Readings, and Related Inspirations

Synthesizing Readings


First I’d like to state that this week’s class, despite the absence of our instructor, was quite helpful and enlightening. I think my post here would be much different if it weren’t for a good head-filling review of the stuff.

Perhaps the best place to start when addressing the readings as a unit (or perhaps system of theory might be a better label) is with this:

It all begins with the photograph – the new technology that would forever alter the way humans view… well… anything. We could easily compare its invention with that of the printing press, and I believe Benjamin does (please correct me if I’m wrong), because of its affect on the potential distribution of the image.

From here, we can connect and synthesize all the messages from the theoretical readings we’ve been indulging in over the last few weeks. We can read them as signs, denoting obvious intentions, anchored in text, or free floating, no text at all. Below, I offer a working definition of my own nostalgia as it works with Space and Place as Benjamin and later Crary set it down. Each of the following seashore images holds a nostalgic connotation for me, and I never even thought of them as landscape – until now…


This is the Huntington Beach Pier. You don’t ever have to go there to know what it looks like. In fact, it’s one of the more famously viewed, famously photographed/filmed piers in SoCal. That’s probably got something to do with the Van’s Pier Classic that happens there every year:

All Credit for this Photo goes to Morgan Arnold @

I grew up here. I spent a huge portion of my early childhood underneath those beams eating Thrifty icecream and running from my older brother as he chased me with armfuls of seaweed. And you need never go there to imagine what it might have been like for me. Under the pier:

The above photos do not have cult value. They are not unique. I can take my point-and-shoot to these very locations and replicate almost the exact image. Or I can just republish someone else’s as I’ve done above. I can even cross time boundaries. I have photos of this very pier as it existed in the 1980’s, when there was an ice cream shop on the end. Not the End Cafe that was only there a few years. Not the Ruby’s that’s there now. A storm came when I was very small and swept away the end of the pier. The ice cream shop had a giant pink ice cream cone on the top. I watched that old ice cream cone float away. And people took pictures of that too. I would put them here if I were at my mother’s house, where the old photos are kept in an old box, in a closet no one ever opens. And I could scan those old photos up and share them with someone in… Zimbabwe, or Kuwait, or Laos. As long as that person has a computer.

Text in – black box – image out — Ones and Zeros

Vilem Flusser tells us that we are nearing (or arguably in, now) a post-historic age in which “magic will be meant to manipulate people.” (303). And indeed it does. Moving pictures (television, movies, internet videos) use static images juxtaposed in sequence and feed into my vision at 24 frames per second (ideally) in order to show me dazzling images – sell me items – get me hooked on a music video – a beautiful scene – a nostalgic bit of landscape, dialogue… anything I can imagine that I want to see – or very much do not want to see… it’s all possible.

This is Valerie Robin:

She dances with the Joffrey Ballet Company. Sometimes people contact me to ask whether or not I am she. I am not. Clearly. But in the black box, I could be. Information in – image out.

On the internet, I can look up Valerie Robin and find a lot of photos of her:

In both images, Valerie Robin is arguably presented to us as an object. She is after all, both a woman and a dancer. She is both a work of art as a dancer, and presented as art when photographed or filmed. She is even presented in an ad – as Berger tells us the progression of art becomes… eventually:

All we need in order to make a connection with “literary art” as Berger calls it, is a little Degas.

A painting like this which is normally housed at the Musee D’Orsay under special lighting because it’s a pastel, not an oil as one might expect, ceases to be as special as it was before the advent of the photograph. I can buy a print of it with the click of a mouse. It’s called The Star should you be so inclined.

And because it has been reproduced, in a print I can hold in my hand and inside this black box you call a computer, guys like Berger can now theorize about the presentation of the dancer. Mitchell can ask what it wants.

And what does it want? Does The Star want to be presented like an object? Does it want to be under low lights, trapped in Paris with other pastels, silent in a black case? Does it want to be a reflection of the objectified nude? Does it want to be the obvious inspiration for commercial art/adverts to come?

If Degas isn’t an inspiration for Little Ballerina, I don’t know what is. Maybe nothing.

And in all of this – we still have our audience to think about. According to Crary, perception can be delineated as a conscious process. He cites physicist Andre-Marie Ampere (accents not included) as saying that “any perception always blends with a preceding or remember perception” (Crary 11). And whether we’re talking afterimage, or a remake of an old image into a new, the audience is a part of it, as long as they can consciously participate in the viewing process. And as long as we have a historical consciousness.

The black box – the television, the cinema, the interwebs – all of these mediums make us potentially aware that we are viewers. We even often think in cinematic terms. All of us have wished we could clean our house or do our homework in a montage (and if you haven’t, you will now), but it’s not possible. If you’ve ever played a First Person Shooter game for a lengthy period of time, you’ve pictured yourself viewing the ‘real’ world through a scope. If you’ve watched enough action films, you’ve pictured yourself scaling buildings, jumping impossible fences, or taking out people that get in the elevator to take it up only one floor (though this last one may just be me). In this way, we are all at once a spectator, a subject of study as viewers, and a part of the machine of production (Crary 20).

All made possible by the reproducible, portable photograph and all its offspring.

Thank you, Camera Obscura, for making it all possible.


5 thoughts on “Synthesizing Readings

  1. Yo! Good post Valerie, I’m trying to figure out what to say in mine to draw it all together and this is about what I’d aim for, the flowing narrative.

    As a matter of fact.. I think I figured out how I’m going to approach mine (straight rip you off, more or less). Much thanks, eheh

  2. Pingback: How Far Back Do We Have To Go? Ideas For a Research Paper « Fail Better

  3. Hey Valarie. A small aside. My son works at Hollister (a teen clothing store) and they have a live video feed from Huntington Beach Pier playing in the stores.

  4. Vilem Flusser tells us that we are nearing (or arguably in, now) a post-historic age in which “magic will be meant to manipulate people.”

    There’s that “magic” again. Several of your posts have framed images in terms of their magic. I wonder if Flusser or Barthes fleshed out the “magic” of pictures a little more in the texts we haven’t read? And I wonder how this idea of magic might affect whatever it is that pictures want.

    Furthermore, are pictures still magical? Or, as Benjamin writes, do they lose their magic with reproduction? In an age where we’re inundated with images, do we still recognize their magic?

    I don’t have any answers here, just some random thoughts…

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