MCC-UE 1517 Lecture Notes

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Media, Culture & Communication
MCC-UE 1517
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The Invention of Photographic Meaning 2/3/2014 12:15:00 PM The meaning of a photograph is subject to cultural definitions  Discourse- 1. An area of information exchange 2. A system of relations between parties engaged in a communicative activity Why are limits important in discourse?  Limits give meaning, set the boundaries of what is said and what is unsaid  The context of an utterance  A photograph is an utterance that carries a message or an argument  Photographic literacy is learned Sekulla argues that there is no such thing as a separation of the denotative and connotative (argues against Barthes)  photographs are never faithful reproductions  discourse- you cant have one without the other  there is no universal truth: everyone is entitled to their own reading of a photograph Photographs have various representational tasks  The photograph is polysemic- it presents only a possibility of meaning o Gives a lot of interpretive power to the viewer (slideshow ex; someone selling something, but actually coming off as boasting about their wealth)  It is a floating chain of significant: underlying the signifier o Because a photograph is open to so many different interpretations, they all come together to show meaning Steiglitz and Camera Work: What type of discourse was being created? How?  Photography as an artform  Established a tradition of elegance in photographic representation Sekula brings about two different poles: 1. Informational 2. Photographic Research Links 2/3/2014 12:15:00 PM (access through NYU libraries in order to get access to hi res files) Forget Me Not 2/3/2014 12:15:00 PM “Unlike any of the other arts, photography not only sees the world, but it is touched by the world. There is a relationship between what the light touches and what is represented in the camera. It is indexical.” - It has long been assumed that photography is an art of memory, but are photos, in fact, a good way to retain memory? - Tintypes supported the now almost defunct portrait painting studios’ economies.  Supported the economy of painters because there will still the necessity for craftsmen (frames/wood/painters/etc). - The power of group portraiture: collective identity, a kind of exclusivity was created - Decoration and Erasure: Comparison of American and Indian portraits  aesthetic in Indian portraiture- creates an idealism through vibrant painting and décor, leaving only the face untouched  American portraiture- painting invokes the senses cases- ways of capturing or holding a photo signify how treasured/symbolic they are Photography used to commemorate marriage- added an extra indexical weight to further authenticate the event To touch and have near the body, a “perpetual caress” Albums give everyday people the opportunity to represent their autobiographies in artful combinations of words and pictures.  Why do we intervene with our human additions on photographs? What is the appeal of adornment? - Batchen argues that photographs are “remembered in many ways”- what does that mean?  Through the adornment and preservation of photos  Memory is also a malleable form of fiction Can you really know someone from a photograph?- the example of family photos Has photography replaced memory as your own? Barthes: There is an emotional aspect to our experience of photography. For him, the past is affecting us in the present. Photographs block memory and create counter memories. Photography’s ultimate goal is immorality. Memorialization has little to do with recalling the past; it is always about looking ahead towards that.. vacant future in which we will have been forgotten. Photographs are expressions for the fear of being forgotten not an attempt to recall the past or remember the dead. The Body and the Archive 2/3/2014 12:15:00 PM Sekulla proposes that the potential for a new juridical photographic realism is recognized in 1840s due to the demands of the industrial revolution.  In general, they were systematic efforts to regulate the growing urban presence of the ‘dangerous classes’ of an unemployed sub-proletariat. o Sub-proletariat = THE WORKING AND LOWER CLASS  New instrumental potential in photography: silence that silences  New object is defined -the criminal body- and as a result, a more extensive ‘social body’  We confront a double system when it comes to photography. It is a representation capable of functioning both honorifically and repressively. Most evident in photographic portraiture. o Portraiture- can extend, accelerate, popularize, and degrade a traditional function  Photography came to establish and delimit the sense of the ‘other,’ to define both the generalized look- the typology- and the contingent instance of deviance and social pathology  Photographic extension of utilitarian social machine, the Panopticon o Jail in which all prisoners are constantly under watch  “We can then speak of a generalized, inclusive archive, a shadow archive, that contains both traces of the visible bodies of heroes, leaders, moral exemplars, celebrities, and those o f the poor, the diseased, the insane, the criminal, the nonwhite, the female, and all other embodiments of the unworthy.”  “Physiognomy” and “Phrenology” o The shared belief that the surface of the body, and especially the face and the head, bore the outwards signs of inner character  Physiognomy- isolates the profile of the head and the various anatomic feature of the head and the face, assigning a character logical significance to each element: forehead, eyes, ears, nose, chin, etc. Individual character was judged through these loose reading  Phrenology- more about the shape of your skill o The popularity of the general physiognomic paradigm in the 1840s and 1850s rose rapidly parallel to the popularity of eugenics An archive is both an abstract entity and concrete institution  2 different approaches to the criminal body- the realist and the nominalist o Realist- insists upon the truth of general proposition, on the reality of species and types o Nominalist-denies the reality of generic categories as anything other than social constructs  Both Bertillon and Galton relied upon the central conceptual category of social systems- the problematic notion of the ‘’average man” o The “average man” constituted an idea, not only of social health, but of social stability and beauty o His archive’s function: sought to identify repeat offenders o Based on gross generalizations o One of the first users of photographic documents to comprehend fully the fundamental problem of the archive, the problem of volume o  The presence of the archive authenticated the truth claims made for individual photographs, specially within the emerging mass media. Archives basically made stronger points than individual photos. Orientalism and the Exhibitionary Order 2/3/2014 12:15:00 PM By: Timothy Mitchell The Orientalist Reality  Unchanging racial or cultural essences  These characteristics and essences are in polar opposition to the west o Passive vs. active o Static vs. mobile o Emotional vs. rational o Chaotic vs. ordered  The “other” is marked by absences 3 features define orientalism  1. Essentialism - the idea that a certain group of characteristics belong to a certain group (stereotypes)  2. Otherness- the idea that somebody is an other to yourself, that they are significantly different  3. Absence- absence of voice, representation The Paris Exposition Universalle of 1889 (the world’s fair)  A show of power and global hegemony of the West and French Imperial Power  A world comprised of “objects” **** THE WORLD AS A SPECTACLE **** - “sets up the world as a picture”  they ordered it up as an object on display to be investigated and experienced by the dominating European gaze Representation as a method of organization - how we view and represent people is a method of creating a social hierarchy  organizing and arranging the world as if it were objects enabled the West to evoke some larger meaning of HISTORY, PROGRESS, EMPIRE, CAPITAL  the world as exhibition means not an exhibition of the world but the world organized and grasped as though it WERE an exhibition o the world becomes a consumer commodity The certainty of power “she knows how to rule”  1. the apparent realism of the representation  2. The model, however realistic or perfect a copy, is still distinguishable from reality/the “real version”  3. A physical distinction is tried to enforce between the exhibition and the outside world o basically, it is surprisingly real but certain very distinctive differences show the power of the Westerns o the representation follow the capitalistic logic of the “real” world  the West, it appears is a place organized as a system of commodities, values , meanings, and representations, forming signs that reflect one another in a labyrinth without exits Decoding National Geographic 2/3/2014 12:15:00 PM by Andy Grundberg National Geographic  1888, now translated into 34 different languages  it has reflected a quintessentially AMERICAN view of our world AND it has created and refined a persuasive photographic aesthetic “The Afghan Girl” - June 1985  National geographic photos aim to please the eye, not rattle it  For 17 years, Sharbat Gula had no idea that her image was so famous  What are the dynamics in this photograph? o Witnessing and charity o Exploitation and voyeurism o It has status as an object o Has been used by many people and institutions  Whose gaze is she returning? Issues with how the editors and photographers choose to represent the object  Non-violent, vibrant  “rather than approach the Geographic archive as a resource that required decoding and contextualization, they settled for connoisseurship” for Steve McCurry and others, photographing the plight of someone is as valid as alleviating that plight… and is in effect, the rationale for a division of humanitarian labors: the moment must be captured visually so that the suffering can be remembered, rectified, and hopefully not repeated. Cover to Cover- the Life Cycle of a Visualization… 2/3/2014 12:15:00 PM - Story focuses on “The Afghan Girl” introduction, photography, and race 2/3/2014 12:15:00 PM Why photography and why race?  