Category Archives: Books

One-Way Street & Other Writings by Walter Benjamin

One-Way Street

Walter BenjaminOne-way Street and other Writings, (2009) London: Penguin. ISBN:978-0-141-18947-5.

On the critique of violence, (1921) is an essay considering the use of violence as a form of law enforcement and justice.  An interesting essay for studying documentary theory.

There is an essay on surrealism and an essay about a Czech writer that I had not heard of but who sounds interesting Franz Kafka. I shall look for examples of his work.

A collection of essays that include Brief History of Photography, (1931) that looks at the early development of photography and such influencing works as August Sanders.

Also included is The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, (1936) Benjamin examines how photography has made the great art classics more available to be seen by the mass public but by doing so he considers that there value has diminished in virtue of the rarity for public access.  He then goes on to look at cinema as a new art form and how this form of media is changing and influencing art both politically and culturally.

Notes of interest for, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936)

  • Benjamin argues that recent technology has fundamentally changed the meaning of reproduction in art.
  • He argues that art has always been reproducible by limited technological means since the times of Ancient Greece by means of casting and embossing for bronzes, terracottas and coins.  Then much later came printing.
  • Until the development of photography and gramophone the reproduction of most art forms could retain their genuineness through provenance.
  • However photography and the gramophone has fundamentally changed the meaning of reproduction of art as a whole.
  • A piece of art holds its status of genuineness through provenance and provenance is beyond technological reproduction.
  • Something reproduced by manual means still holds its genuineness (even when branded a forgery).
  • Something reproduced by modern technological means does not.  For example a Brahms symphony reproduced in a concert hall 150 years after Brahms’ death still retains its genuineness.  However, if recorded and then played back the genuineness.  A painted copy (manual reproduction) of the Mona Lisa retains a genuineness.  However, a photograph (technological reproduction) of the Mona Lisa does not.
  • With the new technological reproduction of photography and gramophone, the reproduced works of art has now a new meaning: one that can go anywhere and be enjoyed by anyone. A symphony concert can now be enjoyed in a living room or a priceless Rembrandt painting from the pages of a book.
  • New methods of technological reproduction has also provided new ways in which to experience beyond the range of our normal senses for example slow motion and macro-photography.
  • Although technological reproduction does not physically alter or effect the original, it does alter the original’s value.  Its here and now is devalued.
  • The genuineness of a thing is the quintessence of everything about it since its creation that can be handed down, from its material duration to the historical witness duration to the historical witness that it bears. The latter (material duration and historical witness) being grounded in the former (the thing’s genuineness), what happens in the representation, where the former has been removed from human perception, is that the latter also starts to wobble. Nothing else, admittedly; however, what starts to wobble thus is the authority of the thing. (233).
  • The above passage suggests that when the genuineness has been removed the material duration and its historical witness becomes questionable.
  • ‘We can encapsulate what stands out here by using the term ‘aura’. We can say: what shrinks in an age where the work of art can be reproduced by technological means is its aura.’ (233)
  • Reproductive technology, we might say in general terms, removes the thing reproduced from the realm of tradition.  In making many copies of the reproduction, it substitutes for its unique incidence a multiplicity of incidences.  And in allowing the reproduction to come closer to whatever situation the person apprehending it is in, it actualises what is reproduced. (233)
  • Art’s meaning alters over time.
  • Within major historical periods, along with changes in the overall mode of being of the human collective, there are also changes in the manner of its sense perception. (234).  ‘A classical statue of Venus, for example, occupied a different traditional context for the Greeks, who made of it an object of worship, than for medieval clerics, who saw it as a threatening idol.’ (236)
  • ‘Works of art are received and adopted with different points of emphasis, two of which stand out as poles of each other. In one case the emphasis is on the work’s cultic value; in the other, on its display value.’ (237)
  • Much wisdom had already been thrown away on deciding whether photography was an art (without asking the prior question: whether, with the invention of photography, the very nature of art had undergone a change), but before long the theoreticians of film were asking a similarly hasty question. (240)
  • The fact that the work of art can now be reproduced by technological means alters the relationship of the mass to art.  From being very backward (faced with a Picasso, for instance), it has become highly progressive (given, say, Chaplin).  Yet this progressive response is characterised by the fact that in it the pleasure of looking and experiencing is associated, directly and profoundly with the stance of passing an expert judgement.  The link is an important social indicator.  In fact, the more the social significance of an art diminishes, the greater the extent (as clearly turning out to be the case with painting) to which the critical and pleasure-seeking stances of the public diverge. (248-249)

