The unmaking of aura

The unmaking of aura, 1988-2024

I recorded these photographs between 1988 and 1990 with a large format (‘5×4 inch’) view camera on sheets of colour transparency film. The transparencies were then printed on paper in short editions using the ‘dye transfer’ technique, a beautiful and archival but nowadays obsolete photographic enlargement process. Some prints were individually mounted, framed, sold or gifted, but most remained unseen and packed away – until the pandemic.

In his 1935 essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin scrutinised the loss of emotional presence or ‘aura’ in art accompanying artificially reproduced and reproducible imagery, typified by the medium of photography. These not-quite-identical photographic replications exemplify the power and success of industrial culture, manifest in Benjamin’s ‘mechanical reproduction’. Ironically, the predicament of nature, the subject of these pictures, is comparable to that of the art they purport to be. The images portray situations as they were, not as they are now or will become: altered by time but also, more profoundly, by human activity. The same industrial culture that has dampened the aura of art is the cause of nature’s increasing inability to maintain and replicate itself. Thus, a far greater aura is being lost: the aura of nature, the more-than-human-world. Originally made as celebrations of faith in nature’s value in-itself and to humanity, these duplicated prints have instead become metaphors for the more-than-human-world’s faltering fecundity.

The twelve images reproduced in these print sequences are also available as individual inkjet prints as described in the colour landscapes section.