The role of photography in science fiction movies

September 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

We believe that technology makes us faster, stronger and smarter. But what does it mean for human beings? What does it actually do to our ego, the relationship with our body, our environment? Are we becoming cyborg, modern human-machines? The cyborg = cybernetic organism fits almost perfectly with the concept of artificial human. Visual media are widespread tapping in on this idea, that makes us believe that we’re longing to become a cyborg. The cyborg grew from a frightened terror image into a desirable ideal image.
Anneke Smelik, dutch professor in visual culture, tells us something about the role of photography in Science Fiction Movies in her latest book ‘Ik, Cyborg’, where she observes and analyses the image of the cyborg in popular style culture, such as science-fiction movies and television, fashion, commercials and video clips. The author assumes that we almost unnoticed take over characteristics from the cyborg in our daily life, like the way we dress and give shape to ourselves.
Different critical issues raise as the influence of the cyborg on the human body, for example in form of a desired hairless body. The shift in position between man and female cyborgs and the superior memory of the cyborg in proportion to the failing memory of man.
These statements give rise to interesting debate, but for now I want to focus on the role of photography in Science-Fiction movies.
Excerpt from the Dutch book ‘Ik, cyborg’ by Anneke Smelik:
‘Science Fiction movies are using a visual medium, namely photographs. Photographs are after all visual indications for memories of the subject. Their goal is to verify the past of the cyborgs. Photographs in the analogue era are serving as proof for objective truth, because the technology of photography registers reality. Photography, and other derivative media like film and television, have acquired a documentary status in our society, as a (legal) proof from an event in the past. In the last chapter I wrote that this sort of media in their analogue era has always been seen as ‘indexical’, that means that the technique of the analogue photography documents reality. But in cyborg-movies, photography has an ambiguous and even a dark status. It appears that the pictures are controlled by the superiors, as they are actually premeditated manipulations from the past. So these photographs don’t proof any truth, but they suggest that the so called personal memories from the cyborg were implanted.
When Rachel is trying to proof that she is human, she shows pictures where she’s portrayed together with her mother, to Deckard, the ‘blade runner’ who has to destroy her, but who actually fell in love with her. He reveals that these pictures are fabricated by the company that made her, just like her memory which is implanted. Now it is clear that Rachel is a replica, the photograph can no longer witness the fact that she has no personal past or individual memories.  These Science-Fiction movies creates a fear amongst the spectator for its paradoxical experience to memorize happenings that never took place (Radstone 2000). The pictures reveal the fundamental unreliable state of the memory. That’s why according to Silverman (1991) photography in cyborg movies is used to confirm the fragility of identity.’

Translated into English from Dutch content written by © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Anneke Smelik

You can order the Dutch version of the book below:


Ik, cyborg
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