Beijing Through Sidney Gamble's Camera 一百年前的北京社会–西德尼·甘博摄影图片展

Penetrating the Past: Reexamining Agency and Intentionality in Sidney Gamble’s Street Photography

By Jason Tonio Woerner

Jason Tonio Woerner is a documentary photographer and PhD student in Cultural Anthropology at Duke University

Buying Eggs 456-2626 买鸡蛋

Figure 1: Buying Eggs
买鸡蛋

A late middle-aged woman sits behind a basket of eggs on a crowded Beijing street. Although the sun is shining directly on her, she remains bundled in winter clothes, a cloth wrapped around her head. Another woman, younger, better dressed and out of focus, crouches in front of the woman’s basket, examining the eggs inside, her back to the camera. A young boy and a middle-aged man, of indeterminate relationship to the vendor and her customer, are gathered around watching this transaction take place. In this photograph, titled simply, “Buying Eggs,” Sidney Gamble has produced and preserved a wealth of ethnographic information about early twentieth-century China invaluable to scholars today (see fig. 1). Images from this period in Chinese history are scarce, and Gamble’s photography gives a rare glimpse into ways of life in a time of great change. Class, commerce, gender, the transition to modernity – visual representations of these issues and many others are attested to in “Buying Eggs” and the rest of Gamble’s collection. By straddling the line between documentary photographer and sociologist, Sidney Gamble’s work makes an especially important contribution to an otherwise gaping lacuna in the photographic record.

This laudatory description of Gamble and his work is accurate, yet far from complete. His work is rare, both for its photographic professionalism and for its being sociologically informed. It does provide an abundance of visual information about a time period in China for which the visual record is conspicuously empty. In the near century which has passed since his work in the 1910s to the 1930s, however, the standard narratives surrounding both photography and social science and the assumptions which underlie them have undergone dramatic change. Early efforts of the surrealists notwithstanding, photography at the time was generally accorded the status of objective recorder of truth, while anthropology, burgeoning in the first half of the twentieth century, produced totalizing accounts of its ethnographic subjects that assumed a privileged position for the ethnographer as an embedded-yet-removed observer of reality. In the 1960s and 70s, the reflexive turn in the humanities caused a rethinking of both fields. Accounts of photography that placed objective value unquestioningly in the hands of the documentarian were dismantled, just as anthropologists and social scientists began to contend with the effect of the Western (colonial) presence and examine the knowledge they produced as a constructed object independent and separate from that which formed is subject. Despite these significant shifts in the academy, the standard narratives that surround Gamble and his work have gone strikingly unchanged.

In images like, “Buying Eggs,” the viewer is offered access to information about forms of commerce, the organization of labor and family life and reflections of class and gender in early twentieth-century China. Such a reading of Gamble’s photography, ethnographically illuminating though it is, falls short of addressing the potential understandings accessible in these photographs. These details which make up the raw material of ethnography—ways of dress, modes of economic exchange, etc. —fall into a category Roland Barthes would have called studium, elements of an image consciously noted and deliberately included by the photographer. As those who are familiar with Barthes already know, however, the studium is insufficient grounds through which to understand an image. To engage solely with the ethnographic elements of an image captured by the photographer’s design is to engage purely with his or her intentionality, and thus inadvertently leave him ensconced in the seat of objective knowledge. Thus, it is necessary to look past Gamble’s intentions, past his studium, and reread his images from a perspective of chance and the encounter.

While Roland Barthes’s now classic Camera Lucida was not responding directly to the reflexive turn and debates about the nature of objectivity, his theorization of photography dislodging the photographer from a position of agency serves as a useful intervention into Gamble’s documentary work. His concepts of studium and punctum offer a framework for understanding images which decenters intentionality and artistic choice, and instead emphasizes an intimate, personal relationship between the viewer and the photograph. Rather than engaging explicitly with questions of “truth” and “reality,” Barthes bypasses the authority of the photographer entirely, decentering his aims as secondary to personal, disruptive details caught by chance through the lens and raised to importance in the eye of the viewer. The agency which Barthes ascribes to the Spectator—a photograph’s individual viewer—and the decentering of intentionality in favor of chance makes for a peculiar framework to apply to Gamble’s photography of China. Indeed, much of the theory presented in Camera Lucida seems to direct its application to intimate, personal photographs rather than the kind of ethnographic work of public spaces produced by Gamble (Barthes, in fact, seemed to have a unique disdain for any attempts at candid street photography). Yet it is precisely this incongruity that makes Gamble’s work in China so compelling to consider in light of Barthes’s framework. And it is also why Barthes’s framework, not explicitly a part of the humanities’ reflexive turn, is such a useful analytical tool to be deployed in its name.

Reexamined a century later, Gamble’s work as an amateur, ethnographic photographer presents its intended subject, rural and urban Chinese life in a period of change, in many ways as a background for what chance put in front of his camera—the uncontrolled and uncontrollable effect of the photographer, the ethnographer, the Western. It is through this unintended, chance manifestation of the foreign, Western presence that I will apply Barthes to Gamble and Gamble to Barthes, interrogating images of turn-of-the-century China through studium and punctum and interrogating Camera Lucida through Gamble’s photography. We shall see how chance elements of Gamble’s photographs (read as punctum) shift attention away from Gamble’s intended subject towards the encounter between subject and photographer. Further, we will look closely at Barthes’s discussion of agency and intentionality in candid street photography and see how Gamble’s work, existing in a liminal space between the candid and the posed, undermines essential formulations in Barthes’s critique.

