Picturing Ourselves: Photography and Autobiography

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University of Chicago Press, Dec 8, 1997 - Photography - 286 pages
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Photography has transformed the way we picture ourselves. Although photographs seem to "prove" our existence at a given point in time, they also demonstrate the impossibility of framing our multiple and fragmented selves. As Linda Haverty Rugg convincingly shows, photography's double take on self-image mirrors the concerns of autobiographers, who see the self as simultaneously divided (in observing/being) and unified by the autobiographical act.

Rugg tracks photography's impact on the formation of self-image through the study of four literary autobiographers concerned with the transformative power of photography. Obsessed with self-image, Mark Twain and August Strindberg both attempted (unsuccessfully) to integrate photographs into their autobiographies. While Twain encouraged photographers, he was wary of fakery and kept a fierce watch on the distribution of his photographic image. Strindberg, believing that photographs had occult power, preferred to photograph himself.

Because of their experiences under National Socialism, Walter Benjamin and Christa Wolf feared the dangerously objectifying power of photographs and omitted them from their autobiographical writings. Yet Benjamin used them in his photographic conception of history, which had its testing ground in his often-ignored Berliner Kindheit um 1900. And Christa Wolf's narrator in Patterns of Childhood attempts to reclaim her childhood from the Nazis by reconstructing mental images of lost family photographs.

Confronted with multiple and conflicting images of themselves, all four of these writers are torn between the knowledge that texts, photographs, and indeed selves are haunted by undecidability and the desire for the returned glance of a single self.
 

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Contents

Illumination and Obfuscation Mark Twains Photographic Autobiography
29
Photographing the Soul August Strindberg
81
The Angel of History as Photographer Walter Benjamins Berlin Childhood around 1900
133
The Lost Photo Album of Christa Wolfs Patterns of Childhood
189
Conclusion
231
Notes
239
Works Cited
261
Index
271
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Page 5 - Now he is scattered among a hundred cities And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections; To find his happiness in another kind of wood And be punished under a foreign code of conscience. The words of a dead man Are modified in the guts of the living.
Page 24 - The true picture of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again.
Page 17 - To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed.

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Visual Consumption
Jonathan Schroeder
No preview available - 2002
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