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Journal Article

Photographic Ambivalence and Historical Consciousness

Michael S. Roth
History and Theory
Vol. 48, No. 4, Theme Issue 48: Photography and Historical Interpretation (Dec., 2009), pp. 82-94
Published by: Wiley for Wesleyan University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25621441
Page Count: 13
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Photographic Ambivalence and Historical Consciousness
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Abstract

This essay focuses on three topics that arose at the Photography and Historical Interpretation conference: photography's incapacity to conceive duration; photography and the "rim of ontological uncertainty;" photography's "anthropological revolution." In the late nineteenth century, blindness to duration was conceptualized as the cost of photographic precision. Since the late twentieth century, blindness to our own desires, or inauthenticity, has been underlined as the price of photographic ubiquity. These forms of blindness, however, are not so much disabilities to be overcome as they are aspects of modern consciousness to be acknowledged. The engagement with photography's impact on historical consciousness gives rise to reconsiderations of temporal extension and to the difficulties of acknowledging one's desires in an increasingly open and fractured social field. Photography's indexicality combined with its reproducibility gives rise to photographic ambivalence. As with other forms of ambivalence, we should be less concerned with diluting its constitutive tensions than with learning to live with its conflicted possibilities.

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