CCTP-725: Fall 2011

Week 10 Discussions

“In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.” – Alfred Stieglitz

The word “photography” literally means to record light, yet photography means so much more to our society. It is a representation of reality, regarded as reality, that infiltrates our minds in a way that no other art form can. Photographers such as Harry Callahan believed that to really see you had to see photographically. He spent the better part of his life photographing his wife Eleanor, trying to understand and see his love for her and their life together. Photography gets knocked by painters and critics, often for not truly being a “fine art,” punished for its mass appeal. I would argue the opposite, that it is a different kind of method, of art. It cannot be considered in the same way as painting, nor would it want to be. Modernism emphasized the flatness of paintings, and the dynamism of photographs, of their tonality and representational qualities. Comparing photographs and paintings hardly does either of them justice.

Photography has been interpreted and reinterpreted over time, partly due to changing technologies. Film and digital photographs used to be characterized as “mirrors of reality,” which eventually gave way to “coded versions of reality.” More recently, photographs have been regarded as “indexes” or traces of reality, of something that was once. Now, the constructed photographs and composites that function really as representations of photographs, have incited a new wave of discourse surrounding their status and role in our visual and art culture. One of my professors from SCAD, Suellen Parker, is a very accomplished and innovative artist. She was among the first fine art photographers to work creating digital composites, and her pieces are highly nuanced compilations of clay figures, self/portraits, photographs she stages, props and scenes she builds, high res scans, and other images she takes. Here are a few examples:

Screen_shot_2011-11-05_at_11.09.13_PM.pngScreen_shot_2011-11-05_at_11.08.55_PM.png Screen_shot_2011-11-05_at_11.09.33_PM.png
Photography’s resemblance to our social concept of “reality” is dangerous. When looking at a painting, there is a clear delineation from that which we consider reality, and the painting. However, it is not so easy to differentiate between photographs and reality, and often they subliminally enter our minds. Who hasn’t seen a picture from their childhood only to realize that you cannot remember if your memory existed before you saw the photo, or if you constructed a memory from the photo itself? The social and reflexive implications of photography far outweigh those of painting, and

Stemming from its earliest use, photography has battled for a place in the fine art world. Pictorialism as a movement mimicked the impressionist era for paintings, and softened the lines between photography and art. It was only as modernist photographers (several of whom founded the group f/64) began their “straight” shooting and developing that the camera was really used for its strengths. Although fine black and white photography is still a craft to be admired, and one in which I hope to continue to work, the hybrid ways in which photography is surfacing are truly remarkable and speak to our current moment.

Here are a few great quotes from some of the canonized photographers:

There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer. ~Ansel Adams

Actually, I'm not all that interested in the subject of photography. Once the picture is in the box, I'm not all that interested in what happens next. Hunters, after all, aren't cooks. ~Henri Cartier-Bresson

All photos are accurate. None of them is the truth. ~Richard Avedon

I just think it's important to be direct and honest with people about why you're photographing them and what you're doing. After all, you are taking some of their soul. ~Mary Ellen Mark

I went into photography because it seemed like the perfect vehicle for commenting on the madness of today's existence. -Robert Mapplethorpe

Photography can never grow up if it imitates some other medium. It has to walk alone; it has to be itself. -Berenice Abbott

The mission of photography is to explain man to man and each to himself. And that is the most complicated thing on earth. -Edward Steichen

Serene Al-Kawas

Di Lu

I find the concept of “post-photographic” in this week’s reading appealing, which is somehow related to my thoughts in the post for week 5 when we discussed image as a hybrid. The technical advance blurs the boundary between images produced by traditional lens-based camera and those by digital techniques. For years after the invention of cameras, we have got used to read images that highly imitate the reality as photography, and complete realistic representation becomes the ultimate goal of image production. As the same time we pursue the increasingly realistic imagery with the help of innovative technology, we are concerned with the origin and “identity” of images made in non-traditional way, or in other words, photography created by digital technology instead of lens-based equipments.

The question, as many others raised in this class, may not finally come into an agreement that recognized by everyone, but I think Tim Hetherington, a photographer and film maker, may offer a simple perspective that jumps out of academic discussion and go back to the nature and original purpose of photography.

Tim Hetherington was a British-American photographer for Vanity Fair magazine. His interests “lie in creating diverse forms of visual communication and his work has ranged from multi-screen installations, to fly-poster exhibitions, to handheld device downloads”, as introduced on his official website. He was best know for his documentary film Restrepo about soldiers in Afghanistan, which was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. He was killed in April 2011 when he was covering the Lybia war.

What I like most is his digital project Sleeping Soldiers. This is how the TIME magezine describes this unique video installation:

Viewers at the Photo Festival were instructed to stand close to a set of three large video screens. The three-channel work features layered images of soldiers from a U.S. Airborne Infantry platoon based in the Korengal Valley during periods of combat and while at rest. Intimate photographs of soldiers sleeping are paired with video footage depicting their often violent day-to-day work. Detailed editing and sound design by Magali Charrier help echo the surreal and brutal realities of war—realities these men all too often carry into their only moments of peace. Sleeping Soldiers’ unique format allows viewers to engage in their own dreamlike, immersive experience, evoking critical consideration of the strains of war placed upon the men engaged in the conflict.”

