History of Photography

History of Photography
“You photograph with all your ideology.”
– Sebastiao Salgado
Introduction
Every art form in this world intends to convey a message, or a feeling. The message and the emotion is composed and crafted and sometimes is captured in ‘decisive moment’ in the form of a photograph. Photography is a form used to communicate emotions, messages and sometimes something transcendental that is otherwise impossible to achieve and convey in other forms of arts. Before photography there was painting and sculpture that artists used for centuries to amaze and educate people and sometimes to give their audience a feeling of awe and wonder about the unknown, the uncanny and most of all to give them that sense of defamiliarization. Photography is perfect medium along with painting that can force you to give attention to the day to day objects that are otherwise ignored. A moment is captured and saved, a moment of eternity and a segment of time is that is so powerful (as we would see in the course of this essay we would analyze different photographs) that one can live eternity in that very moment saved and stolen from time as Dorothea Lang says “photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.” It gives you a feeling of recurrence as you can experience those moments of the past and you can sense a kind of nostalgia towards those images. A photograph has the power to inflict mysteries, doubt and uncertainties in the viewer. Hence, a photograph has the power to broaden our views the world and its objects. It sees from a new perspective that we were unable to acknowledge and sometimes it creates its own world while the other times it attempts to imitate the existing realities of our existence. Furthermore, photographs has the power raise public consciousness, Sebastiao Salgado’s images of the Africa are of that grandeur, it conveyed the horror of our world to the other parts of the world through photography.

