Someone recently bought our

students are currently browsing our notes.

X

Photography Notes

History Notes > Disciplines of History: Comparative History & Historical Argument Notes

This is an extract of our Photography document, which we sell as part of our Disciplines of History: Comparative History & Historical Argument Notes collection written by the top tier of University Of Oxford students.

The following is a more accessble plain text extract of the PDF sample above, taken from our Disciplines of History: Comparative History & Historical Argument Notes. Due to the challenges of extracting text from PDFs, it will have odd formatting:

History(and(Documentary(Photography(

!
!
!

Can$a$documentary$photograph$be$fictional?$
Farm$Security$Administration$Office$of$War$Information$Collection$
$
~$Landmark$in$history$of$documentary$photography$
$
~$Began$in$1935$G$attempt$to$document$the$impact$of$the$Great$Depression,$the$
$
Dust$Bowl$and$the$modernisation$of$agriculture$on$rural$and$smallGtown$life$
$
~$Visual$record$of$America's$mobilisation$for$WW2$
! 2$particular$examples$
$
~$Dorothea$Lange$G$'Migrant$Mother'$series$(1936)$
$
~$Collaboration$between$James$Agee$and$Walker$Evans$G$'Let$Us$Now$Praise$$
Famous$Men'$(1939)$

!
!
!
!
!
!
!
!

Questions(

1. Is$it$more$productive$to$think$of$the$FSA$photographs$as$'documents'$or$as$'art'?$

2. How$important$is$it$to$understand$the$specific$historical,$social$and$cultural$context$within$

which$a$photograph$was$taken?$

3. What$ is$ the$ relationship$ between$ the$ photographer$ /$ author$ /$ observer$ and$ the$ subject$ /$

observed$in$these$images?$

4. How$far$is$it$possible$to$treat$the$photograph$as$a$'transparent'$and$objective$media?$$

5. Should$we$challenge$the$photograph's$authority$as$a$direct$reflection$of$social$and$cultural$

'reality'?$

6. Can$a$documentary$photograph$be$'fictional'?$

7. In$what$ways$is$our$engagement$with$a$photograph$shaped$by$(a)$its$formal$qualities$as$an$

image$ (b)$ the$ process$ of$ editing,$ developing,$ cropping$ and$ retouching$ (c)$ the$ context$ in$
which$it$is$displayed$(d)$the$use$of$explanatory$text$and$captions?$

8. What$ can$ the$ similarities$ and$ differences$ between$ Lange's$ 'Migrant$ Mother'$ series$ and$

!

James$Agee$and$Walker$Evans'$Let$us$Now$Praise$Famous$Men$tell$as$about$the$nature$of$
the$'documentary$tradition'?$

!

Photography(Class(

!

Issue$of$idealised$or$staged$images$
~$18th$century$French$art$G$changing$representation$of$the$elderly$
~$Photos$in$rural$England$c.$1900$G$organic$community$=>$concentrating$on$the$
traditional$as$opposed$to$the$Industrial$Revolution$

$
$
$

!

Is(it(more(productive(to(think(of(the(FSA(photographs(as('documents'(or(as('art'?(
! Lange's$photos$have$been$categorised$by$art$G$both$arts$and$documents$
$
~$Systematic$and$argumentative$photography$
$
~$PhotoGessay$
Lange$also$constructs$a$visual$narrative$
!
! Burke$G$importance$of$images$to$construct$an$imaginative$view$of$history$
! Perceived$reality$is$real$to$the$people$at$the$time$G$not$objectively$real$=>$art$is$
something$which$acts$on$us$
! Documentary$reality$is$the$actual$situation$=>$documentary$

!

