What Is What Was Kati Horna

  By John Veldhoen

Reading a lot lately, amidst personal struggles, going to and from clinics for family, a book by John Caputo on “Philosophy and Theology” made it clear to me that my mind operates much more in the prior realm, so much so that I think (!) this review will reveal what I want to call “anterior” dialectic. A priority in the way I am wired, to ask questions, slowly, and painfully. A colleague brought up a point of historical meaning with reference to theology recently, and I was stumped. I am a thinking believer, more than a believing thinker, at least when dealing with people, and conversing. In between all this, I have been watching Lil’ B videos on YouTube, and Vine compilations. Somewhere in the mix of all this is something like a third-value, what Jan Łukasiewicz formalized, that is sometimes called fuzzy logic. (A side note: there is a route through philosophy and a current trend in photography called “bracketing”… I want to believe there is at least one SQL überdork in my “audience” who feels me). Anterior dialectic may be thought of as an inversion of the site of what is called a void; the matter that exists around a void could be said to make that void exist. The void insists that matter come into order around itself, and, matter thereby calls the void into existence. The void is freedom, or it is not false to say that matter is resentment, or necessary to leave out the possibility of matter as freedom. The void is not resentment. I’ve struggled with this thinking all week, but three things freed me up, two of them were quotes by the filmmaker Chris Marker, one of which (I am not quoting verbatim) concerned how redemption leads back to the whole of creation. Another was a quote by Theodor Adorno that I read in a book about his thinking and “Minimal Theology”; Adorno wrote about Søren Kierkegaard, and the struggle with oneself, “one should do as well as possible at a particular time, and then leave it at that, and not confuse the compulsion to tinker with the idea of completion”.

Watching Vine compilations and listening to trap music… I keep thinking of a series of photographs, the beginnings of which I was exposed to nearly a decade ago, Paul Graham’s now completed “A Shimmer of Possibility”. These are some of my favorite pictures. I can hardly describe why, except to hint at a third way of thinking about a problem that isn’t even stated, and refer to something about place, and identity, that I can’t tidily state at all, as to make it that I can see a pathway wherein I might think of photographs, not as generic questions, but as answers in themselves. For a few decades now pictures have been thought of alongside language, with all that goes alongside the “linguistic turn” up until a “pictorial turn” that happened a little while later, with pictures like those taken by Jeff Wall. I think these ways of thinking are inadequate, but I cannot strictly state why, at least not at this time. It has to do with identification, and a tendency in modern thinking to think cartographically, as John Caputo says, punning on the name Descartes, bringing to mind the obsession to put everything in a right place. An acquaintance reminded me recently how Sigmund Freud’s shtick was naming an anxiety and transforming it into fear.

I can give a good example of where this kind of thinking wears out fast, the work of photographer Kati Horna. The Camera Store recently acquired copies of the only monograph of her work, co-published by Editions RM, Museo Amparo and the Jeu De Paume. This book is outrageously beautiful. Beyond anything I can add, or subtract. Horna was born in Budapest but lived in Paris, Spain, and for sixty years she was “exiled” in Mexico. She was not French, or Hungarian, or Mexican. Her pictures were not surrealistic, she was not a war photographer, she was not a documentary photographer or street photographer. She was not photography’s most famous lover, but she had the heart of the most famous photographer of her time. Just like the book, she was beautiful, herself. Yet, in her life-embracing pictures though, there is a tendency towards the necrophilic, and in her beauty, a hint of enigma, and even ugliness. As David Hume noticed, just because something is, it doesn’t mean something ought: I am not sure what her beauty or her ugliness ought to mean, in her life, or in her pictures. She fled Paris, left everything for Spain, lost everything again for Mexico, with, she wrote, “a Rolleiflex around my neck, and nothing else.” I wonder if in this statement I can read the blessing of poverty, to having nothing left hanging around the neck at all, but that is immaterial, as least in regards to the what is of what was Kati Horna.

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In addition to being on our sales team, John curates The Camera Store's book selection and is a contributing author of our blog. He likes to think about photography, talk about photography, and sometimes write about photography.