[On the tracks of the lost Image. A short excerpt of the ongoing book, The Image after the Image. Sur la piste de l’image perdue. Un court extrait du livre en cours d’écriture The Image after the Image. Ce qui est dit ici sur l’image peut tout aussi bien s’appliquer à l’art. Et de fait la naissance de l’image et de l’art (comme d’ailleurs la monnaie mais c’est encore une autre question) ont une commune origine —parmi leurs nombreuses origines possibles— celle de l’imago, le masque mortuaire des romains.]
Somewhere in the Northern Territory, Australia
1- Interior, daylight. A small and old green metal cabin with a roof made of branches
– Fuck! What’s that stuff?
Jampijinpa (let us call him Jamp as his university mates do) is seated on a small, thin mattress. He looks intensely at an incoherent sequence of images on his laptop.
With a concerned face he clicks and clicks for a certain time, then stands up, grips his camera, pulls out a small memory card that he inserts into the laptop, then clicks again and again. After a last click he leans back against the metal wall and looks at the screen where a new image sequence is displayed.
– Ooooh shit!
He rubs his eyes and looks again, then takes his head in his hands and moans…
– Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck what the fuuuuuck…
2- Exterior, day. Sky with a few clouds over an empty landscape of red hills and bushes. A small silhouette appears at a distance climbing a hill and walking towards us, then turns slightly to his right, continues walking along a plateau, then disappears in a depression.
3- Exterior, day, in the shade of a eucalyptus grove a group of people seated on their heels, dressed in old slacks, T-shirts and shirts. They drink tea from a metal pot boiling over a small fire and smoke their pipes. Jamp is leaning against a trunk and listens absentmindedly to their chat.
A man turns towards him and speaks in a guttural language. He looks back at the man but does not answer. The man talks again, slowly this time, in pidgin English:
– Hey nefew, sho us det film u did yet’day!
Jamp remains silent for a long time, then answers:
– There is no film, uncle…
Follows a long and quiet chat between the men, broken by laughter and brief shouts, then the same man:
– Maybe det camra
Jamp answers sternly:
– The camera works fine!
Follows a new chat, then the same man:
– Maybe ancestors.
Jamp stands up and leaves the grove with an “I give-up” gesture. The men look at him, shaking their heads; then they quietly resume smoking, chatting, drinking tea, shouting and laughing.
4- Exterior, day. Jamp is standing in the shade of a big eucalyptus tree talking on a phone, we can see several metal cabins of differently faded colors not far behind.
– I don’t know
– But I filmed the ritual all the way
– I don’t know… a series of nonsense images… sometimes my face upside down… sometimes colors… sometimes strange shapes… I don’t know what the fuck… (voice rising in pitch)
– Yeah, I checked everything, the camera works, I don’t know what to think… I don’t feel well… Today when they asked me I had the feeling that they knew already that there was no film…
– OK… OK… don’t worry… I’ll take care of it…
– (in a meek voice) I love you too.
Jamp sits motionless on his heels, his back pressed against the trunk of the tree, a blank expression on his face.
5- Interior, night. In the cabin, Jamp is lying on the bed staring at the ceiling. A faint light comes through the small window, maybe the moon, we can hear drums and women’s shouts outside at a distance.
6- Exterior, day. Jamp, standing between two cabins, talking with a guy. He talks in English, the guy, embarrassed, doesnt answer and looks at the ground. Jamp walks away, bends down, and throws a stone into the bush. Then he spots a big guy walking by and he runs after him, joins him and walks with him silently.
They walk in the bush and after a time the big guy says, very slowly:
Jamp looks at him. They walk for five more minutes and they arrive at a well. The chief of the village looks at the pump. He asks:
– Do you know something about pumps, Jampijinpa?
– (Jamp shakes his head, slowly)
The chief looks at the pump again and unscrews the top of it, looks at the air filter with a doubtful look, blows on it, then puts it back. He turns towards Jamp slowly and looks at him for a while.
– So… how it’s going, Jamp?
(Jamp frowns, looks at his feet, then looks up at the chief’s face)
– It’s not going at all, uncle!
– I guess you know…
– Did you have your initiation, Jampijinpa?
– You know I didn’t!
– They sent me away to school before I could have it.
– Well… then you have to talk to the elders.
