Simon Sweeney | Informing Contexts: Photography at the crossroads

Informing Contexts: Photography at the crossroads

January 28, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Photography at the crossroads

What is the nature or natures of a photograph today? 

Is a photograph not just a framed reproduction of what the photographer sees? A picture made from a camera?

Photography’s history of prized objects/portraits, to analog and digital reproduction/manipulation questions the pure nature or natures of photography. So how has photography evolved throughout the 200 year history? Is what we see now different from what was, or is how the image used questioned by how it was meant to be seen?  

(Olin, 2002, p3) states ‘photography gains power as a relational art.  Its meaning is determined not only by what it looks like but also by the relationship we’re invited to have with it’.  Furthermore Kevin Robins mentions that ‘photographs have provided a way of relating to the world, not only cognitively, but also emotionally, aesthetically, morally and politically’.

Having struggled with dyslexia for most my life, I find it difficult to express myself with words and it takes much longer for things to be processed.  A famous saying is that ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ and if so, I would say it is down to the interpretation of the viewer. The two quotes from Olin and Robins add to this perspective and that a photograph can always be manipulated to lead to a certain interpretation.

My argument is fuelled, where advertising giants Benneton published a colourised version of Therese Frare’s B&W image of aids victim, David Kirby and dying moments with his family. Without discussing the arguments of copyright or ownership, it’s difficult to express my opinion of the ability of the photograph to shape shift through context. Photojournalism and advertising will inevitably use the means they have available, whether this is morally correct or not. If a photograph is beneficial to both awareness of a disease and promotes a clothing company I see no harm. However opinions vary and so do the interpretation of a photograph.

In considering the case of Benneton I do find the world unhate campaign leaders kissing, to be ethically misjudging and unacceptable provocation. I believe in the manipulation of photographs to enhance the artistic nature of an image and I would classify this as art. My ethical judgement of placing a believable context together as if no manipulation was made is questionable and in my opinion unethical. In this instance even if permission is granted by the subject(s) or owner(s) it would still be questionable. John Szarkowski (the photographers eye) ‘Concentrates on a selection of a fragment of the real world – transformed into a photograph visual artistic practice in its own right’. If these two people never kissed then this is not a fragment of the real world. It is make belief and manipulated – fake. Kracauer on the other hand acknowledges the ability of the photograph to communicate in certain kinds of ways. (Kracauer, 1960, p.245) Each medium has a specific nature which invites certain kinds of communication whilst obstructing other.’ Therefore even though it is manipulated and make belief the communication of the unhate campaign is clear and concise.

To quote my own practice with Uta Barth (2012) ‘that the human eye sees differently from the lens. Not just what we see but how we see'.

I would debate that Photography is both an Art and a Science. The artistic nature is how you visualise what picture you want. The scientific nature is how we get that result. Whether this be by print, on screen or psychologically.


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