Walter Benn Michaels is an American literary theorist, known as the author of Our America: Nativism, Modernism and Pluralism (1995) and The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History (2004). Michaels’s work has generated a set of arguments and questions around a host of issues that are central to literary studies: problems of culture and race, identities national and personal, the difference between memory and history, disagreement and difference, and meaning and intention in interpretation.Michaels gained his BA in 1970 and PhD in 1975 from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Afterwards, he taught at Johns Hopkins University (1974–1977, 1987–2001) and the University of California, Berkeley (1977–1987). Since 2001, he has taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago.His study of American Naturalism, The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism; American Literature at the Turn of the Century, was published in 1987. Michaels is a renowned teacher. His article “Against Theory”, co-written with Steven Knapp, is included in the Norton Anthology of Literary Criticism. He is currently Professor in the Department of English, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he served as Head from 2001-2007. Michaels has also written key texts on photography, including “Photography and Fossils”, written in 2007.
Written on February 28, 2011 at 8:42 pm, by ozujiro
Transient Imaging Camera
“To most of us, seeing what’s around the corner before rounding the bend is known as premonition. For students and professors at MIT’s Media Lab, it’s called physics. The lab is working on a laser-based camera that can snap images around corners, imaging scenery that is beyond direct line of sight.The camera works by incorporating complex computer algorithms with blasts from a femtosecond laser that issues ultra-short bursts of light lasting just one quadrillionth of a second. Those intense light bursts charge forward and illuminate a scene – even a scene around the corner from the source – sending photons bouncing around the area. Some of those photons make it back to the camera, which uses aforementioned complex computer mathematics to rebuild the scene around the corner, pixel by pixel.”
Written on February 18, 2011 at 2:02 pm, by ozujiro
Trevor Paglen – Frontier Photography
“Blank spots on maps of the West were and often was – possible. With the advent of industrialized mining, men learned to move mountains to extract almost unimaginable riches. In the process they laid waste to the land with a speed and totality as breathtaking as the train and telegraph’s contemporaneous annihilation of space with time. The frontier was a space where old-world caste systems might be left behind and a man might become rich by simply being in the right place at the right time. This sense of possibility, of course, came with exceptional violence: fifty years before Conrad penned Heart of Darkness, Nevada newspapers openly advocated solving the “Indian problem” by “exterminating the whole race.”
It is not a coincidence that these landscapes were also some of landscape photography’s greatest proving grounds.”
Written on February 18, 2011 at 1:54 pm, by ozujiro
Neoliberal Aesthetics: Fried, Rancière and the Form of the Photograph
“If, in other words, Rancière is right to see a certain egalitarian ambition in a photography that seeks to embrace its “poverty” (embrace the limitations on the photographer’s intentionality, embrace the indexicality that links the photograph irreducibly to its subject), it’s an egalitarianism of a very particular kind – the kind that’s critical of hierarchies of vision but has no purchase on the hierarchies embodied in rising Gini coefficients and the redistribution of wealth upwards that is at the heart of neoliberalism. The political meaning of the refusal of form (the political meaning of the critique of the work’s “coherence”) is the indifference to those social structures that, not produced by how we see, cannot be overcome by seeing differently. It’s this refusal of form that is thus as the heart of neoliberal aesthetics.”
Excerpt from Walter Benn Michael’s, ”Neoliberal Aesthetics: Fried, Rancière and the Form of the Photograph”, 2011
Written on February 18, 2011 at 10:14 am, by ozujiro
Walter Benn Michaels – Photography and Fossils
“The fossils Sugimoto has chosen are, it’s true, very beautiful but then some sunsets are very beautiful and some rocks are and some mountains are. We don’t think of sunsets as belonging to the history of art. But Sugimoto says that fossils do; in fact, he says, they are “the oldest form of art.” And they are particularly relevant to his show, he thinks, because they provide a kind of genealogy for his own art, photography: fossils, he says, are a kind of “pre-photography.” So even though photography “is a novel medium of artistic expression, far newer than painting and sculpture, which date back to the early days of humanity,” it is also far older than painting and sculpture and older even than “humanity.” Photography is the first art, pre-historic, pre-human.”
Written on February 14, 2011 at 8:06 am, by ozujiro
Vilém Flusser – The Photographic Universe
“To be in the photographic universe means to experience, to know and to evaluate the world as a function of photographs. Every single experience, every single bit of knowledge, every value can be reduced to individually known and evaluated photographs. And every single action can be analyzed through the individual photos taken as models. This type of existence, then, in which everything experienced, known and evaluated can be reduced to punctuated elements (into ‘bits’), is already familiar: It is the world of robots. The photographic universe and all apparatus-based universes robotize the human being and society.”
Excerpt from “Towards a Philosophy of Photography,” 1983
Written on February 10, 2011 at 10:21 pm, by ozujiro
James Welling: WAR, 2005
Steel Stillman: Let’s talk about “War” , a series of computer-generated images that intimate real-world destruction, and darkly evoke the real-world spaces we spend ever more time in.
