28. “What Do Pictures Want?: the lives and loves of images” by W.J.T. Mitchell.

Storm Tharp will be visiting the OCAC campus today (@12:45pm in the Centrum Studio) as part of a series of monday talks with visiting artists. Many of his recent works on paper appear in the 2010 Whitney Biennial. The subjects of Tharp’s portraits seem to come alive—captured in the moment before an implied act.

As the bio on the Whitney’s website attests, the viewer is placed in the difficult position of having to reconcile the implied narratives that often present multiple or ambiguous readings: for example, “Is the woman clutching a knife in Pigeon (After Sunshen) defending herself or is she a vengeful murderess?” (from here).  Tharp’s portraits are strangely cinematic and draw attention to the intersection where portraiture and performance might meet.

After thinking about the work of Storm Tharp,  the library has selected for this week’s pick a book that questions “why do we respond so powerfully to the images and pictures we see in everyday life? Why do we behave as if pictures were alive, possessing the power to influence us, to persuade us, seduce us, or even lead us astray?” (from the book jacket).

The book is What Do Pictures Want?: the lives and loves of images by W.J.T. Mitchell.

Mitchell’s broad gaze spans across Byzantine Icons, the mass media, American Photography, found objects, and aboriginal painting. Mitchell, like Storm Tharp’s work, challenges the idea that images are mere “signs” or “inert objects” conveying some particular meaning for a viewer’s consumption and analysis; rather, Mitchell argues that images have “lives of their own”(194) “as animated beings” (50) with “desires and drives of their own” (book jacket). This work has significant implications for picture theory, but, more importantly, it provides a new framework in which to interpret and to be interpreted by the images that surround us.

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27 thoughts on “28. “What Do Pictures Want?: the lives and loves of images” by W.J.T. Mitchell.

  1. This is great. I love the idea that things can think – how very medieaval! I recall a cartoon of a man wearing one shoe standing beside a bog calling into the mud, ‘hello mr bogman, can you give me back my shoe!’ It’s also about how the modern world destroys this magic – John Fowles dates it to the arrival of electric lighting which abolished the mystery of dark corners.

  2. Great topic! In one of my classes I did a hypothetical exhibition for a museum on this similar subject, so I will be reading this book. I am very interested in Mitchell’s perspective on the subject. Thank you for putting this out there, you have great timing.
    Ali

  3. Ooh. This reminds me of a book that I bought in Paris years ago, Photographies 1985-1998 by the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard (http://www.bookdepository.com/Jean-Baudrillard-Jean-Baudrillard/9783893229840). As someone with a keen interest in photography and a love (albeit a bit of a long lost one) of philosophy, I return to this every so often to try to see things from a different angle. The essay can be found here:

    http://www.egs.edu/faculty/jean-baudrillard/articles/photographies/

  4. Primitive peoples didn’t allow their photos to be taken; they feared that their souls would be taken from them.
    People once laughed at that idea. Now they write books about it. And so it goes —

  5. Digging the blog content. 🙂 I’m a BA at a small liberal arts college in Louisiana, and this is definitely stuff some is are interested in! Keep up the good work and please check out my page in depth! It’s my working portfolio and any professional opinion is much appreciated.

  6. Got to get Mitchell’s book — thanks! It reminds me of a great book by Villem Flusser on photography in which he makes the point (and I am paraphrasing here because it has been a while since I read it) that the camera makes demands of us, that we humans are in service of it. The way I read this, photography by making certain things possible induces us to act certain ways (like language — because it has the ability to rhyme, we create poems). Anyway, it seems there is some parallel here (or maybe not) to Mitchell’s work and I cannot wait to have the time to read it…. Thanks!

  7. I love this idea – that pictures “want” something. That helps me better understand why I am attracted to the pictures I am attracted to – they are calling to me, calling something they want out of me. Interesting! Thanks so much for this. Wish I lived in Oregon so I could come and see some of the great things you do.

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