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VICTOR BURGIN On the Invention of Photographic Meaning 84 ALLAN SEKULA Printed in China The Currency of the Photograph JOHN TAGG Series. File:Burgin Victor ed Thinking bestthing.info bestthing.info (file size: MB, MIME type: application/pdf). (ebook) Thinking Photography () from Dymocks online store. For immediate download Title: (ebook) Thinking Photography; Author: Victor Burgin; Publisher: Macmillan Education UK; ISBN: ; Languages: .
In closely related fashion, we might argue that street photography relates to involuntary memory through intertextual association. The practice of visual quotation is, however, one of those voluntary strategies which interest us less here than the involuntary intertextual connections made by a viewer.
These images do not emerge as appropriate aids to interpretation, or to the tracing of an iconographic tradition; they emerge, unbidden, as elements in my perceptual autobiography, as elements which reveal my own duration and singularity to me. Impressionism installs the nervous, mobile spectator, whose relationship with the image is piecemeal, distracted, incomplete, ever-renewed.
Equally, compositional features like the diagonal, centrifugal eyelines or frieze-like arrangements have the effect of drawing the spectator laterally back and forth across the canvas and even beyond the frame. Impressionism presents us with a speed of look, a glance, which not only guarantees a direct involvement with the thing seen but transfers itself directly to the hyper-active hand, producing the characteristic gestures — the touche, the virgule — only too visible in the painted surface.
There is no need to tighten the form which can be obtained without that.
Precise drawing is dry, and hampers the impression of the whole; it destroys all sensations. Use small brushstrokes and try to put down your perceptions immediately. In this sense, the painting of Impressionism is less a painting and more a performance of painting, or a performance of perception in paint.
In this sense, plein air Impressionism is as indexical an art as photography, if not more so. We might expect street photography equally to be the agent of the momentary glance, the slice of real time snapped in real time, the moment coincident with the shutter release.
But it is not quite so simple. Street photography does take place in real time, but it harnesses the window aesthetic of Renaissance perspective and dispenses with the manipulations of the hand. There is no performance of photography in photography, apart, perhaps, from the blur, or the gradualness of the impression in the photogram.
One might conclude, then, that street photography is generated by a glance, but begets a gaze. But we might want to argue that Impressionist painting also combines the glance with the gaze, that the experience of the glance is to be found in the close-up encounter with the canvas, while the gaze gradually takes over as one moves back. The photograph collapses these two perceptions into one. He does not need to. Rhythm is one resource which permits the writer to introduce physiological, perceptual real time into the text.
Word-order, too, may trace out the sequence of perceptions as a passage through time.
And intimately connected with both of these resources is punctuation, which, whatever its syntactical function, calibrates the correspondences between perception and respiration, the junctures between ocular saccades, and the varying speeds of the assimilative process of the senses.
The action takes place between 6. Walking the streets releases the walker from the obligations of narrative, the need to get from here to there. Words and images are free to inhabit the mind, the eye, without their being appropriated to serve an ulterior purpose.
Could any of this be claimed of documentary photography, or of reportage? Surely not. These latter kinds of photography are clearly motivated, have a plot to pursue, a viewer to implicate, seek to make time single, a time shared by subject, photographer and viewer. From this historical distance, it is hard to recapture the extraordinary excitement that was generated in the middle of the nineteenth century by a cluster of emerging technologies.
These included inventions in the electrical industries and discoveries in optics and in chemistry, which led to the development of the new means of communication that was to become so important to so many spheres of life — photography. Hailed as a great technological invention, photography immediately became the subject of debates concerning its aesthetic status and social uses.
The excitement generated by the announcement, or marketing, of innovations tends to distract us from the fact that technologies are researched and developed in human societies. New machinery is normally presented as the agent of social change, not as the outcome of a desire for such change, i. However, it can be argued that particular cultures invest in and develop new machines and technologies in order to satisfy previously foreseen social needs.
Photography is one such example. A number of theorists have identified precursors of photography in the late eighteenth century.
For instance, an expanding middle-class demand for portraiture which outstripped available painted means led to the development of the mechanical physiognotrace1 and to the practice of silhouette cutting Freund Revised ed. Los Angeles: Getty Publications.
Since most of the necessary elements of technological knowledge were in place well before , the significant question is not so much who invented photography but rather why it became an active field of research and discovery at that particular point in time Punt Once a technology exists, it may become adapted and introduced into social use in a variety of both foreseen and unforeseen ways.
As cultural theorist Raymond Williams has argued, there is nothing in a technology itself which determines its cultural location or usage Williams If technology is viewed as determining cultural uses, much remains to be explained.
Not the least of this is the extent to which people subvert technologies or invent new uses which had never originally been intended or envisaged. In addition, new technologies become incorporated within established relations of production and consumption, contributing to articulating — but not causing — shifts and changes in such relations and patterns of behaviour.
