With [the work of the photographer] Atget, photographs become standard evidence for historical occurences, and acquire a hidden political significance. They demand a special kind of approach; free-floating contemplation is not appropriate to them. They stir the viewer; he feels challenged by them in a new way. At the same time picture magazines begin to put up signposts for him, right ones and wrong ones, no matter. For the first time, captions have become obligatory. And it is clear that they have an altogether different character than the title of a painting. The directives which captions give to those looking at pictures in illustrated magazines soon become even more explicit and imperative in the film where the meaning of each single picture appears to be prescribed by the sequence of all preceding ones.
Now, there are many immediate perplexities that this passage calls to my mind. Why suggest that the political significance of evidenciary photography is "hidden"? Isn't it quite obvious and palpable actually? What is the force of the imagery of "free-floating" contemplation, which to me seems to call up the same immateriality of the imagery of the aura? Why doesn't it "matter" whether the "sign-posts" proposed by picture magazines are right or wrong? Why focus attention there if it doesn't matter?
But delving deeper, clearly there is some very contemporary sounding media criticism coming out of this comment on sign-posting and captions and images. The conjunction of image and text here is a multimedia insight, and the point about sign-posting makes me think of media criticism that distinguishes the manipulation of a "broadcast model" of content distribution from various networked, peer-to-peer models. It's easy to see how hypertext and open source break down what Foucault calls the "author-function" produced by traditional print publication, and then we have peer-to-peer breaking down *author*ized distributions of information... Does Benjamin's thesis about aura cast light on these developments? His final point that the actual "sequence" of frames that produces the illusion/representation of a moving image is itself an expression of the *same* kind of textual signposting that would direct our interpretations of "static" images blows my mind a bit, and I still don't know what to do with that idea. Are hypertext and tagging and wikis disintegrating or expressing this sign-posting function of textuality? I'd be interested to hear more from you on Tuesday.
In the meantime, get some aphorisms up folks. And remember to check out the sites on our blogroll and to link to interest things you find in them and elsewhere, and to blog about your impressions. I want to see more life in this space.