On Photography

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Winner of the National Book Critics' Circle Award for Criticism.

One of the most highly regarded books of its kind, On Photography first appeared in 1977 and is described by its author as "a progress of essays about the meaning and career of photographs." It begins with the famous "In Plato's Cave"essay, then offers five other prose meditations on this topic, and concludes with a fascinating and far-reaching "Brief Anthology of Quotations."

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Additional Information

Publisher
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Published on
Apr 1, 2011
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Pages
224
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ISBN
9781429957113
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Art / Criticism & Theory
Photography / Criticism
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Photography is one of the principal filters through which we engage the world. The contributors to this volume focus on Walter Benjamin's concept of the optical unconscious to investigate how photography has shaped history, modernity, perception, lived experience, politics, race, and human agency. In essays that range from examinations of Benjamin's and Sigmund Freud's writings to the work of Kara Walker and Roland Barthes's famous Winter Garden photograph, the contributors explore what photography can teach us about the nature of the unconscious. They attend to side perceptions, develop latent images, discover things hidden in plain sight, focus on the disavowed, and perceive the slow. Of particular note are the ways race and colonialism have informed photography from its beginning. The volume also contains photographic portfolios by Zoe Leonard, Kelly Wood, and Kristan Horton, whose work speaks to the optical unconscious while demonstrating how photographs communicate on their own terms. The essays and portfolios in Photography and the Optical Unconscious create a collective and sustained assessment of Benjamin's influential concept, opening up new avenues for thinking about photography and the human psyche.

Contributors. Mary Bergstein, Jonathan Fardy, Kristan Horton, Terri Kapsalis, Sarah Kofman, Elisabeth Lebovici, Zoe Leonard, Gabrielle Moser, Mignon Nixon, Thy Phu, Mark Reinhardt, Shawn Michelle Smith, Sharon Sliwinski, Laura Wexler, Kelly Wood, Andrés Mario Zervigón
An illustrated examination of an early photo-essay by Lee Friedlander that shows television screens broadcasting eerily glowing images into unoccupied rooms.

Lee Friedlander's The Little Screens first appeared as a 1963 photo-essay in Harper's Bazaar, with commentary by Walker Evans. Six untitled photographs show television screens broadcasting eerily glowing images of faces and figures into unoccupied rooms in homes and motels across America. As distinctive a portrait of an era as Robert Frank's The Americans, The Little Screens grew in number and was not brought together in its entirety until a 2001 exhibition at the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco.

Friedlander (b. 1934) is known for his use of surfaces and reflections––from storefront windows to landscapes viewed through car windshields—to present a pointed view of American life. The photographs that make up The Little Screens represent an early example of this photographic strategy, offering the narrative of a peripatetic photographer moving through the landscape of 1960s America that was in thrall to a new medium.

In this astute study, Saul Anton argues that The Little Screens marked the historical intersection of modern art and photography at the moment when television came into its own as the dominant medium of mass culture. Friedlander's images, Anton shows, reflect the competing logics of the museum and print and electronic media, and anticipate the issues that have emerged with the transition to a world of ubiquitous “little screens.”

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