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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)

 

 

 

Working log for Assignment 4

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

My task for this assignment is to write a 1000 word essay on an image of my choosing.

I can choose anything I like a from famous art photograph to something from the family album but the image must have scope to make a rigorous and critical analysis.

If choosing a well-known photograph, take time to research it’s context – the intentions of the photographer, why it was taken, whether it’s part of a series, etc.  Add all this information into the essay in order to be able to draw a conclusion from my own interpretation of the facts.

If I choose to use a found photograph, a picture from my own collection, or perhaps one from an old family album, use it as an opportunity to find out something new.  Look directly at the photograph for information.  It may be interesting to compare and contrast memory with the information being seen anew ‘reading’ the picture so intensely.

You must use the facts as a means to draw my own conclusion about what the picture means to me.  I may wish to apply what I’ve learned in part 4 regarding translation, interpretation, connotation, signs, punctum, etc.  Be sure to get the definitions correct!

Follow though association and other images that relate to the discussion. directly or indirectly.  Look at the broader context of the image and it’s background and specific narrative as well as my own personnel interpretation of it and what thoughts it triggers for me.  Follow these associations in a thoughtful and formal way.  Enjoy the process!

The first task for this assignment was to decide upon the picture, I had just finished assignment 3 and I was holidaying in Spain where I could relax empty my head and ‘re-boot’.  After the first week I was able to think again and ideas began to come to me, I had taken my laptop with me so that I could use it with my camera and I began to search for ideas.  My first idea was of a photograph that I came across earlier this year taken in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp by an American photographer in 1944.  The image shows local Germans forced to tour the concentration camp and I was fascinated by the expressions each of these civilians made, some visibly shocked and ashamed others indignant and cold.  However, one night after a meal in the port we came home to the flat and put on the video and chose to watch Gone-with-the-Wind.  I hadn’t seen this movie in years and I was taken by the photography and some of the scenes that were so good.  I was particularly taken by the last image from part one.  Scarlet O’Hara has returned to Tara having escaped the siege of Atlanta only to find Tara pillaged by the invading Union army starving she eats a raw horse radish that she has dug from the soil with her bare hands.  At this point we see a transition in her from desperation to determination and the scene ends with her standing under a battle scared tree making an oath to god that no matter what she has to do she will never go hungry again.  This was a very powerful scene and a very powerful image provides a strong sense of foreboding for part two.

This was my first idea for an essay.  US Army photograph, 1944.

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This image I photographed in the Spanish fruit and veg. market of Altea that neighbors my holiday home town of Calpe a year or so ago.  I saw this scene and discreetly pointed my point and shoot Canon camera and caught it right at the best moment.

This was the image that I was so taken with in the motion-picture and I was luck enough to find it on the web.

When I returned to England I emailed my Tutor my suggested options and asked for his opinion.  He replied the image from Gone-with-the-Wind.  I was pleased that he had suggested this image as by now this was my favorite option.

After carefully looking at this picture I highlighted the cloud formation to help with my essay.

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I also looked at how this image is composed.

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I then began to make a list of basic information to start the research process which I typed as a word documents. Preperation for assignment 4  I then began researching through websites and for additional ideas on essay writing I  read, Reading Photographs, Basics Creative Photography, by Richard Salkeld, published by Bloomsbury,  Understanding a Photograph by John Berger, published by Penguin,’One Way Street and other writings’ by Walter Benjamin, published by Penguin, the essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ 1975 by Rachel Rose.  The Bible and ‘Inferno’ by Dante Alighieri, published by The Folio Society.

As I researched I kept a record of the source on a word document that I could refer to again later.  Notes  Having accumulated my reference material I began to write my essay, at this point I was not concerned with the word count as I could cut away as necessary. Working Title I also included images in my basic work.   when I came up with a title for my essay I resaved the document under it’s new name and continued to work on it.  Draft-1-Its a Lilly! I then emailed my Tutor for advice on my word-count and he advised that I was allowed + or – 5-10%; so I made sure that when stripping away I had an idea of my safe envelope; so as not to take out anything unnecessarily Final Draft-Its a Lilly  I then edited down my list of reference material relevant to my final draft and added it Notes for draft .

Finally I checked with my Assignment criteria to make sure that I had understood and followed it.

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I then read it to my wife and she pointed out that the only thing I had not mentioned was how the picture made me feel.  It was such an obvious observation but in my had not thought to mention it!  This is a good example of being too close to the work to be able point out the obvious.  this I easily rectified as the original attraction was the sense of foreboding and unease that this image conveyed.

The idea of the title for my work came through my research in to Technicolor and I watched several very good documentaries on YouTube that told the story of the development and use of technicolor which included an anecdotal story from an aging actor who played one on the Munchkins in Wizard of Oz who was puzzled why the always called out “It’s a Lilly!” at the end of a scene.

This time I only got one response from the Facebook OCA forum when I put out my request to critique my essay, but I took on board the comment that I should change the title for the last paragraph which I agreed with.  I decided to change it from ‘Conclusion’ to ‘So why the title’.  However, I also sent my work to a friend who I could rely on to give a good constructive critique and he came back with some suggestions to shorten a couple of sentences and punctuation corrections sending me his suggested amendments highlighted in red.   ShaunDraftEssay from this I made my final changes Amended Final Draft-Its a Lilly-1

 

 

On Photography, Susan Sontag

On_Photography

Susan Sontag, On Photography, (1979) London, Penguin, ISBN: 978-0-14-005397-5.

This book by Susan Sontag is a collection of essays discussing how photography has influenced the world since its invention and how it has played a part in the surrealist art movement in the 20th Century.

The book was first published in 1977 and although photography has moved on she spends a lot of time discussing how photography was first introduced accepted or not and how it came to be the most enduring and influential part of the surrealist movement.  She also looks at how photographs are used and how they can be re-used.

Topics and points to note:

  • In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge out notion of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe.
  • Photos are a grammar and even more importantly, an ethics of seeing.
  • Photos give us the sense that we can hold the world in our hands.
  • In photographs the image is also an object.
  • As object they can be collected, bought & sold, cherished, thrown away, lost & found, etc, etc.
  • Photographs furnish evidence, they appear to provide proof when something is in doubt.
  • A photograph justifies, for example through use of surveillance and is a presumption of proof that something exists.
  • Photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing – which means that like all mass art form, photography is not practiced by people as an art.  It is mainly a social rite, a defence against anxiety and a tool of power.
  • Photographs can abet desire and emotions of morality.
  • The industrialisation of photography permitted its rapid absorption into bureaucratic ways of running society…photographs became part of the general furniture of the environment – touchstones and confirmations of that reductive approach to reality which is considered realistic.  Photographs were enrolled in the service of important institutions of control, notably the family and the police, as symbolic object and as pieces of information….many important documents are not valid unless they have affixed to them, a photographic-token of the citizen’s face.