'Cinema and Mass Media in Modernity: Walter Benjamin and the Reproducible Image’
Design Lecture by Dr Cyrus Manasseh PhD Presented C. AUGUST 2011
Presented at the University of Western Sydney, School of Communication Arts, College of Arts, University of Western Sydney
The Power and Impact of Film to Capture Social Events and Mass Change
In fact, we must understand that changing historical understandings of images have been directly influenced by imaging technologies. As we learnt a couple of weeks ago in previous lectures, from the beginning of photography, photographers had always attempted to produce photographs which could be accepted by the same criteria as painting. This was changed however by new people such as Moholy-Nagy, Rodchenko, Man Ray etc. who we already discussed in the tutorials. One of the first theories of film in the English Language was Vachel Lindsay’s The Art of the Moving Picture, which was published in 1915 which described the motion picture as a great high art. In fact, experiments in Electronic Media had originally begun in 1877 with the sound recordings Edison had made with his cylinder phonograph and the Gramophone (1898) and continuing with radio and silent movies of the 1920s and then talking cinema from 1926 which came out with the Jazz Singer. Following photography and its technological discoveries, Film production would continue to reveal the new link between art and the new developments in science during the early 19th century and the invention of film in the 1890s. Through its system of production, the rules of understanding images changed for everybody in significant ways. This period would be when the new mechanical technologies such as photographic, cinematic, and arriving soon after, television or televisual images would all be infinitely reproducible. This fact would change the role of images in society and greatly increase the influence upon us. In the era of the new films being made from the early 20th century, which had come out of the experiments that were taking place in photography one could say that then motion was added to the photograph. Because of this, early film could in this way be seen as early photoplays and the people best qualified for this had been the painters, architects and sculptors such as Edwin S. Porter in America, Georges Melies in France Dziga Vertov, Sergei Eisenstein in Russia, D.W. Griffith in America who represent some of the most important of these at the time. These new filmmakers were interested in creating a new form and an understanding of beauty, which could replace the previous importance of painting since in many ways, there had been a tendency for many new painters, to avoid representing or reflecting the idea of traditional beauty in painting. However, it was a mechanical process that reproduced in its technical dimension the image and much inherent in Film worked against the concept of authenticity. From this time, the technical attributes of the new medium of film had also meant that an image which had normally been seen just in one context, could now be seen in many many different contexts. This was because Film was able to dissect and manipulate perceptions of reality. This is because of the nature of the film editing process and the “creative” or some might say the “manipulative” nature of editing, which was the discovery that when two shots were joined together the spectator might be made to infer a variety of contrasts and comparisons between two sets of information. By reproducing the image, the filmmaker could unite events which were far apart or divide those which were continuous. It had meant that famous works of art were photographed and filmed and were brought much closer to the public – brought right up close. And images of far places and iconic subjects such as monuments and great masterpieces of art which had only been visible to the public in its original home (that is, one could only see them by visiting the image or the work fact-to-face and in person) were increasingly being made much more immediate and less distant or separated from real life and instead were being brought right into the public’s everyday world and therefore daily experience and consciousness. In other words, unique images became localised. Because of this, film could be used to capture and document social events and up to the minute documentation of current events. This brought the public for the very first time and in a completely new way to be able to more closely inspect what was going on in the world from this time. In fact, due to this, images of a distant origin, time and place would now be reproduced in a mass way so that they became more personal – and related to something which could now give the audience the feeling of possessing the idea of the image – which had meant that audiences could almost feel that they possessed their original meaning, essence and the spirit of the work. This helped to create changes in aesthetic style for designers: this is because changes in aesthetic style achieved more than just revealing the history of art and visual culture; it also revealed changes in the development of diverse kinds of world views.
Debates about the impact of Mechanical Reproduction on Art, Culture & Society
In fact, by 1900 technical reproduction had reached a standard that not only permitted it to reproduce all transmitted works of art and thus to cause the most profound change on the public; it had also captured a place of its own among the artistic processes. In response to this, within the 1930s, debates took place at the time about the impact of mechanical reproduction on art, culture and society that had first begun from the beginning of the 20th century. Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay “ The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” had embodied a wider interest in new cultural forms, which the author had shared with other German intellectuals. For Benjamin, the typical and central new forms of the 20th century had emerged through technologies, which could mass reproduce the image. These were printing, and especially photography and cinema. Benjamin pointed out that there were indeed positive aspects of the mass reproduction of imagery and noted at the time that the mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art. He had pointed out that was because individual reactions to mass produced imagery are pre-determined and influenced by their response which is about to be produced (particularly in film). For example, a television news image can be considered valuable because it can be seen simultaneously on many screens at the same time. Benjamin stated that this opens up new possibilities for us all.
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- Institution / Hochschule
- University of Western Sydney – School of Communication Arts, College of Arts
- N/A Professional Lecture
- Film Photography Design Mass Media Walter Benjamin