Sleeping Soldiers_single screen (2009) from Tim Hetherington on Vimeo.

(This is a single screen version of the original 3-screen installation that was first show in New York in 2009 .the original 3-screen version was designed as an immerisve installation, and not for the small screen --Tim Hetherington).

The photographer simply takes image and photography as an approach to express whatever he would like to show to the public. One of his interview in 2010 clearly recorded how he viewed the technique of photography:

“…If you are interested in mass communication, then you have to stop thinking of yourself as a photographer. We live in a post-photographic world. If you are interested in photography, then you are interested in something — in terms of mass communication — that is past. I am interested in reaching as many people as possible

If we are interested in the outside world and making images of it and translating it and relaying it to as many people as possible, then in some ways the traditional photographic techniques are really not important.

Authenticity and making a picture authentic is obviously important. I am not interested in traditional photographic techniques. I am not interested in putting a black border around a photograph as a way of saying that is authentic. You know, “protecting photography.”

My point about not being a photographer is that we can’t protect photography – forget photography – when we are interested in the authentic representation of things outside of ourselves…”

Here is the complete version of the interview

Photograph = Reality? Photography is always subjective.
In the Otology of the Photographic Image, Andre Bazin argues that compared to painting, photography “lies in the essentially objective character of photography.” Throughout the history of photography, there is always the debate of how does photography relate to reality. When I was taking a photo, the following two questions always came into my mind:
1) Why are the real scenes always more beautiful than my photos?
2). If I can download a better landscape image from the Internet, why do I need take photos by myself?

(a photo taken by He Meng with her iPhone)

Last month, a friend of mine uploaded a photo of the Potomac River taken by her iPhone 4. The photo has a perfect color and definition. However, while most people were praising the quality of iPhone 4’s camera, one pointed that iPhone producer inserts an inside software to the camera to make photo a perfect color. That is to say iPhone 4’s camera is not just a camera but equal to a camera plus an image processing software. Also, iPhone 4’s camera has the function to adjust the focus. However, it is not the truth because with such a simple lens, the focus function cannot be achieved on iPhone, so this function also controlled by software. That is to say the function of focus on iPhone 4 is equal to the software with the function zoom in and zoom out. Then I begin to confused. Some people said that an original produced photograph is not equal to a software produced photograph, but Photoshop can make an image to reflect reality without a photo! What is the difference between dealing a photo in the camera and dealing a photo on the computer? Nowadays, cameras seem to be more and more crazy. Toshiba have already published the first camera with Wifi SD card. With this card, you can upload your photos from a camera to the Internet and computers directly.

For the second question, an answer could be even stand in a same position, use a same camera, different people take different photos because they have different understandings of a same scene. is to say photography is always subjective!

Film Camera, Digital Camera, Cellphone Camera, and Adobe Photoshop

Nowadays, film camera is almost only used in making movies or studio arts. A digital camera with an image processing software can make an equal effect of film camera. With the raise of quality of cellphone, more and more journalists, citizen journalists, and bloggers have begun to use a cellphone camera to record news. Cellphone cameras are easy to take and easy to upload photos to the Internet. Also, the qualities of cellphone camera’s photos can be far more satisfied the pixel needs of webpages and newspapers. Due to the existence of Adobe Photoshop, people can add and remove elements on an original photo, or create a totally new photo. For computer based image processing software, some photographer said the software is used to make photo close to reality, others said the software is used to make a idealist photo.

When we were young, we always imaged if we were a characters in the TV or movies. Portrait Studio (or photographic studio) can help us make this dream come true. In the studio, people can ware different kinds of costume and photographer use Photoshop to add anything you want. Studio photography is also used a lot for magazines. Through software, photographers make models a perfect look and a perfect background in color, shape etc.
(sample photo of Target Portrait Studio)

Photographed by David Sims, Vogue, October 2007

---by Xindi Guo

Helene Vincent

In Ontology of the Photographic Image, Andre Bazin states, “The quarrel over realism in art stems from a misunderstanding, from a confusion between the aesthetic and the psychological; between true realism, the need that is to give significant expression to the world both concretely and in it’s essence, and the pseudorealism of a deception aimed at fooling the eye (or for that matter the mind); a pseudorealism content in other words with illusory appearances.” This notion of realism vs. pseudorealism is an importance aspect of photography. On the one hand, photography can satisfy a quest to convey “true realism,” because it captures something that is actually appearing before the camera as it appear in that exact moment. But on the other hand, as professor Irvine stated in his Introduction to Photography, Photographs are made/constructed, and as technology develops, providing artists with new means to edit and tweak their photographs, photographs develop the pseudorealism described by Bazin.

