Cover image for Each wild idea : writing, photography, history
Each wild idea : writing, photography, history
Batchen, Geoffrey.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xi, 236 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TR185 .B32 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



The essays all focus on a consideration of specific photographs - from a humble combination of baby photos and bronzed booties to a masterwork by Alfred Stieglitz. Although Batchen views each photograph within the context of broader social and political forces, he also engages its own distinctive formal attributes. In short, he sees photography as something that is simultaneously material and cultural. In an effort to evoke the lived experience of history, he frequently relies on sheer description as the mode of analysis, insisting that we look right at - rather than beyond - the photograph being discussed. A constant theme throughout the book is the question of photography's past, present, and future identity.

Author Notes

Geoffrey Batchen is Associate Professor, Department of Art and Art History, the University of New Mexico.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

That English photographic pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot and computer inventor Charles Babbage moved in the same circles is just one of the provocative factoids marshaled by University of New Mexico art and art history professor Batchen (Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography) in this collection of nine essays tracing photography's prehistory and mapping its digital future. Particularly strong is Batchen's survey of the vernacular tradition of his native Australia, which offers sharp readings of several of the book's 34 b&w photos and illustrations, analyzing how they are used and interpreted by Australian institutions in ways resonant with the charged racial and political curatorial climate of North America. A piece on the history of photography as a genre lays to rest forever any notion of a single inventor of the medium, challenging the relevance of any canonical "great names" approach to an activity so thoroughly woven into the fabric of everyday life. As is inevitable with a book occasioned by a number of different professional circumstances, some of the essays will interest some readers more than others, and there is some repetition, but the ideas and motifs that Batchen returns to as to what constitutes a photograph, what photography's full set of origins are, who gets included and excluded from its canon, and how digital imaging is changing the medium are so richly explored that one hardly feels cause for complaint. Sontag and Barthes are usually invoked in praise of books on photography, but Batchen's daunting immersion in his subject and his theoretical acumen leave them both behind. (Apr.) Forecast: This book is pitched at the arts criticism community, but will be picked up by many practicing artists, photographers, academics and museum professionals as well. University libraries where an arts M.F.A., photography B.F.A. or art history degree are offered may find it turning up on reserve lists. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

As both an art medium and a way to record events, photography has become ubiquitous in our increasingly image-driven culture since its invention in the early 1800s. These two interesting books take a serious academic look at how photography has influenced culture. Prague-born philosopher Flusser (1920-91) concerned himself with design, communication, and language. His illuminating essays, originally published in German in 1983, are offered in English for the first time. Flusser describes a world fundamentally changed by the invention of the "technical image" and the mechanisms that support and define industrialized modern culture. He argues that whereas ideas were previously interpreted by written account, the invention of photography allows the creation of images (ideas) taken at face value as truth, not interpretation that can be endlessly replicated and spread worldwide. His essays identify players in this model (his lexicon includes the Apparatus, the Functionary, and the Technical Image) and warn of rising illiteracy owing to an uncritical faith in photography's "reality." Flusser does not speak of specific photographs or images but of the larger forces at work in the increasingly technical and automated world. Unlike Flusser, Batchen (art and art history, Univ. of New Mexico) delves intricately into individual works to explicate his thoughts, digging into such topics as the invention of photography, the medium's impending demise, photography about photography, and "da(r)ta" digital art that comments on its own structure. Conveying a deep respect for the importance of photography, he laments the way images have become commodities in the digital age. Batchen also explores the history of photography and looks at larger cultural forces from within the framework of the medium. This collection of nine recent essays of various origins (with thorough notes and index) contains some repetition, but that small complaint is outweighed by Batchen's compelling arguments and analyses. Of interest to photographers, historians, and philosophers, both books will serve multiple audiences and are recommended for academic and large public libraries. Debora Miller, Minneapolis (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Preludep. viii
1 Desiring Productionp. 2
2 Australian Madep. 26
3 Vernacular Photographiesp. 56
4 Taking and Makingp. 82
5 Post-Photographyp. 108
6 Ectoplasmp. 128
7 Photogenicsp. 146
8 Obedient Numbers, Soft Delightp. 164
9 Da[r]tap. 176
Notesp. 192
Indexp. 230