This article explores Walter Benjamin's famous concept of the aura in relation to his writings on photography. Although Benjamin's “Artwork” essay charges photography with the decline of the aura of the traditional artwork, his essay on photography complicates this historical narrative, associating aura with early portrait photography but also with its successor, the commercial studio portrait. The childhood photograph of Franz Kafka, whose melancholy air serves Benjamin as an example of a paradoxical, post-auratic aura, recurs in his childhood memoirs, where the narrator projects himself into this picture. Benjamin's writings on photography thus develop an alternative concept of aura, one which transcends fixed historical or technological categories through the model of an imaginary encounter between viewer and image. This conception has far-reaching consequences not only for the theory of photography but also for its role within literature, as is suggested by Benjamin's empathetic engagement with the Kafka photograph and its incorporation into his own life story.
Carolin Duttlinger; Imaginary Encounters: Walter Benjamin and the Aura of Photography. Poetics Today 1 March 2008; 29 (1): 79–101. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-2007-018
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