The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction

July 3, 2011

The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction | title
Walter Benjamin | author
Suhrkamp, 1963 | publisher
978-3-518-10028-8 | isbn
Paperback, 107 | # of pages

Highly recommended | rating
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One of the classics, mentioned in virtually every contemporary philosophical book on photography. Walter Benjamin reflects upon the impact of mechanical reproduction in the field of arts and the way it is perceived and valued, describing the changes that paved the conditions for contemporary art to exist the way it exists today.

Presentation

The edition here reviewed is a German copy. It is simple and unpretentious: the cover has no picture, the layout is as clean as it gets, reminding a cheap novel. The book would be too short if it contained only the aforementioned piece, so there are two additional texts included: “A little history of Photography” and “Edward Fuchs: collector and historian”. This is quite common in English versions as well, some of them containing many other essays from the same author. It belongs to public domain, so you can also find it for free on this website (reading on a screen should not pose much of a problem considering its length.)

It is so short for a reason: the density is extremely high. Each sentence carries a lot of content, and quite often the message is not further elaborated on or explained, so multiple readings may be required. For those who understand German, it is recommended (as usual with any book) to read it in its original language, as even the best translation sacrifices some of the original meaning or style.

Content

The essay is split into fifteen chapters, plus a preface and epilogue. Each chapter brings a distinct topic, some of them relating to others and some having a high degree of autonomy. First, the author describes the effect of “aura” brought upon by works of art, investigates its causes and analyses how the reproductibility affects it. He then proceeds to analyse photography, its relation to art and specifically painting, and the features that are unique to it. After that, he also does the same in regards to film and theater. Throughout the book there are a few remarks on how each topic affects society, but he does not attempt to draw predictions on where they would lead to. Some parts of the text, however, describe such timeless phenomena that one could read it and think it was written recently. E.g.: he describes the ongoing process of loss of differentiation between readers and writers, saying that the common person can increasingly write and publish with ease. This timeless character is what makes it such a valuable read even decades after it was written.

Target audience

This book is not made for people who just want to use photography as a tool. It was made for those who want to reflect upon it, for those who are interested in art and its relationship with technology. It is ultimately a philosophy book, so it will not please those who seek immediate, tangible effects on their photography.

Verdict

Highly recommended

Buy this book through this link and help support this blog

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