The migration of the aura and how we determine what is a good or bad copy.

This article by Latour and Lowe is an argument against Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Reproduction and instead explores the idea of the original piece and how the aura from the original flows through its copies. The ‘original’ and all the copies and reproductions that come along with it Latour describe as being the trajectory, and in this article Latour looks to investigate not whether an object is “the original or merely a copy?” (Latour 4) but instead “is it well or badly reproduced?”.(Latour)  This, he argues is all based on the quality, conservation, continuation, sustenance and appropriation of the original. He argues that ‘facsimilies, especially those relying on complex digital techniques, are the most fruitful way to explore the original and even help re-define what originality actually is’(Latour). Contrary to popular belief there is nothing inferior to a copy and to be the original means to be the ‘origin’ of in a long lineage. That something which does not have a number of reproductions or copies is seen to be ‘sterile or barren’(Latour). Or as von Duuglas-Ittu  states ‘the aura of the original is actually produced by the very weight of its copies, as these copies become the evidence of its originary profusion’ (von Duuglas-Ittu). As a result of this Latour argues that by only looking at the original piece of work is not sufficient and that to truly understand the greatness or aura of the object you need to also include all the successive versions of the object. They even go so far as to say that if we stop reproducing copies then the original is at stake and may even disappear.

With this being said however Latour also argues in this article that for a copy of a piece to be part of the originals trajectory it must meet certain criteria. This he believes is what separates a good reproduction from a bad one and thus one which may take on some of the aura from the original. These include availability, being close to the original location as possible, and finally that it must have surface features. This last point here about surface features is quite an important one to Latour for example, with a piece of artwork a copy must show the layers of paint that went into its production as opposed to what he calls a ‘sterile photograph’.

However a point to look at with this argument and something which was brought up by von Duuglas-Ittu and his discussion of Latour, is that a large portion of this article is Latour arguing that the original, is the original because of the huge pressure applied to it by its copies. Is a photograph then in this sense not a copy? A copy which by all regard could be included in the trajectory of the original. Using the example in Latour’s piece about the Ambassadors copy, how the visitor going to view this piece was disconcerted that the copy had a flat surface and that the colours were too bright. This however is just one person’s opinion on it and in this circumstance they believed it to be a bad copy and thus completely void of any trace of the originals “aura”. This with most things in life is subjective and what we feel to be a good or bad reproduction and how it holds meaning for us is all a personal opinion. Although I do agree with Latour that an original is the origin in a long line of successive copies and that these copies need to be taken into consideration, I cannot get behind the idea that there can be a good or bad copy and that one should be included in the trajectory and one should not. These opinions are left to the viewer and the meaning or somebody’s emotional response to a copy again is a personal one. Using the same example from Latour’s piece on the photograph of the Ambassadors any other visitor could view this “sterile and barren” photograph and take meaning from it and like the visitors did in San Giorgio they may be ‘overcome with emotion’. If you want to call it aura or not this is definitely somebody’s own personal response to the piece and they themselves will decide how much value they place in it.


Latour, Bruno. Lowe, Adam. The migration of the aura or how to explore through its facsimilies. Switching Codes. 2010 Pp. 1-14

von Duuglas-Ittu, Kevin. The Flatness of Latour’s Concept of Origin and Holbein’s The Ambassadors. WordPress March 2009, retrieved October 2017

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