Examine writings of Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Kracauer

Examine the photographic criticism of two of the key authors from the module with specific references to photography’s relationship to time temporality and memory.This essay will focus on the writings of  Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Kracauer to discuss time temporality and memory while also drawing from the writings of Levi Strauss and Andrew Benjamin. This essay will discuss the concepts of Time, Temporality and Memory written by Benjamin and Kracauer and then will attempt to meld both arguments together.Walter Benjamin in “Short history of photography” discusses the way images are viewed after they are taken. There are three concepts which this essay will look at from the “Short History of Photography” The Aura, The spark of contingency and the optical unconscious. The Aura of an image Is the presence it holds in time. The aura is influenced by the content of the image. An example Benjamin gives is where a little boy is put in a greenhouse and is dressed up in a fancy way. He then talks about the boy’s eyes and the sadness in them. This then gives the image an aura of sadness down through the years as it is handed down. Benjamin also discusses how reproduction can tarnish an images aura causing it to loses its aura. This is something which is very important when looking at the history of photography since Benjamin wrote this essay as the use of images as increased exceptionally.The Optical Unconscious is important when it comes to photography history as it relates to what is captured in the image that was not intended to be there by the photographer. An example of this is a clock tower in the background of a portrait. This captures the time the image was taken and wasn’t what the photographer was thinking about at the time the image was captured. This can affect the history of an image and how they can change because of the simplest detail which may not have been thought about or even noticed until years down the line. The spark of contingency is the implied nature of actions within an image. This is a difficult concept to understand as it relates to the subjects or background influencing the way the image is viewed this can cause debate as many people will view actions differently.In the second text by Walter Benjamin That this essay will look at is from the collection of essays y Walter Benjamin called Illuminations the essay that is relevant to this essay are “The work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”  Benjamin talks about the way images which are not unique and lose the Aura of the original. This is the problem that is faced when mechanical reproduction is introduced. He discusses how Master artist would have apprentices reproduce there masterpiece to teach them and though these art pieces were reproductions they still had a certain aura about them but not the same as the original it changes. But when mechanical reproduction began to become popular it is easy to see how images can easily lose there are altogether as they are not just a piece of time-sliced away Benjamin describes it as “a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.” This can affect how images are used as a replacement for memories as a mass reproduced image can have a different memory for different people. The next concept which Benjamin discuss is cult and exhibition value these concept revolve around the idea that each images cult value is affected by who wants the image a why an example of cult value is an image of a dead relative this image will mean a lot to the person it belongs to but as time goes on its exhibition value increases as it becomes part of history. This is different for mass-reproduced images as they are set out to be exhibited and hold very little cult value. At the time dadaism was taking the mass-reproduced images and using them to create statements against the governments at the time. Benjamin says that the images made by dadaists had an aura by destroying the aura of the reproductions “What they intended and achieved was a relentless  destruction of the aura of their creations, which they branded as reproductions with the very means of production.” (Benjamin, p 245-246) These practices change the image and how they are viewed they become statements rather than reproductions this affect how history then views these pieces by dadaist. This essay, however, will not focus anymore on Dadaism.In “The Documentary Debate-Aesthetics and Anaesthetics” which is written by Levi Strauss he brings up about Walter Benjamin and new objectivity which Benjamin writes about in the “Author and the Producer” in it new objectivity is described as a reaction to expressionism benjamin the states that photography must be objective as if images are manipulated they can change the way a thing/place is viewed. Straus then brings up the photographer Salgado who is not someone who takes image objectively but is very deliberate with the ethics of his images and commercialize misery which Benjamin disagrees with. This commercialization of images can cause a ripple effect on how the images are viewed down the line and can impact how people see the culture of a place. Which is something that Salgados images did too by manipulating the aesthetics of the images in the way he did? Strauss says that images cannot reveal the whole truth because of the way photographers can choose to leave something out of an image.Kracauer debates in the truth in photography the way images are used to document time. He first discusses an image of a young woman from 1864 this image is shown to the women’s grandchildren who are told by there parents that it is their grandmother. Kracauer