Bazin’s notion of pseudorealism is also present in Roland Barthes Rhetoric of the Image, but under a different name. Barthes uses the term “pseudo-truth.” According to Barthes, there are intentional signifieds in every image (particularly advertising images). When you look at an image, you link that image to other thoughts and ideas. Images convey what can be described as hidden messages. An image has a constructed meaning under its surface appearance and it is up to the viewer to focus his or her gaze and understanding on the scene to interpret that meaning. If an advertising firm has done their job well, multiple viewers will look at an image and come to the same conclusion, if an advertising firm has done poorly multiple people will have thoughts drifting in all kinds of different directions as they analyze an image. Here are two very different fashion ad campaigns that exemplify this idea of a constructed meaning:



The Tom Ford Autumn/Winter 2011 ad campaign consists of very bright photographs of models on the designer’s glamorous and extravagant designs. These spectacular women are located in what looks like the middle of a big city at night. Looking at the images fills the viewer with a desire to look as sensuous as these women. Wear Tom Ford, and you too can look like a sex bomb. Everything down to the animalistic expressions on these models faces conveys an empowering awareness of their sexuality. Ford creates a pseudorealism or pseudo-truth for women: you can look this fabulous by abiding by the Tom Ford look. But this pseudo-realism is, of course, far removed from reality. The viewer looks at the image and sees a beautiful, elegant, fresh-faced model in the middle of an exotic exciting environment. But is that reality? Hardly. Most women do not hang out in perfectly lit parking lots at night in $10,000 outfits. Even if a viewer of this image buys every article of clothing worn by the model and each component necessary to recreate the hair and make-up, it still will not add up to a re-creation of this image, precisely because that image is not a true reality.


The same can be said of Balmain’s ads from 2010. Specific meanings are discretely being conveyed through the construction of the photographs. There is an emphasis on the individual, standing alone. The photographs instill a notion of uniqueness in the mind of the viewer. Balmain is a company for those unafraid to stand apart from the rest. But again, this is not a true reality. We normally (hopefully?) do not stand alone in starch white rooms looking ever so slightly rebellious. The photographs suggest a mood and a lifestyle, but certainly not a common reality for the majority of, if not all, people.

Yizhou Zhang

“For me, photography is neither to be an onlooker nor to create a masterpiece of art, but to find the link between the fragments of the world and our own lives through personal experience, and then seek the spiritual encounter. Always from the cracks between self-reflection and self-representation, I feel the dilemma without knowing what to do.” - Daido Moriyama

“Photography cannot let people see the reality. Photography is different from the reality - photography is caused by real things, but lies are closer to reality itself. The so-called reality, is the real in fantasy.” - Nobuyoshi Araki


Daido Moriyama and Nobuyoshi Araki, two of my favorite contemporary photographers, are best known in the Western world for the post-war Japan under their lens. When I first saw the images of Tokyo shot by Moriyama and the pictures of Yoko (Araki’s wife) taken by Araki, I became obsessed with all of those blurred, tilted, out-of-focused, high contrasted, black and white street snaps and erotic portraits in their distinct Japanese style.

There has always been the question about how to reach the balance between authentic and artistic quality in photography. In practice, no matter in digital or film era, subjectivity permeates photography at all levels: framing, composing, focusing, lighting, and the most controversial part concerning documentary photography - postproduction, both traditional darkroom and digital software processing. From my perspective, photography should be seen as the mediated record of reality - the memory. As to the set-up works by commercial or pseudo-documentary photography, it’s just the reconstruction of reality - the simulacra.

Below are some quotes from Araki’s book Tensai Araki Shashin No Houhou (literally “Nobuyoshi Araki’s Genius Photographic Technique”), which are extremely valuable for the discussion of photography, art and life:

“Not only pictures, anything has its own ‘shutter time’.”

“When photography and time overlap, it will create the ‘current’, which is the most functional part - a moment you can feel life and death at the same time. ”

“Be sure to take pictures that can wake up the sense of a story.”

“I think the best pictures are without careful composition - too deliberate attention to composition will limit you within the frame.”

“Digital image feels so dry instead of moist. It can suddenly disappear and be taken again. This kind of picture is too weak.”

“The love of life and death, that is photography.”

“Photography itself contains the so-called lie and truth, a mixture of virtuality and reality.”

“Photos are taken to be forgotten - the moment it’s photographed, the memory disappears. I give my memory to camera - when it becomes a photo, new memories will be generated.”

“Photography must contain elements of death, as well as sensual feelings.”

“Isn’t the so-called art a challenge to the public power?”

This is an amazing "underground version" of a TV commercial for FUJIFILM FINEPIX X100 camera, and I translated the Japanese voice-over into English as the following (the sentences are all famous quotes by Moriyama and Araki):

“Like a wild dog, I take pictures everywhere across the streets.”

“Photograph is rather memory than record.”

“Things will disappear eventually, but memory remains forever and leaves feelings far and near in our lives.”

“Each picture is completed by the photographer and the photographed. With the camera, it’s like a threesome.”

“I wonder if the world is a cemetery. I wonder if we’re still alive.”

Yu-wei Wang

“Photography is an art which imitates art.” by Douglas Crimp in The Photographic Activity of Postmodernism.