In keeping with attitudes of the era, he dismissed photography as technical transcription, perhaps oddly so given that photography was a product of the era which so fascinated him. Central to the nineteenth-century debate about the nature of photography as a new technology was the question as to how far it could be considered to be art.
Given the contemporary ubiquity of photography, including the extent to which artists use photographic media, to posit art and technology as binary opposites now seems quite odd. But in its early years photography was celebrated for its putative ability to produce accurate images of what was in front of its lens; images that were seen as being mechanically produced and thus free from the selective discriminations of the human eye and hand.
Debates concerning the status of photography as art took place in periodicals throughout the nineteenth century. Moreover, the nineteenth-century desire to explore, record and catalogue human experience, both at home and abroad, encouraged people to emphasise photography as a method of naturalistic documentation.
Here he is opposing industry seen as mechanical, soulless and repetitive with art, which he considered to be the most important sphere of existential life. Thus Baudelaire is evoking the irrational, the spiritual and the imaginary as an antidote to the positivist interest in measurement and statistical accuracy which, as we have noted, characterised much nineteenth-century investigation.
From this point of view, for many nineteenth century critics in Western culture, steeped as they were in empiricist methods of enquiry, the mechanical nature of the camera militated against its use for anything other than mundane purposes.
Nineteenth-century photographers responded to such critical debates in two main ways: either they accepted that photography was something different from art and sought to discover what the intrinsic properties of the medium were; or they pointed out that photography was more than a mechanical form of image-making, that it could be worked on and contrived so as to produce pictures which in some ways resembled paintings.
For example, they ensured that the image was out of focus, slightly blurred and fuzzy; they made pictures of allegorical subjects, including religious scenes; and those who worked with the gum bichromate process scratched and marked their prints in an effort to imitate something of the appearance of a canvas.
In the other camp were those photographers who celebrated the qualities of straight photography and did not want to treat the medium as a kind of monochrome painting. In the journals of the time which already included the British Journal of Photography , tips about technique coexisted with articles on the rules of composition.
If the photographs aspired to be art, their makers aspired to be artists, and they emulated the characteristic institutions of the art world. However, away from the salon, in the high streets of most towns, jobbing photographers earned a living by making simple photographic portraits of people, many of whom could not have afforded any other record of their own appearance.
This did not please the painters: The cheap portrait painter, whose efforts were principally devoted to giving a strongly marked diagram of the face, in the shortest possible time and at the lowest possible price, has been to a great extent superseded.
Even those who are better entitled to take the rank of artists have been greatly interfered with. The rapidity of execution, dispensing with the fatigue and trouble of rigorous sittings, together with the supposed certainty of accuracy in likeness in photography, incline many persons to try their luck in Daguerreotype, a Talbotype, Heliotype, or some method of sun or light-painting, instead of trusting to what is considered the greater uncertainty of artistic skill.
Howard 3 For an interesting account of debates and discourses on realism and photography in the nineteenth century see Jennifer Green-Lewis Framing the Victorians, Photography and the Culture of Realism, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.
The industrial process, so despised by Baudelaire and other like-minded critics, is here seen as offering mechanical accuracy combined with a degree of quality control. Photography thus begins to emerge as the most commonly used and important means of communication for the industrial age.
Photography is the purveyor of such knowledge to the world. She is the sworn witness of everything presented to her view. In this respect, Eastlake was one of the first writers to argue that photography is a democratic means of representation and that the new facts will be available to everyone. This juridical phrase strikingly captures what, for many years, was considered to be the inevitable function of photography — that it showed the world without contrivance or prejudice.
For Eastlake, such facts came from the recording without selection of whatever was before the lens. Though the faces of our children may not be modelled and rounded with that truth and beauty which art attains, yet minor things — the very shoes of the one, the inseparable toy of the other — are given with a strength of identity which art does not even seek.
Eastlake 94; emphasis in original The old hierarchies of art have broken down. Rather, it voraciously records anything in view; in other words the image captures information beyond that which concerned the photographer. Writing within 15 years of its invention Eastlake points to the many social uses to which photography had already been put: photography has become a household word and a household want; it is used alike by art and science, by love, business and justice; is found in the most sumptuous saloon and the dingiest attic — in the solitude of the Highland cottage, and in the glare of the London gin palace — in the pocket of the detective, in the cell of the convict, in the folio of the painter and architect, among the papers and patterns of the mill owner and manufacturer and on the cold breast of the battle field.
Eastlake 81 For Eastlake, photography is ubiquitous and classless; it is a popular means of communication. But for all her vagueness, she does identify an important constituent in the making of modernity: the rise of previously unknown forms of communication which had a dislocating effect on traditional technologies and practices.
She was writing at an historical moment marked by a cluster of technical inventions and changes and she places photography at the centre of them.
