12 April 2012
I. Nature and Human Nature
II. Material Culture
III. People and Places
V. Popular Culture through Technology
Let me know which is your favorite or favorites.
Since inception photography has been a cultural icon–a leader in carrying history’s lessons and messages. The story began in France and swept across oceans and through people. And as John Berger said in his classic Ways of Seeing (1972), art was forever changed with the invention of the camera’s ability to record what was before its lens.
Geoff Dyer is one of the current writers whose commentary about photography and photographers is discussed inside and outside literary channels. To describe his eclecticism is to defy the quality of his range from fiction to non-fiction. His book Otherwise Known as the Human Condition (2011) is a tout de force. This collection of essays are short teases about controversial and important people as well as topics. Narratives about photography are one fifth of the essays, which were previously published throughout his writing career. The book’s sections (visuals, verbals, musicals, variables, and personals) are divided into subjects that show his ability to be conversant and insightful.
So why do I bring up Dyer’s acclaim as a critic? His essays on photography remind me of an exhibition that I curated at a University library in 2006. The theme centered on the American photographer as historian. The books displayed, which are from the library’ s holdings, demonstrated the photographer’s ability to still the following areas of the human condition: material culture, nature and human nature, people and places, and photojournalism. See a description of that exhibition here, which includes a bibliography on the subject.
Today if I were organizing that same exhibition of books, I would add one category: Popular Culture through Technology. That is, the way in which the photographer’s work furnishes a history of technology’s contribution to the archives of human invention and innovation. Also, the way in which photographic techniques have been altered by technology and influenced the direction of the popular culture.
In the Lens section I have posted images that reflect my interpretation of the original four categories and the added fifth.
I. Nature and Human Nature: Yesterday I visited the University of Delaware’s Botanic Gardens where I did a photo shoot. The two images in part one are from the greenhouses. The staff grow, care, feed and experiment with varieties of flowering and non-flowering plants. These photographs toy with the connection between nature and Mother Nature: how “we” play with her majesty to try and manipulate her bounty for good or not.
II. Material Culture: From the same photo shoot I posted two images that speak volumes about the world we inhabit. Emergency equipment is front and center. What drew me to the images is the compact fluorescent light bulb, which fits neatly into the history of material culture. Also the yellow sign is among objects of our lives that is subjected to academic study about its role in our day-to-day existence.
III. People and Places: I took this photograph last year at a field and track meet between multiple high school teams. The competition was held at a local state park with autumn showing her colors. But I chose to convert it to black and white to emphasize the runners and the sport–subjects very much intertwined into the human animal’s story.
IV. Photojournalism: Street photography is a major piece of photography’s history, allowing a record of urban life and other events of minor or major significance in humanity’s progress. Isn’t New York City’s night life one of the more insightful, provocative and revealing visual details about our popular culture.
V. Popular Culture through Technology: I posted two images that were taken over a decade apart. The first is a Polaroid from a trip to Florence, Italy. Edwin H. Land’s invention of the instant camera in 1948 was a hallmark in the photographic process. Not only did it allow for a print in seconds, but it also pushed the creative forces of those behind the camera’s lens. During that 1994 trip to Europe, I hand-manipulated instant prints from France to Italy. Now its 2012 and minutes ago technology allowed me to scan a few Polaroids, place them in my photo archives, and decide the one that I wanted to insert into this post. The speed with which this happened leads me to take pause and reflect. Technology possibilities has accelerated at a rate beyond my enthusiasm for the Polaroid SX-70 camera. The second example is a scene that I took with a DSLR camera on the streets of Strasbourg, France, in 2005. Graffiti has a long history in urban settings. While city’s are never really devoid of its presence, this outsider art recently has had a resurgence throughout the world. The camera’s lens gives this form of expression its place in history, because most cities ban its application and remove it post-haste.
Since the nineteenth century photographers (amateur and professional) have recorded the human journey. The record has increased exponentially with technology’s production of cellphones and software applications. Photographic archival material is stacked with the image’s role as a provider of history through stilled memories–memories that are intertwined with our ability to re-orchestrate and secure our yesterdays, todays and tomorrows.
Note: As always I welcome any comment about this post or any part of my blog.