History and Theory
49 (February 2010), 90-103 © Wesleyan University 2010 ISSN: 0018-2656
WHY PHOTOGRAPHY MATTERS TO THE THEORY OF HISTORY
MICHAEL S. ROTH
By Georges Didi-Huberman. Translated by Shane B. Lillis. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2008. Pp. 232.
By Michael Fried. NewHaven and London: Yale University Press, 2008. Pp. ix, 409.
Il n’y a pas d’irreprésentable comme propriété del’événement. Il y a seulement des choix.—Jacques Rancière
Photography maintains the presentness of theworld by accepting our absence from it.—Stanley Cavell
Georges Didi-Huberman’s study is concerned with epistemological and ethical questionsthat arise from visual representations of the Shoah, while Michael Fried’s is concernedwith the ontological possibilities explored by contemporary art photography. The bookshave two things in common: an argument against postmodern skepticism, and an insistence
-ity are being explored with particular acuity. Rather than reject even the possibility thatphotographs have something to tell us about the Shoah, Didi-Huberman shows that they
aspects of the past.Fried shows that contemporary photographic work has taken on the ambitions of highmodernism by accepting the challenge of “to-be-seenness.” Photography as a “historical
of historical understanding; photography functions neither as a pure trace of the past, noras a mere invitation to spectacle.
Holocaust, photography, sublime, theatricality, absorption, everyday, Barthes
These two books approach photography with very different theoretical agendas.Georges Didi-Huberman’s short, polemical study is concerned with epistemo-
1. Jacques Rancière, “S’il y a de l’irreprésentable,”
L’art et le mémoire des camps: representer,exterminer
(Paris: Seuil, 2001), 96.2. Stanley Cavell,
The World Viewed
Reflections on the Ontology of Film
(Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press, 1971), 23.