Heather – Paper 3

Heather McDonald – paper 3

The processes and values of many aspects of the art world through history was referenced from Walter Benjamin’s works from 1936 by Richard Kazis in the essay he wrote, “Benjamin’s Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” From lithography, photography, printmaking, and even Benjamins admiration of film, you can find a broken down description of what he believes to be the true view of the advancement of the arts. With examples by him, and the many works by Ansel Adams, I will describe the processes and values of photography in society in the early 1900’s.

As the world began facing the start of the transition into the digital world, a few key things were put into play that affected the medium and process behind creating something such as a photograph. In the early 1900’s, there began a more political based society in which Benjamin believed that, “The historical materialist method, as he saw it, specifically involved an understanding and analysis of the dialectical tension of past and future in the present.” This made it clear that by understanding the way the world has grown and where it’s going, one can determine and alter their choices in their work to reflect that information. This will inevitably give it a greater purpose, such as computers or digital cameras making it easier to mass produce images and share them, and then turning the industry into a more commercial atmosphere. For a long time we’ve been driven by tradition and the values that have passed down through the generations. With the use of mass mechanical reproduction, we can all focus on broadening the spread of what is created to be international, political and even historical. Benjamin states that, “mechanical reproduction makes possible the involvement of the masses in culture and politics; it makes possible mass culture and mass politics.” Through gaining a closer relationship through digitizing of the world, the distinction between the masses are blurred and all come together into one diverse society of technological innovation.

Once the art is created, there’s a painstakingly hard decision with what the value of that piece is. There’s two different paths it can go. One is that the object is a commodity; something of use, advantage or value; or cultural wealth; which defines the culture of the region at a specific time. For Benjamin, he described photography to be more so of a commodity, although adopting the work to be culturally and politically driven as the concept behind it. He said specifically that, “what we must demand from the photography is the ability to put such a caption beneath his picture as will rescue it from the ravages of modishness and confer upon it a revolutionary use value.” He’s not intending a literal caption but to give the photograph a concept that will give it purpose beyond just being a singular icon and object. Similarly for people, the objects value is split into a personal and impersonal thing. If someone likes that object then they may be willing to spend more on it to obtain it, but depending on it’s historical and cultural impact, usually it will be higher in price the higher the significance is. So for a photographer like Ansel Adams, if there was a reproduction of his work it would have a lower price tag for a consumer because it’s just a mass reproduction of the photo he took. However, to people at the National Archives, the photographs such as the black and white 1940’s images of the Grand Canyon and Paradise Valley, hold such a high significance to the history and future of America that they were archived and kept protected for future generations.

Personally I believe that the value of an object is based off of a mix of multiple aspects of creating the work such as the process, materials, significance, demand and even how much of it someone has. Though determining the reason for an object to be a specific price is something I think will never be completely justified despite what Benjamin and Kazis said all because of the conflict between the personal beliefs of society and how the commercial industries view an objects worth. For mass reproduction and specifically photography, I think that the more an object is duplicated the lower the value it has compared to something that is just a one of a kind. However over time something that is duplicated enough and sold off, can even surpass the price tag of a singular object on the sole reason of how many of that object was sold. Then again it has and will all just 360 back to what Benjamin said that photography is best kept as being historical and with a use that will help future generations.

Kazis, Richard. “Benjamins Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Jump Cut 1977. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.

Commodity.” Dictionary. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.

Cultural Wealth.” Wiktionary. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.

Use Value.” Wikipedia. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.

Records of the National Park Service – Ansel Adams photographs.” National Archives. Web. 11 Nov. 2013


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