Race is knowledge that is produced, through a variety of mimetic strategies, as fact. It is what Barthes would refer to as myth, a set of connotations that as Abel and Raiford argue, is an ideology that “masquerades as fact”  Race is a social construct Photography is unique because it records as well as represents. Why is this idea of recording, important? What does it imply? What better technology to document, fix and archive the so-called fact of race? Photography is also an artifice and an agent of ideology. It has multiple uses: BUT let us not underestimate the good work that photography can do as well. Artists have used it to disseminate knowledge of oppression or offer “photography’s other histories” Photography on the Color Line: WEB DuBois, Race and Visual Culture (Abel and Raiford) W.E.B DuBois believed.. (1868-1963)  Believed that race and racial thinking would be an issue in modern society  Had an interest in sociology and history and introduced the key ideas of double consciousness, the veil, and second sight.  He was a civil rights advocate and scholar and his collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, is a seminal piece of American Literature. 1900 Universal Exposition Paris  48 million people  Because blacks were denied participation in the Expositions of 1885, DuBois’ exhibition, “American Negro Exhibit” was highly anticipated and won a gold medal  Exhibitions were considered both education and entertainment, so it is important to consider the VISUAL ULTURE of the exhibitions as an example of the visiaul culture of the day  These exhibitions had a strong imperial theme and undercurrent W.E.B DuBois tried to create an “archive.” An archive is..  Ideological  Makes a claim on history  Determines (in)visibility (determines what you see/what you don’t see) what is left out of an archive is almost as important as what is included in the archive  “Authorizing Discourses” (11) gives it value and authority because it lives in conversation with other pieces in the archive  Forms of identification (empirical or societal) a sense of community with or outside of the archive. Brings social bodies together  “one recognizes a photograph and deciphers its various meanings by posing it (consciously or not) in relation to other photographs”  Deals with memory and how the past is remembered in the present and the future  Makes things visible or invisible  Must be read against each other to find cultural meanings  EMBODIES EEPISTEMOLOGIES (how you know something. Archives help you get a certain kind of knowledge) American Negro Exhibit: The Counter Archive  3 photo albums with a total of 363 photographs o Types of American Negros o Georgia, U.S.A o Negro Life in Georgia, U.S.A  No captions, no context given. Wanted to show normalization  “represent a well-to-do urban population…” DuBois wanted to show that the people he depicted were very intelligent and progressive  Opposed the scientific, institutional, and sensational archives that oppressed African Americans by playing on normalized views of the middle-class, replacing the white man  Served as a solution to the “Negro Problem”  Wanted to normalize the black body in photography DuBois is clearly marked as the framer and organizer of the images.. archivist.. making meaning by choosing and placing and pasting images in relation to one another Visual Culture  The understanding of how “viewing creates viewers, how acts of looking are encouraged and circumscribed culturally, and how access to the gaze shapes subjectivity”  The Color Line affects the way African Americans were and are viewed in a subjective, cultural way  We are products and producers of visual culture Theories  Double Consciousness o “The sense of always looking at ones self through the eyes of other” o DuBois uses this concept to demonstrate how “race in a racist culture fundamentally changes and determines” how others see us, and how we see ourselves o “social worlds divided by the color line” o An effect of “dis-identification” - an inability to identify with oneself  Veil o Making the self-image of African Americans invisible by covering it up with misrepresentations of Blackness  Second Sight o Allows you to see the veil o Includes those who are affected by the veil Race and the Gendered Gaze  Ideal of the African American Mother, informing the black males of his “blackness”  White females also play a part in informing black males of their “blackness”  Women take on a motherly role to racially identify, thereby solidifying the subjective self-image of the African American Photography and the Civil Rights