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The Obsolescence Of The Photographic Object
Panel Discussion at The New School -
February 25, 2009 7:00 PM - 66 West 12th Street - Free

When Walter Benjamin famously mused, "that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art." he was referring quite explicitly to the arrival of photography and film. These two media, for which he held out a cautious, albeit decidedly political, optimism demanded a rethinking of the specificity of the art-work in terms of something other than mimesis and singularity. The significant thing for Benjamin was that a photograph was an object that could be reproduced, printed again, with no objective difference between iterations, and thus stood in contrast to a sculpture or a painting. What Benjamin passes over, however, is that, in practice -- that is to say in everyday life -- photos behaved very much like objects in the traditional sense. Photos were taped to lockers, put in frames, squirreled a way in pockets and in backpacks. They got old, yellowed, faded; they were kissed in love and torn up in anger. In short, the technical reproducibility of the photograph did not prevent an individual print from becoming enchanted, of, over time, having an aura constructed for it via a variety of daily pieties.

That is until recently. Now, with the victory of digital technology almost complete, very few people bother to print photos out anymore, never mind having them developed, and most are kept on computers or on cell phones. The significance of this development is the topic of a panel at the New School tomorrow, called, appropriately, THE OBSOLESCENCE OF THE PHOTOGRAPHIC OBJECT. Mia Fineman, curator of photography at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will moderate; panelists include artists Leslie Hewitt, Miranda Lichtenstein, and Mark Wyse.