gallery 51    
  • © Milan Golob ~ Arpad Gulics (1943-2022), 2023, oil on canvas, 19×25 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Charlotte Friederike von Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1784-1840), 2023, oil on canvas, 18×25 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Franciška Kranjc (1847-1908), 2023, oil on canvas, 25×29 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Julius Kugy (1858-1944), 2023, oil on canvas, 28×21 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • Olimpia Donini (1986-1989), title of painting not created yet.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Lilli Barhr (1831-1892), 2023, oil on canvas, 24×29 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Irenuta Mühleisen (1911-1995), 2023, oil on canvas, 19×25 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Friedrich Wilhelm von Ellrodt (1772-1844), 2023, oil on canvas, 25×28 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ David Leko (1961-1999), 2023, oil on canvas, 18×19 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Adda Körbler (1895-1981), 2023, oil on canvas, 18×24 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Andrej Obersnel (1901-1929), 2023, oil on canvas, 18×25 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Carla Pachor (1853-1948), 2023, oil on canvas, 21×24 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Franc Hladnik (1773-1844), 2023, oil on canvas, 24×28 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Ján Labáth (1859-1919), 2023, oil on canvas, 24×29 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Ljiljana Jovanovič (1984-2022), 2023, oil on canvas, 23×25 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Mária Pálenkášová (1931-1978), 2023, oil on canvas, 22×25 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • Valeria Caridi (1889-1990), title of painting not created yet.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Karl Herzberg (1851-1939), 2023, oil on canvas, 24×25 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Lázár Pollák (1842-1908), 2023, oil on canvas, 19×24 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Mafalda Draina (1927-1981), 2023, oil on canvas, 18×24 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Elisabeth Krein (1829-1918), 2023, oil on canvas, 21×25 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Barbara Stocca (1862-1941), 2023, oil on canvas, 18×25 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Aloisia Dirnbauer (1856-1889), 2023, acrylic on canvas, 24×28 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~Emily Anna Plunket (1823-1843), 2023, oil on canvas, 18×24 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Maria Elena Nahuis Leon (1987-2023), 2023, oil on canvas, 19×24 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Károlyné Csergö (1884-1968), 2023, oil on canvas, 18×23 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Ivan Kiš (1961-1974), 2023, oil on canvas, 19×24 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Jürgen Gerd (1943-2000), 2023, oil on canvas, 18×24 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Gjyste Seba (1929-2009), 2023, oil on canvas, 25×18 cm painted by Milan Golob.
  • © Milan Golob ~ Gerhard Handanović (1974-2020), 2023, oil on canvas, 18×25 cm painted by Milan Golob.
Arpad Gulics (1943-2022), 2023, oil on canvas, 19×25 cm



Photography as a Time Machine

Marcel Duchamp at the Age of 85
An Incunabulum of Conceptual Photography

(Part 3)*

* Herbert Molderings; Marcel Duchamp at the Age of 85: An Incunabulum of Conceptual Photography, Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig, Köln, 2013, pp. 37-59, pp. 80-83. (Translated by John Brogden, Foreword by Dieter Bogner)
© 2013 Herbert Molderings and Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig, Köln


Part 1  Part 2 ----     Part 4



Inasmuch as it claims to capture a view of the future, Marcel Duchamp at the Age of 85 is a piece of photographic fiction. Thoughts and fantasies about life in the future are rather a matter for the literary genre of science fiction. Several clues suggest that Duchamp’s familiarity with H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine of 1895, that great classic of science fiction, went into the making of his self-portrait from the future. This novel about a voyage into the fourth dimension was published in serialized form in the French magazine Mercure de France in the winter of 1898—99. Alfred Jarry responded to the novel in February 1899 with an essay published in the same magazine under the title Commentaire pour servir à la construction pratique de la machine à explorer le temps [Commentary and Instructions for the Practical Construction of the Time Machine]. Both this essay and Jarry's Gestes et opinions du docteur Faustroll, pataphysicien [Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician], published posthumously in 1911, had been valuable sources of inspiration for Duchamp’s literary notes and preparatory sketches — later published as the so-called Green Box in 1934 — for La mariée mise a nu par ses célibataires, même [The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even], better known as Le Grand Verre [The Large Glass]. Marc Décimo has shown how meticulously Duchamp had studied Gaston de Pawlowski’s Voyage au pays de la quatrieme dimension [Journey to the Land of the Fourth Dimension], a novel written entirely in the Wellsian tradition.[123] As a large sheaf of notes in the White Box shows, reflections on the visualization of four-dimensional hyperspace were central to Duchamp’s conception of the Large Glass.[124] Taking all this into account, we may readily assume that H.G. Wells’s novel The Time Machine cannot possibly have escaped Duchamp’s attention in the course of his studies on the fourth dimension between the years of 1912 and 1915.