How(important(is(it(to(understand(the(specific(historical,(social(and(cultural(context( within(which(a(photograph(was(taken?(
! Should$not$decontextualise$and$universalise$an$image$
! Lange's$image$of$weighing$G$image$of$social$conflict$
! Brandt$G$visual$discourse$of$the$wartime$community$
! Captions$are$very$important$G$capture$intentions$at$the$time$
! Context$and$composition$are$related$
$
~$Archetypal$mother$in$Migrant$Mother$
! Rothstein's$portrait$of$a$farmhand$from$below$G$dignity$of$toil$
$
~$Contrary$to$FSA$ideology$
Dignified$and$powerful$v.$FSA's$intention$of$showing$poverty$and$helplessness$
!
$
~$Walker$Evans$wanted$to$avoid$the$intrusive$lens$in$the$interior$of$migrant$$
workers'$homes$
! Differing$perceptions$of$art$by$photographs$
! Evans$preferred$more$impersonal$images$G$houses$or$portraits$
! Lange$(1964)$G$photo$of$a$crows$protesting$was$reGcaptioned$with$'workers$of$the$world$
units'$
$
~$Independent$function$of$the$photo$
Agee's$literature$was$far$more$intimate$than$Evans$
!
! Choreographed$G$real$photography?$
$
~$Rearrangement$of$Evans'$photos$to$use$natural$light$
$
~$Barnardo's$deliberately$created$staged$photos$G$assault$on$notions$of$$
representational$truth$yet$also$an$assault$on$the$innocence$of$the$child$
! Spanish$Civil$War$G$images$of$shot$civilians$as$'fake'$
! Sliding$scale$between$document$and$propaganda$
$
~$Soviet$airbrushing$of$Trotsky$out$and$Stalin$in$
! V.E.$Day$image$creation$by$a$woman$'swooning'$with$a$sailor$G$was$simply$asked$to$do$
this$

!

What(is(the(relationship(between(the(photographer(/(author(/(observer(and(the(subject(/( observed(in(these(images?(
! Evans'$tripod$G$has$to$be$a$relationship$as$this$is$a$noticeable$piece$of$equipment$
$
~$Manipulates$photos$
! Lange$captures$images$in$important$moments$of$time$
! Lange$complains$that$she$had$lost$control$of$her$images$
! Instinctive$=>$objective?$
! Strycker's$list$of$suitable$subjects$=>$photos$as$a$collection,$creating$a$highly$selective$
and$emotionally$directed$view$
! Susan$Sontag$G$photos$as$an$evaluation$and$interpretation$of$the$world$=>$not$just$a$
record$
$
~$How$different$are$they$from$a$textual$record$of$eyewitnesses?$

!
!
!

Different$photos$emphasised$captions$

Should(we(challenge(the(photograph's(authority(as(a(direct(reflection(of(social(and( cultural('reality'?(
! Written$sources$and$images$G$can$both$be$fictional$
! Assumption$that$a$picture$of$a$child$is$more$truthful$
$
~$Street$urchin$G$Wolverhampton$boy$dressed$up$
Evans$has$an$idea$of$a$higher$truth$G$not$necessarily$truthful$=>$his$own$view$of$America$
!
! Emotive$quality$relies$on$context$
! Definite$attempts$not$to$be$fictional$
$
~$Learning$about$the$process$of$agriculture$
Can$a$fictional$photograph$be$documentary?$
!
! Lange$G$angle$to$make$field$larger$
! Colonial$camera$G$choice$of$small$tribesmen$
! Dichotomy$between$true$and$false$
$
~$Truth$is$socially$contingent$G$true$insofar$as$it$matches$a$criteria$of$what$people$
$
believe$
$
$
~$Believe$a$photo$to$be$true$as$it$confirms$what$you$believe$G$changes$over$
$
$
time$
th$century$yet$not$
Early$modern$art$G$allegorical$elements$were$comprehended$in$the$16
!
nowadays$
$
~$Have$to$refer$back$to$the$context$
$
~$Iconographical$meaning$
! Photos$are$also$objects$G$moving$in$different$temporal$and$spatial$contexts$
$
~$Different$contexts$shape$interpretation$
Christopher$Pinney$G$photos$of$indigenous$peoples$
!
$
~$At$the$time$may$have$been$the$'noble$savage'$
$
~$Now$is$seen$as$an$expression$of$imperialism$
! MacLeish's$Land%of%the%Free$G$uses$photo$of$slaves$and$white$man$=>$cuts$to$white$man$
to$show$the$American$Dream$

!
!
!
!

Documentary$aspect$is$reinforced$by$notions$of$authenticity$
Change$to$this$G$Stalin$airbrushes$photos$
Involuntary$disclosure$in$a$photo$G$acquires$significance$afterwards$

$
$

!
$
$

!

!
!
!
$

!
!

!
!
$

!
!
$
$

!
!
$

!
!
$
$

!
$

!
!
!
$

!
$
$

!
$

!
$
$
$

!