As alluded to above, Barthes’s concept of studium refers to the understanding of an image as the photographer wanted it to be understood. To engage with an image on the level of studium is to exist in a world of the photographer’s intentionality, to dialogue with his choices and interact with an image on his terms. The studium functions through cultural codes, through a shared semiotic language between an image’s producer and viewer. Thus, Barthes tells us, the genre of ethnographic photography, in spite of the exigencies of chance inherent in fieldwork, is rife with the material of studium; it is studium itself which informs ethnographic study.[i] Thus, it would seem that studium should serve as a useful point of entry through which to examine Gamble’s photography in China. His images of a modernizing Beijing and contrasting rural hinterlands abound with the kind of ethnographic details that inform the curious viewer about life and society in turn-of-the-century China. To accept the knowledge presented by these images, however, is to remain in this realm of studium, our understanding circumscribed by a photographer’s intentionality a century past, and thus also to repeat a hagiographic narrative that ascribes the privilege of objective value to photographer and social scientist.

In order to question this narrative and to engage critically with Gamble, it is necessary to exit the space delineated by his intentions. For this purpose, Barthes’s punctum offers a means through which to read Gamble’s work that strips it of the power with which it was originally accorded. The punctum consists of details captured within a photograph that intervene upon an image’s studium to arrest the Spectator’s attention and arouse emotion or reflection, to “prick” him.[ii] By definition puncta are captured by chance; they are unintentional on the part of the photographer. “Hence the detail which interests me is not,” Barthes says, “or at least is not strictly, intentional, and probably must not be so; it occurs in the field of the photographed thing like a supplement that is at once inevitable and delightful.”[iii] It is in this way that Barthes’s framework becomes subversive, in its redistribution of power from the hands of the Operator to those of the subject, chance, and the Spectator. It is also in this way that the punctum becomes a useful tool for understanding Gamble’s photography, by allowing us to deploy chance as a means through which to bypass Gamble and his photographic agency and thus see past the narrow sense of objectivity his disciplines were accorded in their time.

Loading Baggage Cot 把帆布床绑在毛驴身上 107-597

Figure 2: Loading Baggage Cot
把帆布床绑在毛驴身上
107-597

For Gamble, the studium of his photographs is in the ethnographic details he set out to capture and record, for what it tells of the life of the Chinese peasant or laborer or urban dweller in the time he was working. For his Spectator, for us viewing his work nearly a century later, their punctum comes in the form of unintended details, details which often reveal more about Gamble’s presence, the presence of the West, the presence of change, than they do about what Gamble himself was seeing. In one image, titled “Loading Baggage Cot Five” we see a group of men and boys loading cargo on the back of a pack mule in the mountains (possibly the supplies of Gamble himself) (see fig. 2). Through Gamble’s intention, its studium, we learn about the China of his era: we see how people dress, how they traveled, what the landscape looked like outside the city. The punctum which advenes upon this ethnographic lesson, however, is the off-center, shifted, cocky stance of an adolescent boy looking back at Gamble, a mirrored gaze echoed (perhaps with even greater intensity) by a younger child, out of focus behind him. While it is the pack mule, the labor, the ethnographic information that is of interest to Gamble, it is the returned glance of these two boys revealing Gamble’s presence that arrests our attention and shifts the meaning of the photograph from its subject to the encounter itself. This punctum, this chance detail outside the control and intention of the Operator, allows us to read Gamble’s work in such a way that impedes upon and disrupts the position of the anthropologist, the social scientist, the photographer. Reread through the returned stare of two young laborers, the image becomes less about what Gamble is trying to show us, and more about Gamble himself.

Applying Barthes’s framework to Gamble’s photography, or that of any historical ethnographic images, is illuminating; the unintentional, chance nature of the punctum only gain saliency through time. There is danger, however, in using Barthes to understand Gamble’s work. First, the punctum of a photograph is deeply individual. Barthes goes to great extent to elaborate on the personal nature of punctum, posing it as an element which may not only not be shared by all Spectators, but one which is best realized entirely by the individual. In other words, the punctum is as much submitted by the Spectator, calling on a personal history, as it is an extant element of the image itself.[iv] Those familiar with Camera Lucida need not be reminded of the part in the text where this is made most clear. When Barthes turns to a discussion of the Winter Garden Photograph, the image of his deceased mother which served as the starting and ending point for Camera Lucida, and, indeed, around which his entire theoretical framework is built, he refrains at the last moment from revealing to the reader the image in question, knowing full well that an image which appears to him as rife with punctum would read to us as mere studium.[v]

Figure 3: Woman and Cigarette 抽烟的妇女 462-2663

Figure 3: Woman and Cigarette
抽烟的妇女
462-2663

Thus, when we examine an image like “Woman with Cigarette,” we can identify immediately the studium: we learn something of the lives of urban Chinese of the period from the way they dress, from how they smoke, and from their collective walk (see fig. 3). The returned glance of one pale-faced woman is in this case studium, not punctum – disturbing though it is, it is clearly the incongruity of this glance among the other anonymous marchers that Gamble intended us to see. Rather, in this case, its punctum is a deeply personal one: the tension between the right-reaching gesture of a whisp of white smoke from her cigarette, mirrored above by left-reaching branches silhouetted black against the sky. Such a punctum cannot be expected to disrupt for others as it disrupts for me.