---- Wells opens the story with a heated discussion among a circle of friends, who meet once a week, about the latest theories on four-dimensional geometry. The protagonist, a scientist and inventor from Richmond, who remains nameless throughout the story and is referred to simply as the “Time Traveller,” explains to his guests — a Psychologist, a Medical Man, a Provincial Mayor, and an Editor, among others — that Euclidean geometry as taught at school is no longer valid and the new geometry is based on the notion that “any real body must have extension in four directions: it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness, and — Duration.”[125] Thus, if we wished to experience reality in its very fullness, we would have to complement the three planes of classical geometry with the dimension of time. As one of the most curious results of his preoccupation with four-dimensional geometry, the Time Traveller puts forward to this gathering of representatives of science, public opinion, and common sense the idea that the three-dimensional appearance of a human being at a given age is only a section, a kind of momentary slice of the four-dimensional being as it evolves over time. “For instance, here is a portrait of a man at eight years old, another at fifteen, another at seventeen, another at twenty-three, and so on. All these are evidently sections, as it were, Three-Dimensional representations of his Four-Dimensioned being, which is a fixed and unalterable thing.”[126] If one sought to visualize this idea, the result would be either a photomontage of portraits from the various years of the subject’s past life or a multiple exposure of these portraits on one single print. This would not in any way be new or exciting from an artistic standpoint. Duchamp reacts to the Time Traveller’s discourse in quite a rudimentary way by juxtaposing in the View magazine two portraits from different phases of his life — one from 1922 and one from 1972 — and yet in so doing he addresses a far more complicated question, for the idea behind it cannot be readily visualized, at least not photographically: can one take a photograph of a person at an age not reached until some time in the future?

---- Advised by his sceptical interlocutors that the difference between the three classical dimensions of space and the dimension of time lay in the fact that one can move about in the various dimensions of space but not in that of time, the Time Traveller responds by presenting an “experimental verification” of his theory that such was no longer the case: the small model of a machine that, simply through the pressing of a lever, can travel through time.[127] By reason of its size — “scarcely larger than a small clock” — and the materials used in its making — “glittering brass and ivory,” the model of the Time Machine must have reminded the contemporary reader, albeit only faintly, of a camera.[128] Now since a camera is an apparatus that captures moments of the present in the continual flux of time, the images it generates cannot but belong to the past. Indeed, the photograph is so closely bound up with the subject’s physical existence that it must necessarily project the latter from the past into the viewer’s present. Roland Barthes’s “that-has-been” notion of photography recognizes the specific psychology of the photographic image that essentially differentiates it from the drawn or painted image.[129] However, in portraying himself at the age of 85, Duchamp contravened all photographic conventions, for his camera captured moments of the future, not of the present, entirely after the fashion of the Wellsian time machine. In so doing, Duchamp had marked the beginning of a new artistic approach to photography, that is, photography not as the documentation of a past moment but rather photography as the “documentation” of the fictional, as the visual actualization of what is yet to come, with all its truths and untruths.