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Discussion
Through the course of this essay we would analyze four images; one selected from the online exhibition from the Museum of Fine Arts website titled as, this photograph is ranked in the top three photographs of the exhibition of the (un)expected families, the photo was made in gelatin silver print during the great depression that depicts a family of migrant family, Texas, 1936 photographed by Dorothea Lang. The works on exhibition provide a wide range of perceptions on the idea of American families including romantic unions, alternative family structures, and, multiple generations. It includes Dorothea Lang’s depiction of migrant families during the great depression and the ever diversifying nature of American families. The collection is so rich and powerful that it challenges the viewer’s conception of the idea of the family. The second photograph is selected from the Newbury Fine arts galleries titled as Sting and Stewart, Paris 1982. The third photograph is taken from the book ‘Seizing the Light: A Social History of Photography’ by Robert Robert J. Hirsch, it was photographed by the famous and highly acclaimed artist James Casebere, the photograph is titled as the Panopticon Prison and belongs to the very famous collection of Prison series. Last and fourth is a photograph titled as Still Life, Marseilles, 1992 photographed by Joel Peter Witkin,, another famous American photographer. The general structure of this paper is to provide a one by one brief biographical introduction of the artist and then analyze the form that includes color, texture, light and scale etc. With the help of this formal analysis capture the message of the photograph or evaluate emotion that it is intended to grab through the artist’s composition. Finally to create a comparative relation if present among all the four images.
Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) was an American documentary photographer and photojournalist famously known from great Depression-era photography of 1930s, she is also known to be the founder of this kind of photography. She began her career photographing desperate farmers during the great depression, her images reflects the distressed and horrific conditions of life during the great depression. Also the lady believed that photography can bring social change and we’d see the reflection of her ideology in this image that we are about to analyze in this paper. The photo that is selected for this analysis was also taken during great depression in 1936, the photo was printed in gelatin silver under the title of Migrant Family, Texas.
The image depicts a migrant family of three children, their mother and father. The details include children sitting on a mattress, one holding a shotgun shell, the second staring into the camera while the third is partially wrapped in darkness. The leading figure of the composition, she rests her elbow on the mattress while legs and bandaged and she gazes into the camera with her weary stance. The fourth figure is the father who in hunched form crawls beneath the truck to repair it. The truck resides right in the middle of the frame and all the human objects are drawn towards the truck. The figures are in their real context and this image represents documentary style at its best. The truck covers almost 80% of the space in the frame while the rest consist of an unending landscape of wild grass blurring and merging into the sky with equal color (gelatin silver) depicting the dispossessed and weary running escaping towards the unknown while leaving behind everything they ever owned.
The second photograph depicts the famous musicians and composers Sting and Stewart photographed by Any Summers, the information includes the following:
“Paris! We took a ridiculously early flight to be here. We’re knackered emotionally – physically – spiritually – seeking solace in the printed word.” (Andy Summers)
Andy Summers primarily an English guitarist was also a photographer who since 1980 has done 35 exhibitions. The frame has a very unusual composition that has a postmodern outlook in a very postmodern setting, one subject at the right corner (one shoulder almost out of the frame) and the other at the left, both look weary and tired as the information fills the background of the story, and apparently they seem to be sitting in a Parisian café with empty chairs at the background composed in relatively stark black and while color depicting the ‘emotionally’, ‘physically’ and, ‘spiritually’ ‘knackered’ state of the figures. The whole atmosphere of the café reflects the emotional, spiritual and physical void expressed in the information of the photograph. The photograph suggests themes typical of the musical band.
The fourth photograph belongs to Joel-Peter Witkin magnum opus is Still Life, Marseilles photographed in 1992. In my opinion the man is a mad genius who depicts objects like dwarfs, transsexuals, intersexual persons and often depicts mutilated parts of human body. The work under consideration is of the same nature that depicts themes of death, decay and destruction. The man quotes the following:
“I wanted my photographs to be as powerful as the last thing a person sees or remember before death.” Joel-Peter Witkin
The image uner-consideration is the reworking of the renaissance still life paintings, Michelangelo Caravaggio was among those painters who started this tradition of still life painting where the day to day objects were imitated and idealized. Witkin treats this subject in a horrifying way one can possibly imagine. He uses the same formal techniques used by the renaissance Christian painters yet his replacement of the objects used by the renaissance painters with shocking images like the head of human body covered with the flowers lily mocks Christian idea of purity and salvation and disturbs the viewers with the realities of death and decomposition as the ultimate destiny of human life. Witkin’s image are graphic and full of dark humor, the image consists of a table covered with objects such as a basket of vegetable unlike of the Basket of Fruits of Caravaggio, a table cover which does not cover the table properly but hanging on one side, a bald human head with some unusual fruits on the right side and the pitch dark background using light from the right side. As we can see the composition is almost same as of the renaissance still life paintings but the themes mocked. Witkin does not see that human body can transcend its fleshy form, he sees him as an object of decay subjected to biological decomposition with no guarantee of life after death and resurrection.
Fourth and last, John Casebere’s Panopticon Prison, up till now we have seen images depicting human figures or at least human head in case of Witkin but in case James Casebere, his photographic frames are devoid of human presence, you don’t see any human object in his photographs but architecture that reflects void and empty spaces. The image has perfect composition a very controlled sense of light, has no color and light and dark shadows. In image under attention is titled as the Panaopticon Prison abandoned of any human presence taken from a relatively distant point. Casebere is known as the pioneer of constructed photography, he has invented a unique way of architectural forms that inspires a variation of responses in his audience. He states the following in a Thursday night talk:
“I suppose you could say that, more often than not, emptiness is my subject, I very consciously try to put the viewer in the image and imagine them in relation to the space that is in the image.” (James Casebere)
By looking at this image the first the impression that a viewer get is the impression of emptiness and void. The empty composition is supposed to reflect emptiness and a sense of feelings of ‘loneliness and confinement’ as the artists expressed it in his own words in the following statement:
“This series [the prison series] is partly about evoking the memories and history of the place, but much more about the present than the past.” (James Casebere)
The composition carefully controls the perspective of the viewer that draw him/her into the empty space and making him the object of that empty space. This postmodern technique is minimalists and revolutionary in the art of photography as we had never seen anything like this before, the creation of this kind of boldness make James Casebere a creative genius of his domain.
Comparisons and Conclusions
The four images that we have evaluated and analyzed regarding form as well as the range of emotions they inspire in the audience have diversity of form, technique, subject matter and intended response from the audience. Dorothea Lang’s technique of documentary style photography has an agenda of realism as well as the beauty of form that informs as well as stimulate the tender human emotions full of sympathy and compassion towards her figures in the composition as we have experienced in the Immigrant Family at the back drop of the Great depression. Second, Sting and Stewart by Any Summers used a postmodern café as his that reflects the ‘spiritual’ and ‘physical’ weariness in his figures with the use of black and white color and the empty chairs behind the two figures looking downward. Unlike Dorothea and Andy Summers, Peter Joel Witkin’s composition reflects an altogether different and disturbing view of human life, his bluntness of the use of human head as an object suggests his daring outlook on human body and its fateful corrosion, furthermore, he does not shy away to mock the inauthentic and pitiful promises of religious salvation and spiritual enlightenment posed by the renaissance’ artists such as Caravaggio. In the provided image he used the same compositional method but gave it his own personal expression and his own outlook at the nature of human body and its biological limitations that resist any kind of mystical undertaking. Lastly, the minimalist Casebere as daring as one can get to achieve a form devoid of human figure and solely stands on its composition, light, shadows and empty spaces. Nevertheless, we can connect an ongoing theme in the four images despite of their very different treatment of composition, use of light, control of perspective, context and color. For an instance, Dorothea Lang’s Migrant Family expresses the inherent battle between man and nature, Andy Summers’ Sting and Stewart captures the weariness of human life both physical and spiritual, similarly, Casebere’s Panopticon Prison reflects the ever presence loneliness and emptiness of human existence and finally Peter Witkin’s graphic yet intellectual image echoes the entropic (entropy) nature of our universe, and the ever present cycle of death and decay.

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References
James Casebere Talks Photography | News
http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2012/10/19/Post-Modern-Photography-Casebere/
Museum Of Fine Arts, Boston
http://www.mfa.org/
http://www.newburyfinearts.com/site2012/artists/summers/Summers.html

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