How Do we Get From HereEarly Daguerreotypes (positive image on glass): child, and Niagara Falls
To Here Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick, Card Game,from Eisbergfreisdtadt (2007) (digital montage from multiple photographs, no digital imagery) David LaChapelle, “Cat House,” 1999 (staged studio shots, digital montage)
Jeff Wall, Scene from The Invisible Man (studio set, props)
Photography: Codes and Genres (Types)Photography and/vs. “A Photograph”In our culture now, we need to understand “the Real” or our attribution of “Reality” as a Code or position among kinds of representations.“Taking a picture” vs. “making a photograph:” photographs are made (constructed), not taken (memorialized “quotations” from reality). Barthes proposed that photographs were “signs without codes,” but that’s because he was still held by a romantic notion of photography and domesticated images.
Codes and GenresThere are many codes (interpretive frames that we learn culturally) and genres (types) of photographs and images.One major differentiation, now often blurred and fused in photographic work: The “straight shot” (framed image with existing light) vs. staged, planned, or constructed shots, with artificial light, props, sets, etc.
Some Major Photographic Genres Documentary/Documentation, Evidence Reportage, Photojournalism Narrative (can use any other genre) Landscape, Nature Portrait Family history and rituals, snapshots Street photography Studio and staged photographs Advertising Fashion Fantasy images, Surrealism Erotica, fetish, porn
Earliest Photographic ImagesRegistering Light (“Photography” = “Light Writing”)Joseph Nicéphore Niépce First Daguerreotype, 1837"View from the Window at Le Gras" Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre,(circa 1826)
Inherited Theoretical IssuesPassivity of the camera device as “light writing”, transcription of a reality outside and in front of the camera lens.Photographic image as an “index” (semiotic term), indexical sign, that points to or represents what it signifies. It’s value is grounded and justified in the represented thing or reality to which it is “true”.Photography and reference (registers a “true” external world), representation, pre-existing reality, memory, record, evidence, documentation, truth.No surprise that photography became one of the main tools of postmodernism in breaking the “reality” and “truth” codes of images, and in critiquing those codes.
Alfred Stieglitz and the “Art Photography” Debate “In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.” “The arts equally have distinct departments, and unless photography has its own possibilities of expression, separate from those of the other arts, it is merely a process, not an art.” --StieglitzPeriodical Camera Work and associated photographers were influential in establishing photography as an art form, not a mechanical or industrial trade.A debate about institutions, social class ownership and identification with photography, representation and reality, hierarchy of professions, interpretive/active “artist” status of professional photographers.
“The Steerage,” 1907 “Flatiron Building, NY,” 1903
Exemplary Artist: Bresson and the “Decisive Moment” ConceptHenri Cartier-Bresson Model of the "street photographer", with a Leica 35mm camera and using existing light “Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare,” 1932
Cartier-Bresson as “theorist”Strict adherence to “indexical” value of the photograph, assuming only the framing and interpretation of the photographerLandmark book: Images à la Sauvette ("stolen images," "The Decisive Moment”)
Photographer as Recorder, MemorializerArchive of images: Archive | Archive of images at Magnum Photos The Berlin Wall, 1963
Postmodern photography cut the link to the moment and the index of reality Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still, 21. 1978. Gelatin silver print.Staged and shot in studio. No “there there” before or after the shot.
A photograph uses the codes of “the real” that we’ve learned from a long history of photographic mediation. Gregory Crewdson, “Production Still,” 1991. C-print.
Photography is now our projected psyche: images of fantasy, desire and fearAnnie Leibovitz / Vanity Fair. The Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair, March, 2006. Keira Knightley, Scarlett Johanssson and Tom Ford.
Consequences of the ubiquity of photographic images and videoWhat is the status of the photographic image after digital cameras, cell phone cameras, amateur use of Photoshop, Flickr, MySpace, YouTube?Today a photograph is usually a digital image created to be “reproduced” (in Benjamin’s concept)A photograph is made to be copied and distributed with no fixed physical medium (in contrast to film and photopaper)The memory of the earlier “indexical” function is still there, but the power of the image as image is more important.