---- Duchamp loved to think the impossible, caring little about those accepted notions of the sciences that for physiological reasons deny the human being every insight into the future and the four-dimensional time-space continuum. Exploring the boundaries of the possible had been the basic principle behind Duchamp’s artistic researches and experiments since 1912. By constantly sounding out these boundaries, and indeed crossing them in defiance of all scientific certainties, Duchamp was able to extend, with almost every work, his repertoire of possible forms of artistic expression. Thus it was that with his self-portrait at the age of 85 Duchamp brought together two completely different media, the medium of photography, the very quintessence of factuality that even passes as scientific evidence before a court of law, and the medium of fiction — playacting and masquerade — as a means of creating a new, imaginary photographic self-image. Of course, Duchamp could easily have painted this self-portrait, just as the photographer Man Ray had painted The Imaginary Portrait of the Marquis de Sade, but painting had long since been out of the question for Duchamp by 1945 and the painting of imaginary portraits was far too conventional for him anyway. The invention of an imaginary photographic self-portrait, on the other hand, posed a new artistic challenge.

Hippolyte Bayard, Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man, 1840 (direct positive print). title

Hippolyte Bayard,
Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man, 1840.

---- Masquerades, cross-dressing, and absurd scenarios of every description, especially when it came to playacting and posing for staged photographs, were an immense source of fun among the Surrealists.[130] And while Breton and Duchamp had in 1942 augmented classical portraiture with a new genre, the compensation portrait, nobody had so far come up with a self-portrait from the future. The idea of photographing events that had never happened was actually nothing new. In 1840, Hippolyte Bayard, the inventor of the direct positive printing process, had circulated among the painters and actors of the Parisian Bohéme a photograph of himself as a drowned man, a photograph that was in fact the first of a new genre: staged photography.[131] A long text on the back of the photograph furnished an explanation of what the photograph portrayed: the public exhibition of the corpse at the morgue following the death of the inventor who, through disappointment over the lack of recognition for his invention, had thrown himself into the Seine.[132] A monograph on Bayard was published in Paris in 1943, the plate section of which opened with his “self-portrait as a drowned man.”[133] Duchamp may possibly have been familiar with this book, but his own self-portrait “at the age of 85” by far outdoes, conceptually, Bayard’s fictitious self-portrait “as a drowned man.” Bayard’s photograph is, like any other photograph, a record of the past, for it is ostensibly a document evidencing a past suicide, albeit one that in reality did not take place. It does nothing more than exploit the potential of the camera to deceive the eye, the latter being accustomed to believing what the camera sees, namely the “that-has-been” quality of the photographic image. Duchamp’s self-portrait as an old man, on the other hand, documents a journey through time into the future, into the year of 1972, when the subject will be eighty-five years of age. Thus it does not capture something that did not happen in reality but rather something that may perhaps happen in the future. It is not a photograph of what is real but of what is possible.[134]


There is another associative link between Duchamp’s self-portrait at the age of 85 and Wells’s novel, namely the notion of subliminal perception. Before the inventor sets off on his journey into the distant future, he demonstrates the working of the Time Machine with the aid of a small model. As soon as the latter was set in motion, the following happened: “There was a breath of wind, and the lamp flame jumped. One of the candles on the mantel was blown out, and the little machine suddenly swung round, became indistinct, was seen as a ghost for a second perhaps, as an eddy of faintly glittering brass and ivory; and it was gone — vanished! Save for the lamp the table was bare.”[135] But which way did the machine go, into the past or into the future? Accounting for the disappearance of the machine, the Time Traveller speaks of “presentation below the threshold” and “diluted presentation”, phenomena which, he says, could be better explained by the Psychologist than he himself: “We cannot see it,” says the Psychologist, “nor can we appreciate this machine, any more than we can the spoke of a wheel spinning, or a bullet flying through the air. If it is travelling through time fifty times or a hundred times faster than we are, if it gets through a minute while we get through a second, the impression it creates will of course be only one-fiftieth or one-hundredth of what it would make if it were not travelling in time.”[136] This reference to the invisible “spoke of a wheel spinning” cannot but remind us of the “Bicycle Wheel” of 1913, Duchamp’s first Readymade consisting of a bicycle wheel and fork mounted upside down on a wooden stool, an object vaguely reminiscent of some makeshift experimental set-up.[137] For a whole decade, from 1935 until 1945, Duchamp had been deeply preoccupied with ultra-fine sensations experienced at the very limits of the human being’s faculties of perception.[138] The notes found after his death contained a whole collection of observations and reflections on such perceptual phenomena, for which he had coined his own term: infra-mince, a hybrid expression combining the Latin prefix “infra” [“below”] with the French adjective “mince” [“thin”, “slim”, “small”, “tiny”].[139] One of these notes recalls the “bullet flying through the air” from the Psychologist’s explanation of the Time Machine’s disappearance: “Infra thin separation between the detonation noise of a gun (very close) and the apparition of the bullet hole in the target (maximum distance 3 to 4 meters). — Shooting gallery at a fair.”[140] It was on the back cover of View that Duchamp had published an olfactory example of ultra-fine sensory perception. This French text, which comprised a collage of different fonts and was shaped vaguely like an irregularly spreading fume of tobacco smoke, reads, in translation, as follows: “When the tobacco smoke smells also of the mouth which exhales it, the two smells marry by infra-thin,” i.e., in an infinitely fine manner.[141] An arrow underneath the signature points to the right, towards the front cover, on which is depicted, against a nocturnal, starry sky, a Bordeaux bottle covered with dust and mould, out of which two puffs of smoke emerge. As we know from Kiesler’s draft article and Peter Lindamood’s column,    “I Cover the Cover,” the   text of the label,

