An Encounter with Time and Place through Walter Benjamin’s Aura: Sally Mann and the Deep South

By Samantha Wilson.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper explores the concept of aura, defined within three of Walter Benjamin’s texts including: “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, “Little History of Photography”, and “Some Motifs in Baudelaire”. Its primary concern is the role of the aura in understanding the natural, nonhuman object and the effect of its reproduction in early and contemporary photography. In this vein, the paper fleshes out the concept through an analysis of American photographer Sally Mann, specifically the southern landscapes, which form her collection published under the title, “Deep South”. I hope to provide evidence of the capacity of the aura to undermine modern (and postmodern) ways of seeing and appreciating natural landscapes, and develop new theoretical uses for the concept in the larger discourse of environmental aesthetics. Aura, as a structure of perception, allows each subject to reconsider the boundaries between nature and self. It forces the individual to consider the modern problem of place through an embedded experience of time.

Keywords: Environmental Aesthetics, Memory of Place, Walter Benjamin, Aura, Sally Mann, Photographic Technology, Landscape Theory

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp.39-50. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1018.818KB).

Samantha Wilson

PhD Student, Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Samantha Wilson is a PhD student in the Film and Moving Image Studies program at Concordia University. She completed her Bachelor degree at Trent University with a double major in philosophy and cultural studies, as well as a specialization in image, sound, and performance. She went on to the University of St. Andrews where the focus of her thesis was on intrinsic value in environmental ethics. After completing her MLitt in philosophy, she remained engaged with environmental theory, and is currently completing research on the formal use of landscape in early cinema and both modern and postmodern theories of the sublime. Her other research interests include: Avant-garde and experimental film; indigenous media; film and photographic technology; Romantic landscape painting; philosophy of art and critical theory, specifically the Frankfurt School and Marxism.