With the rapid development of digital technologies, photographs can be taken, deleted, reproduced, transmitted and modified without ado. In this digital era, almost every image is digitalized and composed by thousands of pixels. Paradoxically, it is these pixels that capture the ‘reality’, the transient existence which we want to turn it into permanence, yet it is these pixels that allow the ‘imagery of reality’ be altered or deleted in a second. Due to this feature, the natural reality that we captured is not only diametrically be framed by the lens, the setting of camera, but also be framed by the perception toward the reality of the photographer per se. The perception of the photographer shows not only form the angle, the light, the focal length and the objects he choose, but the after-processing he does on the imagery. The ways that the photographs be developed, the mode, such as Lomo or Black&White, that he used to shoot picture, the modification that he does in the Photoshop software, these processes embeds different ‘codes’ , which the photographer would like viewers to acquire, into the imagery. From this perspective, photography is never an objective recorder; instead, it is the perception of the world from the photographer, the image manufactured by the photographer.

The ‘aura’ of photography

"In our time, the aura has become only a presence which is to say, a ghost." by Douglas Crimp in The Photographic Activity of Postmodernism

In The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin expressed his concerns of the depreciating of the ‘authenticity’ of the artworks, and the demise of the ‘aura’ in the artworks in the age of the proliferation of photography. In his notion, the presence, or more precisely, the intervention of the author, is a crucial factor in the concept of ‘authenticity’ of the artworks. In The Ontology of the Photographic Image, André Bazin defines the aesthetic in painting by putting, “the aesthetic of painting, namely, is the expression of spiritual reality wherein the symbol transcended its model.” Similar to many of the paintings which depict the world outside, photography depicts the outside world not with the brush hold by the artists, but via the lens hold by the photographers. Although, physically, between the originating objects and its reproduction intervenes only the instrument, will the absence of the ‘producer’ jeopardize the ‘aura’ of the imagery? Or like Douglas said, the ‘aura’ in our time is no longer exists in a perceivable form?


Muslim women attend prayers on the eve of the first day of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan at a mosque in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia on August 31, 2008. [The original photo]


Photo edited by Shen-Chi Chen by using the software Photoshop

I am not sure whether there is a solid answer for the questions. However, in my perspective, I would like to adopt André Bazin’s viewpoint noted in his The Ontology of the Photographic Image "that all the arts are based on the presence of man, only photography derives an advantage from his absence.” As Bourdieu argues in his Photography: A Middle-brow Art “that any work of art reflects the personality of its creator...the photographic plate does not interpret, it ‘records’.”, in my opinion, it is because of the ‘absence’ of the man that gives more ‘codes’ of meaning into the picture the photographer filmed, since the image not only carries the personality and thoughts of the photographer, but the clues of the actual ‘reality’ that cannot be acquired from the traditional artworks.

Pic source:

While doing the readings, I was interested in learning about Henri Cartier Bresson and Andre Bazin’s thoughts on photography, particularly about mastering the instantaneous as well as being aware of the inability to escape subjectivity. In thinking about these somewhat contrasting ideas, I immediately thought of the photographer Vik Muniz and his documentary Wasteland. In this project, Muniz went to Brazil (where he was born and raised) to the largest landfill in the world, Jarim Gramach, to photograph the garbage pickers. His work captures both this concept of instantly capturing the moment and yet the intention behind the result is already present. Some of the photographs read more like case studies whereas others are clearly posed and make references to famous iconic images like the Madonna and Child or The Death of Marat.

What makes his work particularly interesting, however, is his use of photography. In this particular series, he photographed the garbage pickers at work in the landfill and then recreated the photos in a much larger scale, using the garbage and recycling items from the same landfill. He even recruited many of the garbage pickers to come help create their own image. The result reads like a photograph on first glance, but upon closer inspection you realize that there is depth and texture. He uses other mediums as well such as peanut butter. His work makes the viewer continue to question what is a photograph and what is the role of photography in our current society? Does it have to be socio-political or a “realistic” representation of a subject? How does it change the perception of the photograph when you realize the photograph is actually made up of trash or peanut butter?
vik_muniz2.jpg 6a00d8341c1ad253ef0147e34b5bb0970b-320wi.jpg
Katy Schwager

Had surrealists invented the first cameras, our vision of photography would be immensely different today. Cameras were created in a specific cultural context, at a specific time, and as cultural artifacts these technologies replicated the values and beliefs of that cultural context. Similarly, writing about photographs and photography is a reflection of particular cultural and symbolic codes en vogue at particular times. When Niepce created the first photograph in 1827, he was undoubtedly influenced by the centuries of realism that preceded this event, as well as enlightenment ideas about truth, reason and reality. Just as photography combined the technological achievements of "optics (lenses) + chemistry + material support,"(Irvine, syllabus), Niepce and his contemporaries combined philosophies of art, aesthetics and science to produce images that were culturally meaningful. The ensuing debates about photography, painting and image reproduction were likewise products of the cultural, philosophical and intellectual currents of their time.

