While wandering over the surface of the image, one’s gaze takes in one element after another and produces temporal relationships between them. It can return to an element of the image it has already seen, and “before” can become “after”: The time reconstructed bu scanning is an eternal recurrence of the same process. Simultaneously, however, one’s gaze also produces significant relationships between elements of the image. It can return again and again to a specific element of the image and elevate it to the level of a carrier of the image’s significance. The complexes of significance arise in which one element bestows significance on another and from which the carrier derives its own significance: The space reconstructed by scanning is the space of mutual significance.

This space and time peculiar to the image is none other than the world of magic, a world in which everything is repeated and in which everything participates in a significant context. Such a world is structurally different from that of the linear world of history in which nothing is repeated and in which everything has causes and will have consequences. For example: in the historical world, sunrise is the cause of the cock’s crowing; in the magical one, sunrise signifies crowing and crowing signifies sunrise. The significance of images is magical.

The magical nature of images must be taken into account when decoding them. Thus it is wrong to look for “frozen events” in images. Rather they replace events by states of things and translate them into scenes. The magical power of images lies int heir superficial nature, and the dialectic inherent in them – the contradiction peculiar to them – must be seen in the light of this magic.

Images are mediations between the world and human beings. Human beings “ex-ist”, i.e. the world is not immediately accessible to them and therefore images are needed to make it comprehensible. […]

If one observes the movements of a human being in possession of a camera, the impression given is of someone lying in wait. This is the ancient act of stalking which goes back to the Palaeolithic hunter in the tundra. Yet photographers are not pursuing their game in the open savanna but in the jungle of cultural objects, and their tracks can be traced through this artificial forest. The acts of resistance on the part of culture, the cultural conditionality of things, can be seen in the act of photographs themselves. […]

In choosing their categories, photographers may think they are bringing their own aesthetic, epistemological or political criteria to bear. They may set out to take artistic, scientific or political images for which the camera is only a means to an end. But what appear to be their criteria for going beyond the camera nevertheless remain subordinate to the camera’s program. In order to be able to choose camera-categories, as they are programmes on the camera’s exterior, photographers have to “set” the camera, and that is a technical act, more precisely a conceptual act. In order to be able to set the camera for artistic, scientific and political images, photographers have to have some concepts of art, science and politics: how else are they supposed to be able to translate them into an image? There is no such thing as naive, non-conceptual photography. A photograph is an image of concepts. In this sense, all photographers criteria are contained within the camera’s program.

Vilèm Flusser, Towards a Philosophy of Photography, Reaction Books LTD, 2000, pp. 8, 9, 33, 36.