 

 

 

Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema

Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema

I learned about the existence of this essay from a text-book I read a few weeks ago (Reading Photographs by AVA Publications) whilst on holiday and thought it useful to get a copy and read it for myself.

Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema by Laura Mulvey has only recently been published as a book accompanied by an illustrated essay by  Rachel Rose.  This essay has apparently been very influential in the world of cinema since it’s first publication in ‘Screen’ 1975.  So I thought it important to read it.

The essay discusses a similar argument to John Berger in his famous ‘The Way of Seeing’ regarding how woman have been used in the arts and media as sexual voyeuristic objects. that employed and seen on the movie screen.  Mulvey goes on to argue that women on the cinema screen represent castration due to their lack of the male sexual organ and also objects of desire by way of their glamour.  Mulvey suggests that the audience is encouraged to become voyeurs by the the theater that puts them in the dark; so that they can feel that they can look in private.  She also goes on to consider the ideas of voyeurism that she believes has been explored by the great Hollywood Directors, Sternberg and Hitchcock, in their movies, Morocco and Dishonored by Sternberg and ‘Vertigo’, ‘Rear Window’ and ‘Marnie’.  Much of Mulvey’s essay is now regarded as out of date regarding how women are now portrayed in modern films (by Mulvey’s own admission as a footnote).

A small book of about only 30 readable pages, interesting and I am sure that if I didn’t read it now I would find myself reading it later in my degree course.

 

Public Information, Desire, Disaster, Document.

Public_Information_Desire_Disaster_Document

Earlier in this course I was asked to research an essay from this book, I was fortunate enough to find a copy on Amazon as this book is currently out-of-print.  I have just fully read the book and found it useful for both future reference and current understanding of contemporary art as practiced by the current established photographic artists.  I say photographic artist but this includes artist who have used photography to inspire their work,  for example: Andy Warhol,.Gerhard Ritcher and Cady Noland.  This book documents a large exhibition project conducted in 1995 and the linking subjects are in the title: Public Information for example questioning the media in Stan Douglas’ exhibition, Desire as presented by Nan Goldin, Disaster as illustrated by Andy Warhol, Document as famously recorded by Robert Frank’s journey across America in the late 1950’s.  This book begins with a number of essays discussing the topics that these works touch.  The first is that of the title, Public Information, Desire, Disaster, Document by Gary Garrels; Wrong by Jim Lewis; Meditations on the Document by Sandra S Phillips; Desiring Machines (Notes on Commodity, Celebrity, and Death in the Early Work of Andy Warhol) by Christopher Phillips; Inside / Out by Abigail Solomon-Godeau; Leave Proof (Media and Public Information)  by Robert R Riley.  the rest of the book covers examples of the work presented by the artist for the project with a short introduction of the artist and the work.

The participating artist were: Robert Frank, Andy Warhol, Richard Richter,Edward Ruscha, John Baldessari, Dan Graham, Martha Rosler, Larry Clark, Jeff Wall, James Coleman, Chantel Akerman, Nan Goldin, Stan Douglas, Cady Noland, Felix Gonzalez-Torres.

Singular Images, Essays on Remarkable Photographs.

Singular Images

I have just finished this book, ‘Singular Images Essays on Remarkable Photographs, edited by Sophie Howarth.  I have read this book to help prepare myself for my assignment which is to write an essay on a photograph.