James Welling: I wanted to make a body of work about the bombings and destruction that were so pervasive in Iraq in 2005. With the help of an assistant who knew the software, I began to experiment with a 3-D program called Maya. With the computer, we created 64 cubelike shapes, arranged them on a grid, like a city block, and smashed nearly half of them. I then flew through this exploded landscape with the mouse, took frame grabs and made a series of black-and-white prints. As with the foil and drapery pictures, I was less focused on what these images were of than on what they called to mind.
Steel Stillman: You once said that a photograph records the thing in front of it and the conditions of its making. What did you mean?
James Welling: There is a narrative behind every image. I often imagine being able to see the photographer standing behind the camera, or perhaps crouching or running with it. Even an ugly, abject photograph bears the record of its making. When I was at Cal Arts, my ambition was to create dense objects, works in which many lines of thought converge. That is still my goal.
Excerpt from “In the Studio, James Welling and Steel Stillman,” February 11, 2011, Art In America
Written on February 4, 2011 at 3:06 pm, by ozujiro
The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence
Susie Linfield, director of the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at New York University, is a journalist and critic whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Boston Review, Bookforum, The Nation, and other publications. Her book, The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence, is available from the University of Chicago Press.
IT TOOK ME A LONG TIME—several years—to figure out how the different subjects I was writing about, and the different arguments I was making, were connected to each other. My magazine editors were saying, “You should be writing a book,” but it took an internal push to write it; I had to find the intellectual thread to connect and develop these disparate arguments. Ironically, I am a very squeamish person when it comes to violence. I don’t even watch the beginning of Law and Order: SVU; I don’t want to see bloody bodies, even though they’re fake, as entertainment. Looking at images of the Holocaust, and of children deliberately mutilated during the recent civil wars in Africa––which are definitely not fake––was emotionally grueling. I went through periods of great desolation while I was writing, which is probably reflected in the book.
But it seemed necessary to look closely at such images in part because of what I view as the weakness of much photography criticism. I teach criticism and read a lot of it, and some years ago I realized how different photography criticism can be in tone and approach from criticism of film, or music, or other cultural forms. Pauline Kael, Greil Marcus, and others are very immersed in their subjects; they write analytically and critically but with love. By contrast, Susan Sontag and her postmodern heirs in the realm of photography criticism were very removed from, even hostile to, the subjects they discuss. That observation, in concert with lessons derived from reading Brecht at the same time (albeit for different purposes), highlighted for me the antipathy to subject matter and the antipathy to emotion in books like On Photography.
It is precisely an attention to subject matter that propelled several of the book’s arguments. On the one hand, the depiction of atrocities and of physical suffering is today much, much more explicit than it was seventy-five years ago. I use James Nachtwey’s images from the past few decades as an example. If you compare his photographs to those of say, Robert Capa or David “Chim” Seymour, you can see how photography today is far more graphic; it gets much closer to physical agony than it once did. There are several reasons for that. But one of the things that makes looking at such images especially difficult today is that we no longer have the same kind of moral and political framework to help us understand the violence. Capa’s photos of the Spanish Civil War, or of China after the Japanese invasion, were very clear on political context. You knew what to do with your anger and your horror. Today, looking at images from Sierra Leone or the Congo, one can feel horror, disgust, and great sadness—but what to do in response is much less apparent. Which of the twelve militias now fighting in the Congo do you support? Visual atrocity is much clearer today, but we no longer have the political clarity to accompany it.
At the same time, a lot of what passes for “visual literacy” today is merely visual cynicism. People, especially young people, are very used to saying “photographs lie,” to pointing out how images are manipulated by Photoshop or other means. Such suspicion and skepticism aren’t entirely bad, but I don’t think of that as visual literacy. I don’t urge either naive acceptance or cynical rejection of photos of political violence; the book makes a plea for us to use photographs of atrocity as starting points to engage with very complicated histories and very specific political crises. If we want to construct a politics of human rights that isn’t merely an abstraction, we need to look at these photographs of suffering, degradation, and defeat. We need to think clearly not only about the relationships among these images, how they function and what they communicate in aggregate, but about the specific conditions each one depicts, no matter how disturbing, shaming, and bewildering an experience that may be.
Now that Google has conquered a majority of the earth’s major streets with itsGoogle Street View project, the company is starting to move inside. It’s creating the Google Art Project, a virtual equivalent of 17 major art museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Britain and National Gallery in London, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, among many others.
Amit Sood, director of the project, said in a company blog post that the documentation of major museums began when a small group of Google employees with a passion for art started wondering how they could make major art museums, and the works they house, more accessible to people worldwide.
The new art project is housed at an interactive Web site,Googleartproject.com. Once inside the site, viewers can travel through a museum’s interior through the same technology used to navigate city streets on Google Maps and Google Earth. People can move from room to room within the virtual space; over 1,000 artworks painted by 400 artists can be seen.
Mr. Sood said the artworks were documented using an extremely high resolution technology, “gigapixel,” which allows people to zoom into the images to see detailed brush strokes and the subtlety of each artist. “Each of these images contains around 7 billion pixels—that’s around 1,000 times more detailed than your average digital camera,” Mr. Sood wrote.
The museum project is one of a number of digital explorations taking place in museums today as these venerable institutions struggle to adapt to the changing digital world.
The video below shows a behind-the-scenes look at the Google Art team building the site.