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17 The Implications of Photography

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Mia Jankowicz

on 8 August 2015

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Transcript of 17 The Implications of Photography

ARTV/DSGN/FILM 2113 - Intro to Visual Cultures
Session 17 - The implications of photography

Key terms:

Iconic signifier
Indexical signifier
Symbolic signifier

The uses of

An indexical and
analogue medium

Camera obscura
The physical principles behind the camera obscura (light passing through a small hole will produce an image, upside down, on the opposite wall) have been studied and used in recorded history since C400 BCE.
The camera obscura is a room or a box with one small hole on a side (sometimes fitted with a lens). The images that pass through the hole strikes a mirror inside that is mounted at a 45-degree angle, reflecting the image onto a drawing surface where the artist can trace it.
(literally: "dark room")
View from the Window at Le Gras
, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, ca. 1826
Invented by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, ca. 1826.
Heliotypes were made by coating a metal plate with bitumen of Judea and exposing it for 8 hours inside a camera obscura. The tar that is not hardened by the sun can then be washed away, leaving an image. (Helio="sun")
- Made in a partnership between Louis Daguerre and Niepce in 1839.
Technique: polished layer of silver on top of a copper plate. Sensitized with iodine to create a silver iodide surface. Exposed in camera, then developed in mercury vapor and fixed in a salt solution.
William Henry Fox Talbot, The Oriel Window, South Gallery, Lacock Abbey, photogenic drawing negative, 1835.
We also talked about the way the invention of photography has affected
we see the world.
First photograph of a U.S.

Matthew Brady,
James Knox Polk
, daguerreotype,
Feb. 14, 1849
The kinds of subjects that we made into images also changed.
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth 1, c1600-1610, oil on canvas (unknown painter)
Kno-Shr, Kansas Chief
, daguerreotyped by F.H. Fitzgibbon, St. Louis, 1853
truth, & power

Assistant to photographer
Roger Fenton, driving a mobile photography studio during the Crimean war, 1855
It became possible
for people to see
major political events, wars, catastrophes, etc.
We get the start of
Roger Fenton:
Mortar Batteries in front of Picquet house, Light Division
, 1855
1862 Photographer Matthew Brady captured the American Civil War

Southworth and Hawes,
Early Operation Using Ether for Anesthesia
, 1847, daguerreotype
Photographs were used to support social activism
Jacob Riis,
Five Cents Lodging, Bayard Street, New York
, 1889
Photography was used as legal evidence
Homicide victim "Owen Owen 2nd mate steamship North Carolina found lying on barge at foot of 35 Street Bklyn. May 2, 1917 #1626"
"Killed by William Burke at #140 W. 32nd St. on Jan. 22, 1916, DeVoe, file #1002"

Anticolonial evidence, published by Saad Zaghloul

1919 photograph showing the lashes suffered by supporters of the
anticolonial Wafd Party
It was also used to study things the eye could not see in normal conditions.
Eadward Muybridge,
The Horse in Motion
, 1878
(Muybridge's work is also seen as the very beginnings of film)
It was also used to study things the eye could not see in normal conditions.
Théodore Géricault,
The Race at Epsom
(1821), oil on canvas
And it was used to show spectacular events
The Hindenburg disaster, 1937
To see faraway people and things
Depiction of Blemmyes, engraving in a 1603 German edition of Sir Walter Raleigh’s
Discovery of Guiana
, 1595. [Collection of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University]
What is the ontology of photography?

What is its basic, originating essence?
What makes a photograph a photograph?
Our premise is that how we relate to the idea of
changed as a result of the
specific properties
of the photographic medium:

- Photography is an
- It has an
relationship to its subject matter

Roll film is an update on the same technology, but on plastic instead of metal or paper plates

Photography is the bringing together of physical and chemical sciences, some of which date back to prehistory.

The physical principles of the camera obscura have been explored since at least 400BC. What needed to happen before the camera obscura could produce photography as we know it?
Analogue technologies include a tape, a vinyl record, a clock with hands, a sundial, or a spirit level.
It is important that these early
photographs were an analogue technology, because it meant that the image was captured in the presence of the thing represented, by means of light interacting
continuously and gradually
with a treated chemical surface, which reacted continuously, so as to produce the image.