Bazin's statement posed an interesting question for me: "Photography and cinema on the other hand are discoveries that satisfy, once and for all in its very essence, our obsession with realism."(7) Clearly, postmodern artists and theorists have deconstructed the realism of the photograph, but simultaneously technological progress has created images that are all the more realistic. With the advent of photographic and cinematographic techniques like those used in The Matrix series and Avatar, the illusion of reality pushes beyond old limits of acceptability. Isn't this what Baudrillard referred to as the hyperreal? With further innovation, the realism of today will quickly become passe made obsolete by new sensibilities and cultural conditions.

For a long time, I've been wondering whether CG will eventually reach a point when it is so realistic, when it so accurately mimics the mechanics of they eye, that there will be no need for further technological development. If present trends continue, CG will become so life-like that it will exceed the limits of biological perception. Could any human being decipher the difference between an image captured at 500 or 501 megapixels? Are Bluray discs noticeably higher quality than DVDs? More importantly, is there a limit to the quality of realism in a certain medium?

The Myth of Progress
The Myth of Progress
Based upon the readings and some historical observation, I am guessing that realism will continue to be redefined based on cultural norms and values. Though cyborgs might seem like machines of the future, even those of us who wear bifocals or contacts are aided by machines attached to or embedded in our bodies. With further advancement in optical technology, its possible human vision could become far sharper with the use of optical aids. Even if the myths of human and technological progress is unable to advance infinitely, technological catastrophe, too, would have effects on the cultural codes embedded in realism.

Technology that reproduces images "realistically," albeit ultimately simulacra, is inherently useful. It reproduces a biological function and aids as a memory device. From forensic photography to journalism, "realistic" images still hold a great deal of cultural sway. Yet it remains to be seen whether other simulacra, such as sound recording or virtual worlds, will achieve the same cultural status, although they may be remarkably faithful reproductions.

Ben King

Photography and the “Spiritual Dust and Grime” - Jess Steele “By the power of photography, the natural image of a world that we neither know nor can know, nature at last does more than imitate art: she imitates the artist.” – André Bazin

iPhone Photography, Source:
As “Un art moyen”, photography gets right at the question – What is art? Through a critique of Bourdieu’s Photography: A Middle-brow Arti¸ J.A. González observes the objective of the photographer as similar to any artist – a search for legitimization: “photographers as artists, regardless of their individual aesthetic, need the recognition of a group to succeed” (129). Whether through the introduction of work into a “sanctioned site” or through “institutional recognition” (131), for a photographer to stand above “amateur” play or simple mechanics, the subjective choices, whether technical or aesthetic, become the focus for inclusion within an art history.

“These images are a comparison between an 8 megapizel digital camera (left) and an iPhone 4S (right). The images were taken at the same time and distance at Chinatown Coffee in Washinton, D.C. Larger image and source:

Through cameraphone photography, sometimes called “iphonegraphy”, the argument between the spiritual/aesthetic/Pictoralist perspectives and the objectives of pure/surreal photography collide in a hybrid of high art through “amateur” means. While camera phones have long become ubiquitous, the technical improvements seem to have crept speedily ahead – many argue to rival the capabilities of point-and-shoot compacts. Pixels At An Exhibition boasts a “highly curated site” where all submissions “are shot and processed on iOS devices only: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch”. Started as a submission site for the “first every gallery exhibit of iPhone photography”, the Giorgi Gallery show, “Pixels At An Exhibition,” the site also lists a full-color publication of illustrations and a bibliography of similar sites. Attempting to establish its own “group” vision of legitimization, in a truly Gonzálex/Bourdieu fashion, iphonegraphy sites attempt to “establish their own systems of judgment”(129) with a focus on both the technical and aesthetic. In some ways, the focus is truly “pure”, with a concentration on the capabilities of the camera phone apart from any post-production, while others focus on the “aesthetic” power of iphone apps (interesting can be found interview here). Of course, departing from the modern photography debates of the 1930s, iphonegraphy allows instant sharing to photo sharing sites, both of “visionary artists who are fully mature, museum- and gallery-ready, as well as a slew of up-and-comers, whose hard work and passion will garner well-deserved success” (iPhone Photography Makes Big Impact).
P1XELS: The Art of The iPhone - $40.00 in Print:
View Slide Show and Image Sources Here:
As González points out, however, the reception of photography into the category of “art” extends from “the differences of attitude and choice which identify the class differences in the use and distribution of photography” (128). On social media sites, we see some of the largest distribution of photography – both as “art” – and as documentary. Through these platforms, it seems, Bourdieu’s theories of collective identity formation have truly “aged gracefully” (González 127). Integrated into a narrative platform, and now, literary, on Facebook, as a “timeline”, we see how photographs have become integrated into Barthes’ “floating chain of signifieds”, Chamboredon’s idea of symbolic signification, and so on, to a networked history of word/symbol relationships and identity . Gonzélez writes:
At one time, photography primarily relied upon the representation of valorized material objects, or things: today much photographic art practice rests on the representation of ideas, narrative, irony or metaphor…they function through a tradition in which they are valorized -- without this institution sanction, the works which rely upon these visual tropes would not maintain the same social status. (130)
Through social platforms, and professional or personal “documentary” style photography blogs showcasing family occasions (shameless PR link to friend’s sites:, we see different objectives between the subjective style of iphonegraphy “art” and those produced for social/professional purposes. The false introduction of a subjective/objective binary in photography can be seen through these types of photography and their reception on social sites and new “Facebook depression” phenomena studies. Here, we see Bazin’s notion of the photography as possessing the “quality of credibility” as an “object reproduced, actually re-presented, set before us, that is to say, in time and space” (8). Akin to “surrealist creativity” (Bazin 8), or even hyperreal media, the lives of friends and strangers almost become “an hallucination that is also a fact”(Bazin 8) through narrative photography sharing.
Photography then becomes a way to legitimize identity and art, as González/Bourdieu describe: “Photography is considered to be a perfectly realistic and objective reading of the visible because (from its origin) it has been assigned social uses that are held to be ‘realistic’ and ‘objective’ (Bourdieu p.74)” (González 128). Despite, I believe, a more critical view of the subjective power of photography and the power of post-production, in part, due to hyperreal media, there is still a residual “spiritual dust and grime”(8), as Bazin calls the forgotten subject/aesthetic in the assumed objective nature of the photographic medium. As social media users create a narrative through photography, perhaps the “irrational power of the photograph” (Bazin 8) becomes even stronger than the days when photography was first introduced and compared to the painting.
Therefore, both through “documentary” photography sharing, and iphonegraphy “art” sharing, we see a quest for Bourdieu’s legitimization and cultural creation, “a reciprocal construction of meaning...Images structure identity; identity structures images production, interpretation, and acceptance” (González 128).
For more information on process, see mini-documentary on the "iphoneographer":