This pitfall notwithstanding, studium and punctum can be a particularly useful framework for decentering objectivity and the photographer’s agency by shifting attention away from Gamble’s intended subject to chance details which reframe our understanding of the photographic event to include not only the Actor, but the photographic encounter itself, particularly in cases of candid street photography. Furthermore, in some cases these chance details override the agency of both the Operator and the Spectator, offering new ways to understand Barthes’s theorization of studium and punctum.

Candid photography depends on the photographic subject being unaware of the act of his or her capture. Barthes describes this situation as one in which the act of collusion normally present between subject and photographer, an intentionality made manifest in the act of the pose, is appropriated entirely into the hands of the Operator. The photographer deploys this intentionality, referred to by Barthes as a “performance,” through the “shock,” the surprise of the moment in which a subject is photographed without his knowledge. Put another way, Barthes believes that the fundamental essence of photography is to reveal something hidden about the subject of the photograph. This essence is at its most fundamental in candid photography, when the subject’s lack of awareness of the camera’s presence allows the photographer to capture and reveal something of the subject so well hidden that he/she may not have even been aware of it. Yet this same moment (the “shock”) also represents the total ascendancy of the photographer over the subject, the subject being completely unable to mediate his image or have any control over what is revealed about him via colluding with the photographer through the self-conscious pose. Thus, despite embodying the fundamental element of the medium, candid photography is also the mode in which the balance of power between the photographer and the subject is at its widest disparity.

Bearing in mind that absence of intentionality on the part of the photographer is a necessary precondition in the formulation of the punctum, this seizure of control by the photographer, through the act of “shock,” represents for Barthes the greatest kind of departure from a mode of photography conducive to the intimate encounter around which his theory is built. In other words, what is anathema to Barthes about candid photography is that it represents the epitome of the photographer’s dominance over the agency of the subject himself; this dominance renders impossible a genuinely intimate connection between the viewer and the subject. In candid photography, the photographer’s intentionality steps in (through the act of the “shock”) to fill the gap normally occupied by the Actor whose knowledge of the camera possesses him with an intentionality of his own (embodied in the pose). Other critics have read this distaste for the intentional, especially with regards to the photographer, as a form of antitheatricality, against which the punctum serves as an ontological guarantee.

It is at this juncture that Gamble’s work offers new insight with which to consider Barthes’s studium and punctum. While not all the images Gamble produced of China from 1908 to 1932 qualify as candid (many, in fact, were set up just for his benefit), a great deal of them are devoted to photographing daily life in public spaces, what we now call “street photography.” Of these, some are candid, many are not, and the majority represent a liminal space between the candid and the posed. In this liminal space, in photographs taken of crowded streets and busy squares whose inhabitants represent varying levels of awareness of the photographer’s presence, Gamble’s images are able to respond to Barthes’s critique of candid photography. Within this body of semi-candid work, where Gamble’s labors are their most classically ethnographic, we can find instances of chance intervening upon the image to subvert the photographer’s attempted “shock,” his intentionality, his “performance,” appropriated from an unsuspecting Actor. Through these encounters between lens and unintended subject, the element of chance bypasses both the photographer and the subject, undermining and sidestepping their theatricality to intercede directly upon the Spectator himself.

Figure 4: Experiment 做实验 639-3734

Figure 4: Experiment
做实验
639-3734

One example of an image inhabiting the liminal space between candid and posed is a photograph titled simply “Experiment,” in which Gamble shows us three men attempting to sieve something over a pan while a crowd of people looks on (see fig 4). It is unclear from their reactions whether the men in the center who make up the ostensible subject are aware of the photographer’s presence or not. What is clear, however, is that a few members of the crowd have, in fact, seen Gamble and are returning the gaze back towards the lens, most notably a boy standing directly behind the “experiment” itself. Through this series of returned gazes, individuals making up the background of the image subvert what Barthes would have read as Gamble’s seizure of the intended subject’s agency; the “shock” through which Gamble attempts to capture something essential about the men that make up the image’s subject is itself reappropriated by an accidental subject whose collective stare reaches past the photographer directly to the viewer himself, forming an antitheatrical punctum that regrounds the image outside the realm of the photographer’s intentions. The subversive gaze of the background subject which undermines the agentive hegemony of the Operator, further serves in the context of Gamble and his work as a photographer and social scientist, as a form of resistance to present power dynamics within the space of the photographic event.

Figure 5: House Entrance 房子入口 19B-195

Figure 5: House Entrance
房子入口
19B-195

Another image, taken in So Village, depicts the front of a home built of stone and wood (see fig. 5). A pair of dogs on a dirt path and some chickens foreground the structure. The image’s title, “House Entrance,” directs us towards Gamble’s ethnographic intent: a record of rural, domestic architecture. Closer examination, however, reveals a man, presumably the home’s inhabitant, looking directly at the photographer, perched discreetly in front of a wooden wall, so merged with his surroundings as to appear secondary to the livestock and the structure itself. The direct gaze of this subtle figure not only reframes the image in terms of the ethnographic encounter, as with “Experiment” and “Loading Baggage Cot Five,” but also undermines Gamble’s attempt at genre, recasting the photograph from architectural ethnography to one in which the overlooked subject assumes the central role. The ethnographic knowledge that comprises the studium of Gamble’s intent is reclaimed by the punctum of the photograph’s unintended subject.