View: The Modern Magazine Marcel Duchamp Volume (Series V, Number 1, March 1945, back cover).

View, Marcel Duchamp Number, March 1945
(back cover)

View: The Modern Magazine Marcel Duchamp Volume (Series V, Number 1, March 1945, front cover).

View, Marcel Duchamp Number, March 1945
(front cover)

illegible on account of the coarse halftone screen used in its printing, is based on the personal particulars of Duchamp’s military ID pass. The only word that can be made out, though by no means clearly, is the name “Duchamp”. Bearing the traces of many years’ cellaring, the bottle is evidently an ironic embodiment of Duchamp himself and/or of his work. If we are to go by Kiesler’s draft article, Duchamp had had difficulty finding a genuine Bordeaux bottle in New York.[142] But it had to be such a bottle and no other, as only Bordeaux wines suffer the same fate as works of art in the course of their history: they are classified. In 1952, Duchamp wrote to his brother-in-law, the Swiss painter, Jean Crotti: “I believe in the original perfume [of the work of art], but, as all perfume, it evaporates very quickly (after a couple of weeks, or a couple of years maximum); what is left is the dried kernel classified by the art historians in the chapter ‘history of art.’”[143] Here, however, it is not a dried kernel that graces the front cover of View but an empty, dust-encrusted wine bottle, and one that immediately awakens associations with one of Duchamp’s most famous Readymades, the Bottle Drier. And the puffs of smoke, which also make us think of the proverbial Genii in the Bottle,[144] are the tobacco smoke that smells of the mouth of the artist who exhales it, a metaphor that is in no way far-fetched, for the cigar was Marcel Duchamp’s most marked attribute, and he was never seen in public without it. The eccentric American painter, Laurence Vail, whom he had known since around 1937, probably inspired Duchamp’s idea for his artistic transformation of a wine bottle. At the beginning of 1945, Vail had prepared an exhibition of fantastic landscapes of painted wine bottles.[145] As announced in an advertisement in the Duchamp Number of View, Vail’s “exhibition of bottles” was to be shown in February —March of that year at the Art of this Century, the gallery owned by Peggy Guggenheim, Vail’s ex-wife.[146] As Duchamp included his artistically prepared wine bottle in the shop window display of the Gotham Book Mart a month later, but did not seem to think it was worth preserving as an original, it is not clear whether he considered it as a work of art or merely as source material for the photomontage.

