On photography, multivocality and materiality

In Performing Civic Identity, John Lucaites and Robert Hariman explore the multiple cultural unfoldings of Raising the Flag on Mount Subirachi, a picture taken by the photojournalist Joe Rosenthal during the battle of Iwo Jima. Through the discussion of the multiple attempts of multifarious constituencies to claim a semantic grip over this picture –whose power, Lucaites and Hariman comment, stems from the way in which its subject matter, composition and characters related to a notion of “republicanism” in the United States. Amongst several features that Lucaites and Hariman see resonating with this regimen of political experience, they include the “working-class” character of the soldiers as a metaphor for hard work and team coordination praised in the U.S. Lucaites and Hariman survey then the enormous multivocality that the picture has taken with time, but rather than seeing these bifurcations as inimical or the signifying capacity of the image, Lucaites and Hariman insist that this multiplicity of meanings is predicated in, rather than in opposition to, the seminal meaning of this image. As a result, Raising the Flag on Mount Sinai becomes strengthened, rather than dissolved, by its intense cultural use.


Lucaites and Hariman’s argumentation indeed point out to the power that an image has may be more related to its capacity to create a net of multiple meanings than to its skill in securing a unitary reading of it. But at this point, however, it would be worthwhile to connect this discussion to issues related to the materiality and the scale oof the image. Rather than circulating Raising the Flag on Mountain Subirachi in its original scale, the enormous majority of the reproductions, remixes and manipulations of this photographs have been conducted at a much larger scale. As a result, the familiariy of Raising the Flag as an image comes at the expense of an acquaintance with it as an object. –indeed, the small scale prints o the film might become quite underwhelming to the vast audience of this iconic picture, and might be able to generate an uncanny reversion of auratic quality between the original and its iterations: perhaps it is to the zoomed, large images of this image that the public might be able to come back, as opposed to the smaller-than life size of its original iteration.


Can copies of icosn become more legitimate artistic products than its material genesis? What is the relationship between digital and objectual in photography –not only in relation to inmaterial images, but with the relationship between the film and its prints. Is photography in the film, the original print, or its ever-circulating pixels?



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