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#proveittome is an Instagram feed shot through with the wish for love to make itself visual, apprehensible “I don’t trust words. I trust actions.” Show me, make it real, make it exist outside of language. One after another, images of text reiterate a demand for immediacy that is itself nevertheless articulated in language. Reiterated is the wish for some form of experience about which there is no doubt, no instability of meaning.

This curatorial subtext was not necessarily intentional. I was initially thinking about forensics and the rhetorical theatre of the courtroom. Intentions, however, can be limiting: the demanding relationship that #proveittome teases out between the document and desire is a fascinating analogue to social practice artwork more generally. Desire is that which we lack and cannot possess—and are driven toward as a result. Social practice is also founded on an ineffable encounter between people that must be elaborated in an ancillary medium in order to be counted.

The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star. A sort of umbilical cord links the body of the photographed thing to my gaze: light, though impalpable, is here a carnal medium, a skin I share with anyone who has been photographed. [1]

As bodies in light, we trust the photographic image on the basis of the relationship Roland Barthes illuminates above, that of the body to light. [2] And yet the photograph, he is quick to attenuate, is only emanation that touches [me] Barthes: a transmission, delayed in space.

What to do with this, the photograph’s inescapable evidentiary force—its “has-been-there-ness”—in face of its equally inescapable, and constitutive, contingency? This thing that “belongs to that class of laminated objects whose two leaves cannot be separated without destroying both: windowpane and the landscape, and why not: Good and Evil, desire and its object: dualities we can conceive but not perceive.” [3] Dualities we can conceive but not perceive; the history of avant-garde photography could be written as a long game of hide and seek with such dualities … come out, come out, wherever you are…

The Photograph is unary when it emphatically transforms “reality” without doubling it, without making it vacillate (emphasis is a power of cohesion): no duality, no indirection, no disturbance. ... In [news images] no punctum: a certain shock—the literal can traumatize—but no disturbance; the photograph can “shout,” not wound. These journalistic photographs are received (all at once), perceived. I glance through them, I don't recall them; no detail (in some corner) ever interrupts my reading: I am interested in them (as I am interested in the world), I do not love them. [4]

Barthes is not arguing for a difference between high and low photography. He is arguing for a difference between photographs he is interested in and photographs he loves; between photographs that shout and photographs that wound. The first, the merely interesting, is a photograph that literalizes the world—it might be shocking and traumatizing, but it is without acknowledgement that the world is never only landscape; the world is always and inescapably both landscape and windowpane. The second, the truthful, is a photograph that violently interrupts Barthes’s reading because he finds in his act of looking that he loves it.

There are many models for thinking the critical photograph. Barthes’s appeal is for his method’s lack of objective, universally accessible criteria with which to evaluate its success. Put your lists away. You cannot know whether this photograph is dangerous, a photograph that thinks, armed with such words. “The important thing,” Barthes writes, “is that the photographs possesses an evidential force, and that its testimony bears not on the object but on time. From a phenomenological viewpoint, in the Photograph, the power of authentication exceeds the power of representation.” [5] The photograph as general concept promises light, or time—and promises it absolutely—and that is all. The responsibility for everything else is shared between the photographer and the spectator and is, therefore, without guarantee.

This limit on photography’s promise is obscured or simply ignored in many practices categorized under the growing aegis of social practice artwork. Galleries and publications and PowerPoint presentations and grant applications (mea culpa) abound with images of people sitting about in informal contexts, or formal ones; pictures of people smiling and laughing and speaking to one another; photographs that testify to the existence of the time that a certain amount of bodies were together—although what they were doing and how they were doing it is not always obvious. We take these photographs for granted, revert to thinking about them as evidentiary of the relationship a project produces, or, much worse, use them in the broader social practice discourse as a currency that we do not justify, not even to ourselves. This is just “documentation,” it cannot be read. It is just proof. Yes, but proof of what?

The conflict is, perhaps, that the artist feels as if she must choose sides—either she is for the social (and, by extension, the political) or she is for representation (and, by extension, the market). It is either living as form of critique or representation as form of critique. The binary this conflict sets up is dangerously close to, and drenched in the same longing as, #proveittome: “I am not interested in the vacillating duality of love—figure or ground, figure or ground—or in contemplating the nature of my desire. Please just prove it to me and be done with it.”


[1] Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), 80–81.
[2] Vampires escape this contract.
[3] Barthes, Camera Lucida, 6.
[4] Barthes, Camera Lucida, 41.
[5] Barthes, Camera Lucida, 88–89.




Natasha Marie Llorens is an independent curator and writer based in New York. Her last project was “Failing to Levitate,” co-curated with Kerry Downey, at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Project Space. Upcoming exhibitions include “Frames of War,” at Momenta Art, and “Threshing Floor,” at the Cuchifritos Gallery. She teaches art history and theory at The Cooper Union and curating at Eugene Lang. In 2014–2015, Llorens will be the inaugural curatorial resident at the Triangle Arts Association in DUMBO. She is a graduate of the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College and a Ph.D. candidate in art history at Columbia University. Her academic research is focused on violence and representation in the 1970s and 1980s.