I enjoyed this book and I found it very interesting describing how the photographs were made, the context and connotations.

This book has has following essays:

Latticed Window (with the camera obscura) August 1835- William Fox-Talbot by Geoffrey Batchen

Chimney Sweeps Walking 1852 – Charles Negre by Mary Warner Marien

Iago, Study from an Italian 1867 – Julia Margaret-Cameron by Roger Hargreaves

Dust Breeding 1920 – Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp by David Campany

A Snicket, Halifax 1937 – Bill Brandt by Nigel Warburton

A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing N.Y.C. 1966 – Diane Arbus by Liz Jobey

Jubilee Street Party, Elland, Yorksire 1977 – Martin Parr by Val Williams

The Hug, New York City 1980 – Nan Goldin by Darsie Alexander

Aegean Sea, Pilion 1990 – Hiroshi Sugimoto by Dominic Willsdon

San Zaccaria, Venice 1995 – Thomas Struth by Sophie Howarth

A view from an apartment 2004-5 – Jeff Wall by Sheena Wagstaff

I would recommend this book and I found it a good and easy read.

 

 

The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell.

The_Problems_of_Philosophy

The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell, ISBN: 9781514341018.

I purchased this book earlier this year to read as part of my study for my photography degree.  I can not recall why I ordered it as it is not listed anywhere as a book to read but as I had it and was going away on holiday where I would have the time and opportunity to read it.

Russell discusses the fundamental argument of philosophy by discussing what is real?  He begins by arguing for and against the physical existence of the table he is sitting at and do people all experience the sense of sight, sound, smell and touch the same way?  He refers to the information that we receive regarding sight, smell, touch etc. as sense-data which is an interesting choice of words given that this book was written in 1912 and I believe was an expression originally coined by J.M. Keynes.  Almost 21st century I.T. language.

This was not too hard to read, if perhaps seeming a little bizarre to read about an argument about the existence of a table but again I like to keep an open mind as I often find that knowledge always find a use, if only to be a bore at a dreadful party!

Understanding a Photograph, by John Berger.

Understandin_a_Photograph_John_Berger

Understanding a Photograph by John Berger, published by Penguin.  This is the second book I have read by Berger, the first was ‘Ways of Seeing’.  I read this book whilst on holiday which I took with me as I thought that it would help in my preparation for my fourth assignment which is to write an essay about a photograph.

This book is a collection of essays discussing for example the image of the post-mortum image of Che Guevara and it’s similarity to two famous paintings one of The Anatomy Lesson of Doctor Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt and Mantegna’s painting of the dead Christ.  Berger also writes an interesting essay on the use of photo-montage for political use and essay on Paul Strand, W. Eugene Smith and a tribute to Cartier-Bresson.  He also has writes an interesting essay on a meeting the had with Henry Cartier-Bresson in his flat in Paris (who he was a friend) called ‘A man begging on the Metro’.

Berger is a good writer; but also a typical academic.  He studied art at college and is keen on photography but not a photographer therefore his writing can be regarded as a little dry for the hands on type (of which I am one).  However, I would recommend reading this book for ideas on constructing an essay for photography.  When reading these academic books I sometimes find it hard to gauge what I am actually learn from them. Where on the other hand an exercise book that may refer to these books are more clear and filters out the flowery academic language to explain the heart of the message.

I read these books as well as the text books to try to get a more rounded idea of the intended subjects however, the Jury is still out as to whether this is making a difference to my knowledge.

 

Reading Photographs, An Introduction to the Theory and Meaning of Images.

Reading Photographs

I have been reading this book whilst on holiday, in preparation for my next assignment, Reading Photographs, An Introduction to the Theory and Meaning of Images, by Richard Salkeld, published by Bloomsbury.  This is part of a set of about x10 text-books that are very good and this appears to be last last one of the series for photography that I hadn’t read.