~$Many$wanted$to$claim$that$no$one$had$seen$the$deportation$of$Jews$G$yet$photos$
show$spectators$in$the$daytime$
Photos$from$dead$German$soldiers$G$those$of$fiances$and$children$juxtaposed$next$to$
atrocity$photos$
~$Not$just$the$SS$
~$People$wanted$to$carry$these$documentary$photos$
Version$of$war$that$is$like$tourism$G$use$of$photography$by$amateurs$
Barth$G$punctum$=>$element$in$the$photo$that$affects$you$that$the$photographer$did$not$
really$mean$to$capture$
Derry$in$the$1960s$G$no$witnesses$for$the$IRA$gunman$
~$Yet$there$is$a$series$of$photo$G$accidentally$picked$up$in$them$
There$is$always$an$accident$in$a$photo$G$can$never$create$one$single$element$of$truth$
Distinction$between$the$general$context$and$the$accident$=>$new$opportunity$for$
people$to$contest$the$power$of$the$photo$
Mugshot$G$camera$having$power$over$the$subject$
~$Subtle$poses$G$resistance$
Film$can$show$a$lot$more$G$only$an$instantaneous$moment$in$a$photo$
~$Still$captures$things$accidentally$
~$Yet$arranges$images$into$a$sequences$G$tells$more$of$a$story$than$a$photo$can$
Exertion$of$power$by$a$photo$always$creates$the$possibility$for$the$subversion$of$that$
photo$G$accident$
~$Different$from$the$painting$
Photos$in$Nazi$eugenics$film$G$some$photos$are$meant$to$justify$'euthanasia'$so$as$to$not$
drain$the$state's$resources$
~$In$the$end$Goebbels$did$not$use$this$G$too$much$of$a$hard$sell$$to$compare$the$
costs$of$workers'$housing$and$asylums$
Accidents$of$photos$G$children$shown$to$be$worthless$in$these$asylums$
~$Yet$one$child$is$smiling$back$at$the$camera$
Serious$photography$
Yet$what$popularised$photography$was$family$shots$
~$WW2$G$aerial$photos$
Ww2$G$postcards$of$war$heroes$
~$People$get$themselves$photographed$in$a$similar$way$
~$Privatising$a$public$aesthetic$
Most$photos$of$ghettoes$are$by$German$photographers$
~$Jewish$photos$G$children$play$a$game$of$dressing$up$as$German$police$
Photo$albums$G$construction$of$a$personal$life$story$
~$Do$this$in$a$very$similar$way$G$chronological$
~$Virtually$everyone$takes$the$same$kind$of$photo$
$
~$Social$understanding$of$an$authentic$family$
1950s$G$pictures$in$front$of$the$family$car$or$fridge$=>$end$of$austerity$

!

!

South$Africa$G$photos$with$umbrellas$and$later$radios$=>$show$modernity$

!

Photos$can$be$fictional$but$are$not$useless$as$historical$images$
~$May$have$elements$of$fiction

$

!

How(far(is(it(possible(to(treat(the(photograph(as(a('transparent'(and(objective( media?(

Objective(
! Camera$G$takes$what$is$in$front$of$it$=>$photo$therefore$appears$to$be$the$quintessential$
objective$document$
$
~$This$objectivity$is$seen$in$the$response$of$the$viewer$G$seen$as$reality$
! Evans$called$for$images$that$would$be$a$'pure$record$not$propaganda'$
$
~$Documentary$style$G$claimed$to$instinctively$take$photographs$
$
~$Escaped$political$propaganda$of$working$for$the$government$=>$sense$of$realism$
$
~$Photos$do$not$noticeably$have$an$author$and$intentions$behind$them$
$
$
~$Paradox$G$his$'documentary$style'$is$his$own$subjectivity$
$
~$Yet$he$frequently$posed$subjects$e.g.$Sharecroppers'$homes$in$Alabama$G$moved$
$
belongings$=>$wanted$to$show$order$and$beauty$
! Many$photographers$aimed$to$put$their$subjects$at$ease$before$taking$photos$
! Dependent$upon$the$photographer$e.g.$Lange$showed$women$at$hard$labour$almost$as$
often$as$men$

!

