Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in the one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. . . . The presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity. . . . The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced. Since the historical testimony rests on the authenticity, the former, too, is jeopardized by reproduction when substantive duration ceases to matter. . . . One might subsume the eliminated element in the term "aura" and go on to say: that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art.
Benjamin believes that
mechanical objectivity unmakes tradition, by
substituting "a plurality of copies for a unique existence." Sontag
points out that even if an image if infinitely reproducible, specific
renditions of the image can gain the trappings of age, the meaning
acquired through history. She writes, "Photographs, when they get
scrofolous, tarnished, stained, cracked, faded still look good; do often
look better. (In this, as in other ways, the art that photography does
resemble is architexture, whose works are subject to the same inexorable
promotion through the passage of time; many buildings, and not only the
Parthenon, probably look better as ruins." "The photographer," she says,
"is willy-nilly engaged in the enterprise of antiquating reality, and
photographs are themselves instant antiques . . . [that] make nature
suggestive -- suggestive of the past.
Last Modified: Tuesday, 26-Feb-2008 14:47:52 EST