external image afp-room-on-couch.jpg from the book, Awkward Family Photos“An art which imitates art” would be Pierre Bourdieu’s definition of photography. It seems that photography is the outsider of the art world--the younger, naive, wannabe art form. Indeed, Christian Metz notes that its production is more “accessible to ‘ordinary’ people” (81). This ordinary person “takes the world as he or she sees it, i.e. according to the logic of a vision of the world which borrows its categories and its canons from the arts of the past” (Bourdieu 75). Whether they intend to or not, the amateur photographer is imitating art, framing their photo the way their brains have grown to reference images frozen in art.
external image wilde%28sepia%29.jpgOscar Wilde No. 18 by Napoleon Sarony (1882), which set off a major copyright case
Suzanne Fischer notes in a recent article in //The Atlantic// that “early observers of photography had concluded that it was not an art so much as a way of capturing nature as it was.” In the mid-1800s, people believed that a photograph was a part of nature, and questioned whether rights to it could actually be owned. This famous picture of Oscar Wilde set off a Supreme Court case in which it was determined that because Wilde was posed, it was an art object and therefore subject to copyright protection. The law is summed up this way: regarding copyright, a photographer “makes” a picture as author; regarding privacy, a photographer “takes a picture” and its property of the subject, whereas the photographer is a “mere mechanic”.
external image ppabc_chocolatefountainrgb-425x445.jpg An ad mocks bad wedding photography
It seems that whenever access to a certain field or product is granted to the masses (i.e. books, music, designer fashion, etc.), those in the upper echelons can more easily criticize it for losing its original qualities, as if the fact that people mark occasions with a souvenir photo seems to cheapen the craft. Photography is far more accessible and easily grasped by the average person, which I think is a positive aspect to the craft, though certainly it means that there is more to criticize, especially when used for ads or persuasion. external image instagram-logo-iphone-kevin-systrom.jpg external image instagram-20101006-102306.jpg
Metz mentions people’s “self-celebration” with photos. I think no more have we self-celebrated than in today’s me-centered instant-gratification culture. This interview in //Fader// with the creators of Instagram, which they dub a “fast, beautiful and fun way to share your life with friends through a series of pictures”, questions the why “so many people are eager to document, faux-age and super-saturate the days of their lives.” Why are people drawn to taking pictures of their dogs playing with a toy and applying a filter to make it look old-fashioned and artsy? Again, people are imitating the artform, photography, which is ubiquitous in our culture. An Instagram creator said, “we’re not trying to be a photography exhibit, we’re trying to be a communications medium.” This hints at a concept we discussed earlier in the semester, that all communications are moving towards a visual medium. Perhaps one day we’ll only communicate via instant snapshots?
--Barry Blitch

Victoria Hamilton
"Having a camera doesn't make you a photographer any more than having a yard makes you a gardener." - M. Antonio Silas
Much like Katy, I was also struck most by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Andre Bazin's articles. Bresson notes "for me, the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the sketch book, an instant which -- in visual terms -- questions and decides simulataneously. In order to "give a meaning" to the world, one has to feel oneself involved in what he frames through the viewfinder. This attitude requires concentration, a discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry. It is by great economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression. One must always take photos with the greatest respect for the subject and for oneself." Bresson
This sensitivity can be seen in the documentary photography work of husband and wife team, Edwin & Louise Rosskam. The Rosskams are the subject of an exhibition at the American University Katzen Center this fall co-curated by Laura Katzman. Re-Viewing Documentary the Photographic Life of Louise Rosskam

