“The Honor of His House is an improbable yarn: adultery and surgery. Hayakawa, the tranced tragedian, swept the scenario aside. A few instances offer the magnificent sight of his harmony in movement. He crosses a room quite naturally, his torso held at a slight angle. He hands his glasses to a servant. Opens a door. Then, having gone out, closes it. Photogénie, pure photogénie, cadenced movement.”Epstein, J. (1921), ‘The Senses I (b)’, translated by Tom Milne. In R. Abel (ed.), French Film Theory and Criticism 1907-1939. Volume 1: 1907-1929 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 243. Originally published as: ‘Le Sens I bis’ in J. Epstein (1921), Bonjour Cinéma (Paris: Editions de la sirène), pp. 27-44.
This is how Jean Epstein experienced his favourite moment in William C. De Mille’s now-lost The Honor of His House (1918). The writings of the early French film critics and theorists overflow with such lyrical descriptions of fleeting actions or marginal details from/in the films they admired. ‘Photogénie’ was the almost spiritual quality they attributed to these moments, which permitted the spectator to see the world anew. However, these critics held varying opinions on the conditions for ‘photogénie’. Moreover, the choice of moments in which ‘photogénie’ manifests itself appeared to be highly idiosyncratic. The fact that their lines of reasoning were so divergent, shows that these critics were not out to create an all-encompassing theory of cinema. Their very personal essays rather show evidence of their search for ways to express their untameable enthusiasm for the then still-young medium. What binds their work is a direct relation to the cinema that manifests itself in their attention for, and reactions to, seemingly arbitrary images. As a platform, photogénie aims to honour this diversity of voices and unify them under a single banner, based on a direct relation to cinema: free from preconceived frameworks, but with an eye for the other arts and a plethora of intellectual traditions; with a deep respect for and attention to the history of the artform. To achieve this, we set the bar high, but keep the threshold low.
photogénie is a collaborative and fostering environment, a place where a diverse group of writers, through their participation in the Young Critics Workshop at Film Fest Gent, come together to discuss and celebrate film. While the Young Critics Workshop inculcates their skills as developing writers, at photogénie they further their critical eyes by editing other individuals’ work. Far from being a mere training ground, photogénie encourages its young writers and editors to assume curatorial responsibility and strive for a high standard of quality in the published texts, written by themselves or outside writers. This collaborative aspect also has a historical precedent tied to the concept of ‘photogénie’. At the start of the twentieth century, artists and intellectuals gathered at the cinemas of modernist Paris, and praised film as the most modern of all art forms. They assembled in ciné-clubs, and founded film journals, in which they published some of the first reflections on the medium. The articles that these early critics wrote for magazines as Ciné-Journal, Le Film and Cinéa-Ciné pour tous, or on the pages of newspapers such as Le Temps and Paris-Midi, consistently displayed two characteristics: wonderment and connoisseurship.
These characteristics resurfaced frequently: in the writings of André Bazin and the young Turks of Cahiers du cinéma, in those of Anglo-Saxon critics such as Victor F. Perkins and Andrew Sarris, and so on. Present-day film criticism can be guided by this idea of ‘photogénie’ in order to reconnect to a tradition in which the fascination with moving images leads to fresh insights. At photogénie, we want to combine a sense of wonderment with keen analyses. photogénie is the mouth through which a diversity of voices speaks. Their connecting principle is the intense perception of cinema. The essays that are published on this website – on films old and new, cinema past and present – do not try and force this perception to fit preconceived frameworks, but endeavour to make the viewer receptive to what films can make us see, in an attempt to put the allure of the cinema into words.
To achieve this, each year the larger editorial team behind photogénie—all former participants in the Young Critics Workshop—selects six members to form an editorial board for the year. This editorial board outlines their mission statement and curates and edits four issues, comprising one volume that represents their take(s) on cinema and film criticism.