is skeptical and proposes this image could be a friend of the women. There is no one around that can verify that the image is of the grandmother as they are all dead. This then leads him to discuss the way images are affected by time. He then goes on to discuss the concept of memory which is used by humans to remember things but not everything that happens is remembered or even when it is it may not be accurate and can also have gaps. He says that they are neither spatial or temporal. He then says that photography takes what is given to it and no more so it will remain with the same spatial and temporal meaning. It would be fair to say that this view of images Kracauer put simply is that without word of mouth/written history and a connection photographs are nothing but pixels on a page. Looking at history books and the images provided in them what he says has truth in it as without the information alongside these images nobody would understand what is happening. This can be related to benjamin’s views of images which will be discussed further in this essay. Kracauer continues to give reasoning why this occurs and examples of the use of images in the magazine in his time of objects and how they become the history of a time which no longer exists so images instead of being history exactly are more like shadows of objects. This in relation to people is also true as he says early in the text that the images may as well be put in a museum after a certain amount of time as they only provide information on the contemporary style/events/objects of the time the image was taken “Once a photograph ages, the immediate reference to the original is no longer possible.” (Kracauer,1927) This statement rings through in most of Kracauer argument.Andrew Benjamin writes about Kracauer’s views  in “what, in truth is photography?”  In this A.Benjamin discuss the way in which the contexts of created images can have many different modes such as art, document or evidence. A.Benjamin then goes on to talk about the images of people who have died. He describes them as “deeply personal” but also stand as a reminder of the finite nature of life. He also discusses the fact that these images are used as memories of dead people and that this outweighs any other attributes it has but due to this the relation of the images to the viewer allows for the image of the dead person to be detached from the viewer.Kracauer talks about a portrait of a woman and the way after she dies this image becomes a history piece as no one knows if it’s truly her the question that is interesting is if this image was mass produced would this change the questioning of, is it. This is something which is hard to know for sure but if thought about the answer would be no the question of the image would not go away but it would then become impersonal and part of history which would, in turn, make it an image like that Andrew Benjamin talks about in his writing. This images aura also comes into play when speaking of its place in time as this woman has built the aura of the image as herself through the years she is this person but what happens to the aura of an image when all who knew the woman is dead? Does the aura change from reading these texts the answer is yes the aura changes as the image then becomes an image of exhibitions and not one of cult value. The spark of contingency is also interesting to apply to this conceptual image as does it make it any easier to recognize the women no but the grandchildren that Kracauer mentions may look at this image and think of what was being done off camera how this past age was when this image was taken The images of Salgado are discussed by Strauss these images are the ones which Salgado took in Africa it is said by Strauss that these images are not objective and have been manipulated by Salgado in his framing. These images were taken with the purpose of being exhibited and hold very little cult value. It is also interesting that looking at these images from discussing Kracauer these images are without the women/Person to give them context only the photographer this is problematic as said before since these images Strauss says is manipulated to be aesthetic. Also how the ideas of A.benjamins and how these images become a history but yet the people who they are taken of or who knew these people will probably never see them they become history to people who may not have set foot in the place that is photographed they are just distance ideas of people. The optical unctuous in these images has been purposely subverted as these images have been taken and have been taken with such intent that they do not hold this quilty as strong as some other images which the photographer is unconcerned with the background. In conclusion, it seems Kracauer and benjamins ideas of time, temporality and memory are similar however they both focus on different aspects respectfully. Benjamin discusses the images and their aura which does not change as long as reproduction is not involved. These then become a moment in time with transcending through the years. Whereas Krakauer discusses how through the years the people around an image can affect its meaning to the world and how it is used to remember the past or the dead. However, both discuss images having to values and the way images are used as a way to document history in many ways. It was difficult to fully grasp the concepts both men discussed but this essay has attempted to discuss both parties views and meld them together although this topic could be studied in further detail to reach its full potential by the inclusion of more texts from the authors. However, that is not possible at the current time.

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