This photo, taken from Google’s “streetview” team cameras captures a time and place that will never be able to be recreated in the exact same way again. The photo highlights an amazing view of a turtle floating above the coral and reef underwater with millions of little creatures and fish in the background. Obviously the aura created by physically being there at that moment and time when the photo was taken is ultimately the greatest and will surpass any display of the moment such as the picture, but that is the point of photography. Photography often portrays unique or spectacular views of a moment for others or the photographer to relive the aura felt in the presence at every future glance of the photo. Walter Benjamin describes this marvelously as “a distance as close as it can be” and a “strange weave of space and time”. Benjamin goes on to point out that photography loses it’s meaning and value as it loses its aura. Aura can be effected by an infinite number of things, but like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder. A painting we see may not even catch our eyes, but given the knowledge that the painting was created by a famous artist and was sold for thousands for even millions of dollars undoubtedly changes our perspective on that artworks aura. This also arises the thought of the “fake aura”; since aura is intangible it is often argued. The aura associated with original painting of the Mona Lisa gives it great value and meaning, but a recreation of the same artwork, even if the artwork is nearly identical, holds little to no similar value. This thought is a conflict in the art world, and for those who critisize the value of artwork.
While exploring google maps, I decided to show an image on Kukulaua Ave. in Honolulu, Hawaii. I chose this image because I have been to this exact spot and thought it was interesting seeing the street view on a computer. Here in this image, we see what seems to be a typical day in paradise. Although there is a lot of beauty to this image, one cannot fully expirience the “aura” of this place by just viewing an image of it from the internet. The “aura” that is talked about in Walter Benjamin’s article, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (6) is essentially the mood that is created by a piece. In this image, we see a beautiful blue sky, dozens of palm trees, and Waikiki beach. By only viewing the image, one misses out on the real sights, sounds, and smells of beautiful Hawaii. The aura that is created is warm and relaxing. By going to this place, I have experienced the warmth of the sun, the gentle breeze from the ocean, the feeling of the sand as you walk on the beach. All of these aspects are truly what affect the overall aura of this place. Benjamin says that the aura of an artistic piece cannot be found in a captured image. The images are what make the viewer feel distant. This is something I agree with. Although the image appears to be beautiful, The feeling of being in that actual place in much different.
Before mechanical reproduction, such as photography, a historical object would have reverence because of its worth and uniqueness. Now, we have advanced technology that allows us to reproduce historical objects. In Walter Benjamin’s article, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” he says that the aura of art is being destroyed through reproduction. The image above, from Google Earth, shows the street in front of Buckingham Palace in the United Kingdom. Since this picture is a reproduction, Benjamin would say that it lacks one element: “its presence in time and space” (3). Having a unique existence would give this picture authenticity and history. Of course this image has neither of these because it is a replica of the actual object: Buckingham Palace. The aura of Buckingham Palace, or the reverence toward it, decays in this photo because it is not the actual object. Instead, the aura created is fake, or kitsch. Aura decays when the object is reproduced such as through a photo. Benjamin says this is true because “reproduction as offered by picture magazines and newsreels differs from the image seen by the unarmed eye” (4). Benjamin also says that the uniqueness of art is its aura. So, as an object is reproduced, it is no longer unique and the aura decays. Many pictures of Buckingham Palace can be recreated through mechanical reproduction, including the image above. Every photo created is a form of mechanical reproduction and is not authentic. Benjamin explains this with the example of photographic negatives, saying “to ask for the ‘authentic’ print makes no sense” (5). With mechanical reproduction, authenticity and the aura in art deteriorates.
Here’s the picture and here is the permalink to the picture if you want to see a larger image.
Larger Image Here
This post will center focus on Walter Benjamin’s idea of the aura with relation to the image attached to this post. Benjamin’s idea of the aura is “the unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be” (4). He further goes on to say that this aura decays as it progresses. This is what I am aiming to represent in my image. Looking at it from left to right or top to bottom, one can see on the left the green tree with life; however, as it moves towards the right, this decay of death is seen through the tree on the left. This tree looks rather dead. This is also depicted in the image from top to bottom. The blue symbolizes life and moving down it gets cloudier until the plants are shown rather dead as well. The idea that auras degenerate over time is stated by Benjamin as well by stating that the masses remove the uniqueness of an item by having it constantly reproduced (4). This means that as more and more of the same reproductions come into availability, the item loses it’s value. I once read a book called The Cave by Jose Saramago who was a potter. He usually sells his items to a mall which would then sell his wares to buyers; however, this one day, his work is refused due to the reason that the bowls he makes out of ceramic have no more value or use because of the new plastic bowls that can be made and bought for cheaper for more profit.
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Tagged #Walter Benjamin, Art, Aura, Benjamin, Death, Decay, dtcv, Google, Google Street View, Images, Stuff, Tradition, Walter