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With the advent of the first truly revolutionary means of reproduction, photography, simultaneously with the rise of socialism, art sensed the approaching crisis which has become evident a century later. At the time, art reacted with the doctrine of l'art pour l'art [art for art's sake], that is, with a theology of art. . . . for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the 'authentic' print makes no sense. But the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. --Walter Benjamin

Pessimistic view of the artistic possibilities of photography: "If photography is allowed to stand in for art in some of its functions it will soon supplant or corrupt it completely thanks to the natural support it will find in the stupidity of the multitude. It must return to its real task, which is to be the servant of the sciences and the arts, but the very humble servant, like printing and shorthand which have neither created nor supplanted literature. " --Charles Baudelaire, 1859

Subgenres: art photography - erotic photography - fashion photography - photomontage - photo novel - street photography

"Like guns and cars, cameras are fantasy-machines whose use is addictive. However, despite the extravagances of ordinary language and advertising, they are not lethal. In the hyperbole that markets cars like guns, there is at least this much truth: except in wartime, cars kill more people than guns do. The camera/gun does not kill, so the ominous metaphor seems to be all bluff - like a man's fantasy of having a gun, knife, or tool between his legs." (from On Photography, 1977)

Related: film - daguerreotype - picture - photorealism - portrait

For the first time in the process of pictorial reproduction, photography freed the hand of the most important artistic functions which henceforth devolved only upon the eye looking into a lens. Since the eye perceives more swiftly than the hand can draw, the process of pictorial reproduction was accelerated so enormously that it could keep pace with speech. A film operator shooting a scene in the studio captures the images at the speed of an actor's speech. Just as lithography virtually implied the illustrated newspaper, so did photography foreshadow the sound film. --Walter Benjamin, 1935

People: Diane Arbus - Eugéne Atget - Helmut Newton - Cecil Beaton - Guy Bourdin - William Klein - David LaChapelle - Eadweard Muybridge - Bettina Rheims - Joel Peter Witkin

Theory: On Photography (1977) - Susan Sontag Camera Lucida (1980) - Roland Barthes

Nicéphore Nièpce's first photograph, circa 1826 via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Nicephore_Niepce [Jan 2005]

Rue de la Colonie (1900) - Eugène Atget
Image sourced here.

Uncommon Places : The Complete Works (1982) Stephen Shore [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


Photography is the technique of recording images in real time. [Feb 2006]

Photography is the process of making pictures by means of the action of light. It involves recording light patterns, as reflected from objects, onto a sensitive medium through a timed exposure. The process is done through mechanical, chemical or digital devices commonly known as cameras.

The word comes from the Greek words phos ("light"), and graphis ("stylus", "paintbrush") or graphê, together meaning "drawing with light" or "representation by means of lines" or "drawing." --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photography [Feb 2006]

Social History


The Daguerreotype proved popular as it responded to the demand for portraiture emerging from the middle classes during the Industrial Revolution. This demand, that could not be met in volume and in cost by oil painting, may well have been the push for the development of photography. But still daguerreotypes, while beautiful, were fragile and difficult to copy. A single photograph taken in a portrait studio could cost $1000 in 2004 dollars. Pornographers also engouraged chemists to refine the process of making many copies cheaply, which eventually lead them back to Talbot's process. Ultimately, the modern photographic process came about from a series of refinements and improvements in the first 20 years. In 1884 George Eastman developed dry gel on paper, or film, to replace the photographic plate, so that a photographer no longer needed to carry boxes of plates and toxic chemicals around. In July of 1888 Eastman's Kodak camera went on the market with the slogan "You press the button, we do the rest". Now anyone could take a photograph and leave the dangerous portions of the process to others. Photography became available for the mass-market in 1901 with the introduction of a children's camera, the Kodak Brownie and a women's camera that came with a free lipstick. Very little has changed in chemical photography since then, though color film has become the standard, as well as automatic focus and automatic exposure. Digital recording of images is becoming increasingly prevalent, as electronic sensors become more sensitive and able to provide definition exceeding that of 35 mm film. For the enthusiast photographer processing black and white film, little has changed since the introduction of the 35mm film Leica camera in 1925.

Photography and the Telephone

Growth of popular photography has closely paralled the growth of telephony. The practice of both prodominately concerns communication with friends and family. In the U.S., the share of households with a camera and with a telephone was about 1% and 2%, respectively, in 1890, 44% and 35%, respectively in 1938, and 94% for both in 1995. Across this same period in the U.S., the ratio of residential telephone minutes to end-user photographs rose from 31 to 80 from 1890 to 1939, and remained roughly constant through 1995, when the ratio was 71 (for statistical sources and calulations, see [1] (http://www.galbithink.org/sense-s6.htm#wpp1)). Since telephone conversations average about 150 words per minute, the data indicate that a picture is associated with about twelve thousand words of telephone conversation. "A picture is worth a thousand words" is a popular English folk saying, variously described as a Chinese proverb and a saying of a famous Japanese philosopher. This saying actually arose from advertisements in a U.S. commercial media journal in the mid-1920s (see [2] (http://www2.cs.uregina.ca/~hepting/proverbial/history.html)) Nonetheless, a close relationship between pictures and words in the human process of making sense seems to be an important and underappreciated aspect of human physiology and behavior. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photography#Social_History [Dec 2004]

Documentary photography

Documentary photography usually refers to a type of professional photojournalism, but it may also be an amateur or student persuit. The photographer attempts to produce truthful, objective, and usually candid photography of a particular subject, most often pictures of people.

