Sunday Cinema: Blow-Up


Having a photographer for a Dad, I kind of had my head up my own ass as a kid in a tiny high school thinking I immediately knew all the things about the importance of photography before I studied it in college, but it's taken a bunch of stuff- like this here film "Blow-Up" to see that I pretty much know zilch, and that there can be almost nothing more essential to being a person than a change in perspective from time-to-time. 

And now, little context:
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, Blow-Up was shot in London during 1965. 
During the 60's fashion photography experienced a new kind of pop sensationalism. All of which started with photographers like David Bailey, Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton and William Klein. 

So, the film follows this dashing-yet-bossy asshole of a photographer played by David Hemmings, which is, essentially, the kind of personality one might expect expect from an artist who knows what he's doing. It's pretty much a day-in-the-life gone awry: He has a shoot with Veruschka in the morning (in a famous scene, which I'll get to in a bit), which makes him late for one fashion shoot after another, until finally, his nerves and boredom get the best of him, and he goes to a nearby park to shoot some photos for his own sake. After a run-in with some lovers he secretly photographs in the park, he later discovers, after developing the film, that he has photographed a murderer and a victim.

The film is of course, shot deliciously; mirroring a duality of precision and raw energy that (then) photographers channeled for their images. The cast is also just chock full of 60's icons like Jane Birkin and The Yardbirds, so you're constantly at the mercy of pretty faces and enviable creatures decked out in awesome clothes. It's a slow-moving film, but you're never in short supply of gorgeous imagery and fantastic performances.

And now, the takeaway:

About two years ago, I took an Aesthetics class at Parsons.
The class, taught by this dude named Paul Kottman (who was also a guidance counselor of mine), dealt in aesthetic philosophy, literature and the social factors which have an effect on the ways in which we perceive art. Our professor (wisely) chose Blow-Up as an excellent way to summarize some of the points made by Walter Benjamin in his seminal work The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. To quickly summarize, Benjamin sought to explore the ways in which a work of art might depend on contexts- such as reproductions, historical scenarios, subject matter, shifts in taste, and technical achievements in order to be considered a wholehearted original.

One of the most important elements of art that Benjamin describes is the "aura", or, the element in a work of art that its reproduction would lack; the truth, the essence of the moment and the artist. Photography is a funny thing, because it's an art from that 1) Relies on a machine with some technical expertise on the part of the photographer and 2) Is, inherently, the art of reproduction. When you have a negative of a photograph, you can print or expose it any time you'd like, so calling a photo an "original" is kind of impossible. 

For Benjamin, and as the subjects in Blow-Up demonstrate, everyone has their own aura, and everyone "gives it up" when they step in front of the lens of a camera to be photographed, and this is a very, very powerful thing. I mean, in the movie, when Hemmings' character is photographing Veruschka, in the heat of a very intense arch int he shoot, he shouts and orders her to "Give it to me!!" The "it" that he is referring to is the model's aura, the very essence of her presence in front of the lens that will make his work something of value.

Do you ever think about your aura? In this historical moment of blogs, instagrams, facebook... how much of our auras have we given up?  This, essentially, is part of what Blow-Up can teach us.

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