---- Yet another idea may have crept into the making of this enigmatic photomontage on the front cover of View. In May 1944, roughly half a year before the planning of the Marcel Duchamp Number, Katherine Dreier and Matta Echaurren had written a short essay on the Large Glass, in which they conclude: “(...) through his ‘Glass’ — ‘La Mariée’ — he causes one to realize the futility of trying to possess that which does not belong to the material world. For the moment one wants to possess and grasp at it — that moment it eludes one and like smoke, it vanishes into thin air« [my italics].[147] It was precisely this risk, the risk of being possessed, of being interpreted and classified by others, be they collectors, gallery owners, curators, friends or fellow artists, that Duchamp strove to oppose, both through his photomontage on the front cover of View and through his enigmatic self-portrait at the age of 85. Is it not more than just a coincidence that the graphic artist responsible for the layout of View should have placed an advertisement for Dreier’s and Matta’s book, Duchamp’s Glass, next to the two Duchamp portraits at the age of 35 and 85?[148] We may readily assume that Duchamp had had a hand in this, just as with the layout and illustration of Ettie Stettheimer’s short story.

---- Shortly after the publication of View, the Swiss author Denis de Rougemont asked Duchamp about the meaning of the category infra-mince. Replying that it would be best explained by way of examples, Duchamp continued: “It is something that escapes our scientific definitions. I expressly chose the word ‘mince,” which is a human, emotive word and not a precise laboratory measure. The sound of music made by corduroy trousers rubbing together when you walk falls into the category of infra-mince. The space between the front and back of a thin sheet of paper.”[149] The aesthetic of subliminal perception also underlies Duchamp’s self-portrait at the age of 85. “The possible is an infra-thin. (...) the possible implying the becoming — the passage from one to the other takes place in the infra-thin,” Duchamp writes in the notes found after his death.[150] It is the almost imperceptible nuances, created simply by an overly tired, “morning-after” face and a little powder and make-up, that lead the viewer to believe that he is being shown a veritable passage in time “from one to the other” and that the portrait of Duchamp, actually taken at the age of fifty-seven, is to all appearances the portrait of a very old man. Added to this, and even more important than the physiognomic nuances, is the factual assertion contained in the caption: “This is Marcel Duchamp at the age of 85.” This additional use of language subliminally conditions the viewer’s visual perception and points it in a certain direction of understanding. “The convention of the arrow sign produces an infra-thin reaction on the sense of displacement agreed to,” Duchamp writes in another of his notes on this infinitely fine perceptual phenomenon.[151] Applying this thought of Duchamp’s to the combined entity of caption and photograph, we cannot but conclude that our perception of captioned photographs is always governed by a reading action that imperceptibly steers our seeing action. Just as a vector arrow on a diagram subtly steers our thoughts about the direction of movement of the object represented in the diagram, so too does the caption of a photograph steer our perception of the depicted subject in a certain direction and towards a certain assumption, this being, in the particular case in hand, the assumption that we are actually looking at a photograph of Marcel Duchamp at a ripe old age.

---- The portrait caption would at first glance seem to be purely denotative: “This is Marcel Duchamp” — a factual assertion that can be easily verified through non-photographic documentary evidence and does in fact prove to be true, but the additional, qualifying words “at the age of 85« simultaneously contradict the facts. Any View reader familiar with the art scene of 1945 will have known that this statement of Duchamp’s age was incorrect. Moreover, the year indicated above the portrait was “1972”, and nobody, with the exception of dyed-in-the-wool spiritualists, could possibly have believed in photographs from the future. Thus, in combining a true and a false statement, the caption beneath Duchamp’s self-portrait is at once denotative and connotative.[152] The deliberately false message — “This is a photograph from the future” — prompts us to reflect on our conventional way of perceiving the photographic image, indeed, when combined with Duchamp’s staged self-portrayal rather than with a run-of-the-mill documentary photograph, it demonstrates the possibility of using photography conceptually, that is to say, not just as a mechanical means of recording factual information but also for visualizing artistic fiction.

