Marcel Giro
“Boxes of Light”, 1950, by Marcel Giró

What would Walter Benjamin say if he reappeared here? How would you react to art and its reproducibility after, above all, the internet and smartphones? Would he review his belief in the loss of the aura of the work of art in the face of the supposed deartization of works produced with technological means? And as for the cult value of traditional art, would Benjamin confirm that it has, in fact, been supplanted by exhibition value?

Enthusiastic about the propagation of art through the means of reproduction, Benjamin saw photography and cinema as fundamental for the democratization of the work of art. Reproduced or produced by these means, it would finally be stripped of the prestige linked to its supposed religious origin, thus enabling another relationship with the common man. In this new situation, everyone would be seen not only as receivers, but also as possible producers.

Decades after the publication of Benjamin’s essay, “The work of art in the age of its technical reproducibility”, queues and queues form to see the work of art up close. Mona Lisa, by da Vinci, at the Louvre (whose image has been and is reproduced countless times) – to keep just one example linked to the visual arts. Today the most diverse films are “cult”. “Cult” is also the title of a magazine dedicated to the cult of culture and a Telecine platform on demand; “cult” is the trans singer, as well as “that” photograph of “that” photographer.

According to Benjamin, the traditional work of art brought with it the cult value because of the aura that emanated from it: it was unique, precious but, insofar as it lost these qualities, due to the reproduction processes, it became equal to all. types of objects, leaving only their display value, that is, their ability to be everywhere.

Any photograph, therefore, would be based on its exhibition value, supplanting any possibility of having or coming to have some cult value. After all, in its own condition of existence, its ability to reproduce indefinitely reigns, right? No, wrong. There is no doubt that digital cameras attached to cell phones are taking the proliferation of photography to previously unthinkable levels. However, at the same time that smartphones turn their owners into compulsive producers of photographs that spread and are displayed quickly across the globe, there are photographs that have their intrinsic value of exhibition restricted, being superimposed on the former cult value.

There is in the world a set of photographs whose cult value is created by having as a characteristic the fact that they are vintage (they were reproduced at the time of their capture by the authors themselves, now elevated to the status of artists and not “mere” photographers), or for being part of a production postmortem, but with a limited number of copies. It is these surviving relics of some heroic time – built by history and/or by the market – that make us pilgrimage through museums and galleries to pay homage to them, that make us move to these temples in order to share with the few the our delight in the face of those almost unique, practically unique fetishes.

The adverbs “almost” and “practically”, in this context, alert to an unquestionable fact in practice: standing in front of a photograph produced, for example, in 1939, and which had only a few copies produced by the one who captured the image. image, is like being in front of a painting. And that's because, nowadays, a copy of, for example, six identical reproductions produced 80 years ago - in a world saturated with images -, is capable of emanating an authenticity, an aura of mystery and revelation (that's not what do votive objects provoke in those who look at them?), which intoxicates us with pure delight, as if it were unique.

If looking at these rare images is a delight, then possessing them is a dream of power and joy. And as expensive as a photograph may be vintage, or of restricted edition, it is almost always more accessible than “that” painting or “that” sculpture that, above all, the average collector will never own.


These questions arose from a visit to “Modern Photography 1940-1960”, on display at Luciana Brito Galeria, in São Paulo. The show has a particularity: it presents works by some of the most prestigious modern Brazilian photographers in the space that was formerly a residence designed by the modernist architect Rino Levi. Hard best container to house some vintage by Geraldo de Barros, Thomas Farkas and others, as well as works by a single photographer, Gertrudes Altschul. The space conceived by Levi brings solemnity to the works, as it renews/expands the aura that emanates from them (although the aura of the house itself does not fail to permeate them either).

If the exhibition begins with a certain lukewarmness, with some works by Paulo Pires, within the framework of what a “modern style” photography should be, soon afterwards it starts to present the experimental dimension achieved by the photography of the period. If the always stimulating Geraldo de Barros and Thomaz Farkas stand out in the exhibition, the pleasant surprise was the photos of Marcel Giró, a modernist whose production deserves to be more publicized.

If the photographers present at the show, each in their own way, believed that photography could be seen and produced as art or, more as one of the “fine arts” (in some cases), there is no doubt that they managed to prove that such dispositions were possible, either by obeying the prevailing photo-club rules at the time, or by breaking them. Today, properly framed and arranged in an environment that reflects and endorses them, they reiterate the apparent bankruptcy of Walter Benjamin's theoretical constructs, commented here, in part undermined by the photographers themselves, the art market and the collecting that managed to transform those pieces into " almost” original – objects of delight and worship.

Both for those who do not care about such questions, and for those who consider them fundamental to think about the status of photography today, “Modern Photography – 1940-1960” is a must-see.

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