Das Ding / The Thing
“Indeed, even the innermost and actually central mark of the methods of the modern imagination seems to lie in this strangely urgent meaning of the object. The subject – having become more important than man – achieves the dramatic significance which nineteenth-century literature had for the imagined matter. This, of course, can only happen because the object of ‘dead’ nature is given a peculiar life today; the object has become excitingly interesting for us. The more modern man looks at the objects and feels that they are to be among the surroundings of his psyche, the more astonishing and enchanting their vital stirrings become. Let us remember Alphonse Chateaubriand’s famous insistent description of a butterfly, or Marcel Proust’s descriptions of furniture and things, where,
in the precise and intimate contemplation of things, all our vital stirrings enter into a new amazing consciousness as well! Let us remember the mysterious, agonizing ball of wool in Franz Kafka’s novella, where the object now, out of its immobility, completely awakens to a peculiar, actually inherent, as it were, symbolless vitality! That was just it; it was the immobility of the things – the ‘dead’ objects – that had previously made them uninteresting. Today, however, this immobility is called into question by the “modern consciousness” that intuitive reality can only arise in the constant rapport between our mind and the thing, and that “perhaps” – and again let us quote Marcel Proust – “the immobility of things has been imposed on them only by our certainty that they are these and not others, by the immobility of our thinking towards them.”
Of course, the object first gains its life, its intense meaning through the act of a great inner collection. For the images of passion in the human psyche must first have given way to a pious, quiet collection before that rapport between the contemplative, meditating man and the objects can be achieved, that rapport in whose atmosphere the objects alone can gain life. It is the atmosphere of ‘stilllife’ that can only give the object its lyrical meaning, its own expressiveness. It is only in this atmosphere that “silence of the form in which our mind is resting” (Carlo Carrà) arises. And so we have long noticed in the arts a special inclination to the world of silence, of intense contemplation, of meditation awakening to the ‘small things’, of an inclination to the world of ‘quiet life’.” Werner Haftmann, „Das Ding und seine Bedeutung, Die Zeit“, Nr. 26/1947 It is true that art and photography in general have progressed since these reflections. But it’s interesting to note that today’s photo artists still cite Karl Blossfeldt, Peter Keetman, Paul Outerbridg or Edward Weston when working on “The Thing”.