'The photograph’s early associations with death and the supernatural were given a particular inflection by its arrival in a culture in which death and mourning played a prominent part, accentuated by the promises of religion and many a bereaved person’s hopes of making contact with “the other side”. These are the kind of beliefs that Freud refers to in his essay of 1919, “The Uncanny”. While assuming that they would have less and less hold after the Enlightenment, he also points out how easily the rationality of “civilization” may be jolted by some phenomenon that suggests supernatural intervention in the natural world. Uncanny feelings are aroused by confusion between the animate and the inanimate, most particularly again associated with death and the return of the dead. The photograph’s suspension of time, its conflation of life and death, the animate and the inanimate, raised not superstition so much as a sense of disquiet that is aggravated rather than calmed by the photograph’s mechanical, chemical and indifferent nature. Jacques Derrida, commenting on Barthes’s association between photography and death, emphasizes the dominance of the mechanical, as he puts it, of techne, which leaves little or no room in photography for human intervention on the form of art:
Whatever the nature of the art of photography, that is to say, its intervention, its style, there is a point at which the photographic act is not an artistic act, a point at which it registers passively and this poignant, piercing passivity represents the opportunity of this reference to death; it seized a reality that is there in an indissoluble now. In a word, one must choose between art and death.'
'For Barthes the cinema’s relentless movement, reinforced by the masquerade and movement of fiction, could not offer the psychic engagement and emotion he derived from the still photograph. Unlike the photograph, a movie watched in the correct conditions (24 frames a second, darkness) tends to be elusive. Like running water, fire or the movement of trees in the wind, this elusiveness has been intrinsic to the cinema’s fascination and its beauty. The insubstantial and irretrievable passing of the celluloid film image is in direct contrast to the way that the photograph’s stillness allows time for the presence of time to emerge within the image. New moving image technologies, the electronic and the digital, paradoxically allow an easy return to the hidden stillness of the film frame. This stillness is, of course, an illusion. It is not the actual frame, as stilled for the twenty-fourth of a second in front of the lens; it is not the chemically produced image of celluloid. But the frozen frame restores to the moving image the heavy presence of passing time and of the mortality that Bazin and Barthes associate with the still photograph.'
Laura Malvey, Death 24x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image, publisher: Reaktion Books