Negative visions: the referential authority of photography in contemporary fiction Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Klomhaus-Hrács, Heather
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • Early thinking on photography typically posits the photographic referent as author of the image, conceiving of photography as an apparatus much like the “pencil of nature” described by Fox Talbot. This dissertation argues that such thinking continues to influence present perception of photography and determines that issues of authority and authorship remain the subtle but central focus of such thinking. This study expounds upon the manifestation of photographic referentiality in the literature of six contemporary authors: Isabel Allende, Anne-Marie Garat, John Irving, Penelope Lively, Leïla Sebbar, and Michel Tournier. I conclude that the photographs depicted therein form illustrative examples of what I have termed the “authentic photograph,” which are images that maintain allegiance to their subjects regardless of the spectator’s or photographer’s manipulative impositions of memory and desire. This dissertation explores the complex interactions between image and text that play across the space of literature. I consider what it means to write the image when this act requires translation of a manifestly visual medium into a purely verbal format. I ascertain that the photograph’s connection to its referent is an intrinsic aspect of photography in fiction. Moreover, photography becomes inseparable from these authors’ evaluations of writing, memory, and history as kinds of representation. The photographic referential authority is in itself a complicated issue; production of the photograph’s visual representation of the real in a literary work of fiction is even more complex, becoming the central problematic that drives narrative and plot development. I deduce that the ontology of photography, specifically its embodiment of reality, defines the general structure and thinking of these narratives. As such, I argue that visual literacy becomes an essential component of textuality and is necessary for any thoughtful consideration of writing on photography. This study takes part in the growing dialogue concerning photography in contemporary culture and contributes to the study of the text-image relationship through its revelation of the essential visual component of certain texts. It offers renewed emphasis on the photograph’s referential authority and reveals that photography still symbolizes reality despite technological advances that provide ample opportunity for manipulation.
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  • Downing, Eric
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Open access

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