photography, as expressed in various writings and lectures, needs to be stated before the pictures themselves are to be considered. There is nothing empirical, naive about them, and if they seem to be the results of spontaneous motions, this is due to disciplined deliberation. The theory which sustains the photos may be resumed this way:

The camera is an apparatus which was programmed to make pictures. The photographer is expected to act within that program. If he does so, he will be making pictures of the outside world. That world reflects rays which the camera captures on sensitive surfaces, and the photographer who acts within the camera program will “document” the outside world as captured by the camera. But the photographer may refuse to act within the camera program. He may transfer his interest from the outside world toward the camera interior. He may concentrate upon what happens to the rays which come into the camera from the outside world. The pictures which such a photographer will produce will no longer “document” the outside world, but rather the camera program. They will render visible the hidden program, and they will thus whiten the black box. Such pictures are important, because the camera program which they show is one among the many apparatus programs which are about to structure our perceptions, desires, feelings, our knowledges and our actions. In fact: such a photographer who refuses to go by the camera program is committed to showing the hidden programs of the emerging society of automatic apparatus.

In his book Transformance Andreas Müller-Pohle presents the result of such an effort to photograph the inside of the camera, instead of photographing the outside world. His strategy to escape from the camera program is deceptively simple. The camera prescribes a specific sequence of gestures for the photographer to execute: (1) take hold of the camera; (2) look through it toward the outside world; (3) choose one among the visions you have seen; (4) press upon the releaser. Müller-Pohle inverts this sequence thus: (1) take hold of the camera; (2) press upon the releaser; (3) look at the pictures that result; (4) choose one. What happens through this inversion is a true revolution of photographic vision. The outside world disappears from it. The freedom of choice is transferred from the decision to press upon the releaser toward the decision to select one among numerous pictures taken by chance. This freedom is exercised, not within the camera program, but after the camera function, and it acts upon the automatically produced pictures. And the criteria of choice are no longer imposed by the dubious relation between the picture and the outside world, but have become purely formal (aesthetic).

If one looks upon the photos presented, one is impressed by their elegance and their “abstractness.” The elegance is due to the photographer’s criteria of choice: he has selected his photos from among a multitude of automatically produced pictures. Their “abstractness” is due to our difficulty to establish a link between them and the objects of the outside world: since the photos were taken blindly, they do not show the photographer’s vision of the outside world, but they show what the moving camera does to the rays it captures. However, this elegance and abstractness of the photos should not divert the observer’s attention from the basic message they carry. Which is this: It is possible to escape from the camera program. Left to itself, the camera will photograph blindly, by pure chance, absurdly, without any purpose. And man can then step in, and he can give a meaning to this absurd automatic function, by exercising his freedom of choice. Thus man may use chance as a strategy for freedom.

This is an important message. It goes far beyond the realm of photography, and it concerns a possible attitude in the face of every automatic apparatus. It suggests that freedom, in the immediate future, may not demand from us that we fight apparatus, but that we let it function blindly, and then choose from what the apparatus has produced. Andreas Müller-Pohle’s photos say this, in effect: do not photograph as you are supposed to, but let the camera do it. You will then be free to select the pictures you prefer according to criteria which are yours, and not those imposed by the camera program. Andreas Müller-Pohle’s photos are proclamations of freedom in the face of automatic apparatus.

Martin Marix Evans/Amanda Hopkinson (eds.): Contemporary Photographers. Detroit: St. James Press, 1995, 3rd edition, p. 806