---- Marcel Duchamp at the Age of 85 is a staged, fictional photograph. My use of the term “fiction” places this kind of photographic image very close to the genres of literature and poetry. Unlike the everyday and scientific use of language, the fictional use of language in a literary work does not presuppose the actual existence of the subject matter. In the discourse on the medium of photography, however, truth and reference have from the very beginning been essential categories.[153] From our knowledge of the physical conditions governing the production of the photographic image we may always assume, when looking at a photograph, the “necessarily real” existence of its referent.[154] Bound up with this assumption is the conviction that photography, being a means of depicting only what actually exists physically, is incapable of producing a mental image. “In spite of its inexhaustibility, writes Siegfried Kracauer, the photography and film theorist, “the poetic work of art is, through its form, more equivocal than a photographic message, as the latter cannot transmute the subject matter that forms its basis entirely into form.”[155] Taking up the ideas of Paul Valéry, Wolfgang Preisendanz has expanded upon Kracauer’s theory, remarking that since a photograph is neither shaped nor formed it is not a picture in the original sense of the word. As a photograph is only a reproduction of a given object or situation rather than the result of any intellectual activity, Preisendanz argues, it is the very opposite of “invention” and “construction,” “of artistic fiction or design.”[156] In the self-portrait Marcel Duchamp at the Age of 85, however, the rules of the conventional discourse on photography have been thwarted, for the given object here reproduced, the depicted person, is himself the result of his own thought-through and deliberate action, of his own “invention” and “construction.” What here seems to be a body of plain and obvious facts — the deep, shadowy eye sockets, the unshaven, hollow cheeks, the apparent baldness, in fact the very things we perceive in ordinary portrait photographs as “pure contingence” (Roland Barthes)[157] and therefore take to be authentic — has been devised, constructed, brought about. All the photographer now had to do was to record, with his camera, this self-projection into the future — objectively, unemotionally and without any claim whatsoever to artistic merit.

---- Even though we know, by reason of Kiesler’s draft article, that the self-portrait has been staged, the photograph still retains the full force of its visual evidence and, by the same token, still has a confusing effect on us, for it altogether contradicts our habitual reception of photographic images. The paradox of Duchamp’s self-portrait at the age of 85 lies in our conviction that, while we are equally convinced that photographs from the future cannot possibly exist, any object or person depicted in a photograph must have really existed. It would be too superficial of us to discuss Duchamp’s self-portrait on the same level as filmic, masquerade or carnival portraiture,[158] for in aiming the camera at the future, so to speak, and disguising the physiognomic changes as the natural consequences of old age, Duchamp has camouflaged the theatrical element, which is precisely what characterizes such photographs. Moreover, the fiction resides not just in the pose and the theatrical make-up but also, and perhaps equally so, in the photographic process itself, inasmuch as the abstracting and transforming properties of black-and-white photography have been so exploited as to blur the make-up and convincingly suggest the complexion of a man in his dotage. As far as the physical representational relationship is concerned, there is little sense in arguing about the truth or untruth of a certain photograph, as the truth content can be established only in terms of the archetypal image, that is, in terms of whether this extract of reality had been found in its unchanged state or had been partially or wholly constructed. Even when the fictional and the theatrical are transported into the sphere of the factual, the photograph still cannot disclose the truth or reality of its subject matter, for — as the grammarian would say — there is no visible transition from the subjunctive to the indicative mood. This question of truth or untruth can here be verified and clarified only by non-photographic means. Duchamp’s staged self-portrait as an old man was an innovative contribution not only to the genre of the self-portrait but also to the use of photography as a medium of artistic expression. The deliberate game of confusion played by this photograph “from the future” at once presupposed and contradicted the belief in the physical existence of the photographed subject, a firmly established belief based on the law of causality and substantiated by the widespread use of photography. Duchamp used and “abused” the evidential character of photography in order to lend a figment of the imagination the appearance of physical reality. Framed by the text, “1972 — Marcel Duchamp at the Age of 85,” the photographic image becomes the central piece of a complex game of visual and textual elements that shows how photography can be put in the service of the inventive, creative mind without denying its essential function as a medium of mechanical reproduction. Like his fellow Surrealists, Man Ray, Hans Bellmer, Paul Nougé, René Magritte, and Raoul Ubac, Duchamp had taken the photographic image — which for Barthes was the “emanation” and “evidence” of the real[159] — and opened it up to the world of fantasy and ambiguity: the ambiguity of gender with his self-portrait as Rrose Sélavy and the ambiguity of age with his Marcel Duchamp at the Age of 85. Another three decades were to elapse before the conceptual photographers of the 1970s finally caught on to Duchamp’s example and redefined photography as the medium of the imaginary.[160]