Movement by Steven Kasher2/3/2014 12:15:00 PM - Every historical moment is made up of a multitude of personal experiences o Many different TYPES of photographers sought to document the Civil Rights Movement - The Camera allowed the injustices to be exposed - The movement cannot be fully understood unless we contemplate the photographs and footage that presented it to a huge national and international audience - Media plays an increasingly large role in aggravating social justice - U.S was embarrassed during the Cold War when photos of Birmingham were publicly released because one of the Cold War strategies of the US was to project an imagine of guarding and encouraging democracy - It was the first time that many white Americans saw the images of black struggle - Images from the civil rights movement constitute some of the deepest and broadest archives in any US social struggle - Many different kinds of photographers photographed the movement, but importantly, there were many black photographers such as Charles Moore and Gordon Parks who were deeply invested in the images that they created Emmett Till Lynching 1955  14-year old African American boy who was murdered for being falsely accused of whistling at a white woman  Occurred in Chicago, SNCC and the Photography of the Civil Rights Movement 2/3/2014 12:15:00 PM 1962-1964 SNCC: Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee  Movement photography  Roles: fundraising, activism, getting reporters to cover underreported stories. They began to have photographers of their own because they knew the importance of telling one’s own story  They felt that outside photography was too superficial so it became important to foster their own movement photography  By creating their own photos, they tried to create a counter-archive o There were deeper and better stories to be told than what is on the surface  Why were photographs more useful than TV footage?  What cultural work does photography perform in the creation and re- creation of audiences, communities, and collectivities? The Black Panthers (Stephen Shames) (Late 1960’s)  Repudiation of American ideology Not Looking a Lynching Photographs by James Polchin 2/26/14 - photographs and postcards of lynching in America “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America”  Collections from antique collectors Atlanta James and John Littlefield  4 different venues in the US from 2000-2002  Started in a fine art gallery  Show was moved to the New York Historical Society, where an educational element was introduced  Focus went from witnessing to memorializing (it was moved to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh where it opened 11 days after 9/11/2011)  Finally moves to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Georgia o This exhibition was the most “framed” and provided the most historical context in how to view the work  The same body of work was displayed in four different locations and the audience of each institution determined how the archive was perceived  Not Looking o Viewing as a form of aggression o Images provoke chock and anxiety in response to the graphic violence o Try not to see the images How do you display photographs of racist violence without replicating the spectacle of violence? How do you think viewers can avoid normalizing and desensitizing images that are troubling?  Historical and Culture Context o “legacy of brutal and racist murders” mostly in the American south and the Midwest (late 19 century- present) o Fueled by white superiority o Lynchings took place in town squares o Photos were often displayed on parlor mantle pieces and family albums, as well as more public venues, such as barbershops and store windows Witnessing o The white mob o “The photographer may be nthe most apparent and troubling witness for he or she is not simply recording the act but framing the way they want it to be memorialized.”  Spectatorship vs. Witnessing o To witness is to participate, to experience the event in some way o Passive = seing and the active = speaking o Spectator= a viewer who is unable or unwilling to discuss what they have seen Archives 2/3/2014 12:15:00 PM The Historical a Priori and the Archive  Positivity of a discourse- o Being able to see the unity and all the parts that make up a discourse doesn’t necessarily mean we can know who is right or wrong o But it does reveal the extent to which the people who have contributed to a discourse are talking about the same thing by placing themselves at “the same level” or at “the same distance,” by deploying the same conceptual field by opposing one another on the “same field of battle” o Discourse defines a limited space of communication. A relatively small space, since it is far from possessing the breadth of a science with all its historical development, from its most distant origin to its present stage; but a more extensive space than the play of influences
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