Louise Rosskam was the daughter of a well-to-do Hungarian Jewish family from Pennsylvania who had originally intended to live her life behind the microscopic lens but after meeting her future husband and his bohemian friends in Greenwich Village was content to remain in the background instead concealed in expense ledgers as his ‘gasoline.’ Although their works were more often attributed to her husband, she claimed that her work was as a social activist uncovering truths and advancing social justice and change. I question whether this was truly her sentiment. No doubt, she and her husband were a team. But in a patriarchal society in the 1930s perhaps it was also just a matter of good etiquette and taste to allow your husband to claim credit for more than his due. As one discovers from wall text and from discussions with Laura Katzman, co-curator of the Rosskam show, perhaps later in her life and as times changed, with a sense her own sense of mortality she felt more free to claim credit for the work that was either previously attributed solely to her husband or to their collaborative team.

Despite who is credited in history books and photographic anthologies for years to come, the work of the Rosskams is poignant and gripping for its rawness but also the trust their subjects lend them. The Rosskams did not photograph complete and total strangers they first built rapport with families and were then allowed to tag along and document life as they saw it. They integrated their families into the neighborhoods they were compelled and often commissioned to document whether for the Farm Securities Administration in the Heartland of America, Puerto Rico or aboard a Mississippi River steamboat.

"The aesthetic qualities of photography are to be sought in its ability to lay bare the realities." Bazin

Families of Nationalist Demonstators Who Were Killed in the Ponce Massacre, 1937, Edwin & Louise Rosskam

Pallbearers, 1938, Edwin & Louise Rosskam

Full House: Interior of Workers Shack, 1938, Edwin & Louise Rosskam

The Rosskams work also reminds me of the sociopolitical documentary photography of Gordon Parks in Washington, Chicago and Rio that is currently on view at the Corcoran. Parks befriended Red Jackson, a young gang leader in Chicago and was present at the funeral of his friend, Maurice Gaines. Parks captured the shattered innocence in the faces of both young gang members and the unmistakable anguish that is palpable. Instead of just capturing these realities they were published in Life magazine and are back on view now at the Corcoran.

"For photography does not create eternity as does art does, it embalms time, rescuing it simply from its proper corruption." Bazin

Denotation, Connotation, Photography:
Does the Perceived Indexical Status of the Photograph Allow it to Function as Essentially Denotative and Transmit Connotative Messages Undetected?
Erica Harp

In reference to image semiotics, Barthes discussed the denotative and connotative-- defines the denoted image as the “analgon itself” and the connoted image as “the manner in which society…thinks of itself” (“The Photographic Image,” 17). I think this is a fair definition and one we are largely and collectively familiar and comfortable with as a culture. In art images outside of photography such as print making or painting, the delineation between the denoted and connoted is fairly discernable—its very much apart of the code to approach such artwork with indexical interpretation and to assume that there is intended connotative or larger meaning. In Manet’s The Picnic, the viewer knows to denote the “woman,” “man,” “outdoors,” etc., but also that there importantly connotative meanings here.

For the photographic image, the approach may be different—the argument being that because the indexical value of photograph seems so accurate that it is experienced most prominently, that because the denotative quality of photographic seems so “realistic,” note of the connoted is neglected. So, taking this assumption, one could argue that photographs are able to sneak through significant connotative meanings and implications that are far from objective so that they are absorbed almost unconsciously or passively—the viewer takes in the both the denotative meaning and the value laden connotative while only being aware of the former. Of course, a postmodern posture could make a reasonable objection; the assumed objective reality of photograph has been rejected—its is a part of the code of photography is assume that the image is art and has connotation or an agenda. In some cases, I agree. Viewing LaChapelle’s “Cat House” from Professor Irvine’s slides, the postmodern viewer is well aware that this image is not documentary or evidentiary or to be seen as indexical—no one is naïve enough as a contemporary viewer of media to approach an image like this without knowing there is some greater meaning here, even if they have no clue what it is (Irvine, Introduction to Photography).

I agree that the code of some photography has come to require the discernment of connotation and/or implication, but it think by and large it would be foolhardy to suggest that the viewing public experiences photographic image (and film images) as subjective.

What about a Google satellite image of my street?

