What Photography Is.

Text by James Elkins.
Routledge, New York, 2011. 240 pp., 5½xx½".



Publisher's Description

In What Photography Is, James Elkins examines the strange and alluring power of photography in the same provocative and evocative manner as he explored oil painting in his best-selling What Painting Is. In the course of an extended imaginary dialogue with Roland Barthes's Camera Lucida, Elkins argues that photography is also about meaninglessness--its apparently endless capacity to show us things that we do not want or need to see--and also about pain, because extremely powerful images can sear permanently into our consciousness. Extensively illustrated with a surprising range of images, the book demonstrates that what makes photography uniquely powerful is its ability to express the difficulty--physical, psychological, emotional, and aesthetic--of the act of seeing.

Review Quotes  
'The most exciting feature for me of this fascinating book was its articulation of the importance of writing in our engagement with photography. Writing for Elkins means the capacity to elicit articulate intensity in the tracking of the intricate turns and balances that can, and should, take place in a mind responding to expressive non-discursive materials. Here the distinctive feature of photography as a medium is not the punctum or the pursuit of sublimity but the photograph's powers for producing self-reflexive attention to how the work makes us see our own seeing--a power that is at risk when we become proud of the rhetorics that displace what the engagements of distinctive writing can bring to our attention.' Charles Altieri, University of California, Berkeley  'In an impassioned dialogue with Roland Barthes, Jim Elkins argues that photography is not 'about' representation and memory those aspects of the Barthean punctum; rather, photography is 'at war with our attention.'


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