Tania Rossetto reflects on Hans Belting’s An Anthropology of Images: Picture, Medium, Body through a map studies perspective. The book was originally published in German in 2001 with the title Bild-Anthropologie: Entwürfe für eine Bildwissenschaft and first translated into English by Thomas Dunlap in 2011. A new paperback edition by Princeton University Press appeared last year.
Recently, there has been some insistence on the need to include images as objects of study within geographical research inspired by non-representational theories. While digging through promising non-representational theories, Ben Anderson and Paul Harrison felt the need to specify that “everything happens, everything acts. Everything, including images, words and texts” (2010, page 14). While discussing photography in urban studies, Gillian Rose recently identified the shift towards a consideration of images as more than representational: an approach that requires a “bodily and emotional stance rather than interpretive or hermeneutic work” (2014, page 9). The geographies of embodiment, multisensoriality and practice, thus, include work on images, provided that those images are thought of as performative, relational, corporeal and affective. In this apparently paradoxical inclusion (the nexus of body-image) lies one of the main points of interest in Hans Belting’s book from the point of view of current cultural geographical debates. The leitmotif of this book, well emphasized by the subtitle chosen for the English version, is in fact the relationship between bodies and images, and in particular, the idea of considering the human body to be a living medium for images.
For Belting, art history has alienated the image from the body. First published in Germany in 2001, his book appeared as an intervention (or a manifesto) directed mainly at art historians, with the precise aim of contesting the established idea of the work of art in favour of a wider notion of Bild (which in German means both ‘image’ and ‘picture’, but is used here in the sense of ‘image’). Advancing the need for a “science of the image” (Bildwissenschaft) in order to transcend the borders of art history, Belting was contributing to the field of studies now identified as visual culture studies, visual studies or image studies (with distinctions from the field of media theory, as he maintains). An Italian image theory reader (Pinotti and Somaini 2009), for instance, includes Belting among scholars like W.J.T. Mitchell, Gottfried Boehm, James Elkins, Louis Marin and David Freedberg, while presenting the polyvocal reflection on the set of problems inherent to the image which animates contemporary debate.
In this review, however, I do not wish to directly engage with the (already much discussed and criticized) contributions of an influential scholar (for example, see Wood 2004). Instead, I would like to direct an oblique gaze on this book by adopting the perspective of the map scholar. Continue reading Tania’s review here.