Basic Critical Theory for Photographers

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Diane Smyth. The essay starts with Cartier-Bresson charting his life so far as a photographer — from messing around with a Box Brownie as a child to co-founding Magnum Photos — before talking through his approach to photography.

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The best photography books out now. According to Cartier-Bresson, there is an almost magical split-second in which events in the world — interactions between people, movement, light and form — combine in perfect visual harmony. Once it passes, it is gone forever. To capture such moments as a photographer you must be inconspicuous, nimble and attentive; working on instinct; responding to reality and never trying to manipulate it.

Composition cannot be planned, nor can it be added in afterwards. Cropping will invariably make a good shot worse and is unlikely to make a bad shot better. Camera settings shouldn't be something the photographer even thinks about — taking a photograph should be like changing gears in a car. According to Sontag, photographs turn the world into a set of collectible objects that we can own. This makes us feel knowledgeable, and powerful.

ISBN 13: 9780240516523

But although we still treat photos as evidence, photographers never simply record the world, they interpret it. They might take multiple shots, for example, selecting the ones that meet their preconceptions. This is true for us non-professsionals, too: we use family albums to connect with the past and take holiday snaps to show our friends what we're up to. Bit by bit, though, photography has started to limit our experience.

Instead of photographing what we're doing, we do things so that we can photograph them. There is a moral dimension to Sontag's critique. By photographing a situation, you can't intervene in it — war photography is horrific, she says, partly because of the way it has become acceptable for a photographer to choose to take a photo rather than to save a life. But images also numb us. The more photographs of suffering we see, the less shocked we are.

For Sontag, there is a violence to photography. The camera is predatory because it lets the photographer turn people into objects and to know them in a way they cannot know themselves. We try to use photography to make sense of reality but the knowledge it gives us will always be sentimental, superficial, never political. To make matters worse, we're hooked.


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We don't feel we have really experienced something unless we've photographed it. And so we photograph everything. People these days feel the need to photograph everything - it's totally ruining our experience of life. This was Sontag's update to On Photography see above. She starts by tracing the history of images of suffering, arguing that Christian depictions of martyrdom historically gave way to something more secular that saw pain as something to be deplored. Photographs were quickly pressed into service; justified by the idea they could advocate for change.

Photographs were, and still are, she argues, unequal to the task, because they turn disaster into universal, ineffectual denunciations of human cruelty or suffering.

Basic Critical Theory for Photographers – Ashley la Grange.

Feeling powerless to change what they see, viewers quickly become immune to images of suffering or - worse - take a prurient interest in them. And because we are bombarded with such images, we no longer recognise them as records of real events.

ISBN 13: 9780240516523

Wars are now also living room sights and sounds. It also invites them to feel that the sufferings and misfortunes are too vast, too irrevocable, too epic to be much changed by any local political intervention. Photographs of suffering don't rouse viewers to action because they universalise pain rather than explaining what could be changed.

Walter Benjamin was a German-Jewish critic and essayist. Benjamin packs a remarkably wide ranging discussion into a relatively short space, but a key concept is the idea that unique works of art such as paintings possess an "aura" that copies and reproductions like photographs do not.

Even though works of art have always been reproducible, whether by hand or through semi-mechanical processes such as stamping, modern forms of reproduction such as photography represent something new, allowing the artwork to be seen in very different contexts to the original, potentially changing how the work of art is understood. For photography this essay is significant in two main respects. Firstly because it explores the belief that photographs are inferior to traditional forms of art such as painting.

It is this unique existence and nothing else that bears the mark of the history to which the work has been subject.

Basic Critical Theory for Photographers by Ashley la Grange

How much photojournalism can change things for the better is subject to ongoing debate. One of the earlier writers to raise the issue was John Berger in this essay, first published in New Society magazine. Referring to a Don McCullin photograph of a wounded Vietnamese man and child , Berger considers why it has lately become acceptable to publish such graphic images. He gives two reasons. First, that newspapers are responding to readers who want to see the truth. Second, that readers have have become desensitised to these images and newspapers are publishing ever more shocking pictures to win their attention.

Dismissing both explanations, Berger suggests a third: that these photographs can be published precisely because they don't make viewers question who might be responsible for the violence.

If they did then papers — in thrall, he says, to the political establishment — wouldn't publish them. So what effect do they have? McCullin's images often capture moments in which time suddenly seems to pause — the instant a person cries out in grief, say. For viewers, time is similarly interrupted as we are, briefly, overcome with the victim's pain. But we mistakenly interpret this interruption as our own moral failure because we can't respond directly.

We either think, "Well, what can I do? War photographs don't lead us to query the political systems under which wars take place — they just make war seem like some awful but inevitable feature of human life.

Basic Critical Theory for Photographers - AbeBooks - Ashley la Grange:

The most literal adjective that could be applied to them is arresting. We are seized by them. And as soon as this happens even his sense of shock is dispersed: his own moral inadequacy may now shock him as much as the crimes being committed in the war.

The next step should be for us to confront our own lack of political freedom. Ashley la Grange avoids the trap of an elitist and purely academic approach to critical theory, taking a dual theoretical and practical approach when considering the issues. La Grange avoids editorilising, letting the arguments develop as the writers had intended; it is the assignments which call into question each writer's approach and promote debate. This is the ideal book if you want to understand key debates in photography and have a ready-made structure within which to discuss and explore these fascinating issues.

It is accessible to students, from high school to university level, but will also be of interest to the general reader and to those photographers whose training and work is concerned with the practical aspects of photography. Also includes invaluable glossary of terms and a substantial index that incorporates the classic texts, helping you to navigate your way through these un-indexed works.

The book also contains useful information on photo-mechanical processes, explaining how a photograph can appear very differently, and as a result be interpreted in a range of ways, in a variety of books. John Berger, Ways of Seeing 2. Susan Sontag, On Photography 4. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida 5. Andy Grundberg, The Crisis of the Real 9.

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