As we all know, photography was invented mid 19th century, more accurate in 1839, by Fox Talbot. Since photography was invented, and for the first eighty years of its existence, it was mainly focused on realism. People were only focused at capturing things as they are. The fact that they were able to depict images in such a realistic manner was already new and inspiring for the users of the camera. Photography quickly evolved and grew, within 30 years of it’s invention it was already used for many different purposes, like documentary filing, portraits of people(family albums), postcards, which was a famous movement throughout photography.
All those uses of photography were used to depict real scenario images, things and people as they are in real life, without any alteration. The industrial revolution and capitalism also affected the uses of photography, which range from a technical evolution of the camera device itself to the ways people were able to make and reproduce images. At the beginning of the 20th century, photographic cameras had a technological revolution, were smaller and easier to use, which lead to the invention of the compact camera, there was no constant need for a heavy tripod and means of transportation for a camera, as well as letting the amateur photographer do his/her job without having to worry about developing and printing the images. These things could be done from the companies laboratory, as Kodak famously advertised their services during that time. Because of this, the photographers, amateur or professional, were also able to make more images at a time, shoot portraits of people in a shorter amount of time and finally print and reproduce those same images, within a matter of hours, which again let to a business and industrial growth.In “Uses of Photography”(an essay by John Berger), you will notice that the author’s feelings and opinions about Photography are very direct and sincere, he talks about it in simple terms, and just as photography does, describing things as they are in it’s realism.As the author himself says, it was not until the 20th century that photography took a turn, it “became the dominant and most “natural” way of referring to appearances.”(John Berger: Uses of Photography,p48).
Because of its ability to visually reproduce things we see with our own eyes, it was offering the most realistic ways of encounter with a situation, and able to be freely used by the public as a new type of medium.Before photography, the closest visual representation of “the real” were paintings and drawings, but however realistic and natural the artist tried to make it look, it was not even close to that realistic “engraving” which a photograph could provide. As this new medium kept evolving and offering more realistic imagery, it created a look and meaning of its own, a new way of representing the real.
A photograph is a part and a trace of its subject or subjects, the ones it captured, freezed aside and took aside that moment of history, to be visually seen on a piece of paper. As time passed by during the 20th century, the world kept developing and being industrialised, there have been many important historical moments recorded, including many war records, and the only device capable to retain and keep all these moments of history and turn them into a “spectacle” was the camera. The continuous presence of cameras also had an effect on the ways events are captured and seen by the population. This kept happening until the society started being based on images and visual representations of acts, goods, images, actions etc.As society got used and started to demand these new aspects of photography, there appeared a new use for photography, and possibly not an ethical one, people managed to transform photography into a way of surveillance, as a result, “social change is replaced by a change in images”(John Berger: Uses of Photography, p56).This was the first time that the uses of photography had been changed and transformed, almost manipulated for a different purpose and give it a new meaning and function for society.
As a result, photographs started to be used in newspapers, posters, advertisements. It shows how the new and developing culture of capitalism and consumerism affected photography’s purpose and reason for invention. Because of the new way that photographs were being published, people, the society, were being shown and taught how to look at a photograph from a different perspective and point of view, the one of a consumer, a potential future customer. No need to say that this was a public use of photography.Photography and fine art. John Berger himself argues that photography should not be considered fine art. Fine art does not have any strong connections with the topic realism, especially in Photography.
This argument has been discussed for over a century by photographers. Most people did not even consider photography as an art, mostly because of its mechanical and industrial features, as well as the availability to the population and its negligence to the necessity of an artistic eye or view. It is for sure that, because of it’s visual qualities, photography will “survive” much longer than the art of painting and drawing, its uses will be updated and changed as society changes and years pass by.
It is quite amazing that photographs have already managed to make their ways into museums and exhibitions. It was expected for photographs to be the most valued and most used as important historical records, since photographs have the highest quality of visually representing an object or any subject. The reason for which paintings, drawings and sculptures will die is not only that society does not consider them a form of art anymore, or the incredible amount of skill and artistic view needed for their production is not appreciated anymore.
One big factor was that photography drastically affected their value. Before, as works of art or fine art, they were and still are incredible to look at. The big difference is that before, if you wanted to see such work of art, you had to go to where the work of art is exhibited, the rarity of the work of art was also a huge aspect of its value and importance. With photography, which is “available” to depict and reproduce these works of art, the drawings, sculptures, and paintings lost this unique value of theirs, and did not feel like a valuable property anymore. There was no more “illusion of protection” and rarity over those works of art and they were widely available, for anyone to look at and hold a small version of that same art, in their hands, in their home, free for anyone to look at. Photographs themselves were and are affected in the same way, they have no such value because they lack rarity.
Since the instant shot is being taken in the camera, the production of the image, and the infinite availability for reprint, even these first three principles make photographs not unique and special to the common viewer. During the 20th century, photographs are mostly records of things seen, showing things as they are, which is one of the main characteristics of Realism in Photography. The author’s argument is that during that time, the social function of photography was as property, therefore photographs are mostly out of the category as an art. Since they are man made, and a large part of their production is man made and technological, it is not considered art by many people, because it does not require and artistic view to produce such imagery.
During that time, the simple act of taking that photograph, of an object as it is, as it is seen by the eye, was a simple decision taken by the photographer. ” I have decided that seeing this is worth recording it.” The fact that it was recorded in the camera and considered worth recording it by the amateur or professional photographer, it already send a message to the viewer/s.