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New: The person behind the face: The balance between Walter Benjamin’s exhibition value and cult value within two different forms of portraiture

By Nathalie Schram

You have probably heard of the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Yet in the field of narratology, there is still some debate on whether a picture can actually tell a story. Furthermore, there are even differences in the way photographs tell their stories as opposed to paintings and drawings. In this essay, the focus is on the tronie, a form of portraiture in which the identity of the sitter is unimportant. I will compare photographic portraits to painted tronies to create a better understanding of the differences between the two media. To do so, I will apply Walter Benjamin’s theory on cult value and exhibition value to portrait photography and the tronie, as the distribution of these values is oftentimes highly different between the two. The difference in value across the two media, as well as its cause, are further investigated by paying attention to the overlapping format of the photographic tronie. This case study will show how photography is able to fit within the description of the tronie, while also expanding its boundaries with new forms of the tronie that would not be possible to create through paintings or drawings.

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