HT1 Essential reading: Carol Squires ‘Looking at Life’ 1981

Carol Squires reflects on the popular magazine Life which was launched in 1938 and was one of the first picture paper magazines in America. Within her introduction she speaks about how different Life magazine was to its European counterparts ‘British liberalism, anti-fascism of France, German photojournalism’ (1981, p140) whereas Life was conservative.

She also expresses how the way magazines use their images within articles concludes the meaning of the photograph and so when images that were used in Life magazine are taken out and reproduced in books and exhibitions they have a completely different meaning to the viewer as the original text that came with the photograph is not always shown, at the most they will display the caption or title. As photographs have many ‘meanings’ they are very complex and can be interpreted in many ways, and so Squires brings up the issue of taking the image away from the text.

The works of Henri Cartier-Bresson ‘The Decisive Moment’ and also Ropert Capa specifically his image ‘Loyalist soldier falling dead during Spanish Civil War’ are considered  as they both have specific texts that go with the images and so by taking away these texts Squire proposed they were then ‘fiction’ as they could be interpreted in many different ways.

Henry Luce was the main man behind the idea of Life magazine with business partner Briton Hadden and made it ‘a virtual textbook for American political opinion, mass culture and sex-role instruction.’ (Squires, 1981, p143) Luce’s main aims for the magazine were:

To see life; to see the world, to eyewitness great events; to watch the faces of the poor and the gestures of the proud; to see strange things – machines, armies, multitudes, shadows in the gangland on the moon… to see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls…
Things dangerous to come to; the women that men love and many children; to see and to take pleasure in seeing; to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed.
Thus to see and to be shown, is now the will and the new expectancy of half mankind.
To see, and to show, is the mission now undertaken by LIFE.
(Squires, 1981, p143)

Carol Squires then goes on to talk about specific issues of Life magazine explicitly the October 25, 1954 and September 16, 1957 which both had significant articles about events within them. The 1954 issue which is discussed Squires mainly looks at the ‘Hanoi’s Red Masters Take Over’ section of the magazine which presents the event of ‘the final departure of the French from Hanoi after 68 years of occupation, and the Communists ‘winning’ finally bringing repression with them.'(1981, p144). The 1957 section of the issue Squires focussed on was regarding interrogation in schools and how America overcome this in a humane way, which is followed by pictures of women competing for Miss America, by the way these two are set next to each other Squires suggests that Life are presenting how someday black women would be able to compete as well.

Overall Carol Squires talks about Life and shows how it came to be and how important image and text can be in relation to how the images are accepted by the viewer.

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HT1 Essential Reading: John Szarkowski’s introduction to ‘The Photographer’s Eye’

John Szarkowski’s introduction to ‘The Photographer’s Eye’ discusses what a photograph looks like and also why it looks the way that it does.
A big part of the history of the photograph is art, as it was scientists and painters who created it. There are still debates on whether photography is art or not as art is made with someone’s two hands, whereas a photograph is taken. There is an interesting quote from Baudelaire saying photographing has “become art’s most mortal enemy” this would be true especially for realist painters, as how can you get more real than a photograph of a landscape or of a person.
Even though the creators of photography were painters and scientist the professional practitioners of photography come from all kinds of different backgrounds and by the thousands, Szarkowski lists ‘silversmiths, tinkers, druggists, black smiths and printers’ as people who converted to photography. As it became easier for people to do photography in 1853 the New York Daily Tribune wrote that three million daguerreotypes where produced in that year. With photography becoming cheaper and in the early 80’s the dry plate was introduced which could be bought ready-to-use came the beginnings of the amateur photographer and also of snapshotting photographs with out any real thought.
Listed in the introduction are five of the problems the medium found over time.

  1. The Thing Itself – The actual, the thought that a photograph cannot lie.
  2. The Detail – If a photograph cannot be a story, it could be a symbol.
  3. The Frame – The edges of showed the end of the image and shows what the photographer thought was most important.
  4. Time – The photograph is the present and the past.
  5. Vantage Point – Photography taught the photographer to look from different perspectives.In conclusion John Szarkowski’s introduction to ‘The Photographer’s Eye’ talks about the photograph and how it has developed in history and how different increases in the science has enabled more and more people to take photographs and be photographers.

