Benjamin. W (1970)

‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ Visual Culture: A Reader



The man-made can be reproduced by other men- seen within fakes, students of artists etc.

Mechanical reproduction- Bronze, Terracotta and coins could be made in  quantity by founding and stamping- Greeks

Every other ‘copy’ would be an individual make due to the inability to reproduce identically through these procedures.

Printing- woodcut printing allowed patterns etc to be reproduced like in lino printing

Printing in literature changed the art, allowing the writing to be spread throughout

Engraving and etching- Middle Ages

Lithography- beginning of 19thc- tracing onto stone rather than cutting into wood or copperplate- graphic art products on market- easily produced so large quantity of each and differing ones

Keeping up to the pace of society- graphic art illustrating the current time and events due to the quick nature of it. Increase of narrating everyday life the easier it got to portray this.

Photography then surpassed the lithography due to being more instant- ability to look at what you’re depicting whilst doing so- anything involving focus meant you could miss what was happening around you- which is against the point of depicting the everyday if you can not see it.

A piece depicting a moment lacks the most important thing; being present in that time and space. Works are affected through time by damage or wear etc, meaning it is not a direct depiction of how it was in that moment.

It is important to recognise the original- old works are easily reproducible in this day and age, making it important to guarantee the authenticity of an individual piece.

Process reproduction- photography- more independent than manual reproduction- something has been done to the original, supposedly a different view is taken, micro lens may depict something within the original that can not be seen- slow motion sensors or slow shutter speed can show something in a whole different way that is unable to be seen by the naked eye.

A mechanical copy, however good, will never be the original and therefore does not have the same value or a value similar. A main reason for this is that the original was present at the time of conception- it reflects the moment- the copy did not experience that moment- “the historical testimony rests on the authenticity, the former, too, is jeopardised by reproduction when substantive duration ceases to matter”. The history of an object is important, no historical testimony if reproduced.

Reproducing works will never that piece from the traditional aspects of its time- the importance of when where and why are weakened as there are multiple answers. The ‘aura’- experiencing within the moment is the only way to feature this.

Ritual- originally works expressed magical ritual and then religious ritual- never properly removed from the ritual. Photography and socialism rose, which was intervened by the theology of ‘pure’ art, rejecting social functions within work as a subject.

Photographic negative can produce multiple outcomes, making the authentic piece void for this purpose- focus moved from ritual to politics.

Subject can either be cult value or exhibition value- today- cult ask for work to be hidden, statues only visited by priest e.g. Being hidden makes it easier to transport to alternate locations, contrary to it being within a temple.

With focus on exhibition value, it is incidental- like photography and film. A means to represent the environment through film- behaviour presented leads more to analysis than a painting due to precise nature.

Focus can be put on small things that would usually go unnoticed- they can also be separated from their environment and contextualised in a different manner. In this way, nothing is indefinitely missed.

Muybridge- famously photographed a horse, discovering all four feet come off the floor at one time- things that can be missed by the naked eye.


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