Sunday, August 17, 2008

Objects of Wonder

Most people would see the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson as a model of someone who maximizes everyday aesthetic experience. Referring to Cartier-Bresson however, Arto Haapala writes that, “in the context of art the everyday loses its everydayness; it becomes something extraordinary.” He believes, therefore, that Cartier-Bresson’s photography contributes “to the neglect of the aesthetics of everyday” for “[w]hen taken out of the context of day-to-day living and put into an artistic context, a picture such as Cartier-Bresson’s A Bank Executive and His Secretary (1960) becomes an object of wonder.” On his view, to be an object of wonder is to be taken out of the realm of the familiar and hence of the everyday.

Did Cartier-Bresson’s act of photographing the scene cause harm to everyday aesthetics? It seems not, for the scene must have been an object of wonder, or at least of interest, to the photographer even before he snapped the shot. Otherwise he would not have taken the picture. This is not to say that the wonder or interest he felt in looking at the scene was the same, or of the same intensity, as what he might have felt when looking at the completed photograph. Still, the two are not unrelated. If the business of everyday aesthetics were to encourage us to see everyday scenes as lacking in wonder, then Haapala would be right. But why should anyone do this?

"On the Aesthetics of the Everyday: Familiarity, Strangeness, and the Meaning of Place," The Aesthetics of Everyday Life, ed. Andrew Light and Jonathan M. Smith (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005) 39-55.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

because the artist is unable to see in everyday situations the possibility of creating a work of wonder. Just ordinary things. You do not want it, but if this is all you could see?