Subjective(
! Posing$of$subjects$and$their$response$to$the$camera$
$
~$'Fleeing$a$Dust$Storm'$was$a$hallmark$image$of$the$FSA$G$people$believed$it$yet$
$
Rothstein$staged$it$=>$exaggeration$of$suffering$
Editing$e.g.$Cropping$of$a$plantationGowner$picture$to$show$a$pioneering$American$in$
!
MacLeish's$Land%of%the%Free$
! Aims$of$the$photographer$
$
~$Photos$are$taken$to$show$something$
$
~$Lewis$Hine$G$'While$photographs$may$not$lie,$liars$may$photograph'$
$
~$Moral$and$political$aims$of$the$Farm$Security$Administration$
$
~$12$March,$5$days$after$returning$home,$Lange$wrote$to$Stryker$that$her$
$
'negatives$are$loaded$with$ammunition'$
$
~$Stryker$told$Arthur$Rothstein$to$'emphasise$the$positive$side'$in$taking$photos$
$
mothers$and$children$and$nurses$treating$children$
$
$
~$Walker$Evans$talked$of$'photographing$babies'$as$a$synonym$for$a$loss$of$
$
$
artistic$integrity$
Presentation$of$photos$G$only$generally$see$those$which$are$chosen$to$be$shown$
!
$
~$We$do$not$see$the$whole$situation$G$focus$upon$the$aim$of$the$project$
$
~$Culture$of$poverty$G$Evans's$disregard$of$a$photo$of$Floyd$Burroughs$with$$
everyone$smiling$
! Photos$are$said$to$speak$for$themselves$yet$they$mostly$have$captions$
$
~$Captions$can$influence$views$G$attempting$to$fix$the$meaning$of$the$photos$
$
~$Information$may$be$wrong$e.g.$Migrant$Mother$G$her$name$was$not$recorded$and$
$
details$about$her$situation$were$wrong$
Gender$G$use$of$the$mother$and$of$women$=>$are$not$threats$to$society$and$can$arouse$
!
sympathy$and$emption$
$
~$Migrant$Mother$was$removed$from$its$context$and$transformed$into$a$universal$
$
image$of$motherhood$
Late$1930s$G$Stryker$asked$photographers$to$stop$focusing$on$poor$people$and$the$
!
depression$and$instead$to$focus$on$people$who$appeared$to$believe$in$the$US$

!
Susan(Sontag(L(On#Photography#
! 'As$people$quickly$discovered$that$nobody$takes$the$same$picture$of$the$same$thing,$the$
supposition$that$cameras$furnish$an$impersonal,$objective$image$yielded$to$the$fact$that$
photographs$are$evidence$not$only$of$what's$there$but$of$what$an$individual$sees,$not$
just$a$record$but$an$evaluation$of$the$world'$
$
~$Yet$having$acknowledged$these$are$subjective$evaluations,$the$truthfulness$of$
$
these$isolated$images$cannot$be$denied$
'While$a$painting$or$prose$description$can$never$be$other$than$a$narrowly$selective$
!
interpretation,$a$photograph$can$be$treated$as$a$narrowly$selective$transparency'$(p.$6)$
$
~$Presumption$of$veracity$which$gives$all$photos$authority$
$
$
~$Yet$photos$are$not$transparent$G$'Even$when$photographers$are$most$$
$
concerned$with$mirroring$reality,$they$are$still$haunted$by$tacit$imperatives$of$$
$
taste$and$conscience'$(p.$6)$
Photos$are$therefore$interpretations$of$the$world$
!

!

Interpretation(and(Context(L(particularly(advocated(by(Lawrence(Levine(
! Despite$Walker$Evans's$belief$that$photos$are$selfGexplanatory,$the$photo$does$not$
stand$alone$G$needs$some$context$if$not$an$explanatory$caption$
! Lange$G$wanted$photo$essays$showing$instability$and$transformation$=>$yet$the$FSA$was$
content$with$photos$which$developed$popular$support$
$
~$Photos$cannot$solely$communicate$all$that$needs$to$be$known$G$are$of$best$use$in$
$
collaboration$with$textual$sources$=>$Lange$wrote$long,$informative$captions$
! Importance$of$the$collaboration$of$text$and$images$in$Let%Us%Now%Praise%Famous%Men%
! A$simple$change$in$context$can$drastically$alter$the$meaning$of$an$'objective$image'$
! Need$to$be$interpreted$and$supplemented$by$other$evidence$
$
~$Have$been$collected$and$filtered$and$are$filled$with$contradictions$
! Overall,$however,$photographs$can$be$seen$as$part$of$a$spectrum$where$they$are$
generally$more$objective$than$any$other$source$although$they$are$not$immediately$
'transparent'$G$sometimes$require$elucidation$and$explanation$as$to$what$they$show$
! John$Ruskin$G$evidence$of$photos$'is$of$great$use$if$you$know$how$to$crossGexamine$
them'

Buy the full version of these notes or essay plans and more in our Disciplines of History: Comparative History & Historical Argument Notes.

More Disciplines Of History: Comparative History & Historical Argument Samples