“Buying Eggs,” the image through which we first engaged with Gamble at the start of this essay, also exists in an uncertain, semi-candid space, though in this case its subversive punctum takes another form than the returned gaze of an unintended subject. As discussed in the earlier treatment, the image’s studium, Gamble’s intended subject, makes itself clear. We see three people squatting over baskets of eggs on a public street, while others stand or lean around going about their business. Through its details we gain ethnographic knowledge about the nature of commerce and public space. Its punctum, however, is Gamble’s shadow, caused by the chance position of the sun in relation to the photographer and subject, reaching subtly into the bottom half of the frame. Through the gesture of this shadow, the viewer is reminded of the photographer’s presence, and the taken-for-granted candid nature of the image is called into question. The expressions on the faces of the merchants take on a different meaning as they are no longer solely engaged in the act of commerce, but may be actively ignoring the obtrusive presence of Gamble and his camera. Thus the image is thrust uncomfortably into the liminal space between the candid and the posed, and Gamble’s presumed “shock” is undermined by the possibility of pose and performance on behalf of his no-longer unsuspecting subject. In other words, once pricked by the chance punctum of Gamble’s shadow, we reframe our relationship to the subject of the image to bypass the photographer’s intentions, connecting around him directly to the subjects themselves.

Figure 6: Natives Watching Photography 当地人围观摄影 21B-211

Figure 6: Natives Watching Photography
当地人围观摄影
21B-211

Boy and Film Can 小男孩手拿胶卷筒 118A-665

Figure 7: Boy and Film Can
小男孩手拿胶卷筒
118A-665

On a few rare occasions, Gamble doffs the ethnographic photographer’s mantle and acknowledges both his own presence and its effect on the people who make up his subject. Even in these scarce cases when he shifts his gaze from the fictitious, candid subject to the photographic encounter, however, the agency of his subjects evades his control and disrupts his intent, reframing the image on new grounds. In the curiously titled, “Natives Watching Photography,” Gamble seemingly attempts to capture a group of people from Sichuan who had been gazing with interest at the photographer and his equipment (see fig. 6). At the moment the shot was taken, however, all of the “watching natives” averted their gazes to look in the direction of anything but “photography.” Similarly, in “Boy and Film Can,” a young child grasps a token souvenir from Gamble, clutching the waist of an adult, whose arm rests reassuringly on his shoulder (see fig. 7). Gamble has lowered his perspective to the boy’s level, attempting a close-up shot of the child with his gift. Rather than examine the film canister or look towards the camera, however, the boy stares blankly, eyes unfocused, refusing the contrived interaction Gamble set out to capture. Thus we see not only, as in the previous images, how the “shock” of the photographer attempting candid photography is subverted by a chance, mirrored gaze or an unintended shadow, but also how explicit engagement with the encounter by the photographer is itself disrupted by the subject’s own agency. By refusing complicity with the photographer, the awkward posture and limp stares of the subjects locate these images in a space outside both the candid and the posed; the uncontrolled nature of punctum, manifest in an uncooperative subject thrusts these photographs, again, into a liminal space, only this time from a realm of the posed towards the candid, rather than the other way around. The subject’s behavior may, indeed, be a kind of performance, responding to the presence of the camera, but as it rejects both collusion of the pose and the “shock” of the candid, it is a subversive performance of ultimate antitheatricality, an act of resistance against the agency, power and presumed objectivity of the Operator.

It is in this way that Gamble’s photography of early twentieth-century China has the greatest capacity to inform our current understanding of the period, through reading the agency of his ethnographic subject in the blurred boundaries between the candid and the posed. His images yield an abundance of ethnographic knowledge for a period in which the photographic record is thin. Reread through a more contemporary lens of the reflexive turn, they also are able to disrupt the position of the photographer and ethnographer and shift our attention from their subject to the ethnographic encounter. Yet more than that, through the unexpected and uncooperative nature of chance, Gamble’s images have the potential to engage with our very understanding of agency and the encounter itself. The chance locking of gaze with an unintended figure over subject, photographer, and century of time, an uncontrolled shadow, the refusal to cooperate in pose—these acts of chance and subjective recalcitrance not only unsettle notions of subjective, photographic agency, but also serve as minor acts of resistance to the power and authority of the lens and the West.


[i] Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. (New York: Hill and Wang, 2010), 28-30.
[ii] Barthes, 43.
[iii] Barthes, 47.
[iv] Barthes, 47.
[v] Barthes, 73.