Usually such photographs are meant for publication, but are sometimes only for exhibition in an art gallery or other public forum. Sometimes an organization or company will commission documentary photography of its activities, but the pictures will only be for its private archives. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Documentary_photography [Feb 2006]

Che Guevara photo and poster

Che Guevara by Alberto Korda (March 1960)

Che Guevara poster by Jim Fitzpatrick (1968)

It is interesting to note the direction of Che's gaze in the original photograph, as Fitzpatrick's version contains a small but significant modification. In the original, the eyes are focused on the area in front of Guevara, whilst in the drawing, the eyes are gazing towards the distant horizon. There is an epic, heroic significance in Che's pose; in the original image Che appears worried, tense, whilst in the interpretation his face is set in a pose of defiant pride. He appears to be looking towards the future. With this simple alteration the image of Che has come to overshadow the reality, and as such some criticise it as being nothing more than a memetic mass-produced symbol.

Alberto Korda's famous photograph of Che Guevara was taken in March 1960 at a Cuban funeral service, but was published seven years later. The Maryland Institute College of Art called Korda's photo, "The most famous photograph in the world and a symbol of the 20th century."

A modified version of the portrait has been reproduced on a range of different media, though Korda never asked for royalties from most of those who reproduced the image because of his belief in Guevara's ideals. However, Korda at least once claimed copyright over the image to prevent it being used in an advertisement for vodka. Korda was a lifelong communist and only wanted to cut down on blatant commercialization of the image, telling reporters:

"As a supporter of the ideals for which Che Guevara died, I am not averse to its reproduction by those who wish to propagate his memory and the cause of social justice throughout the world."

The most famous image of Che Guevara is the high contrast bust drawing that is based on the photo. This image was made in several variations: some in red and black, others in black and white, and some in black and white with a red star by Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick, an artist most known for his depictions of Irish mythology.

[gaze comment]

Fitzpatrick's graphic was later used by Andy Warhol with the same graphic processes that he used on Marilyn Monroe pictures. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Che_Guevara_%28photo%29 [May 2005]

see also: icon - poster

Charles Baudelaire on Photography

The invention of the Daguerreotype caused considerable concern to many artists, who saw their means of livelihood coming to an end. Delaroche is credited with claiming that painting was now dead, whilst it is said that Sir William Ross, on his death-bed in 1860, commented sadly that "it was all up with future miniature painting." It is also claimed, but with scanty evidence, that Turner, looking at an early daguerreotype, commented that he was glad he had had his day!

Charles Baudelaire despised photography as being a product of industry. He felt it provided an impression of reality that did not have the 'spiritual momentum' which came from the imagination. Whilst reviewing a photographic exhibition in 1859, clearly saw the need to put photography firmly in its place:

"If photography is allowed to supplement art in some of its functions, it will soon have supplanted or corrupted it altogether....its true duty..is to be the servant of the sciences and arts - but the very humble servant, like printing or shorthand, which have neither created nor supplemented literature....'
--http://www.rleggat.com/photohistory/history/artists.htm [Dec 2004]

On Photography (1977) - Susan Sontag

On Photography (1977) - Susan Sontag [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Camera Lucida (1980) - Roland Barthes

Camera Lucida (1980) - Roland Barthes [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Camera Lucida is a short book published in 1980 by the French literary critic Roland Barthes. It is simultaneously an inquiry into the nature and essence of photography, and an epitaph to Barthes's late mother. The book investigates the effects of photography on the spectator (as distinct from the photographer, and also from the object photographed, which Barthes calls the "spectrum"). In a deeply personal discussion of the lasting emotional effect of certain photographs on him, Barthes considers photography as asymbolic, irreducible to the codes of language or culture, and acting on the body as much as the mind. The book develops the twin concepts of studium and punctum: studium denotes the cultural, linguistic, and political interpretation of a photograph, while the punctum of a photograph is its wounding, personally touching detail which establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it.

Camera Lucida, along with Susan Sontag's work, is one of the most important texts in the criticism and theory of photography.

Barthes died unexpectedly soon after the publication of Camera Lucida, and many have read the book as Barthes's own epitaph for himself. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camera_Lucida [Dec 2004]

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