New York

“Visions of Liberty”

New-York Historical Society

Photography, or at least the mass-produced, mass-distributed halftone, has taken over many of the memorializing functions performed in earlier times by monumental sculpture—not destroying the aura of such public icons, as Walter Benjamin proposed, but replacing it with its own smudgy aura. This complicity between news photos and monuments has led to some curious chimeras that compound the two. The most obvious example is the Iwo Jima memorial in Washington, D.C., showing a group of marines raising the flag on Mt. Suribachi; this work is based on Joe Rosenthal’s heroically posed news photo, but any number of other news photos could easily be imagined transformed into bronze or marble. The reverse is also true: well-known public monuments provide particularly apt subjects for photographs. Lee Friedlander’s ironic juxtapositions of everyday banality and heroic statuary in The American Monument

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