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On the Narrative Level of Photographs

On the Narrative Level of Photographs

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Published by Shlomo Lee Abrahmov
Intro to theory pertaining to the
the Narrative Level of Photographs
Intro to theory pertaining to the
the Narrative Level of Photographs

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Published by: Shlomo Lee Abrahmov on Oct 10, 2010
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11/17/2010

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On The Narrative Level of Photographs:
Photography most immediate quality is its ability to document reality objectively. Thisdocumentary (recording) aspect of photography is the one we are most used to inrelating to photography. Our instinct is to look at a photograph and assume that it isan accurate representation of the reality it portrays, it shows 'an overwhelmingconviction of fact' (Goin 2001). This is a linear/empiric mode of thought that is veryeasy to grasp. Is not an object reflected through the lens and recorded on the film,very similar to its original shape? Are not the results of capturing a scene into aphotograph predictable? In this perception of photography man is a man, a house isa house, and a street is a street. ' ..A photograph
 –
any photograph
 –
seems to havea more innocent, and therefore more accurate, relation to visible reality than do othermimetic objects.' (Sontag 1977) Despite the medium's hundred and sixty years ofexistence this limited grasp of photography is still entrenched (Goin2001). WalterBenjamin in his seminal '
The Work of Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction' 
talks about the desire of the masses to bring things 'closer' that is, to have areproduction of reality as valid as reality itself. This attitude towards photography wasexplained to me by one of my friends: "When I go to Greece and see a lovely scenein the market place, I want to bring it home with me by taking a photograph of it".The distinction between reality and photographic reality is easily observed. A comicalexample is the following anecdote about Picasso and perception of photography:Picasso was painting a portrait of a woman in the presence of her husband. After awhile he noticed that the husband was becoming agitated and asked about it. Thehusband responded that the painting did not look like his wife. Picasso then askedthe husband to tell him what does his wife looks like. The man took a photo out of hiswallet and said: "This is what my wife looks like." Picasso after carefully observingthe photograph commented, "Small, isn't she?" (Gross and Shapiro 2001) A more
encompassing view of photography is that '…photographs are as much an
interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are.' (Sontag 1977) '.. And thatour conventional consensus of reality is not the only version of reality'. (Gross andShapiro 2001)Photography less obvious quality is its narrative quality. The photographic narrativelike the literary narrative in many cases starts with a factual reality, 'inherent in themedium is its ability to represent both fact and fiction' (Goin 2001). It aim is toexplore, develop, and express aspects that lies beneath the surface. Photography inthat sense can be compared to literature. (Whereas documentary photography canbe compared to journalism) The work of Atget is the first concrete example ofphotography and narrative, even though I would like to mention here two remarkable
 
images by Gustave Le Gray of the cavalry maneuvers at Chalons taken on October3rd and 7th, 1857.
Le Gray Cavalry Maneuvers at Chalons 1857
These images from the early days of photography transcend their intendeddocumentary mission. Atget intentions are difficult to decipher, but the impact of hiswork is profound. Atget by removing human presence in the majority of his workcharges his scenes with muted intensity (Benjamin 1935). It can be argued that likeother artists he searches for deeper meanings in his surroundings (Paris) that he isso connected to. His work offers a new aesthetic. We watch his photographs andthere is something there, we recognize each of the elements but their relationshipshint of a new story, its outline known, but it meanings are for the viewer toreconstruct (Krauss 1985). Atget is the creator of proto - surreal photography (seeBoulevard de Strasbourg, Corsets 1912; Magasin avenue des Gobelins 1925).
 
 
Atget Blvd de Strasbourg 1912 Atget Magasin Ave. des Gobelins 1925
In the photographs of shop windows he was able to create the important affect of"Doubling", achieving a break the ordinary sequence of photographic continuity(Krauss 1986). Atget work was published in Surrealist Magazines and thus a directlink between the work of Atget and the surrealist artists working with photography isestablished (Fuller 1976). There is a very important difference however, whereasAtget captured existing reality the surrealists artists created it.Surreal photography is where narrative and photography are linked together in aconcerted effort for the first time. In surrealist photography Man Ray is the centralfigure. In his 'Woman 1918' (Foresta, 1985, p79) we see for the first time an image offabricated reality, where an object does not have a priori meaning.
Man Ray Woman 1918

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