Two Lessons on André Bazin’s “Ontology of the Photographic Image”


Ian here—

I have taught André Bazin’s essay “Ontology of the Photographic Image” in two very different contexts: once in the “Image” portion of the University of Chicago’s Media Aesthetics sequence in their Humanities Core, and once in a writing seminar at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago entitled “Moving Images and Arguments,” on cinematic rhetoric. Surprisingly, both times I taught it, large portions of my lesson remained the same: the main difference was that I spent more time discussing the philosophical groundings of Bazin’s piece in Media Aesthetics, whereas I used the extended course time in “Moving Images and Arguments” to show and discuss a wider variety of things.

Both times I taught this, I used Timothy Barnard’s translation, from the Canadian Caboose edition of What Is Cinema?. When that translation first came out, it got a lot of buzz, although its hallowed status might have had a lot to do with it just being notoriously difficult to get your hands on across the border in the US. I’m not going to take an official stand on the volume’s alleged superiority, although I will say that there’s at least one turn of phrase that Barnard gets right that Gray doesn’t, and that alone is enough to tip the scales in Barnard’s favor.

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