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Journal Article

Seeing and Saying: A Response to "Incongruous Images"

Geoffrey Batchen
History and Theory
Vol. 48, No. 4, Theme Issue 48: Photography and Historical Interpretation (Dec., 2009), pp. 26-33
Published by: Wiley for Wesleyan University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25621436
Page Count: 8
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Seeing and Saying: A Response to "Incongruous Images"
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Abstract

In responding to an essay by Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer about photographs taken in the streets of Chernivitsi (Czernowitz) in the 1940s, and thus in the midst of the Holocaust, this paper seeks to link their concerns to a broader consideration of photography as a modern phenomenon. In the process, the paper provides a brief history of street photography, a genre virtually ignored in standard histories of the photographic medium. The author suggests that Hirsch and Spitzer's paper bravely reminds us that our fascination with photographs is based not on truth, but on a combination of desire (our own desire to transcend death) and faith (in photography's ability to deliver this end, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary). Their account of street photography in Czernowitz thereby amounts to an interpretation of photographs as dynamic modes of apprehension rather than as static objects from the past that veridically represent it. It is precisely this aspect of photographs that makes them such unusually complicated, ambiguous, and incongruous historical objects.

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