The chief turns toward the pump again, makes a sign and Jamp helps him to remove it from its pile and carry it back to the village. There they drop it off in the back of an old truck and the chief jumps on the driver’s seat, looks back at Jamp and drives off slowly, zigzagging between the holes in the dirt road. Jamp stands still, makes a faint gesture towards the leaving car, then his arm falls down to his side again.
7. Exterior, daybreak
Jamp is walking, almost running, behind an old barefoot guy who is walking very fast. They follow invisible tracks in the bush. Sometimes the old guy stops and shows him something on the ground or in the bushes, then resumes jogging at his incredibly fast pace, smelling the air and stopping to listen to the sounds like an animal. They pass by small mounds, they go down again and cross sandy stretches with few plants, then disappear in the bushes again. They climb a rocky hill now and stop below a huge rock with a strange shape.
8. Exterior day, sunrise
The old guy opens the bag made of discolored fabric he wears on his shoulder and takes out a small pot and an old metal flask. He quickly gathers some kindling and lights a fire, arranging three stones around it, fills up the pot and places it very carefully on the stones and puts some kind of tea in the pot. He takes out two plastic cups and fills them with a hot brown liquid and passes a cup to Jamp without a word. Then he looks to the horizon in front of him. They face east and the sun is just rising from behind the hills.
Jamp is facing the rising sun, with tears in his eyes, his body tensing. Then his body loosens up and he stands still for a long time, and continues to look east.
[flashback: Jamp is a child, running in the bush; he gets lost, sits down on the ground and cries.]
9. Exterior, day
The old guy talks. He talks very slowly in Warlpiri language. He talks about kinship. Jamp listens to the sounds and tries hard to organize them in his mind.
– Kurlpurlunu, here (he places his hand on the rock)
– Kurlpurlunu is good for rainmaking
– Jampijinpa good for rainmaking (he touches Jamp’s knee)
– Your place here, nephew (he makes a circle with both hands)
– Fire sticks (he mimes the carrying of a fire stick at arm’s length)
– Two men
– One this way (he points one way) one this way (he points the other way)
– The smoke rises (he draws a line in the sky)
– There, a cloud (he shows the sky)
– Anvil cloud (he draws the shape with his hand in the air with two thin ends on either side)
– And the rain (he makes a slow gesture from the sky to the ground)
They sit still for a long time. The old man slowly utters a word in Warlpiri language and looks at Jamp, waiting for him to repeat… then another word…
10. Short scenes, day and night
Jamp walking in the bush, Jamp talking slowly with people in his own language, Jamp alone in his cabin, reading
11- Exterior, day
Jamp is seated with a group of elders in the bush, the ambiance is very different from Scene 3, because this time he is part of the group and talking with the men.
One of the elders speaks solemnly, facing Jamp, in perfect English:
We are the kurdiji. We are the Law and Justice Group.
– Yes, uncle
– We are trying to make sense of… to bridge the two laws … it is not an easy task…
(in silence, they drink tea)
– You, Jampijinpa, are trapped between two laws (he draws two separate circles in the sand)
– Yes, uncle
– We did talk about it together (he looks at the others and there is a long pause)
– But we don’t know if you need to choose between the two laws… or be a messenger (he draws a line between the two circles)
– What do you think Jampijinpa?
– I do not know uncle… I don’t know what to think… I feel lost… I need time… I need to learn
(the old men talk together very fast, then another man faces Jamp again)
– Don’t be afraid Jampijinpa
– You are here with us… you are safe… we know that you will find your way
– We are lost too, Jampijinpa… we are the two winds
12- Exterior, night
A fire in the night, we can hear a didgeridoo and different percussion instruments; around the fire we can make out white shapes moving with the rhythm of the music. The camera comes closer; the shapes are the painted bodies of men dancing, sometimes upright, sometimes squatting or jumping like animals. Jamp is one of the dancers; his movements are slightly awkward and delayed, but he keeps moving.
13 Interior, night
Jamp is in his cabin, seated on his mattress, talking on a mobile phone
– I am OK, yes
– How is it in the city?
– Well… I don’t know…
– I have so much to learn… I feel I don’t know anything…
– I was talking with one of the old guys today… he’s sort of a shaman here
– I told him about my camera
– You know… the lost images
– He asked me, what is it, your images?
– I asked, do you mean what is on my images?
