Potential images – to linger in a gap (haunted by the ontology of photography)


Come with me! I’ll show you a view, you can follow me, I’m going straight up.

With slow small steps, we move up the cliff together. First Reinhold and then me. Initially, it seems a bit dangerous, not to me but I’m thinking of his age, Reinhold’s. His steps are careful but at the same time accustomed and safe after all the years along with this cliff.

Look here, such a beautiful view of the bay and the plot. I like to sit here and drink coffee on a balmy summer evening.

The moment strikes me, and I suddenly realize that this feels important, this is a unique opportunity. I stand there on the cliff with Reinhold and his rake, and I can see that image. The image that tells of Reinhold’s most beloved place at his and Birgitta’s allotment, a place where he spent most of his adult life’s summers.  This last summer is over and the Canadian poplar, once planted as a caring tree when the cottage was built, has begun to shed its first leaves for the coming winter. The allotment is now handed over to the daughter-in-law, but both Reinhold and Birgitta plan to return next year.

So, there I stand with the opportunity in my hand, and I am afraid of losing it. I ask Reinhold if it’s okay for me to take a picture and then I place the tripod on the cliff.

One exposure, then another.

Then the thought strikes me of what I might lose through my choice.

I can only hope that I have let in just the right amount of light through the pinhole and that I did not touch the tripod too much when I pulled up the piece of tape, or even worse, captured the piece of tape in the picture so that it obscures Reinhold. Maybe I cut his leg or even worse his head, maybe the film was poorly winded, and it became a double exposure. I only know that I saw something I wanted to capture as an image, then I aimed the opening of my pinhole camera at the imaginary subject and let in some light.

We move down the cliff together, just as quietly and safely but in a different direction. The opportunity is over, and I take notes to remember the moment.

This is where it starts, the time after the photographic event, the gap between exposure and development. Film rolls have been exposed and lie safely in the dark waiting for chemistry. The potential images from different photographed situations are still stored in my memory, most strongly on the same day as during the shooting and then slowly fragmented and mixed up by the unreliability of the memory. In my mind, all photographic situations are potential images, especially since I did not even see them in a viewfinder but just pointed the camera at a view and took a chance. No matter how successful or less successful these photographic events were experienced at the moment, there is always anticipation there, the thought of what the surprise should look like on the negative, inside the tightly enclosing paper that protects from the light. I am looking for the exclusive in being limited and I am attracted by the slowness, it becomes a method for this very story. The potential images rest in the dark until they materialize, and the gap is erased, then the images become The Photographs, and other gazes take over.

Skeppstadsholmen is mostly surrounded by the sea. There are generations of memories here, but the area is characterized by our time. I’m taking pictures. My own photographic observation emerges with interwoven traces of presence that tell stories. Photography, between encounters and words.

To understand photography. The history of photography up to contemporary photographic theory formation is a breathtaking journey of perceptions and paraphrases of the uniqueness of photography. Like reality itself, truth, indexicality, representation, reproducible, sharable. With or without title, text, context, who is photographing? who is being photographed? where was the photo taken? All as an attempt to understand and categorize the obvious problematic nature of photography.

It is impossible to ignore Barthes’s statement in his book Camera Lucida, the thing that has been there, the image shows something that was unconditionally there when the picture was taken and that must be considered as the essence of the photograph, its noeme.[I] It is also not possible to ignore the impact of images on our time, saturated with photography, where most are directly or indirectly influenced by photography. Ariella Azoulay, Professor of Modern Culture and Media, argues that the event of photography might have taken place as an encounter with a camera, with a photograph, or with the mere knowledge that a photograph has or might have been produced.[II]

The photographic event might also have been preceded by planning and staging even before the shutter was opened, planning for a long or short time with other images as a mental background noise. Here, Art Historian Geoffrey Batchen propose that photography is perhaps more of a virtual entity, an ‘image’ created by an individual photographer behind the camera, through an inner eye, at the moment before, during, or in some cases after exposure.[III] To understand the nature of photography, we must therefore consider several phenomena related to the photographic event in addition to the photographer and the thing that was there. In practice, it seems almost impossible to get an overview of the photograph’s stray paths if one also thinks virtually in addition to the materialized product.

Annoying. It is impossible to photograph without interrupting in various ways, such as during the allotment’s holders’ working days. The place is relatively limited and my presence in the area is becoming increasingly known. The experience requires a different method that allows the chance to come into play, something that enables taking pictures unpredictably or at least less controlled.

In another feed, a screenshot that is spread and shared as a comment in an ongoing filling in virtual spaces, fragmented in its own way. Out of control, dissolved with new possibilities. Here, photography or photographic events as a medium of exchange as much as a mode of documentation, a message in the present almost as ephemeral as speech.[IV]  In the increasingly blurred ontology of photography, the questions become more than the answers, it becomes like a way of relating to a riddle where the answer is constantly changing. The idea of the fragmentary gap no longer seems like a diffuse ghost in consciousness but as a part of a photographic nature.

I stand for a long time and measure in the air against a cigar box, it probably looks strange and lasts a little too long so the salesman with the small, overcrowded table wonders what I do,

      —  It will be perfect as a camera, I answer, pay, and go.

There is another box in which the exposed rolls are usually allowed to rest, often numbered or with a short unreadable comment on the outside of the roll. Thoughts about what might have been the result of the photographic event are with me for a few days and from the fragments, new ideas arise that need to be staged in the field. To create a narrative about a place through photography means constant detours and new angles, I feel the changing unreliability of photography in every step of the place and in my story. The photographic event continues, and the layers are filled in from time to time. I number and take notes.

It was the end of the working day, their working day, and me following it. Most were on their way home and a few cups of cold coffee were left on a cliff. That’s when Reinhold wanted to show me the view.

The view I have not previously discovered. A reality that soon will become part of the photographic universe.

One exposure, then another.

Not only as a moment of Reinhold looking at the view, but also a photograph of a place in a surrounding context, ready to meet viewers along the way in the uncontrolled ontology of photography. But first, the exclusive pause, as part of a gap before the ephemeral state of the potential images finally dissolves into the materialized photograph.



Images: Charlotta Gavelin, The Key and the Barrier, publication, 2022.



[I] Roland Barthes. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, New ed., Vintage, London, 1993, p.76.


[II] Ariella Azoulay. ‘What is a photograph? What is photography? Philosophy of Photography 1: 1, (2010), p.13.


[III] Geoffrey Batchen. Repetition och Skillnad: Fotografins Re/produktion. Hägersten: CO-OP (editions), 2011. p.11.


[IV] Geoffrey Batchen, ‘Observing by watching’, in The Photography Cultures Reader- Representation, Agency and Identity, ed. Liz Wells. (NY: Routledge, 2018), p.339.