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Rosalind KRauss :: PhotogRaPhic discouRses

In her the two articles When Words Fail, and A Note on Photography and the Simulacral, Rosalind Krauss engages in a critical analysis of various discourses that revolve around different elements of the photographic discipline and practice. The first of these two articles, When Words Fail, is a response to the claim that photography, and the new vision that it gave rise to, has usurped writing as the preferred tool of memory and means of textual communication. Within this line of thought, individuals are encouraged to forget reading and just See! Krauss takes exception to this assertion; she feels that it misrepresents the relationship that has been historically established and sustained between vision, photography, and writing. The article engages in a critical analysis of this issue by tracing through a series of genre images, such as Herbert Bayers Self Portrait, where the photograph documents the presence of what appear to be the artist-photographers hands. According to Krauss these pictures demonstrate an early fascination with conceptualizing the camera as both an artificial limb (a prosthetic of memory) and as a means of personally directed authorship (a tool for writing.) While the camera facilitated the construction of a new vision, this vision was considered to be that of the cameras and not of the individuals. As a result the hands within the shot are there as if to both crowd out this vision and reappropriate that as a space of personal authorship and agency. The repetitive pairing of these hands with tools for writing works to add a byline in which it isnt simply a matter of visual authorship but one of light writing. In this sense, photography in inextricably linked to both writing and the hand. As a result, to say that photography has usurped writing is a faulty statement in that photography is writing and always involves an element of writing and therefore cannot over-take it. In A Note on Photography and the Simulacral, Krauss engages in a critical analysis of various proposed methods of approaching and constructing a discourse that is unique to photography. She begins by using a series of images that appeared on French television segments titled Une Minute Pour Une Image to demonstrate the ways in which the vision of photography introduced by Bourdieu worked to restrict its essential capacity to a purely sociological existence; there is nothing unique or essential to photography, it exists only through the practices of the common man. While Bourdieus analysis of the discipline has provided some fruitful discussions regarding how photography works to establish and maintain social structures, the framework that he builds around it precludes the possibility that it be considered properly aes-

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thetic (a consideration along these lines is seen as an articulation of class as opposed to something that denotes the essential properties of photography) and therefore makes his socially founded theorizing irrelevant within the realm of art criticism. As a result of these factors, Krauss dismisses his perspective as a meaningful discourse through which to consider photography. n the second half of the article, Krauss outlines two alternate perspectives that reveal a discourse that is proper to photography by situating the relationship between photograph and copy at the centre of their approach. In the first case, the photograph makes the experience of the reality effect explicit. It is exemplified by the works of Cindy Sherman in which the various unities of art, such as that of the artist figure, explode as a result of the open recognition of the copy and its inauthenticity. While this first case draws upon a work of fine-art photography, the second is situated within commercial photography. According to Krauss, advertising images such as those done by Irving Penn, capitalize on the notion that photography acts as a simulacral copy and use this vision to construct and perpetuate various potentially faulty visions of the world. While Krauss briefly laments the fact that this essential discourse that is revealed is not an aesthetic one, she immediately acknowledges that it has significant implications for Art in general in so far as it constructs a transferable metalanguage that facilitates a project of deconstruction in which art is distanced and separated from itself (16). What remains similar to Bourdieu in this case is that the function of photography lies outside the frame of the print while still being formally established within it. Krauss fails to disconnect the photograph from the referent in this case and therefore necessarily locates this essential discourse within transcendental terms. While in many ways this is to be expected, much of Krauss work engages in post-structural deconstructionism, it would be interesting to see how this discourse would hold up or be amended given digitization and the capacity to amend photos such that there is no absolute connection to the real world.

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