Blog Post #2: Connecting Visual and Literary Observations

February 22nd, 2011



Through his journal entries in, Complete Prose Works, Walt Whitman attempts to capture the memories of a historic moment through his writings; through his imagery, his literary techniques etc.  He describes in intimate details his time spent as a war nurse during the Civil War.  In correlation to the article, Albums of War: On Reading Civil War Photographs by Alan Trachtenberg, Whitman’s entries give off a very interesting debate tacking actual visual observation (i.e. a photograph, a stereograph) against observations through literary works – observations that one must create internally through their mind and imagination.  Whitman used his diary as a way to express his true and very personal views on the Civil War.  He was a supporter of the Union, but altogether believed the war itself was something that was inevitable.  He laughed at the naivety of the citizens – especially in the North – for they believed this infamous war would last merely months.  Whitman uses colorful metaphors and spiteful imagery to enhance the experience and assessments he racked up during this time.  In Trachtenberg’s article he discusses the significance of the photographic works like those of shutterbugs Mathew B. Brady, Alexander Gardner, and George P. Barnard.  Trachtenberg discusses the impact each picture had in truly expressing the atmosphere of the Civil War.  And while Brady seemed to be more of a “face” to Civil War photography than the true backbone and essence, Barnard and Gardner used their works in a way to show the raw emotions and feel of the bloodied battlefields.  These images were created in an attempt to influence and shape history; they were a way to elongate such a historical moment into the precursor of generations to come.  In the same way, that is what Whitman was trying to do as well – but instead of using actual visual representation to be observed – he wanted his audience to be able to envision and interpret the actuality of the scenes he witnessed however they wanted to see it.  He even goes as far as to set up the entire surroundings of his subject – but at the same time, leaves a bit of vagueness – that way the reader has a plethora of options in construing the situations at hand.  While he does divulge frequently into his own personal opinions, he is as well trying to create a world where history and literature are connected; almost as if literature can mend and shape history, at least the understandings of it through our own psyche.  Trachtenberg’s article takes more of a literal and clinical view than Whitman’s does, but he is in the same respect trying to determine how photography shapes our views and observations of the subjects at hand.  The photograph gives us a direct and realistic image; it is exactly what the person saw when they took the picture.  In the article Trachtenberg uses the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes to express an ideal view on photography: “Undeniably, Holmes writes, the photographs represent actuality; better than the hand of a fallible human artist the ‘honest sunshine’ provides at least ‘some conception of what a repulsive, brutal, sickening, hideous thing’ war is” (AT 295).  Here the debate is enhanced; does photography and its actuality to a particular moment give a more truthful and accurate historical lesson, or does the representation of a moment through the interpretations of someone else (in this case Whitman) give a better understanding to those who were there to partake in it?  Which method of vision allows the viewer to get the real story of a moment in time – like the true foul nature that defines war?  In my own personal opinion, I feel as though both the written word and the actuality of a photograph together create the true essence of retelling history.  Trachtenberg combines the ideas of abstract and objective imagery when discussing how the captions and explanations of photographs by Barnard and Gardner affected the core of the photograph.  When this combination is done correctly, Trachtenberg points out that, “The text weaves the image into its own narrative of the eye of the [Battle of Bull Run], a moment of light-hearted innocence, the laughing young soldiers ‘hardly realizing in the contagion of their patriotic ardor the grim meaning of real war’” (AT 301).  The combination of both theories truly gives the most accurate depiction of a scene.  While a photographer captures the reality of a group of soldiers laughing at any given moment, the writer throws in the insight that out there beyond the scope of the camera, the truth of war is staring them dead in the face.

Blog Post 1: Turner as a modern artist

February 7th, 2011

Jackie Weber    Blog post #1                  Senior Seminar 391W    Professor Zino

J.M.W Turner became one of the most prominent artists of the new Romantics movement; his works were sometimes seen as controversial due to his brush strokes and the ideals he was trying to portray on his canvas.  He modernized his works through his love for painting landscape art, opposed to the historical artwork of his time.  He wanted to show his love for humankind by incorporating them into his images of destruction – but at the same time he wanted to show how as people, we are completely vulnerable to the “sublime” and to mother nature.  Turner used a new way of thinking to form his paintings; he wanted his paintings to show how the eye interprets vision.  This created a huge turn in the history of visual culture.  Turner was coming from a culture that used a very innovative, yet very straight forward way of viewing art work.  The Camera Obscura was a way people could view art work, or create their own; the box itself created the images upside down, but the colors and the lighting was the same.  This was one of the foundations for the creations of the camera.  Turner took these straight forward images and turned them on their head.  For starters, his paintings are abstract.  They are hazy and sometimes hard to really comprehend at first since there is a lot going on and he uses very loose brushstrokes.  But, Turner knew that in order to keep the observer interested, you would have to keep the observer guessing, so one would need to be innovative and creative.  Jonathon Crary says in his essay, Vision and Visionality, “This collapse of the camera obscura as a model for the status of an observer was part of a much larger process of modernization, even as the camera obscura itself was an element of an earlier modernity” (42).  The camera obscura was highly new and bold thinking for its time, but it only makes sense that as the world moves along and new generations take over, that our views and our opinions differ as well.  But as much of a modern artist one can consider Turner, couldn’t it be said that any new artist that breaks through the “typical” or the “usual” be considered a modern artist/poet/writer?  As said in chapter three of the Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture Reader, there has always been some type of visual stimulus that would marry its ability to represent their ideals.  As the world grows and the technology becomes more advanced, we have new ways to view things.  Crary believes that in order to continue on with the fascination of the observer, one must continue moving forward.  If the only way we had to view images was through the camera obscura, I’m sure no one would use it; it would become a dying form.  Turner took those facts and decided to create what he thought the world looks like- which to some wasn’t’ the same, but it worked for him.  Film might be one of the most innovative creations, and is something that may always be used; “Film seems especially well integrated into not only teaching but professional scholarship” (chapter 3).