Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

In my experience, the most discussed aspect of this essay is the discussion of the aura, and what it means to speak about works of art losing their aura. This sounds like it would be a negative thing – as if the loss of aura somehow dilutes the worth of the original work. However, I would argue that Benjamin could just as easily be promoting the...

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Barthes on the Great Family of Man

This myth of the human ‘condition’ rests on a very old mystification, which always consists in placing Nature at the bottom of History. Barthes’s essay serves as a critique of Steichen’s “Family of Man” exhibition on the grounds of naturalizing elements of life under capitalist ideology instead of placing them within their historical context. The...

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In Our Glory

All colonized and subjugated people who, by way of resistance, create an oppositional subculture within the framework of domination, recognize that the field of representation [. . .] is a site of ongoing struggle.  bell hooks’s essay examines the importance of family photographs to African-American families particularly during the Civil Rights...

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The Reality Effect and Photography as Index or Trace

The reality effect refers to the use of extreme detail to create an image (whether written, spoken, or made visual) that attests to an eye-witness account, and by extension, that what is being described is a truthful rendition. It is a tactic that may be used to distract a viewer from a subtext that is present by hyper-detailed description or...

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Phantasmagoria and the Spectacle

In the nineteenth-century, the word phantasmagoria referred to a type of popular entertainment that made use of literal smoke and mirrors to produce an optical illusion. The viewers of these productions knew that what they were seeing was not real, but the phantasmagoria did not reveal how it was made. The means by which the illusion was created...

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“The Eyes of the Poor” by Charles Baudelaire, and the Flâneur

Charles Baudelaire, in his poem “The Eyes of the Poor” reveals the mixing of classes that occurred with Haussmannization in Paris.  In the poem, a lower-class family walks down a new boulevard and looks in the cafes at the bourgeois patrons. The narrator seems to have an anthropologist’s detached interest in the family. He is content to watch...

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Rear Window and the Panopticon

Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rear Window situates the protagonist, a photographer, as a panoptic “eye” that watches all the goings-on of his neighbors. Jeff is confined to a wheelchair and unable to leave his apartment so he begins to obsessively watch his neighbors through their unshuttered windows. Jeff’s apartment is located in a perfect spot that...

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