While it may be apart of the cultural experience of image viewing to see connotation or “Meaning” with a capital M in “Cat House,” a satellite image of Potomac St NW is not culturally coded as Meaningful or connotative, but as indexical, objective, and connotatively sterile. With analysis, the Google satellite image is certainly not pure denotative (as if such a thing exists), but reveals many values and social implications. Its easily arguable that there is nothing “natural” about satellites orbit the earth capturing images deemed worthy of accessible internet search—the fact that this image was funded, created, made public, etc. has tons of Meaning, but its mostly not experienced that way even through postmodern or post-pomo eyes.
I’m not suggesting that we’re all duped by all photographs and foolishly think they are all just “reality.” In fact, I think that from the beginning of photography viewers have becoming more and more discerning. I am suggesting instead that there are places that remain indexical or denotative in their treatment—particularly, surveillance images seem to function this way. In the larger discussion of representation, image, and photography. This point is significant as a crucial place to see the unique behavior of the photographic image and how it is experienced.
This type of record photography is connects the matter of camera phones and iPhones into the discussion—to explore this, I look to my own iPhone. In looking, I found two images demonstrating this point further. First, an image of an Ikea tag—instead of writing down the pick-up information for the end warehouse of frightening consumerism, I snapped images of items I sought to purchase. When referencing them, I experienced them as purely denotative—just information or documentation of the modally true location of the bookcase I wanted.


On the other hand, I found a picture I snapped of a sign in a gas station bathroom—“All” Employees Must Wash Hands Before Returning To Work—that I sent to friends because of the disturbing quotation marks around “all.”


Both images are essentially the same, iPhone snaps of signs, but they are purposed differently and received accordingly. One is meant for Meaning and one for data. So while Barthes reading of photographs as “signs without codes” may be outdated in many cases, in some cases photographs still slips through without coded interpretation (Irvine, Introduction to Photography).

Barthes, Roland. Image, Music, Text. “The Photographic Image” & “The Rhetoric of Image” Translation and selection by Stephen Heath. Noonday Press: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. New York, New York. Pp. 15-31, 32-51. 1977.
Irvine, Martin. Introduction to Photography. PowerPoint Presentation—“Cultural Hybridity: Remixing Art, Music, Culture.” Accessed 6 Nov. 2011.

Image sites: Manet ‘The Picnic”
iPhone photo images from Erica Harp
screen capture images from Erica Harp


There is no quarrel on whether photography is a kind of art. Along with the development of technology, Art becomes more and more “cheap”, since it is not that far away for the public as before. Monet used almost 10 years to draw his masterpieces, waterlily. But in ten days, Andy Warhol could make a bunch of his silver-screen works. Camera now allows almost every common people the opportunities to be an artist. However, there comes the problem, if every one can make, can it still be called art? Though we have all accepted that photography is a kind of art, what the value of it? Is there a standard to evaluate? How can you pick out the greatest piece from millions of works? These are the question that I always ask myself. For instance, I wen to Moby’s photography exhibition, almost 10 pieces of his work were hang on the wall. But what was the most impressive part of that event was still his songs. To be honest, many people came, holding a glass of wine, walking around, and talking to each others, but how many of them did pay attention on the photos? Was there anybody can tell me why were those ten pieces that were chosen? What was their core values? I think people always encounter difficulties when approaching the value of photograph.

I am always moved when I am standing in front of a painting, such as Monet’s Waterlily, Van Gogh’s postman. They shows me the endeavor that the painters put the works, their inspirations, and their passions. Degas had made different draft works and sculptures for his girls in barre. From this process, you can perceive the change of the work, you can see the growth of the artist. This maybe the most impressive part of the old fashion paintings.

Conversely, the most charming part of photograph is that, they are completed almost in a breathe. What is caught in a photo can not happen again based on the famous truth that no one can step into the same river twice. This may be the most original and important value of a photo, recording the moment that will never come back. Moreover, I think common people share the similar aesthetic sense, people can catch the deep emotion behind the works.

Another question then came up to my mind, along with the development of technology, more and more softwares are provided to the users to revise their photo, adding some magic effects, such as photoshop. It does help people to better express their idea towards aesthetic, but to some point it destroy the value of photo at the same time. It’s not the recording of the gone moment anymore. So, what’s the value of those revised photography?

Ashley Wei

In the digital age where most people can afford a digital camera, producing and sharing photographs become so easy and mundane and people start to ask: is photography an art anymore? Well, there are definitely many ways to keep photography artistic, and I found this one really fascinating: cinemagraphs -- elegant, subtly animated creations that are "something more than a photo but less than a video." Here's one of my favorites:


"We wanted to tell more of a story than a single still frame photograph but didn't want the high maintenance aspect of a video.” Primarily, the artists shoot the photos and then apply the motion-graphics magic in what they describe as "a highly collaborative process" that can take several hours of manual editing in order to breathe the whisper of life into each image.

Another interesting aspect to view cinemagraphs is that they are in GIF format, which is usually considered a low-quality, fast-food style internet product. However, GIF is very basic, highly linkable through outlets such as Tumblr, and integrated into the web. Flash certainly has more capabilities but since our images are at their heart a traditional photograph, a format like .gif makes the most sense. The format has interesting capabilities as well as some severe limitations which are very influential in the visual style of our images. The GIF cinemapraphs are simply beauty, the subtle animation and the aura it creates is so impressing that I bet if Leonardo da Vinci saw these pictures, he would love to create a cinemagraphic version of Mona Lisa as well.

See more cinemapraphics in