穿透历史:对西德尼·甘博街头摄影中行动性与意向性的再审视

By Jason Tonio Woerner

Buying Eggs 456-2626 买鸡蛋

Figure 1: Buying Eggs
买鸡蛋

北京一条拥挤的大街上,一位中年妇女坐在一篮鸡蛋后面。虽然太阳正直直地照射在她身上,但她还是裹着厚厚的冬衣,头上围着一根布条。在焦点以外,还有一位较年轻、衣着较好的女子蹲伏在中年妇女的篮子前,背对镜头挑拣着篮里的鸡蛋。一位年轻的男孩和一位中年男子正在围观着这比买卖的进行,不确定他们与摊主或顾客是何关系。在这幅简单地题为《买鸡蛋》的照片中,西德尼·甘博展现并保存了有关二十世纪初的中国丰富的民族志信息,对今日的学者有着无可估量的价值。中国历史上的这一时期影像资料稀缺,而甘博的摄影作品向人们提供了窥见这一巨变时代之生活方式的难得一瞥。阶级、贸易、性别、现代性转变——这些及许多其他议题在《买鸡蛋》及甘博的其余作品中得到了视觉再现。作为横跨两个领域的纪实摄影师兼社会学家,西德尼·甘博用其作品为填补摄影史上的巨大空白作出了重要贡献。

以上这段对甘博及其作品赞誉的描述是准确的,但远非完整。他的作品确实展现出罕见的摄影专业主义与社会学知识。它也确实为中国历史上一段严重缺乏视觉记录的时期提供了丰富的视觉信息。然而,在他于二十世纪10至30年代进行拍摄之后的这将近一个世纪里,摄影与社会科学的标准话语及其中暗含的假设都发生了巨大的变化。尽管早先有超现实主义者的努力,但当时,摄影在整体上仍然被看作是对真实世界的客观记录;而人类学在二十世纪上半叶迅速发展,产生了大量对其民族志研究主体的叙述,并假设了民族志学者作为“既在局内又在局外”的现实观察者的优先地位。而在二十世纪六七十年代,人文研究的反身转向同时引发了对这两个领域的重新思考。将客观价值毫不犹豫地交到纪实摄影师手中的摄影话语被废除了,一如人类学家与社会科学家开始与西方(殖民)元素所产生的影响作斗争,并重新审视由此产生的知识,将其认定为一种建构的客体,独立而游离于组成其主体的成分之外。尽管学界发生了这些显著的变迁,但围绕甘博及其作品的标准叙述却引人瞩目地未发生改变。

如《买鸡蛋》这样的照片为观众提供了有关贸易形式、劳动力的组织结构以及家庭生活的信息,并反映了二十世纪早期中国的阶级与性别状况。对甘博摄影作品的此类解读虽然富于民族志的启示性,却未能顾及这些照片所有潜在的解读可能性。这些构成民族志素材的细节——穿着方式、经济交换模式等等——都属于罗兰·巴特会称之为“知面”的范畴,即一幅图像中摄影师有意识地注意到并故意包含进去的那些元素。然而,正如熟悉巴特的读者所知道的,将知面作为理解图像的基础是不充分的。如果仅仅考察图像中根据摄影师的设计捕捉到的民族志元素,就等同于只是纯粹在考察他或她的意向性,从而错误地将摄影师奉为客观知识的提供者。因此,我们有必要越过甘博的意图,越过他的知面,从偶然性与相遇的角度重新解读他的作品。

尽管罗兰·巴特现已成为经典的《明室 》一书并非直接回应反身转向或是关于客观性的实质的争论,但他将摄影师逐出行动性地位的摄影理论阐述可以作为介入甘博纪实作品的有用方式。他的“知面”与“刺点”概念为解读图像提供了一种将意向性与艺术选择去中心化的理论框架,并取而代之地强调观众与照片之间私密而个人化的关系。巴特并未明确探讨“真相”与“现实”的问题,而是完全绕开了摄影师的权威,将他的目的去中心化、变为次于由镜头偶然捕捉到、在观众眼中变得重要的那些个人的、干扰性的细节。巴特赋予观看者——一幅照片的个体观众——的行动性、对意向性的去中心化以及对偶然性的重视使之成为一种独特的分析甘博中国摄影作品的理论框架。实际上,《明室》中的许多理论似乎更适用于私密的、个人的摄影作品,而非甘博创作的那种关于公共空间的民族志作品(事实上,巴特似乎对任何堪的派街头摄影企图都怀有一种独有的蔑视)。然而,也正是这种不适用性使得在巴特的框架中考量甘博的中国作品具有如此强烈的吸引力。而这同时也是为什么巴特的理论框架仍能用于以人文研究的反身转向为名的分析,虽然它并非明确为这一转向的一部分。

在一个世纪之后重新审视甘博作为一名业余的民族志摄影师的作品,可以发现它往往将其原本设想的主体(即时代变迁中的中国乡村与城市生活)呈现为衬托偶然性带到他相机前的那些东西的背景——来自摄影师、民族志学者、西方的未经控制也无法控制的影响。正是这些对外来的、西方的影响出乎意料的偶然显现,将使我得以用巴特来解读甘博、用甘博来讨论巴特,通过知面与刺点来考量世纪之交的中国影像、通过甘博的摄影作品来探讨《明室》。我们将会看到,甘博作品中的偶然性因素(解读为刺点)如何将观众的注意力从甘博所意图的主体转移到主体与摄影师的相遇上。此外,我们还将仔细审视巴特对于堪的派街头摄影的行动性与意向性的讨论,并看到甘博介于抓拍与摆拍之间过渡区域的那些作品如何挑战了巴特的批评中的核心表述。
(原文注释:我是否应该把这一点保留到最后再揭晓?——我以前觉得应该留到最后,现在觉得不应该。)

