So I finally read ‘Photography; The Key Concepts’ by David Bate. I’m going to be honest here and give my own personal opinion, which is that I disliked this book. I found the information that Bate gave I already knew but he said it in such a dry and condescending way that it just confused me in the long run and I just didn’t want to carry on reading it. There are far many other books that have helped me have a better understanding that this book, but to Bates’ credit he does suggest in the introduction that this book should be read alongside the other suggested. But honestly, I found my self-regretting buying this book. (Obviously you guys might have a totally different opinion). So for this months Book of the Month I’m going to do something slightly different. I normally just give a simple review on the book as well as my opinions, but Bate at the end of his book gives some questions for his reader to answer them. I am going to attempt to answer all eight questions in as few possible words as I can. This way I keep it short and sweet but the people who may still be interested in it can still see what the book is about.
Bate describes genres as categories that are created by two things; set expectations and critics. Genres allow spectators to have shared meanings and expectations. There are also sub-genres, which are categories that depend on who is the viewer e.g. an aerial photograph is a landscape photograph but is considered information to a military base but data to an historian.
A photograph is can become a document that we can use for historical purpose. However, the validly of the document can depend on the photographer and the objectivity. Photography can become a device as well as a reminder to general history that is events, ideas, individuals, themes and processes. As I have said it depends of the objectivity. An English understanding will be different to a Germans or French. But no matter what the opinion is, it will all be beneficial to creating a larger historical understanding. Talbot wanted to create photography to produce a “visual language”. Photographs are needed to create historical context and evidence.
A ‘theory’ of photography is a claim created that argues with and against opinions and facts in order to consolidate knowledge of subject matter. For example the theory of light and the theory of chemicals. We have to understand these theories to control photography. Photographs achieve meaning by creating a connection between the photographer and the concept that creates semiotics. The viewer will then create the meanings. The different codes within photography are set details like the different modes and lenses. We also have codes of recognition that are our pre-expected understandings of the topic, for example portraiture. Different people can interpret Dorothea Lange image of ‘Migrant Mother’, in different ways. For example, for sympathy, for feminists or for historical information.
Documentary photography was created to show peoples everyday lives to others in a similar position in an informal way. A tradition documentary image aimed to record and document, whereas a “social” documentary image aimed to do the previously mentioned as well as enlighten and educate. The story we get from the “ordinary” person that is being documented is dependable by the photography. As an example the title and any text is of high importance for the amount of understanding the viewer receives. We also have the order the images are shown, the choice of pictures and the editing of them. The ‘Decisive Moment’ all about is freezing time in order to create a narrative.
A portrait is essential an identity. We get different understandings and meanings from a portrait depending on its purpose and spectators, a family album, a mug shot or a passport. A portrait can idealize a sitter for example the Carte-de-visite portraits where the sitter was allowed to become something more than they was perhaps regarded in society. A portrait can criticise a sitter by belittling them, like the mug shots, the sitter did not have a choice in the portrait it was a standard mug shot set up. We also have the work of photographers such as Lewis W.Hine who showed his sitters in the most obscene situations to get support for them. Portraits can describe a person in a lot of ways, such as a passport photograph, which removes any sitter’s choices at all, and the viewer focuses on their appearances alone. We have Gillian Wearing’s images were the sitter incorporates there opinions within the image. The pose is highly important because it affects the viewers understanding and opinions a lot, in a good way and a negative way. The blank expression is important because it allows the viewers to create their own opinions of the model, for example the Mona Lisa, the identity is more concealed. Portraiture is so important because we need recognition and a record of human development.
Landscape imagery isn’t always a metaphor for something else. It really depends on its purpose, whether it’s a holiday photography, gardening, data or Google maps. Landscape photography is needed for a range of subjects to give us an understanding of the world we live in. however, the goal of landscape painting was to always see more than a specific scene. We have the idea of “picturesque” to show what we believe is beautiful. Sublime is our contrasting emotions to our preconceptions, for example Turners images of strong, powerful scary seas. ‘Nature was shaped according to how it was already seen in pictures’, for example we already have preconceptions of our future holiday destinations without actually visiting it. The camera itself doesn’t capture nature, ‘aesthetic substance was never achieved by the camera’.
Jean Baudrillard said that advertising is useless and unnecessary because, ‘advertising conspires against the consumer in a deceitful public image industry’. Hardly any of the advertisements that we are swarmed with are “real” untouched images, so what is the real point of them? ‘Advertising offers imagery solutions to real social issues’. We are promised as consumers that firstly we need this object or whatever, but also once we get this important object we will be completely satisfied. It creates solutions and fantasies for the viewer. For still life photographers to avoid this advertisement ways there are certain techniques that will be used. For example the empty spaces, the simple background for focus, the colours used and the symbolic meanings. The still life objects will be treated more like portraitures, given an angle and their own identity. Overall, the still life images are not “perfected” and do not have a hyperbole effect to them. The viewer should see an object and not an advertisement.
The social implications of claiming ‘the autonomy of art’ from society is that it should allow creative freedom and responsibly to society. However, different establishments like the government can sponsor the art institutions, but this does allow the art to be judge and critiqued by a larger audience. The art institutions might then have to judge the exhibitions and justify them, which then begs the question do we really have freedom to create art? The role of photography within society is that is has no physical purpose so it must contain another important power. There are four different institutions that have change photography along the way. Firstly, industrial markets, then the mass marker, then adverts, tourism and portraits, and finally universities and schools. It changes photography due to the purpose all four institutions needed it and used it for. There is a distinct difference between different genres of photography. Street photography was developed in the 1800’s and was renowned by photographers like Robert Frank, Henry Cartier Bresson and Diane Arbus. There aims were to balance the more ethical and political issues in the media world and to show the real lives of real ordinary people. Conceptual photography started in the fifties and sixties and focuses on worldly objects that appear as part of everyday, ‘art-for-art’s sake’. And finally fine art photography concentrates on the subject matter and less about the technical side to photography.
‘Today, globalization can mean simply the way a photographer advertises their work and skills… or it can mean the more complex issue of how, why and what something is represented to different populations in the world’. The globalization of photography comes in three sections. Firstly pre-photographic conditions (painting to the idea of fixing and image, a still photography) then secondly the globalization of photographs (industrial revolution, mass production and expansion) and thirdly the reconfiguration of photographic values in the computer (the digital era, computers, digital spread of media). Pixels have replaced chemicals, however we have to question whether or not they have lost value, are becoming generic and if they are fulfilling stereotypes. In conclusion globalisation is both positive and yet negative.
So if your thinking of by Bates’ book I hope you have gotten a small idea of what the book is about and what you are expected to learn.