Kafka's Amerika

One perennial criticism of photography is that it provides a limited and distorting view of the world, one that is particularly pernicious when it shapes, for example, our attitudes to Africa. In this account photographs reinforce stereotypes and confirm an existing, negative story about a place. This latest film in the series presents an instance of the opposite effect, some rather limited photographs feeding the imagination to create a new and surprising view of a continent. Kafka had never visited the United States ('Amerika', the title given to his novel after his death) and based his account of it on photographs in a book by an Austrian travel writer.

As Carolin Duttlinger explains, Kafka prefered photographs to films as a source of inspiration because of their potentially uncanny quality and the ease with which they could be studied in detail. The photographs that Kafka looked at become a kind of score for the book. Seen through Kafka's eyes they attain new meaning, seen on their own they are a little lifeless. It would be interesting to see how a photographer today might create pictures in the spirit of the story (a film example would be the Huillet / Straub version) especially if a European could be found who had very little idea what America looked like.




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