正如上文所提及的,巴特的“知面”概念是指,按摄影师所希望的解读方式去理解图像。在知面的层次上对图像的考量就是停留在摄影师的意向性世界中,与他的选择对话、并按他的要求与图像进行互动。知面通过文化符码来达到其作用,即图像作者与观众之间所共享的符号化的语言。因而,巴特阐述道,尽管突发的偶然性本就是田野调查的一部分,但民族志摄影这一类型充斥着知面的素材;民族志研究正是通过知面来传递信息的(1980, 28-30)。因此,知面可以作为考量甘博中国摄影的有用切入点。他那些关于现代化过程中的北京以及与之对比鲜明的内陆农村的作品充满了民族志细节,向好奇的观众传递有关世纪之交中国的社会与日常生活的信息。然而,如果接受了这些图像所呈现的知识,就是停留在了知面的领域中,让我们的理解被一个世纪前的摄影师的意向性所限定,从而也重复着将客观价值的特权归于摄影师与社会科学家的理想化叙述。

为了质疑这一叙述并批判地探讨甘博,我们有必要退出由他的意图所勾勒出的空间。巴特的“刺点”概念为这一目的提供了一种去除甘博作品原有权力的解读方式。“刺点”由照片中所捕捉到的、搅乱图像知面的那些细节组成,它们吸引了观看者的注意并引发其情绪或反思,亦即“刺痛”了观看者(1980, 43)。根据定义,刺点是偶然捕捉到的,对于摄影师来说它们是意料之外的。“因此,那吸引我的细节,”巴特写道,“不是或至少不完全是有意为之的,可能也不应当是;它在被拍摄的事物所在场域中自行发生,像一种无法避免而又令人高兴的补充。”(1980, 47)巴特的理论框架正是以此颠覆了传统,将操作者手中的权力重新分配给了主体、偶然性与观看者。也正是因此,刺点成为了解读甘博摄影作品的有用工具,使我们得以通过偶然性来绕过甘博和他的摄影行动性,从而超越他的学科在那个时代对客观性的狭隘认识。

Loading Baggage Cot 把帆布床绑在毛驴身上 107-597

Figure 2: Loading Baggage Cot
把帆布床绑在毛驴身上
107-597

对于甘博而言,他摄影作品中的知面在于他计划捕捉和记录的民族志细节,在于表现他那个年代中国农民、工人或城市居住者的生活。而对于观看者、对近一个世纪之后观看他作品的我们来说,它们的刺点则是以意料之外的细节的形式出现的,这些细节所揭示的往往更多是甘博的在场、西方的在场、时代变迁的在场,而非甘博自己看到了什么。在一幅题为《搬运包裹Cot 5》的照片中,我们能看到一群或长或少的男子在山区里往一头驮骡的背上搬运货物(这些货物很有可能就是甘博自己的)。通过甘博的意图,即图像的知面,我们了解到了他那个时代的中国:我们看到人们的穿着与出行方式,也看到了城市以外的自然风貌。而额外附加给这堂民族志课的刺点,则是一个远离中心的青春期男孩,以一种桀骜不驯的姿态回望向甘博,而与这一镜像凝视相呼应的,是他身后焦距以外一个年龄更小的孩子的目光(或许带着更加强烈的情感)。甘博所感兴趣的是驮骡、工人,是民族志信息,而抓住我们注意力的却是那两个男孩回望的目光,它揭示出甘博的在场,并将照片的内涵从它的主体转变为相遇本身。这一刺点,这一在操作者的控制与意图以外的偶然性细节,使我们得以使用一种妨碍并扰乱了人类学家、社会科学家与摄影师地位的方式来解读甘博的作品。通过两位年轻工人的回望进行重新解读后,这一图像所主要表现的不再是甘博试图展现给我们的东西,而更多是关于甘博自己。

将巴特的理论框架应用于甘博的摄影作品、或任何其他历史民族志影像,是富有启发性的;刺点那意料之外的偶然性本质随时间推移只会变得越来越重要。然而,使用巴特来理解甘博的作品也存在着危险。首先,一幅照片的刺点是极度个人化的。巴特十分详细地论述了刺点的个人化实质,他提出,刺点并不一定会为所有观看者所共享,而是在个人身上才能获得最充分最完整的实现。换言之,刺点既是图像本身的现有元素,同时也是由观看者通过其个人历史所附加上去的(1980, 55)。熟悉《明室》的读者无需提醒就知道书中何处对此说明得最为清楚。当巴特讨论到那张冬季花园照片时——这张他已故母亲的照片既是《明室》的开端也是它的终点,甚至,他的整个理论框架就是围绕这张照片建立的——他在最后一刻保留了这一图像而不向读者揭露,因为他太过清楚,这张对他而言充斥着刺点的图像在我们眼中仅会是知面(1980, 73)。

Figure 3: Woman and Cigarette 抽烟的妇女 462-2663

Figure 3: Woman and Cigarette
抽烟的妇女
462-2663

因此,当我们在考察像《抽烟的女人》这样的照片时,我们能立即辨识出它的知面:我们通过她们的衣着、抽烟的样子以及集体行进的方式可以了解到一些关于那一时期中国城市生活的东西。此处,一个面色苍白的女子的回望是知面,而非刺点——虽然它看起来很扰乱画面,但很明显,甘博意图让我们看到的正是这一眼神在其他无名行进者中间的不协调。其实,在这个例子中,它的刺点是极度个人化的:她的烟上有一缕白烟向右飘去,而上方向左延伸到树枝在天空投下黑色的剪影,两者互为镜像地呼应,形成张力。这一刺点不会对其他人像对我一样有扰乱性。

