An Ecology of Images

A short film about memory, history and the role of archives. I made this for my MA in Film Archiving at the University of East Anglia (UK) using 16mm and 8mm footage I shot during a trip across the USA (2000) and living in Japan (1998-2001). I was heavily influenced by the narrative style of Chris Marker’s film, ‘Sans Soleil’. More recently, I prefer the film silent, with the script read as a separate essay before or after viewing.

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An Ecology of Images (script for a film)

He wrote that he had spent years travelling so that he might forget.

In America, he told me he had shot over 4000 images across 5000 miles of the United States. He joked that everything there existed in order to end up in a photograph. He said he felt like the world was more available to him than it really was and he wanted to blame someone for such deceit.

Once, when I asked him why he made movies, he said that it was to show that this world is not the best of all possible worlds.  But in America, he felt like a tourist in other people’s reality and then eventually in his own.

He was now in Asia where he was writing from within a world of appearances: fragile, fleeting, revocable. He said he was recording the present and therefore inventing the past.

He wrote me that he was capturing images with his camera knowing he would never project them. After all, his entire world had become a projection of images.

He said that his photographs were not a record of the world but an evaluation of it.

He sent me images of landscapes, cities and a festival, asking what I understood from his experience.

He wrote that he had looked at the sea, and then, when walking away, he saw the memory of the sea. Later, he wrote how he wanted to distinguish between the memories he had taken from images and those memories whose only functions was to leave behind memories. He said that images of events years ago now seemed important only because they existed as images. Experience had been transformed into nostalgia, all of history was being leveled.

He wrote that he was becoming anesthetized by images. Moments he had never experienced seemed real after knowing them through photographs. But after repeated exposure to these images, experience became less real.

He thought the world had ceased to remember what reality once was. As our representations became increasingly banal, history was being re-written. Now, all that concerned him was to save certain images from their endless consumption.

He wrote that for him, forgetting was nothing more than a consumption of images. The new had replaced what was once unique, and memories were to him as history had become for others: an impossibility. In this world of appearances, he was certain that we do not remember, but rather we rewrite our memory much as we do history.

He had travelled there in order to lose remembering, but instead had lost forgetting. Left with an uncatalogued archive of images he called memories. Or were they memories he called images?

Walking the streets, he would note down the things he knew from direct experience and that which was independent of experience.

In New York, two planes had flown into the World Trade Centre and the television news announcer described the atrocity as seeming just like a movie. Rather than suggest that images possess qualities of reality, reality was now being attributed the qualities of images.

He knew that his images were pieces of evidence in an ongoing biography or history and each image implied that there would be others. Being in that world of appearances was never boring because photographing each event gave it importance.

In his last letter he argued that capitalism could only thrive on an irreverence of the present and a forgetting of the past. A proliferation of images served this task perfectly. The production and consumption of images was nothing less than a purchase of the world.

Now he realised he was living in a world where history was not the unfolding of events but rather the dumping of occurrences. History was nothing more than the past consumed; the present was nothing more than a banal representation. History was being turned into a tautology by images that acknowledge rather than explain. His only distinction between the real world and the world of appearances was that in the real world something is always happening and he did not know what was going to happen. On the other hand, the world of appearances had always happened and it will forever happen in that way.

Images were his only environment and he knew that a renewed history in which we are free to act is only possible if those images were conserved. This would mean an ecology, where images were recycled and put to new uses and new meanings found. With this new ecology the injuries of class, race and sex would be condemned. Social change would soon mean more than merely a change in images. Freedom would no longer be equated with the freedom to consume a plurality of images and goods. The reality of discrimination, violence, exploitation and ignorance would itself be consumed by rediscovered images and from them, new meanings found, a history rewritten, and each and every individual would understand for themselves.

“A people which is cut off from its past is far less free to choose and to act as a people or class than one that has been able to situate itself in history. This is why – and this is the only reason why – the entire art of the past has now become a political issue. [John Berger]”

Narrated by Jennifer Romero

Images by Joss Winn and Joanna Chung

Written by Joss Winn

Music by John Cage

The script for Ecology of Images contains quotations from the following sources:

Sans Soleil, Chris Marker, 1982

Ways of Seeing, John Berger, 1972

On Photography, Susan Sontag, 1977

Copyleft Joss Winn 2002.

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