Vol. 5 No. 2 (2020): Master
Master

Even before the invention of the camera, the master has always been entwined with its image – in coinage, sculptures, paintings, drawings, and other media – but it seems that photography has both continued and complicated the master-image relation. As before, a master can stage portraits and public performances to secure domination through a public circulation of its image(s). But photography’s “contribution” to the master-image relation was not merely to enhance the intertwinement of the master with its image.

At least since the beginning of the 20th century, it has become apparent that photography can simultaneously capture something else – the unexpected, the unwitting, the excess that eludes control. Moreover, the mass proliferation of image-making in the early 21st century and the changed information and communication ecosystems have made the control of one’s public image a precarious process, dictated to a large extent by an image-generating social apparatus and algorithmic logic. To a large extent, the age-old dialectic between the master and the servant seems to be flipped on its head – the master being evermore the servant of its own representation, of its most shareable common public visual denominator, be it likable, hated or reviled. Is the master becoming ever more the servant of its own representation? Is this representation being hollowed-out, becoming “merely” an abstract visualisation of power, detached from any of the master’s traits? Have we entered a new era of a master figure without any grandeur or charisma, a master lacking any sign of dignity – a master for which the denomination only holds true in terms of political power, lacking any “grand” visual signs of the historical personas of the past? This issue of Membrana journal investigates the role that photography plays in the creation, strengthening, or subversion of (the images of) the master.