尽管有这样的陷阱存在,知面和刺点还是可以作为一种使客观性及摄影师的行动性去中心化的有用框架,因为它将注意力从甘博所意图的主体转移到了偶然性的细节上,不仅将行动者,也将摄影相遇本身囊括进来,从而重新构造了我们对摄影事件的理解,对于堪的派街头摄影来说尤其如此。此外,在一些作品中,偶然性细节同时盖过了操作者与观看者的行动性,为理解巴特关于知面与刺点的理论阐述提供了新的思路。

堪的派摄影取决于摄影主体对被捕捉到的情况不知情。巴特将这种情况描述为:原本存在于主体与摄影师之间的共谋行为,亦即通过摆拍行为表现出来的意向性,被全部挪至了操作者手中。摄影师通过“震惊”,即主体在不知情的情况下被拍下的那一刻的惊讶,将这一意向性付诸实施,巴特称之为“表演”。换言之,巴特认为,摄影最基本的核心在于揭露有关摄影主体的一些隐蔽的东西。这一核心在堪的派摄影中尤为基础,因为主体对相机的不知情使得摄影师能够捕捉到主体某些隐藏得连他/她自己都可能没意识到的东西。然而,也正是这个时刻(即“震惊”)意味着摄影师对主体完全的支配地位,因为主体无法通过有意识的摆拍来与摄影师共谋,因而完全无法对其形象产生任何影响或控制自己被揭露的内容。因此,虽然堪的派摄影体现了摄影这一媒介最基本的元素,但它也是摄影师与主体之间的权力关系相差最悬殊的模式。鉴于摄影师意向性的缺席是刺点形成的必要先决条件,因此对于巴特来说,摄影师通过“震惊”行为获得的这种控制权意味着一种最为不利于私密相遇的摄影模式,而巴特是围绕私密相遇建立其理论的。亦即,巴特厌恶堪的派摄影的是,它是摄影师支配主体自身行动性的典范;这一支配使得观众与主题之间真诚私密的联系变得不再可能。在堪的派摄影中,摄影师的意向性通过“震惊”行为介入进来,取代了原本由行动者因其对相机知情而产生的自己的意向性(表现为摆拍)。有些其他评论将这种对意图(尤其对摄影师的意图)的厌弃解读为一种反戏剧性,但刺点可以从本体论上证明如此解读是错误的。

正是在这个连接点上,甘博的作品为解读巴特的知面与刺点提供了新的思路。虽然甘博在1908年至1932年间在中国拍摄的影像并非所有都符合堪的派摄影的标准(事实上,许多拍摄是为他自己的利益预先设计好的),但其中还是有大量作品致力于拍摄公共空间中的日常生活,这在现在被称为“街头摄影”。在这些作品中,有些是抓拍的,许多并不是,而绝大多数则处在抓拍与摆拍之间的过渡区域。在这一过渡区域,在那些拍摄于拥挤的街道和繁忙的广场的照片里,其中的居住者表现出对摄影师的存在不同程度的意识,甘博的图像正是因此得以回应巴特对堪的派摄影的批评。在这一系列半堪的作品中,甘博的工人们展现出最经典的民族志信息,而我们能从中找到一些例子,其中偶然性干扰了影像,从而打破了摄影师的“震惊”企图,破坏了他从无戒备的行动者那里挪用来的意向性、他的“表演”。通过这些镜头与意料之外的主体的相遇,偶然性元素既绕过了摄影师也绕过了主体,破坏并避开了他们试图直接向观看者诉说的戏剧性。

Figure 4: Experiment 做实验 639-3734

Figure 4: Experiment
做实验
639-3734

一个占据抓拍与摆拍之间过渡区域的图像的例子,是一幅简单地题为《实验》的照片,在其中甘博向我们展示了三个试图把一些东西筛进一口锅里的男子,同时周围有一群围观者。从他们的反应中看不出位于画面中间、看起来是主体的三位男子是否意识到摄影师的存在。然而可以确定的是,人群中的一些成员看到了甘博,事实上,有些还回望向镜头,最引人注目的就是站在“实验”后方的一个男孩。通过这一系列的回望,一些在背景中的个体颠覆了会被巴特解读为甘博从其意图主体处夺来的行动性;甘博试图通过“震惊”来捕捉到作为图像主体的那些男子的一些本质的东西,而这一“震惊”本身却被意料之外的主体重新夺回了,他们的集体目光越过了摄影师直接望向观众,形成一种反戏剧性的刺点,将图像重置于摄影师的意图领域之外。背景中的主体那颠覆性的凝视破坏了操作者的行动霸权,在摄影师兼社会科学家甘博的其他作品中,这一形式继续在摄影事件范围内对现有权力动态体系进行着反抗。

