The Photograph: A Strange Confined Space
This richly evocative study of photography has two major emphases. The first is that the language of description (be it title, caption, or text) is deeply implicated in how a viewer looks at photographs. The more detailed the description, the more precisely the viewer's observation is directed. This leads to the second emphasis, that the use of a photograph determines its meaning. For example, a newspaper photograph with a caption may be later exhibited in an art gallery with additional or different information. The news photograph will look as it did originally, but instead of being seen as news may be seen in terms of history, sociology, or art. The author first engages the problem of defining the value of a photograph, not in terms of its commercial or monetary value but of its actual or potential use. Walter Benjamin's influential writings on photography are discussed, notably his complex metaphor of "aura" as applied to both handmade art (such as painting and sculpture) and the photograph, with the author challenging Benjamin's contention that works of art do not require titles, whereas photographs do. Actual descriptions of photographs are used to show that the descriptions modify and enlarge interpretation and often establish the use of photographs. The author then investigates the many definitions of the photograph that invoke the metaphor of the "mask, " followed by a look at the history of reflective images (mirror, water) and Benjamin's uses of aura, the returned gaze, and memory. The imaginative use of photographs as metaphor is further explored in works of literature by Marcel Proust, Robert Lowell, Roland Barthes, and Robert Musil. The author concludes that although nophotograph has the sacred aura of the unique work of art, many photographs have a secular aura constituted by use, familiarity, description, and interpretation.
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Presence of Mind
The Things Which Are Seen
Mask as Descriptive Concept
Proust Lowell Barthes Musil
The End Secular Aura
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