---- Marcel Duchamp at the Age of 85 is the epitome of a conceptual, fictional portrait photograph as opposed to its run-of-the-mill realistic counterpart. One might indeed see it as a subversive critique of the photographic theories of Roland Barthes a good thirty years before the latter were written. Barthes defines photography in terms of its factual evidentiality, the “that-has-been” aspect of the photographic image being the very essence of the medium.[161] “[Photography] does not invent,” writes Barthes in his Camera Lucida, “[it is] impotent with regard to general ideas (fiction)”[162] and can never be anything but “an emanation of past reality.”[163] Here Barthes excludes from his definition of photography all staged, fictional practices, notwithstanding the fact such practices had from the very beginning been just as valid an aspect of photography as its documentary and factual categories. Duchamp’s self-portrait at the fictitious age of 85 proves that photography is a process that is not only subject to physical laws but also follows cultural conventions that may indeed be brushed against the grain. By guiding the viewer’s imagination not into the past but into the future, not into the finite realm of “past reality” but into the infinite realm of the possible, towards, in other words, happenings that have not yet occurred, Duchamp shows how and to what extent the photographic image can indeed be used for “invention.” That the subject of a photograph can also have a metaphorical presence is demonstrated not least by the two variants of the self-portrait at the age of 85, the one depicting an old man of ordinary appearance, the other the calm physiognomy of a philosopher engrossed in deep thought. Jean Cocteau once remarked on Duchamp as the “inventor of that unreal realism that will be the mark of the 20th century.”[164] It was a remark that reflected exactly the paradox behind the fictional portrait of Duchamp as an old man, for it transports our faculty of perception far beyond the factual into the unreal spaces of the imagination. And the fiction is indeed infinite: the Marcel Duchamp shown in this photograph at the age of 85 will never be able to die, for in real life he did not live to that age. He died on October 2, 1968 at the age of 81 years.


Part 1  Part 2 ----     Part 4


* Herbert Molderings; Marcel Duchamp at the Age of 85: An Incunabulum of Conceptual Photography, Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig, Köln, 2013, pp. 37-59, pp. 80-83. (Translated by John Brogden, Foreword by Dieter Bogner)
© 2013 Herbert Molderings and Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig, Köln


[123] Décimo, La bibliothèque de Marcel Duchamp, pp. 20 et passim.

[124] See Henderson, Duchamp in Context; Molderings, “Ästhetik des Möglichen ...,” pp. 103-135; idem, Kunst als Experiment; Adcock, Marcel Duchamp’s Notes from the Large Glass: An N-Dimensional Analysis.

[125] H.G. Wells, The Time Machine. Here quoted from: H.G. Wells, The Time Machine., 2000. [11/15/2012], chapter 1.

[126] Ibid.

[127] Ibid.

[128] Ibid.

[129] Barthes: Camera Lucida, p. 77 et passim.

[130] Molderings, “Evidenz des Möglichen. Fotografie und Surrealismus,” in: idem, Moderne der Fotografie, pp. 93-154; La Subversion des images. Surréalisme Photographie Film, exh. cat., Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

[131] Vogel, The Cindy Shermans: Inszenierte Identitäten, pp. 40-41.

[132] Schaaf, “Wahre Künstler sterben gern!” pp. 33-37; Komninou, “Hippolyte Bayard’s Le Noyé,” pp. 163-170; Sapir, “The Impossible Photograph: Hippolyte Bayard’s Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man,” pp. 619-629; Keeler, “Souvenirs of the Invention of Photography on Paper, pp. 47-62.

[133] Lo Duca: Bayard, Plates I and II.

[134] Molderings, “Die Fotografie des Möélichen,”; idem, “Evidenz des Möglichen. Fotografie und Surrealismus,” pp. 105-121.

[135] Wells: The Time Machine, chapter 1.

[136] Ibid.

[137] On the significance of Wells’s novel for Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel see Dee: “Ce fagonnement symétrique,” p. 365; Molderings, “Ästhetik des Möglichen,” pp. 124-125.

