Note: If you see this text you use a browser which does not support usual Web-standards. Therefore the design of Media Art Net will not display correctly. Contents are nevertheless provided. For greatest possible comfort and full functionality you should use one of the recommended browsers.

Themesicon: navigation pathPhoto/Byteicon: navigation pathPhotographic/Post-Photographic
Mnemosyne-Atlas (Warburg, Aby M.), 1924After Walker Evans (Levine, Sherrie), 1981

icon: previous page

who arranged photographic reproductions according to subject in the plates of his «Mnemosyne Atlas» [15] , made no distinction between antique relief and contemporary advertisement, and thus already pointed in the direction of visual studies.

The photograph as a multiple

The combination of mechanical reproduction with a mode of production based on the division of labor made the photograph into a mass-produced article in the nineteenth century. At the same time, however, the trouble-free duplicatability of the photograph as a product became a problem: The legal dispute over the copyright of photographs starts out from commercial photography, which needed to protect itself from the exploitation of its products—e.g. portraits of prominent figures or stereoscopic cards. [16]

However, the quality of the photograph as a copy implies more than just the mechanical reproduction of existing images—be it in the form of prints from a negative or rephotographing image masters. In connection with Walter Benjamin's essay on the work of art, the art theorist Rosalind Krauss sets out that


photography «is a medium that directly produces copies, i.e. a medium in which the copies exist without an original.» [17] According to this understanding of photography, even the negative of a nature scene is already a copy: a reproduction of the depicted subject. [18] For Krauss, the explosive force of this photographic quality for art of the modern age (and of art reproduction in the twentieth century in general) lies in the fact that it undermines the concept of originality itself. [19] It was above all the «photographic activity of postmodernism » [20] that consciously took up this quality in order to deconstruct notions of (creative) authorship and the autonomy of works of art. In this way, the artist Sherrie Levine ‹appropriated› [21] icons from artistic photography simply by taking her own photographs of them (e.g. in the series After Walker Evans ), and in doing so attacked the auralization of photography, which had accompanied its musealization in the 1970s and 1980s. [22]

Mass Medium Avant la Lettre

Mechanical reproduction created the condition for the development of photography into a mass medium,

icon: next page