The Culture of Photography


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Beauty of northern skies captured by photographer pulling all-nighters

What are the transformations in photographic production, reception, representation, and aesthetics?


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It employed a small lens with a fixed aperture and shutter speed, and used roll-film. Kodak released the successor to the Brownie in , the Instamatic camera , also an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera that was highly successful. The instant success of the Instamatic series and consequently the film-format made sure other camera manufacturers followed suit in using the same type of film.

In , Polaroid introduced the Land camera , named after its inventor Edwin Land. These instant cameras with self-developing film where made commercially available in In the first color film was introduced for the Land camera, although it took until to make color photography with Polaroid Land cameras as easy as pressing a button and shaking the picture into being. The popularity of these early compact cameras shows how photography and the production of images came within the reach of every one, no longer the exclusive realm of artists, scientists and art experts.

Amateur photography dramatically changed the way we look at pictures and the meaning they convey. It dramatically changed our view of art, history and every day life. According to Benjamin, photography has destroyed the cult value of art. The mechanical process of exact reproduction of images through photography together with the absence of a photographic original has made the commodity of the photograph, as well as the reproduced object, worthless.

Photography allowed every one, not just the rich and privileged, access to owning reproduced works of art. Images no longer need a background of ritual mysticism; they can be produced by any one, for whatever reason. This led to painting and sculpture gaining exhibition value as the new form of commodity for works of art.

But mechanical reproduction also destroyed the aura of the work of art; the commodity of an image in relation to the rareness of that image.

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A photograph, without an author, without cult value, without economic value, infinitely reproducible, freely and publicly accessible to mass consumption, has no aura. Even if it depicts a work of art, the cult value and aura have completely vanished in mass culture where images are merely used for consumption.

Benjamin argues that the only value that is left for the image is the political. In this way, photography implies great democratizing potential. Given the time and place in which Benjamin wrote this article, his introduction clearly shows his Marxist perspective;. They are, on the other hand, useful for the formulation of revolutionary demands in the politics of art. The book consists of a collection of visual essays that were originally brought to the public in the format of an educational TV-show produced and aired by the BBC in The convention of perspective painting, unique to the European art tradition from the Renaissance to the beginning of the 20th century for depicting reality, makes the eye of the beholder the centre of the visible world.

But the human eye can only be in one place at a time. The camera changed this and brought new appearances to our eyes, appearances that were previously impossible to see.

Images could be reproduced and travel across the world. The visible world no longer has a single centre, as the human eye is dissolved, extended and forever changed by the mechanical eye. And by this process, the way we see the visible world, the way we construct meaning and make sense of reality and history also changed. This quote is worth repeating here in length, as it is compelling how Vertov places the mechanical eye of the camera at the dynamic centre of a new way of seeing and experiencing the world.

A mechanical eye.

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I, a machine, show you a world the way only I can see it. I free myself for today and forever from human immobility. I am in constant movement. My way leads towards the creation of a fresh perception of the world. Thus I explain in a new way the world unknown to you. Realism in painting encounters the problem of combining the representation of the spiritual real and the representation of the physical real, the latter always leaning towards illusion.

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This inability of painting to reproduce reality is the reason photography is so successful at satisfying our obsession with realism. Photography forms images automatically, without the intervention of man.

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Some nuance might be added to this statement, since it is man who selects the object to be photographed, the composition, the lens, the aperture and shutter speed. However, Bazin argues this process does not play the same role as it does in painting. Photography does away with the subjective human touch and view of the artist that is always inherently present in painting and sculpture. Bazin further argues that the technical method of photography ensures an aesthetic experience that is closer to personal perception.

Bazin argues that the photographic image has an advantage over painting in reproducing reality because it does not create a replacement but rather a reproduction of an object in reality, and this reproduction is often treated as a true representation of the object. Re-presenting the object as it once existed in space and time. Our ambivalence towards representation of reality is exemplified by the way we accept photography and film to be true and real, despite the fact that we are aware of the widespread manipulation of photographic images. Bazin concludes by arguing that the photographic image strips its object of our spiritual preconceptions, presenting it in its virginal purity.


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Analog photographs have long been described as footprints or stencils of the real, depicting an object that once was in direct contact with the negativ through the lens, capturing the reflecting light. The 10 winners of the Open competition were announced on 26 February; the overall winners of both the Open and Youth competitions will be revealed on 17 April. Tickets go on sale on 5 March at 1pm GMT. Save to Wishlist. Here, the nominees share the stories behind the images.

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Pan Jianhua wins the Culture category. Photographs respond to analysis, yet thinking about them tends to fall into two contradictory camps, neither of which would be acceptable in the study of other media. At the ordinary level, people too often still hardly think about photographs at all: given the volume of excellent photographic activity there are remarkably few critics of photography in the broadsheet newspapers, for example.

Somewhere in the middle, I have believed that one can find useful sensitive non-prescriptive careful analysis of photographs and what they do. You are listed as a founder of the Prix Pictet. Can you say a little about that? It is a prize that seeks to promote and circulate all that is best in photography pertaining to sustainable development and the environment. It has the peculiarity of being quite deliberately neither an art prize nor a prize in photojournalism, but one which seeks to reward the strength of messaging that great photographers have, whatever particular idiom they work in.

I have, as you say, been involved with the Prize from its outset, and am very proud of what it has become. A circulating programme of exhibitions brings these important pictures to a huge audience annually, and the catalogue we produce every year reaches even further. The prize reaches policy-makers in public and decision-makers in private and has used the transcultural power of photography to draw attention to a wide range of environmental problems.

Do you have specific ambitions for photography within the University of Brighton?

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