HT1 Essential Reading: Between Art and Commerce: the still life photograph by David Campany

The article written by David Campany discusses still life photography and how it can both be art and commercial photography. It is one of the most well-known types of photography and can be created by almost anybody as all it requires is a camera and an object; it can be a table or a fruit bowl (which is most common in art and photography). These types of images however can be used for both art and also for advertisement.
During the 1950s-60s commercial photographers began to want more of a structure to their photographs as they were not keen on how unpredictable art is and so tried to develop a science to their image design. This then led to Roland Barthes who through his semiotic critique created an analyses advertisement desired. Barthes believed that photographs were coded with things that the photographer has embedded in them, making them not universally understood, there are several elements of an image that you could not understand maybe due to the location, or historical aspect, and also if it was in reference to a work of art, you would not know this unless you had seen the work of art it was in reference to in the first place.
In conclusion still life photography has developed over time, and is known by all whether it is for art or advertisement.

The Essence of the Medium: Modernity and Straight Photography

In todays lecture we discussed Modernism, Formalism, Pictorialism and Straight Photography.
The era in which Modernism was most apparent was between 1850 – 1965 and can be grouped into three different category’s; modernisation, modernity and Modernism, all three which mean different aspects of this era. Modernisation is concerned with scientific and technological advances such as the steam train, cars, camera etc… modernity is a form of experience and an awareness that things are changing and adapting, one example of this was the ‘Flapper’ which was a group of women in the 1920’s who decided that they were not going to conform to the expectations of women at that time and cut their long hair into a bob and wore loose fitting dresses (which were easier to get into cars). Lastly is Modernism which is cultural movements and the experience of the new.
Formalism, which was important to modernist art was working with pure or significant forms that possess their own unique qualities and so they would often sign their work in order to make the art even more significant and unique.
Pictorialism was inspired by paintings and would often be either nude or still life. They thought that Straight Photography, which is purely concerned with photography in a scientific form and not at all interested in making it look like a painting was too mechanical. In the 1920’s many turned away from Pictorialism and looked at Straight Photography instead. I think that both Pictorialism and Straight Photography both have different aspects that I think are intriguing, as I think that you should experiment with photography and try new techniques, but no matter what you do to the image, if you created it using a camera, it is photography no matter whether it is sharp or out of focus.
Over all I found the lecture very fascinating and I enjoyed looking into these different times in history and how they shaped what photography is today.

HT1 Essential Reading: Marien, Mary Warner ‘What Shall We Tell the Children?’ Photography and Its Texts (Books)

The first time I read the essay I found it very hard to read and to understand (partly because I had a cold and was constantly having to blow my nose every 2 seconds) but after my second reading of it, it became a lot clearer to me.
I now see that when it comes to the history of photography it is very broad and impossible to talk about every photograph ever written, so each book that uses ‘History’ and ‘Photography’ in its title is very brave indeed. No two History of Photography books are the same and include different images and decide to leave in and out different subjects and genre’s.

The basis of Mary Warner’s essay is about Beaumont Newhall who was the first to take on the challenge of writing a book on the History of Photography. I found it very interesting reading about how each edition of Newhall’s book would changed as his perception of what was important changed.
What I found to be the most fascinating adaptation of the book was in his 1975 edition. Newhall after being reluctant to think of collage, montage and bricolage as photography then decided that without photography these mediums and ways of creating art would not exist. I myself can see why you would be disinclined to acknowledge this within a book on the history of photography as I more relate and think of them as art. They are exercises that you would be taught in art class, rather than photography.
This is the section of the essay that I found the most interesting and also that I felt some connection to as I too discover that collage, montage and bricolage cannot exist without photography and so what started out and as a photograph can then become art, but still be a photograph.

In closure to my short post on my first thoughts of Mary Warner Marien’s essay, I was pleasantly surprised at how it did not melt my brain the way I thought it would and look forward to further readings and lectures.