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Introduction to Photography

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Introduction to Photography
Lee Friedlander, Self-Portrait, Haverstraw, New York. 1966. В© Lee Friedlander
From There to Here
How Do we Get From Here
Early 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 Genres
There are many codes (interpretive frames that we learn
culturally) and genres (types) of photographs and
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
пЃ± Documentary/Documentation, Evidence
пЃ± Reportage, Photojournalism
пЃ± Narrative (can use any other genre)
пЃ± Landscape, Nature
пЃ± Portrait
пЃ± Family history and rituals, snapshots
пЃ± Street photography
пЃ± Studio and staged photographs
пЃ± Advertising
пЃ± Fashion
пЃ± Fantasy images, Surrealism
пЃ± Erotica, fetish, porn
Earliest Photographic Images
Registering Light (“Photography” = “Light Writing”)
Joseph NicГ©phore NiГ©pce
"View from the Window at Le Gras"
(circa 1826)
First Daguerreotype, 1837
Louis Jacques MandГ© Daguerre,
Inherited Theoretical Issues
Passivity 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.” --Stieglitz
Periodical 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
“Georgia O’Keeffe, Nude,” 1919
“Winter on Fifth Ave., NY,” 1893
Exemplary Artist:
Bresson and the “Decisive Moment” Concept
Henri Cartier-Bresson
Model of the "street
photographer", with a
Leica 35mm camera
and using existing light
“Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare,”
Cartier-Bresson as “theorist”
Strict adherence to
“indexical” value of the
photograph, assuming
only the framing and
interpretation of the
Landmark book:
Images Г la Sauvette
("stolen images," "The
Decisive Moment”)
Photographer as Recorder, Memorializer
Archive of images: Archive | Archive of images at Magnum
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 fear
Annie 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 video
What 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
The memory of the earlier “indexical” function is still there,
but the power of the image as image is more important.
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