EXILE AND ERASURE: FORGETTING ILSE BING

In Kris Belden-Adams ed.,  Photography and Failure: One Medium's Entanglement with Flops, Underdogs and Disappointments (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017), 45-60. LINK

This chapter considers Ilse Bing’s New York photographs of urban life and her self-portraiture in terms of her sense of alienation. It will also speculate on how the medium of photography failed Bing in terms of its capacity to capture her ongoing artistic ambitions, and as a means of forging a career in America. In his essay “Farewell to the Linden Arcade,” Siegfried Kracauer (who I speculate had a lasting influence on Bing) ruminates on the urban landscape — and in particular, the arcade — to reflect on the conditions of homelessness, absence, and the marginal state of transition and displacement. The concept of the homeless image recurs throughout his writing, in which photographic meaning is transformed by the loss of the referent to suggest the state of exile, echoing his own condition of being “extraterritorial.” I turn to Kracauer’s speculations on photography, and his reflections on the homeless image as a way of illuminating the paradoxical nature of photographing place from the position of the exile, to explore the condition of homelessness, and the forgetting of Ilse Bing.

Ilse Bing, Self-portrait with Leica, 1931

Ilse Bing, Self-portrait with Leica, 1931