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Benjamin’s optical unconscious: the motion in photography as the interstice of cinematic time

Bertelli, Linda Benjamin’s optical unconscious: the motion in photography as the interstice of cinematic time. In: Alphaville Inaugural Conference, Cinema in the Interstices, 7- 9 September 2012, University College Cork, Ireland (Unpublished) (2012)

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This paper focuses on the concept of optical unconscious as it emerges in Walter Benjamin’s "A Small History of Photography and The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction". In particular, I intend to analyze the origins of the Benjamin’s concept from the László Moholy-Nagy’s work "Painting Photography Film". According to Benjamin, just like cinematographic stills, photography makes explicit the part of movement that is not present in movement and renders it visible; it adds the ruffling, the tiny details, the half-hidden movement to the moment and thus makes visible the space-time fragment – as Benjamin writes - «when a person steps out» (A Small History of Photography). Following the premise represented by the optical unconscious notion, the first argument I seek to make isthat a new organization of the perceptible world appeared not in the 1920s and 30s but rather can be found thoroughly intertwined with the very historical origins of the photo-cinematographic tools, which originate from and are functional to a new conception of objectivity (and, hence, of naturalism and realism) that emerged from the birth of biology as an experimental science and therefore from the birth of the concept of life and a new conception of the body. As a matter of fact, I argue that biology’s ascendancy over natural history through a process that traces its documentable origins to the end of the eighteenth century, constituted the context that enabled and fostered the invention of photo-cinematographic techniques. Through some examples from the works of Ètienne-Jules Marey and Thomas Alva Edison, I therefore propose a second hypothesis, closely linked to the first: to begin with, cinema and, even earlier, photography, were created precisely in an interstice produced by the short-circuit between an invisible referent and forms of representation. Moreover, this short-circuit is nowhere as apparent as it is in the debate surrounding the depiction of movement that began in the second half of the nineteenth century, a debate that developed specifically in the field of physiology but went on to involve the fields of art as well.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
T Technology > TR Photography
Research Area: Economics and Institutional Change
Depositing User: Ms T. Iannizzi
Date Deposited: 20 Jan 2014 15:41
Last Modified: 20 Jan 2014 15:41
URI: http://eprints.imtlucca.it/id/eprint/2102

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