[138] On the aesthetic of the “infra-mince” see Semin: “Note sur l'inframince duchampien”; Davila, De l'inframince; von Graevenitz, “Duchamp as a Scientist,” op. cit.

[139] In Duchamp’s Notes this term is spelt in different ways: inframince, infra-mince and infra mince. See Marcel Duchamp Notes, pp. 20-35.

[140] Ibid., p. 24. The original French text reads: Séparation infra mince entre le bruit de detonation d’un fusil (très proche) et l’apparition de la marque de la balle sur la cible (distance maximum 3 à 4 mètres. — Tir de foire).

[141] Quand la fumée de tabac sent aussi de la bouche qui l'exhale, les deux odeurs s'épousent par infra-mince. This sentence, in duplicate and in a slightly changed form, forms part of the 46 notes written by Duchamp between 1935 and 1945 on the subject of “infra-mince”. See Marcel Duchamp Notes, pp. 24 and 33.

[142] Kiesler’s typescript, folio 8. — According to Lindamood’s “I Cover the Cover” the Bordeaux bottle was a left-over from an evening when Duchamp and Breton had dined together. View, p. 3.

[143] Affectt Marcel, p. 320.

[144] Zaunschirm, Marcel Duchamps Unbekanntes Meisterwerk, p. 113.

[145] Tomkins: Marcel Duchamp, p. 367.

[146] View, p. 42.

[147] Dreier, Echaurren, Duchamp’s Glass, n. p.

[148] View, p. 53.

[149] Quoted, in translation, from: De Rougemont, “Marcel Duchamp mine de rien,” pp. 46-47. C'est quelque chose qui échappe à nos définitions scientifiques. J’ai pris à dessein le mot mince qui est un mot humain, affectif, et non pas une mesure précise de laboratoire. Le bruit ou la musique que fait un pantalon de velours cételé comme celui-ci, quand on bouge, relève de l'infra-mince. Le creux dans le papier, entre le recto et le verso d'une feuille mince ... In this interview Duchamp associates, like the Psychologist in H.G. Wells’s novel, subliminal perception with the dimension theory: Je crois que par l'infra-mince on peut passer de la deuxième a la troisième dimension (I believe that through the infra-mince it is possible to pass from the second to the third dimension).

[150] Marcel Duchamp Notes, 21: Le possible est un infra mince. (...) Le possible impliquant le devenir — le passage de l'un à l'autre a lieu dans l’infra mince.

[151] Ibid., p. 22: La convention du signe de la fleche produit une réaction infra mince sur le sens de déplacement accepté.

[152] On the difference between a denotative and a connotative caption see: Preisendanz, “Verordnete Wahrnehmung,” pp. 2-4. See also: John Elsom (ed.), Is Shakespeare Still Our Contemporary, p. 35.

[153] Stiegler, Theoriegeschichte der Photographie, chapter 7.1: Zwischen Trauma und Emanation des Referenten: Roland Barthes, pp. 341-349.

[154] Barthes, Camera Lucida, p. 76.

[155] Quoted, in translation, from: Preisendanz, “Verordnete Wahrnehmung,” p. 2.

[156] Ibid., p. 2. On the Valéry reference see chapter: Valéry, Gedanken, p. 7.

[157] Barthes, Camera Lucida, p. 28.

[158] On theatrical role portraiture see Vogel, The Cindy Shermans, pp. 30-31.

[159] Barthes, Camera Lucida, pp. 88 and 107.

[160] Molderings, “Evidenz des Möglichen,” pp. 135-144; Foucault, “La pensée, l'émotion” (1982), p. 1062; Quoi: Histoire(s) du Narrative Art (1965-1981).

[161] Barthes, Camera Lucida, pp. 77 et passim.

[162] Ibid., p. 87.

[163] Ibid., p. 88.

[164] Quoted, in translation, from: Gervais, “33 lettres et cartes Robert Lebel (1955-1960) au sujet de Sur Marcel Duchamp,” in: Les Cabiers du Musée national d’art moderne, no. 84, 2003, p. 49, note 82.


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Photography as a Time Machine