14th July 2013 – 17th July 2013
I received this book along with the documentation for my first course, The Art of Photography, way back in 2010 and I tried to read it then. I must say, like a lot of other students, I found this an extremely difficult book at the time and wondered why it had been given with the introductory course, I felt that surely a much easier read would have been less off-putting, something like Charlotte Cotton or John Berger. Anyway, I managed to read about half-way and then gave up. I think my approach to reading this type of text at the time was mostly to blame, as I used to read the entire book before putting pen to paper, as it were. I’ve since learnt that, for me anyway, the best method is to read one chapter and then review that, read the next, review and so on until the end. It’s surprising how much more sticks in my memory doing it this way, I suppose it’s because the writing down of my understanding of the chapter immediately after reading it, cements that information for recall at a later date. For comparison, my first review of this book can be found here and here.
What is A Photograph?
I would imagine that by far the vast majority of the world’s population will no doubt have seen a photograph and be able to describe what one is. But although we can all describe one physically, can we describe what it is in terms of meaning?
After reading this first chapter I had to acknowledge that the photograph is in fact very enigmatic and can mean various things to different people, and certainly different things in different cultures. I’m not sure if there are any cultures left where to make a photograph of an individual is taboo, because they believe the act is taking away a part of them, but there are many examples, that all photographers encounter, where even in so-called, sophisticated societies, there are a great many people today who prefer not have an image made of themselves, and not because they’re wanted by the authorities. A great number of these people don’t want their image made because they have a latent idea that photographs show the best of the world at large and that images they’ve seen of themselves, so far, don’t match up to their expectations of something that they want to represent them in such a world. Others still believe that the ‘camera never lies’ and so they’re afraid of what they look like when photographed for posterity. Both of these major excuses are about the way that they either perceive themselves, or, how they believe others will perceive them, from the images that are made. Putting aside this rather vain attitude toward photography by individuals, of themselves, photographs clearly have other meanings.
In the late 19th century, photography was struggling to be accepted as an art form in its own right and a large number of practitioners, including the photographer Stieglitz, were using photography to create images that followed the genre’s that had been established for hundreds of years by painting. By the early 20th century some photographic artists had come to realise that this slavish following of painted art tradition was not, and would not, realise the full potential of photography and started to make images in the modern style. With this shift in style came the blossoming of a whole range of new meanings for the photograph, and has, today, developed to the point where it is now accepted, by most, as a fully fledged artistic practice in its own right. Now we have many different ways of providing meaning and narrative through our images, and the physical sizes we use to display them create further impressions from shock and awe to quite contemplation and all feelings in between.
So, far from being a piece of photographic paper with an image on one side of a period frozen in time, the photograph has developed into an artistic medium that defies any one description of what it is and what it means, as this concept is constantly shifting, creating enigmas wherever it’s used.