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Dimensions:
200 × 120 × 10 mm
160 pages
Format:
Paperback
ISBN:
9781780235257
Illustrations:
31 illustrations
Published:
01 Sep 2015

On Photography Esther Leslie, Walter Benjamin
Translated by Esther Leslie

Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘A Short History of Photography’ (1931) made bold statements about photographic pioneers such as David Octavius Hill and Nicéphore Niépce, and the social and historical context of their work. This first selection of Benjamin’s writings on photography includes a new translation of this influential essay as well as a range of Benjamin’s other writings, both published and unpublished, some of which are translated into English for the first time here.



Esther Leslie’s introduction covers Benjamin’s writing on early photographic methods and aesthetics; his analysis of the commercial studio photography of the ‘decadent’ bourgeoisie; the use of photographs in scientific research; and other innovative photographic methods such as the ‘auraless’ images of Eugène Atget and the ‘new visions’ of August Sander and Germaine Krull. Leslie discusses Benjamin’s take on the evolution of photography into a modern form, the universal fascination with the seemingly simple postcard – an interest dating back to Benjamin’s own childhood – as well as the special relationship he found between Paris and the photographic method.



As a notable philosopher, critic and uniquely imaginative thinker, Benjamin’s essays offer a fascinating critique of early photography. With a substantial introduction, contextualizing prefaces and comprehensive glossaries, Esther Leslie guides the reader through Walter Benjamin’s multifaceted engagement with the significance of photography.

‘Esther Leslie soars where many of her contemporaries fall flat. In On Photography: Walter Benjamin, Leslie has produced an attractive, erudite, readable yet sophisticated work on Benjamin . . . Leslies stellar work may be described as comprising the most comprehensive treatment thus far of Benjamins engagement with photography . . . Leslie provides a substantial overview of Benjamin followed by short introductions to his diverse writings about photography, both published and unpublished. One of the novel features of this book is Leslies fine translation of Benjamins Short History of Photography (1931), which overlaps many of the ideas in his more famous work of art essay . . . Esther Leslies next turn in Walter Benjamin scholarship is to focus on him as storyteller, which is likely to yield books and articles at least as superb as her current work on Benjamin and photography.’ — Jewish Quarterly

‘A brilliant digest of Benjamins life . . . It draws on a mass of texts, including his accounts of a privileged Berlin upbringing and travel diaries. [Leslie] presents a definitive portrait of Benjamin the materialist, lingers on his obsession with childrens books, and makes excellent use of German sources to detail his movements and finances.’ — The Independent


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Esther Leslie is Professor of Political Aesthetics in the School of English and Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London. She is the author of Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism (2000), Hollywood Flatlands: Critical Theory, Animation and the Avant-garde (2002) Synthetic Worlds: Nature, Art and the Chemical Industry (Reaktion, 2005), and the editor and translator of On Photography by Walter Benjamin (Reaktion, 2015).

Esther Leslie is Professor of Political Aesthetics in the School of English and Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London. She is the author of Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism (2000), Hollywood Flatlands: Critical Theory, Animation and the Avant-garde (2002) Synthetic Worlds: Nature, Art and the Chemical Industry (Reaktion, 2005), and the editor and translator of On Photography by Walter Benjamin (Reaktion, 2015).

Introduction: Walter Benjamin and the Birth of Photography

Esther Leslie



Small History of Photography (1931)



Nothing Wrong with the Illustrated Press! (1925)



Letter to Grete Cohn (16 October 1927)



New Things about Flowers (1928)



Paris, the City in the Mirror: Declarations of Love by Poets and Artists to the ‘Capital of the World’ (1929)



The Wall (c. 1932-4)



Review of Gisèle Freund’s La Photographie en France au dix-neuvième siècle. Essai de sociologie et d’esthétique (1938)



Acknowledgements

Photo Acknowledgements