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Photographic Ambivalence and Historical Consciousness
History and Theory (2009)
  • Michael S Roth, Wesleyan University

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.

  • Photography,
  • duration,
  • Bergson,
  • Henri; Barthes,
  • Roland; Doane,
  • Mary Ann; presence,
  • absence,
  • ambivalence,
  • index,
  • contingency
Publication Date
December, 2009
Citation Information
Michael S Roth. "Photographic Ambivalence and Historical Consciousness" History and Theory Iss. Theme Issue 48 (2009)
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