This book  is divided in to 6 chapters covering the following topics:

  1. What is a Photograph – Briefly covers the history from invention and marriage of chemistry and optics, through to the evolution of photography and its practice. Case-study.
  2. Reading the signs – Briefly covers the theory of meaning, language, semiotics, ideology in an easy to understand way.  Case-study.
  3. Truth and Lies – Considers images reflecting truth in what is real, representation and reality, facts and fiction.  Case-study.
  4. Identity – Covers people and portraits, signifying identity, looking,the body.  Case-study.
  5. Big-Brother – The modern world, the bad, the mad and the other, surveillance society: and Panopticon (originally a 19th century idea to watch prisoners in a specially designed prison). Who is looking at whom? Public spaces – private lives.  Case-study.
  6. Aesthetics – Is it Art? What is art? Photography as art the history of an idea, into postmodernism.  Case-study.

This is a very good and useful book to read, in fact I read it twice.  An easy read and very well illustrated with profiles on key authors for further reading such as Roland Barthes and John Berger to name just a couple.  I would strongly recommend this book and I am surprised that it is not listed as either recommended or essential reading for my OCA course covering Context and Narrative.

Art and Photography

Art_and_photography

I have just finished reading this book which was on my courses list for recommended reading.  Art and Photography has been edited by David Campany, published by Phaidon and covers the subject of contemporary photographic art from mainly the 1960s till the late 1990s.   Campany has divided the book in to topics:  Memories and Archives; Object object; Traces of Traces; The Urban and the Everyday; The Studio Image; The Arts of Reproduction; Just Looking; The Cultures of Nature.  He begins his book by explaining what he means for each topic title with the theory and history.  When I started to read this book I had read half way through this introduction section before I realized that it was best to read each part of the Introduction section along with the topic chapter itself as much of the introduction was referring to photos found in the relevant section in the book and reading the intro in conjunction with the section made more sense.  Some of the artists are illustrated and discussed two or three times in different topical sections dependent if their work has crossed over.

A useful book for consulting for ideas and for reference.

Photography a Concise History

Photography_a_Concise_History

I have just finished reading this book Photography a Concise History by Ian Jeffrey, published by Thames and Hudson.  ISBN: 0-500-20187-0.  This book was first published in 1981; so the history only goes up as fay as 1979 and is typically biased towards black-and-white images.  I guess partly due to the attitude towards colour photography at that time and also most amateurs and artists who may be reading this book would have predominately been working in black-and-white anyway.  Jeffrey sums up in the last lines of his book that he felt that American photographers were producing more diverse and interesting imagery than their European cousins at that time (1970s).

Interesting book for timeline of development of photography for mainly Europe and America the rest of the world is hardly mentioned.  Early images are linked to the technical development of photography but this thread appears to be is lost by the 1920s and the development of the Leica.  However, very little is mentioned about Japan’s development of cameras or examples of artists work using any.  Interestingly by the time this book went to print most professional and amateurs were all using Japanese cameras.

A book to keep for reference.

Basic Critical Theory for Photographers

Basic_Critical_Theory_for_Photographers

This is a must have book for any degree student for photography!  Basic Critical Theory for Photographers by Ashley la Grange, published by Focal Press.

This book debunks the sometimes baffling academic language from the likes of Barthes and Sontage and summarises the message that authors like these are trying to put across to the poor half comatose reader with assignments to help the student explore these theories more thoroughly.

The books covered: John Berger’s Way of Seeing; John Szarkowski’s The Photographers Eye; Stephen Shore’s, The Nature of Photographs; Susan Sontage’s On Photography; Roland Barthes’, Camera Lucida; Martin Rosler’s essay, ‘In, Around and Afterthoughts’; Abigail Solomon-Godeau’s essay, ‘Inside/Out’; Clive Scott’s The Spoken Image: Photography and Language; Andy Grundberg, The Crisis of the Real; Raghubir Singh’s River of Colour; Bertand Russell’s Appearance and Reality; Iatalo Calvino’s The Adventures of a Photographer; Poems by Felix Morrisseau-Leroy and George Szirtes.