Photography, Finitude, and the Human Self through Time

06 Feb 2018

This article puts a traditional theological portrayal of a created, dependent humanity – represented here by Friedrich Schleiermacher’s work – into dialogue with the portrait work of a present-day German photographer, Volker Gerling. I suggest that due to their ability to foreground the motifs of creaturely finitude and human becoming, Gerling’s flip-books (or Daumenkinos – a word rendered literally as ‘thumb cinema’) are an interesting form of media for modern theologians preoccupied with the issue of how humans should understand, portray, and speak about themselves, as well as the nature of their humanity. Schleiermacher’s theological anthropology forms the counterpoint for the discussion, however the article begins with Walter Benjamin’s account of photography as a limited medium for capturing reality, and indeed the nature of the human self. For Benjamin, this limitation stems not least from the static form of photographic representation – that is, its inability to portray people as beings who are formed through the passage of time. By juxtaposing the sequential nature of Gerling’s flip-book portraits with the still, photographic portraits upon which modern individuals tend to rely, I venture that it is the former which provide a more fruitful way of depicting temporal human creatures.