KEY POINT: At some point, both photograph and thing existed at some point within the same physical space.
Something made from, or that uses signals or information represented by a continuously variable physical quantity. Information is received in gradations or 'shades of grey', and not in binary or coded 'bits' (digital)
Howard Hodgkin,
Dirty Weather
(2001) oil on canvas
Because of this fact, photographs have a special, haunting power.

Unknown photographer,
Sojourner Truth
, 1864, albumen silver print from glass negative
Thus, theorist Andre Bazin (1918-1958) gave several summaries of the
ontology of photography:

- A photograph is like a fingerprint – “a record of the thing itself made by the thing itself”

- “The photographic image is the object itself,” but at the same time “freed from the conditions of time and space that govern the object.”

An indexical sign is one made by a direct connection to the body of the person that made it. Example: a fingerprint, or a handwritten signature.
Photography is indexical.
The light bounces off you and into the camera's lens, making a trace of your physical presence.

Through light, it is like a fingerprint of you forming itself on the chemicals of the treated photographic surface.
Or to put it in semiotic terms, an indexical sign is a sign in which the signifier is linked to its signified through an actual physical connection. It doesn't have to look like its signified: it 'points to' the signified. Another example: a weather vane being moved in the wind is an indexical sign of wind.
This was discussed by the semiotician Charles Pierce. He suggested it as one of three ways to describe different signifiers.
3 different types of signifier
(a picture of the thing signified)
(the signified expressed entirely in language)
(The signified expressed as a trace of its physical presence)
The unique thing about photography is that in Pierce's semiotic terms, it is the only medium which is both iconic
indexical. It both resembles
bears a trace of its referent.

This gives it enormous weight in relation to our idea of truth.
Frances and the leaping fairy
, 1920
Untitled, 1917
The Cottingley Fairies
"Look at Frances' face. Look at Iris' face. There is an extraordinary thing called TRUTH ... it is God's currency and the cleverest coiner of forger can't imitate it."
Spiritualism & ghost photography
Eva Carriere 1912
Augustine Gleize c 1980, photographed by Asti Hustvedt at the Saltpetriere hospital for mad women for the studies of Dr Jean-Martin Charcot, to illustrate hysteria.
John Einar Hagen, 'Syrian hero boy' video, 2014
Visual Cultures textbook p207-217 (stop before start of final paragraph)

Watching: four early short films on youtube
- The first photograph to 'fix' the image in a camera obscura
- A positive image
- Exposure time of 8 hours
- Poor quality image
- Much better image
- Exposure time: 1 minute
- Produced a single positive image
- Invented by William Henry Fox Talbot in 1839
- Used paper (not metal plates) to catch the image
- The chemicals
in light, which means it created a negative image
- Using translucent paper to make this negative meant the photograph became reproducible
C.L.H. Hahn, "Dr. Cadle and two average size Kalahari Bushmen" photograph (1927)
Title unknown, probably by Jean Audema (c. 1920)
Chanarin and Broomberg,
Shirley 1, To Photograph the Details of a Dark Horse in Low Light
, (2013) 2m x 3m billboard
The human eye adjusts to different light sources, but photographic technology has been calibrated on the basis of light bouncing off white skin.
In 1977, filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard refused to make a film in Mozambique with Kodak film because he believed it to be racist.
A racially neutral technology?
In 1980, in response to complaints from the furniture and chocolate industries, Kodak developed a new film that could handle lower light.
Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin,
Kodak Ektachrome 34 1978 frame 4
(2012) C-41 Photographic Print
In 2012, artists Oliver Chanarin and Adam Broomberg collected expired Kodak photographic film stock from the 1970-80s, after they were invited to and travel to Gabon to document a rare Bwiti initiation ritual. Due to the condition of the film, only one image survived.
(further reading and links on the issues of technological 'neutrality' in photography: http://medievalpoc.tumblr.com/post/68684104743/poc-creators-note-a-bear-covenesque)
"Anything that comes out of that camera is a political document. If I take a shot of the carpet, that's a political document." - Adam Broomberg
As we can see from signatures and fingerprints, indexical marks still have strong legal weight. Why is this?
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