Photography and Fiction – Pose! That’s Not Me! // CTS

Modern day photography has changed immensely from its original form. Throughout history, people typically painted stunning views and visuals to capture the sense of real life. For example, Johannes Vermeer’s, ‘View on Delft’, portrayed everyday life through the artistic medium of paint. the fine detail shows each and every building long with people undertaking their everyday activities. The bold sky contrasts the earthy palette of the buildings below it as well as the reflections of the striking landscape in the the murky waters. It’s paintings like these that are often claimed to give some sort of an aura when viewing the piece. I agree with this statement to the degree that i appreciate the amount of work, time and effort put into creating amazing art such as ‘View on Delft’. On the other hand, photography can be seen to have a true representation of a subject, so the argument stands, the argument between fine paintings and photography as a means of showing something in its real form.

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Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675), View on Delft, c.1660–1661. Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshaus/Wikimedia Commons.

Observing the city in its beauty links well the actions of ‘the flaneur’. As well as artists, famous novelists of the 20th century also noticed the way of the city, especially 19th century France. Marcel Proust, author or ‘in search of lost time’ claimed in the publication, that we can only remember things through involuntary memory. Also in the novel, we are informed of the narrators attempts to purposely remember his childhood. although these attempts failed, when the narrator simply tasted a madeline, he was instantly reminded through the senses, not only of his childhood, but also back to particular times in his life relating to that particular object.

“Somewhere beyond the reach of the intellect, and unmistakably present in some material object” – Walter Benjamin, Modernity

On the theme of voluntary an involuntary memory, each were described through means of art. Involuntary memory was compared to the fine paintings of this time and voluntary memory was compared to photographs. This was because the aura claimed to be transmitted through fine paintings of the 20th century and beyond sparked memories of the actual subject (or relations to the subject) without the viewer consciously realising. This is different to the comparison of voluntary memory where the photographs showed a real and true representation of the subject, but lacked aura. For this reason, people often favoured paintings in and around the 19th century.

Works by Édouard Manet also amplified the actions of the flaneur. One particular piece showed a scene of partial everyday life within the modern city. It was art such as this that linked the artist to impressionism and modernity though his creations. ‘Music in the Tuileries’ was painted from a stroller in the city’s perspective. a huge concept throughout this era.

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Édouard Manet (1832–1883), Music in the Tuileries, 1862. National Gallery, London/Wikimedia Commons.

Charles Baudelaire, a good friend of Manet, came up with the theory of the act of strolling in the modern city. Baudelaire saw photography more as a tool rather than an artform. He thought that the painter’s eye was a key to ‘understanding modernity’ and that the act of photography belonged, and should stay in industry.

As time went on artists stated to realise the importance of photography as its true representation and authenticity was a valuable asset to their skill. photography was seen more and more as an artform when William Henry Fox Talbot managed to produce the positive and negative photographic process to help make several copies of the same thing. Talbot even used original concepts to help aid his photographic work. He realised from painting such as those by Manet and Vermeer, that scenes of everyday life was more appealing to the modern day audience.

It was with this recognition of photography that brought us pictorialism. This played around with the idea that beauty can be seen through other subjects rather than just portraying everyday reality. It was said that certain approaches to photography can emphasise the beauty of a subject matter, colours and even composition through a single shot; more of an artistic statement.

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Eugène Atget (1857–1927). Eclipse, Paris, 1912. Metropolitan Museum of Art/Wikimedia Commons.

An example of this can be seen above in Eugène Atget’s work. Atget captured the public observing an eclipse, this was a revelation shot as it demonstrated the act of capturing key moments in history, especially with cameras being more convenient and accessible. This was something that Atget believed strongly in and believed that it would aid us in our future. This was a statement that could not have been more true. In modern day and age, almost everybody carries a smartphone where they store images that they have taken themselves or have access to those taken by others. This just shows how photography has played a huge part in where we are today as a society.

Photography is used to capture all sorts of things in todays world, it is a convenient was of recording and documenting what we do in everyday life; but it wasn’t always so easy. Due to old technology, the way we capture an image today is very different to the old process used in times such as the late 1830’s.

Due to the camera, the exposure time for something like a portrait or self portrait would be around 15 minutes. This is a very long amount of time to sit still for so photographers would use special clamps to help the subject stay in exactly the same place for the whole exposure.

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Clamping system for Photographers where subjects would be kept still for long periods of time.

Another photographic process that took place in history was the documentation of deceased children. during the victorian times, child mortality was astonishingly high. Families would have their dead chid photographed in order for them to remember them. This links to the earlier argument of voluntary and involuntary memory, although the photo has a true representation of the child’s appearance, it is often questionable whether the photo does actually show a true memory of the child as it has already passed away. Also for this process, someone would have to hold the body still whilst the camera was exposing. To most, this knowledge creates an aura in the photograph itself as it is now seen as unacceptable in todays society.

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Mother holding her deceased child still for the exposure time of the camera.

We was given the task of keeping completely still for exactly one minute to imitate the time that old cameras took to expose in order to capture the image. We paired up and one person counted a minute whilst pointing the camera phone at the other person. The subject had to stay completely still and the photo was taken after exactly one minute. Through this task, it became clear just how difficult it was to stay still for that long. Also, we discovered that it evoked many different emotions of awkwardness and self consciousness.

This idea links to the modern culture of self portraits or ‘selfies’. Selfies are a photo taken by yourself, of yourself. these are often uploaded to social media and shared. there is huge debate about selfies as some say that it is a very narcissistic act. Even within the generations existing in todays society, they all have different views. It is mainly the younger generation that involve themselves within selfie culture, other, maybe older generations, see the selfie as self-infatuation and vanity. Others see it as a way of masking insecurity. When the photo is uploaded to social media, others responses are almost seen as approval by its owner. Taking a selfie can be seen as a huge development which also goes against the idea of the flaneur. For example, we as a society will now take photos of our beautiful city, but with us in the photo too. Although this could be seen as a good thing, bringing people together and publisicing cities around the world, the fact that we are concious that our photo is being captured, It is an ongoing debate which questions whether we are showing our true selves or masking oursleves with an appearance which we want people to percieve us by. In a world which encourages the individual, this exact arguement will continue to grow old, along with the selfie!


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