Photography: A Concise History – Ian Jeffery

To gain a comprehensive overview of photography and photojournalism I compiled a selection of key historic texts, with this information I could strengthen my introduction as advised in the first practise run. Just with Mary Warner Marien however, some chapters were more applicable to my research paper than others.  My notes and the evaluation  from the relevant chapters can be seen below:

  • A problem examining photographic history is that some mediums are not generally accepted, photojournalism is always overlooked – few of them are looked at as artists
  • Photography doesn’t always have to be the individual images – some are designed to work as a series
  • There have been local movements such as the Farm Security Administration
  • During the 1840s and 1850s photography was more schematic than instantaneous
  • Frederick Scott Archer’s wet collodian process made instantaneous
  • Photographer’s rose was a spectator not transient
  • Roger Fenton’s work on the Crimean War are more widely known than his noble life series of 1861-62 (documentary and photojournalism means more exposure)
  • Why should photojournalism/documentary be remembered more?
  • William Howard Russell – two theatres of war, explored the backstage of war and said that this was the most important
  • Photographic material has been important in documenting event history
  • Matthew Brady (founder of Daguerrean Miniature Gallery in 1844) in 1862 he organised ten photographers to cover various battle fronts of the Crimean War to cover all aspects, the protagonists and the rebuild afterwards
  • Publishers began 1870s
  • Photographers, artists and documentarians became ideologues, promoters of particular world views
  • It is important to study a culture in order to gain a comprehensive understanding which will then allow a photographer to produce a truthful impression/narrative/account
  • Stieglitz (writing in 1897) scorned ‘detective’ cameras, his view was that camera should be used to ‘jot down photographic notes’
  • In the U.S photographers also worked for the betterment of society
  • In 1934 Walter Benjamin thought that recent photography had been a failure as it had taken a route with photomontage and theatre – pictorial illusion was interrupted and opened to question
  • Other practitioners had the view of photography as a language therefore a metaphorical approach was natural and would be effective
  • German photographers during the 1920s established the ethos ‘human interest’
  • Two rival magazines the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung and the Muncher Illustrierte Presse used to use single photographs but then started publishing sets of interrelated images from 1928 onwards increasingly
  • Erich Solomon, Felix Man, Wolfgang Weber, Kurt Dephot and Weltrund Schau
  • Capal and Seymour envisaged mankind as heroic in the face of suffering – and even heroic because of suffering
  • ‘By 1930 photojournalism was a well-established trade, rich in pictorial formulae’
  • Cecil Beaton’s photographs were always highly staged, despite the ‘decisive moment’ ethos of Cartier Besson
  • James Jarche was different, ‘he was at home among the working classes’
  • Britain wasn’t entirely insulated to foreign methods
  • Photography is marked by self-conscious and by an acute sense of tradition
  • From 1950s impersonal forces were questioned as photographers increasingly wanted to ‘declare person viewpoint’
  • ‘the world is seen through individual eyes’
  • ‘pictorial formulae everywhere are contradicted’
  • The recent history of photography is reactive rather than continuous despite photography allowing a greater scope for reflection
  • Robert Frank, The Americans was denounced and shunned by critics, he dramatised the ordinary world
  • Wegee was an abrasive, even abusive realist
  • Lee Friedlander, concern was with ‘the vantage point’

Evaluation:

This book didn’t have quite as much as much content as the book by Mary Warner Marien however it was still useful and provided me with useful information. Jeffery uses the word ‘pictorial formulae’ numerously in this book, however it is unclear whether it is direct reference to the coded nature of digital photography or whether it is to do with the information and meaning embedded in the photograph. I interpreted it to mean the nature of the digital image and the manner in which information is disseminated through the image in the digital age. This terminology is definitely something to consider when writing the section in my research paper examining the differences between analogue and digital technology in relation to photojournalism. The concept of ‘human interest’ is very interesting as I believe the notion has been lost or slightly distorted in current photojournalism and media. With organisations struggling due to the recession, the commercial need to attract an audience appears to have outweighed the need to bring awareness to content that the audience needs to know. This has resulted in the production and distribution of soft imagery such as the photography from practitioners such as Benjamin Lowy and Damon Winters who reference the aesthetic of Polaroid and Instagram in their imagery. In my research paper I plan to address the need for challenging content and stress that a revival of imagery that is deemed to be in the public interest rather than what they feel comfortable consuming and the references from this book will support that notion.

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