Gestures, Attunements and Atmospheres: On Photography and Urban Space

Journal of Aesthetics and Phenomenology 8 (2):135-153 (2021)
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Developed through a series of conceptual analyses (Edmund Husserl, Vilém Flusser, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Walter Benjamin) and case studies (Fernando Lopes’s Belarmino and Jeff Wall’s Mimic), this article delves into the relationship between gesture, attunement and atmosphere and how it unfolds in photographic works dealing with urban space. The first section focuses on the role played by photography in the film Belarmino, which raises questions about both the representation of urban phenomena and issues related to expression and gesture in boxing. The second section discusses Husserl’s thinking on image consciousness and his surprising reference to a “photograph” of a boxer, which reveals the relevance of his phenomenological approach when it comes to defining the aesthetic properties of gesture-images. The third section examines the principles of Flusser’s philosophy of gestures, focusing on the semantic field of attunement and its connection with various elements related to photography, gesture, moods and affects. The question of gesture in photography—both the gestures of the photographed and those of the photographer—can be articulated with the notions of attunement and atmosphere, which go beyond semiological, psychological and communicational approaches and are important for our understanding of aesthetic and artistic experiences. Finally, if photography is a privileged way of studying atmospheres and gestures (as suggested by the Benjaminian notion of optical unconscious) and their connection with the inner life of the subject, in relation to urban space this study often acquires an intersubjective, social and political dimension, as in Jeff Wall’s Mimic.


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