Hollis Frampton

  • The Withering Away of the State of Art

    A FEW YEARS AGO, JONAS MEKAS closed a review of a show of videotapes with an aphorism to the effect that film is an art but video is a god. I coupled the remark, somehow, with another, of Ezra Pound’s: that he understood religion to be “just one more unsuccessful attempt to popularize art.” Recently, though, I have sensed a determination on the part of video artists to get down to the work of inventing their art, and corroborating their faith in good works.

    A large part of that work of invention is, I take it, to understand what video is. It is a longstanding habit of artists (in the life of the

  • Incisions in History/Segments of Eternity

    Time cuts down All,
    Both Great and Small.
    —The Bay State Primer
    , c. 1800

    Time is not, Time is the evil, beloved
    —Ezra Pound, Canto LXXIV

    HERE ARE SOME HAND-TINTED snapshots of myself, talking with a tall young woman at an imaginary party:

    Time out of mind, I find myself seized, at one and the same moment, by a fit of obstreperousness and a female historian. Reasoning, more from circumstance than tradition, that all men, by their nature, desire to know, I desire of her to know just what history is, anyhow.

    “Near as I can make out,” she allows, “it’s just one god damned thing after another.”

    I put on

  • Eadweard Muybridge: Fragments of a Tesseract

    It is the artist who is truthful and it is photography which lies, for in reality time does not stop.
    —Auguste Rodin, 1911

    HERE IS AN IRKSOME PARADOX of public consciousness: to be accorded the status of a legend, is to be whittled down to a microscopic point, a nonentity at the intersection of a random handful of idiosyncrasies, tidbits of gossip, shreds of advertising copy.

    To the nonspecialist, René Descartes was the philosopher of a single motto (just three little words and in Latin, no less). He didn’t like to get out of bed in the morning (rhymes with Belacqua, Oblomov, Beckett). His taste

  • Stan and Jane Brakhage, Talking

    Tape One

    Frampton: Last night you said you would like to make something beautiful . . . and get away with it.

    Brakhage: What does one mean by ‘get away with it’?

    Frampton: Things that are beautiful are seductive, are they not?

    Brakhage: Ah, yes, you’ve worried me for some time by saying that The Riddle of Lumen was the least seductive film I’d ever made . . . until I realized that you meant I’d gotten away with it. Seduction is what the people who steal beauty use it for. What I mean in getting away with it is that I want to be able to get all the excitement, the absolute ecstasy at times . .

  • Digressions on the Photographic Agony

    “This is the end of art. I am glad I have had my day.”
    —J.M.W. Turner, 1839/40

    I BEGAN WITH A FANTASTIC case: the recent discovery of an imaginary relic.

    A tanker returning to Arabia, running blind in a fog at night, collides with an uncharted object. The morning light reveals, instead of the expected crag, an enormous sphere floating in the sea, covered in barnacles and corrosion: it is nearly 1000 feet in diameter. Investigators at the scene determine that the thing is metallic and hollow, a colossal bubble, within which the most sensitive devices fail to detect any activity whatsoever.

    A tabloid

  • Meditations Around Paul Strand

    They say that we Photographers are a blind race at best; that we learn to look at even the prettiest faces as so much light and shade; that we seldom admire, and never love. This is a delusion I long to break through. . . .
    —Lewis Carroll, 1860

    IS STILL PHOTOGRAPHY FATED TO wrestle forever with its immemorial troubles?

    A year ago, a student of mine explained, with great agitation, why she was giving it all up: there was “no history of thought” in photography, but only a “history of things.” During 130 years of copious activity, photographers had produced no tradition, that is, no body of work that

  • For a Metahistory of Film: Commonplace Notes and Hypotheses

    “The cinematograph is an invention without a future.”
    —Louis Lumière

    ONCE UPON A TIME, according to reliable sources, history had its own Muse, and her name was Kleio. She presided over the making of a class of verbal artifacts that extends from a half-light of written legend through, possibly, Gibbon.

    These artifacts shared the assumption that events are numerous and replete beyond the comprehension of a single mind. They proposed no compact systematic substitute for their concatenated world; rather, they made up an open set of rational fictions within that world.

    As made things strong in their