Thoughts / Weekly Reading Reflections

READING REFLECTION AND NOTES | Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (Week 7)

Week 7 | Walter Benjamin. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks. Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M. Kellner. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006.

I’ve found Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay to be one of the most useful course readings for me  and I don’t  know if I would have thought to read it in the first place. Here are some quotes that I found to be relevant to my project.

“For example, in photography, process reproduction can bring out those aspects of the original that are unattainable to naked eye yet accessible to the lens, which is adjustable and chooses it angle at will. And photographic reproduction, with the aid of certain processes, such as enlargement or slow motion, can capture images which escape natural vision. Secondly, technical reproduction can put the copy of the original into situations which woud be out of reach for the original itself. Above all, it enables the original to meet the beholder halfway, be it in the form of a photograph or photograph record.

“But as man withdraws from the photographic image, the exhibition value for the first time shows its superiority to the ritual value. To have pinpointed this new stage constitutes the incomparable significance of Atget who, around 1900, took photographs of deserted Paris streets. It has quite justly been said of him that he photographed them like scenes of crime. The scene of a crime, too, is deserted; it is photographed for the purpose of establishing evidence. With Atget, photographs become standard evidence for historical occurrences, and acquire a hidden political significance. They demand a specific kind of approach; free-floating contemplation is not appropriate to them. They stir the viewer; he feels challenged by them in a new way.

With this understanding, I could argue that my photographs within the parameters of my project are acting as photographic evidence of contemporary black style. By photographing select people and presenting the photographs in the format of a website and photobook, I feel as though I’m implying that they are noteworthy academically, culturally and sartorially. Yes they are street style photographs but their significance can be further examined.  The short interviews will help illuminate this significance as will my own analyses. I hope that by the culmination of project that my viewers are “stirred” and begin to think about my subject matter in new ways. This notion of “challenging” the viewer also ties into my project. I’ve argued that the blogs that I am examining are challenging and subverting the common representations of black identity in fashion-related imagery. My photographs are challenging (or perhaps progressing) the ways most viewers are accustomed to seeing black identity/black style represented in fashion-related imagery.

“In photography, exhibition value begins to displace cult value all along the line. But cult value does not give way without resistance. It retires into an ultimate retrenchment: the human countenance. It is no accident that the portrait was the focal point of early photography. The cult of remembrance of loved ones, absent or dead, offers a last refuse for the cult value of the picture. For the last time the aura emanates from the early photographs in the fleeting expression of a human face. This is what constitutes their melancholy, incomparable beauty.”

I think that the basis on street style photograph is portrait photography. Although I am aiming to capture what black style can be exhibited as today, I also try my best to capture the “aura” of each person. Again this is why I hesitate to give too much direction to each person in terms of how to pose. Sometimes it’s natural shuffling of someone’s feet, fidgeting of their hands,  the way they put their hands in their pockets, or that exact moment when they look away from the camera that results in the best photos.

Even the most perfect reproduction of 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.

Yes, I know that I’m not ,  or more specifically my camera isn’t, reproducing works of art but I am capturing unique interactions in time and space. No matter how well the photographs turn out they still can’t fully translate the uniqueness of those moments.


Walter, Benjamin. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks. Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M. Kellner. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006.


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