– He said, no no, what is it, your images?
– I didn’t understand what he meant, so I kept silent
– Then he told me something… it’s hard to translate really
– I can try… it’s like… images are what we do together
– A kind of contract… that is in line with the ancient law…
– But it is only valid between members of the community… you see?
– Yes I know… it’s strange… but it makes sense
– Yes, nothing to do with images, really. More with community…
– Well… I don’t know exactly… but now I feel that what they teach us at film school are just tricks
– Yes, I know there are images of aboriginal dances and all… but they are wrong, I don’t know how to explain…
– No, no I didn’t try to film again… I didn’t dare!
-Yes, yes… me too… take care!
Jamp pushes a button on the telephone and stands perfectly still
14- Exterior, night
A street in downtown Darwin: People hurrying, heads down, cars driving, neon lights… Jamp passes by walking slowly and the camera follows him from behind, he is looking at the images in front of a cinema, he hesitates, then pushes the door and enters
15- Interior, dark
On the screen, short takes follow each other without any logic, only light, sound, like some kind of firework, incomprehensible. A figure stands up in the dark, stumbles through a row of seats and exits the cinema hall
16- Exterior, night
Jamp is standing outside the cinema, pressing the palms of his hands on his eyes, shivering
17- Interior, night
Jamp is busy preparing a meal in the kitchen corner of his studio on campus. He is talking with his girlfriend who is squatting on his bed
– It was just sound and light, colors… it gave me a headache
– Yeah, it happens to me, sometimes
(she is speaking absentmindedly; there is a pause)
– It was like… I didn’t have the energy needed to … produce meaning out of that mush
(Sounds of pans)
– I fled!
(They both laugh, then remain silent for a while; then Jamp starts talking again)
– I’d like to invent a knew kind of camera
– Ah? Funny, when you mentioned the light and colors I thought about a camera obscura, how from the cameras that capture the light all that light comes out again…
(he breaks a few eggs in a pan, he looks at her, suddenly very excited:)
– What was the name of that photography book we read in the first semester?
– Camera Lucida, you mean?
– Yes, yes, Camera Lucida… the light room! Maybe that’s the camera I need!
(She looks at him, doubtfully, then asks)
– What kind of image can you make with a light room?
– I don’t know
(Pause, then he speaks again, as if to himself)
– In fact… the image projected in the dark room is there, outside, in plain light…
He leaves the kitchen corner, walks to the window and looks out for a long time at the modern buildings of the campus. He turns off the electric stove, tips the food onto the plates and passes one to her. They sit down on the floor and eat silently. She looks out of the window. After a while, she speaks:
– What do you mean, the image is there? It’s the world outside there!
– Yeah, you’re right
(He eats slowly, chewing every bite, then takes up his train of thought)
– But at the outstation… the image is really there, outside… the landscape, the people, the animals, the rocks… the tracks in the bush, ancestors’ paths, everything
– You mean… like a map?
– Yeah, like a map, a living map… they call it Kuruwarri
– There are the marks of the ancestors… the holes: where they sat, the springs: where they pissed, the sand: where they walked, the ochre: where they bled… everything…
– So… it’s history more than geography, these maps, right?
– Well, not really… I guess it’s both… you can’t separate one from the other
– But what about the people?
– The people… the paintings, the dances… they are all part of the… the image, the kuruwarri
– You mean… the camera is… the community itself?
– No, there is no camera, no machine, only an image: it is the group which creates and keeps the image
– So, the group is also the record?
– No, since there is no camera… (He frowns, remains silent for a while) It is more like… Yeah! I like this! (clapping his thighs). The group is a living record! Of the ancestors, of the landscape, of themselves…
He goes back to the window and stands still for a long time, looking out
– But, for now, that image is blurred for me, and the one I am supposed to see here is blurred too…
18- Interior, day
Jamp is back in his cabin, seated at a small metal table. We can guess that the image comes from a webcam when we see his enormous hand moving back, and him relaxing on his chair. Then he begins to talk very slowly, looking at the camera and sometimes around the room or through the window.
– I think… the only way for me… is to weave a fabric between the two worlds
– I think it’s what the old guys wanted me to do
– They said maybe you don’t have to choose, maybe you can be a messenger…
– I will shut off the webcam now and… I’m done with the image!