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Keynote Adress: Dr. Lisa Cartwright, 4:15-5:30 Friday, April 3
Mirrorlessness: Reading Cameras through Winnicott and Spitz
This paper returns to the observational films of infants in foundling homes made by René Spitz and DW Winnicott’s 1951 hypothesis about transitional objects and transitional phenomena and his concept of privation (1956, 1963) to consider three things: the place of representation and symbolism in Spitz’s film method and in Winnicott’s thought; the documentation of what Spitz (145) described as ‘failure to thrive’ relative to Winnicott’s concept of privation (1963); the nature of transitional objects as forms of relational engagement and mediation; and cameras in this psychoanalytic framework.
Representation and symbolism have a subtle use in Winnicott’s thinking about transitional objects and transitional phenomena. Winnicott reminds his reader, in his classic essay, that it is not the object that is transitional. Rather, the object represents the transition from a merged state to a relational state. Following from this proposition, I suggest that we consider, within Winnicott’s terms, the camera itself as an object of representational interpretation. This paper takes up the camera as transitional object, considering the materiality of particular cameras in their historical specificity, and in light of other objects–blankets and dolls–more readily understood in relationship to object agency. In keeping with Winnicott’s attention to the textures and smells of his patients’ objects, this paper considers the specific qualities of cameras handled and used. Cameras ranging from the Brownie to the Bolex are interpreted in light of their materiality and the structures of feeling in which they are engaged. The viewfinder and the internal mirror, this paper suggests, are critical to the camera’s practical place in psychical life. Of special concern are some questions about historical and contemporary cameras: Given the function of mirroring to subject formation in psychoanalytic theory, what are the implications for psychoanalysis, and for contemporary subject formation, of the new mirrorless and body-mountable pocket cameras? How might we understand the implications for psychic life of the loss of the negative in the era of the digital camera? Can object constancy usefully be interpreted in light of the personal cell phone camera? What can be said about the introduction of the video camera as a device that may soothe, or which may confer agency in circumstances of neglect and privation? This paper suggests some ways in which to think about psychoanalytic practice conducted through cameras. It also considers some ways in which media archaeology might interpret cameras through object relations theory.