seminar 3


Seminar 3: Theorising Photography – Tuesday 14th February 2017

Walter Benjamin was perhaps the first theorist of photography and his ideas remain influential today.  Some of Benjamin’s ideas from the essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ were revisited by John Berger in his series Ways of Seeing.

Read the short extract from Chapter 1 of Ways of Seeing by John Berger as a way to refresh the ideas from last week’s lecture.


In pairs or small groups answer the following questions.  Use the text and your lecture notes from last week to help you:


  1. In what ways does photography change human perception?

It can isolate subjects, as well as give a distorted view in a few different ways. Lens choice can distort the view i.e. fish eye, as well as image manipulation via post processing. It can also distort the perception of the viewer, and can change the meaning of image via cropping.

  1. How does the ability to make copies affect the way we view art works?

It devalues the authenticity, and changes the point of view as to its originality. It can lead to false beliefs, such as is it accurate?

  1. What do you think are the benefits of reproducing art works?

Bigger audience, allowing many social economic groups to view work they perhaps wouldn’t usually get to view if it was in a distant gallery. It also aids education with it being at everyone’s fingertips on the internet, students can learn from great works without the need to see them in the flesh.

  1. What might be some of the drawbacks?

Authenticity can be a drawback, as well as understanding what becomes the more valuable piece? The original or the copy, both are valuable in different ways, but which has the greater effect on society as a whole?

  1. How are Benjamin’s (and Berger’s) ideas about the reproduction of images relevant to our contemporary image culture?

We are now faced with so many images, we no longer are as concerned as to its originality. Does it matter whether or not you are looking at the original piece, if it is aiding with an aspect of life or work you are aiming to complete?

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