I am just returning to an essay I had to place on the back burner last year about Guibert and Lefèvre’s acclaimed photo-comic collaboration, The Photographer. The essay questions the ethics of war-time photography, especially when done in an ethnographic mode, and then reflects on a suggestion Marjane Satrapi made about the humanist potential of the comics medium being tied to its iconicity. As I’ve been thinking about the use of photography in conjunction with drawn comics, I’ve also wondered what might be said about less systematic uses of photographs within drawn comic strips. I’m especially curious to hear what readers of PPP think of those cases where a single photo irrupts into the visual regime of the drawn strip in order to create some kind of interruptive or shock effect. Photocomics and the like warrant a separate discussion, I suspect. (Craig Fischer has a good essay in The Comics Journal that deals with the question of photocomics). There is also the question of whether drawn photographs in comics should be separate from that of actual photographs in comics. In both cases, the presence of a realistic visual regime interrupts the painterly or iconic visual regime of the drawn panels. PPP’s own Roy Cook contends with this phenomenon in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism where he suggests that making a distinction between intra-panel content and extra-panel content might allow for some aesthetic consistency where fictional comics are concerned. As Roy points out, autobiographical, documentary, and other non-fiction comics allow more easily for the kind of multi-modality we see in The Photographer and Allison Bechdel’s Fun Home; in a word, they index the same reality.
When autobiographical comics artists use photographs in drawn comics it is often when memory is problematized in some way. The photograph would seem to have some kind of evidentiary power to ground the remembered event in reality but it more often ends up bringing attention to the constructedness of memory. Photographs are strange memory objects because, unlike most comics panels, they are silent and unnarrated but also rich enough in information to hypnotize the comics reader into an obsessive visual mining process. In Bechdel’s Fun Home the photo turns into an infinite archive of her father’s aesthetic and social sensibilities, simultaneously revealing and hiding his homosexuality. In Fabrice Neaud’s autobiographical Journal the photograph he takes of his unattainable love object, Dominique, shows the latter in a frozen moment that makes him available as an object in a way that the “real” Dominique will never abide. The photograph thus becomes a way for the reader to experience Dominique both as “his own person” and through the distorted lens of Neaud’s desire. In both cases, the photograph participates in the infinite in a way that Cortázar captured well in his eerie short story, Blow Up (and to a lesser extent, Antonioni’s adaptation of it).
What other examples are there of autobiographical comics artists using photos within their drawn comics? What difference is there between a drawn photo and a scanned photo in such instances? What effect does this have on the reader’s experience?