The notion that the camera should aspire to the status of the printing press — a mechanical tool which exercises no effect upon the medium which it supports — is here seriously challenged. For Eastlake calmly accepts that photography is not art, but hints at the displacing effect the medium will have on the old structures of art; photography, she says, bears witness to the passage of time, but it cannot select or order the relative importance of things at any time.
It does not tease out what underlies appearances, but records voraciously whatever is in its view. By the first decade of the twentieth century the Pictorialists had all but retreated from the field and it was the qualities of straight photography that were subsequently prized.
Moreover, modernism argued for a photography that was in opposition to the traditional claims of art. In the s he met the playwright, Bertolt Brecht, who exercised a decisive influence on his work.
Fleeing the Nazis in , Benjamin found himself trapped in occupied France and committed suicide on the Spanish border. During the s his work began to be translated into English and exercised a great critical influence.
His critical essays on Brecht were published in English under the title Understanding Brecht in Benjamin was an influential figure in the In Britain, as elsewhere, the idea of documentary has underpinned most photographic practices since the s.
However, nowadays, in according authority to pictures, we are more likely to question the circumstances under which photographs have been made, their source, the status of the photographer and the purpose for which an image was made. For example, we might view pictures uploaded by local people documenting an incident or set of circumstances as more authentic than images authorised by a company or political organisation.
Accepting that digital photography and digital imaging are now major industries contributing within print and online media, when assessing the significance of particular pictures we take into account image-making contexts and purposes. If documentary as a genre involves visual records for future reference, now we are very likely to ask from whose point of view such documents were made. Photographic aesthetics commonly accord with the dominant modes and traditions of Western twodimensional art, including perspective and the idea of a vanishing point.
Indeed, as a number of critics have suggested, photography not only echoes postRenaissance painterly conventions, but also achieves visual renderings of scenes and situations with what seems to be a higher degree of accuracy than was possible in painting. Photography can, in this respect, be seen as effectively substituting for the representational task previously accorded to painting.
In addition, as Walter Benjamin argued in , changes brought about by the introduction of mechanical means of reproduction which produced and circulated multiple copies of an image shifted attitudes to art Benjamin Formerly unique objects, located in a particular place, lost their singularity as they became accessible to many people in diverse places.
For Benjamin, whether operating to allow more people to view likenesses of persons, places or existing objects for instance, reproductions of paintings or sculptures or facilitating novel forms of visual communication that might not otherwise have occurred, photography was inherently more democratic than previous forms of image-making.
Yet established attitudes persist. In Western art the artist is accorded the status of someone endowed with particular sensitivities and vision. That the photog rapher as artist, viewed as a special kind of seer, chose to make a particular photograph lends extra authority and credibility to the picture.
Walter Benjamin was among those who had disputed the efficacy of the photograph in this respect, arguing that the reproduction of the surface appearance of places tells us little about the sociopolitical circumstances which influence and circumscribe actual human experience Benjamin Analogical theories of the photograph have been abandoned; we no longer believe that the photograph directly replicates circumstances.
Yet, technologically, the photographic image is an indexical effect based on observable reality. The chemically produced image brought together a range of considerations — including subject-matter, framing, light, characteristics of the lens, chemical properties of the film used and the paper on which a picture was printed, and creative decisions taken both when shooting and in the darkroom.
The digital image differs in certain respects, including the greater 19 exploration of the nature of modernity through essays such as his study of Baudelaire, published as Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism London: Verso, He is acclaimed as one of the major thinkers of the twentieth century, particularly for his historically situated interrogations of modern culture.
His first major essay on photography was published in in the Frankfurter Zeitung. The subtitle of his best-known work Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality indicates his focus on images as sources of historical information. None the less, the basis in the observable fuels realist notions associated with photography, despite our familiarity with digital manipulation possibilities.
Paradoxically, perhaps, we want to believe what we see, even though at the same time we know that photographic images are selective, and may be significantly changed from that originally seen through the viewfinder. Italian semiotician Umberto Eco has commented that the photograph reproduces the conditions of optical perception, but only some of them see Eco in Burgin That the photograph appears iconic not only contributes an aura of authenticity, it also seems reassuringly familiar.Rather, it voraciously records anything in view; in other words the image captures information beyond that which concerned the photographer.
June Only the juxtaposition of the two createssuch a content, in such clarity and with all the immediacy of an observed natural truth. From a political standpoint, nothing is more appropriate than the application of radically deconstructive analyses to the imaginary identities of racism. Related to this are the interests and motivations that impel photographers towards particular subjects and ways of working.
July 30, If I go on to remark that the photograph depicts a temple, that the temple is ruined, and that it is Greek, then I am relying upon knowledge that is no longer 'natural', 'purely visual'; I am relying upon knowledge that is cultural, verbally transmitted and, in the final analysis,ideological I might think 'cradle of civilisation' or 'damned Greeks' according to when and where I happenedto be born.
Semiotics, or semiology, is the science which studies signs.
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