Figure 5: House Entrance 房子入口 19B-195

Figure 5: House Entrance
房子入口
19B-195

另一幅在苏村拍摄的图像表现了一幢石木结构住宅的正面。前景是一条泥土小径上的两只狗和几只鸡。这幅图像的标题《房屋入口》将我们指向甘博的民族志意图:记录农村家庭建筑。然而,通过更仔细的观察可以发现,有一位男子(可推测是房屋的居住者)正直直地望向摄影师,在一面木墙前小心地坐在高处,他与周围环境如此融合,以至相比于那些家畜和整个结构反而显得次要了。这个微小的人物的直接凝视不仅将影像重新构造为一种如《实验》与《搬运包裹Cot 5》中那样的民族志相遇,而且还破坏了甘博???的企图,将照片由一种建筑民族志重塑为一张以那个被忽略的主体为中心角色的图像。民族志知识构成了甘博意图的知面,而现在它们让位于照片中意料之外的主体所创造的刺点。

在本文开头,让我们第一次接触到甘博的图像《买鸡蛋》也处在不确定的半堪的区域,不过这幅作品的颠覆性刺点并不是一个意料之外的主体的回望。一如前文所述,这一影像的知面,即甘博所意图的主体,是十分清楚明确的。我们看到,在一条公共的街道上,三人蹲坐在一篮篮鸡蛋周围,而其他人物则站立或斜靠着在一旁忙着他们自己的事。通过它的细节,我们获得了有关贸易与公共空间属性的民族志知识。然而,它的刺点却是甘博的影子,由太阳与摄影师及主体偶然的位置关系导致,微妙地伸向画面的下半部。这个影子向观众提醒着摄影师的在场,也质疑着图像本身被认为理所当然的抓拍性质。商贩们脸上的表情具有了不同的含义,因为他们不再仅仅是忙于买卖行为,而可能是在有意识地努力忽略甘博和他的相机带来的干扰。这样一来,这一图像被不舒服地掷入了抓拍与摆拍之间的过渡区域,而甘博所意图的“震惊”也被他那些不再毫无防备的主体可能的摆拍与表演所打破。换言之,一旦被甘博影子的偶然性刺点所刺痛,我们就绕过了摄影师的意图,重新构造了我们与图像主体的关系,越过他直接与主体产生了联系。

Figure 6: Natives Watching Photography 当地人围观摄影 21B-211

Figure 6: Natives Watching Photography
当地人围观摄影
21B-211

Boy and Film Can 小男孩手拿胶卷筒 118A-665

Figure 7: Boy and Film Can
小男孩手拿胶卷筒
118A-665

在一些少见的情况下,甘博会丢下民族志摄影师的外衣,承认他自己的在场以及这对他的主体产生的影像。然而,即使是在这些他将目光从虚假的抓拍主体移至摄影相遇上的少数情况下,其主体的行动性还是会逃脱他的控制并搅乱他的意图,在新的基础上重新构造图像。在标题奇特的照片《当地人围观摄影》中,甘博似乎在试图捕捉一组正在好奇地注视着摄影师及其设备的四川人。然而,在照片拍下的那一刻,所有“围观的当地人”都把他们的目光移向除了“摄影”以外的各种其他方向上。类似的,在《男孩与胶卷盒》中,一个年幼的孩子从甘博手中取过一个象征性的纪念品,一边抓着一个成人的手腕,而那个成人的手臂则安慰地搭在男孩的肩上。甘博将他的镜头降低到孩子的高度,试图近距离拍摄孩子和他的礼物。然而,男孩却没有在研究胶卷盒或者望向镜头,而是眼神空白,双眼失焦,拒绝进行甘博计划捕捉的设计好的互动。因此我们看到,不仅摄影师试图进行堪的摄影的“震惊”会被偶然的镜像回望或意料之外的影子所颠覆(就像在先前那些照片中那样),而且当摄影师明确地试图拍摄相遇行为本身时,也会被主体自己的行动性所打乱。通过拒绝摄影师的设计,主体那些别扭的姿势与无力的目光将这些影像定位在抓拍与摆拍之外;刺点的不可控性在此表现为不配合的主体,并再度将这些照片掷入了过渡区域,只是这次是从摆拍领域进入了抓拍领域,而不是反过来。主体的行为可能真的是一种回应相机的存在的表演,但当它既反抗摆拍的共谋又反抗抓拍的“震惊”时,它就成为一种终极反戏剧性的颠覆性表演,一种反抗操作者的行动性、权力与假想的客观性的行为。

正是以这种方式,正是通过在抓拍与摆拍之间模糊的边界上解读他的民族志主体的行动性,甘博的二十世纪早期中国摄影作品能够最有效地丰富我们目前对那一时期的理解。他的影像为一个稀缺摄影记录的时期提供了丰富的民族志知识。而经过更为当代的反身方式重新解读后,这些作品也能打乱摄影师和民族志学者的地位,并将我们的注意力从他们的主体转移到民族志相遇上。而更重要的是,通过偶然性的难以预期与不合作性质,甘博的作品得以影响我们对行动性与相遇本身的理解。越过主体、摄影师与一个世纪时光的那些意料之外的凝视,未受控制的影子,拒绝合作的摆拍,这些偶然性的行动与主观反抗不仅动摇了关于主体性与摄影行动性的观念,而且也反抗了镜头与西方的权力与权威。


2 Responses to Penetrating the Past: Reexamining Agency and Intentionality in Sidney Gamble’s Street Photography

  1. Pingback: 甘博的摄影集 | 艺廊网 ArtThat

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.