2: Notes for Project 2

Read Pierre Bourdieu’s essay, The Social Definition of Photography, and make notes.  Here are my notes (sometimes just quotations that have stuck out for me, sometimes thoughts that spring to mind as I read through it)

  • “in fact, photography captures an aspect of reality which is only ever of an arbitrary selection, and consequently, a transcription” pg 162
  • …but seen as realistic and objective recording because it “has been assigned social uses which are held to be realistic and objective” such as capturing wedding, births, recording crime scenes, animals in nature, science experiments and medical conditions
  • “symbolic communication without syntax”
  • in keeping with a way of seeing that has dominated since the Quattrocento 
  • photography has not been used to “invert the conventional order of the visible”pg 163, and “appears to be a recording of the world in its most true vision”
  • consider “socially conditioned forms of perception”  – my biggest interest I would say is how we perceive according to our culture but it is extremely difficult to imagine how perception is visually alternative in another’s view – however much I know it must be.
  • pg 164 – “the photographic act in every way contradicts the popular representation of creation as effort and toil”.  For me, at any rate, I have begun to distinguish between various types of photography and the type I am most interested is conceptual.  The pressing of the button is not quite an irrelevance but it doesn’t really matter who does that bit.  Which would lead me to need to look at what conceptual art is, is it an art etc. The concept is ‘trapped’ or rather represented inside the flat, one dimensional image rather than being a bit of furniture you can touch in a gallery room.
  • “which, by abolishing effort (by simply clicking a button and relying on the mechanical eye to record as opposed to painting, drawing, sculpting), risks depriving the work of the value which one seeks to confer on it it
  • “Without a doubt, photography (and colour photography especially) entirely fulfils the aesthetic expectations of the working class.”  I love this sentence.  It reminds me a little of Larkin’s attitude towards the ‘girls’ in Whitsun Weddings – “…girls/in paradise of fashion, heels and veils…” and “the nylon gloves and jewellery substitutes…”.  Both this essay and the poem were written in a different time , without today’s perceived social correctitude.  Also, worth noting that colour, has by now made been made acceptable for ‘Art’ by Elgeston, Freidlander and Leiter. Things change.
  • ‘prohibitions’ make up the rules for amateurs and ‘popular’ technique, confirmed by lack of technical competence and poor quality of cameras – these encompass an aesthetic that must be recognised and then images compared to that and deemed failures
  • popular aesthetic rejects blurred, unfocused pictures as clumsy or unsuccessful
  • within the above parameters a picture can only be defined by its social function
  • aesthetic is identified with social norms
  • the meaning of the pose adopted only understood in relation to social convention
  • “striking a pose means respecting oneself and demanding respect” pg 166
  • there is little meaning in the word – ‘natural’ since it is a cultural ideal that must be created before it then reinforces the notion that it was, as in holiday snaps (somewhat cynical as perhaps true in some cases but perhaps not in all, although I get the point)
  • Family and family celebratory photographs show us who we are meant to be within social relationships that are defined and reinforced by photographs – all of this is covered in Family Frames by Mariane Hirsh in great detail
  • Frontal pose deeply rooted to cultural values, manly, demanding of respect ; compare this with images of women in repose staring lustily at the viewer on a chaise lounge.  I am also conscious of how a fontal pose is confrontational, demanding  – yet we see it as strong.  Compare this to Jean Leadoff’s description of how the Yequana greet someone when they come across a tribe they do not know.  It’s very different!
  • “The portrait accomplishes the objectification of the self-image”
  • All photography is objectification – surely, and I suppose here he is saying that poses in amateur or vernacular photography are indicative of this, that people are objectified through culturally based, unconscious symbolic gestures
  • I really think, despite the use the of the word, peasant (which has changed in meaning during the years since this was written) that his assertion that people not blessed with the luxury of having been born into the upper echelons of society “internalise the pejorative image that members of other groups have of them” is a fairly accurate description.  Body language does indeed tell us a great deal about self-image and the image that gets projected onto and into people by others too.
  • I am not sure that by conforming to conventional postures one is “seeking to control the objectification of one’s own image” pg 168.  Conventional postures, derived by culture, give the person an illusion of control, and provide a shape, making it possible to sit and pose in the first place.  It leaves the person feeling naked otherwise.  And too vulnerable.  So does that mean he seeks to control the objectification…. or happily acquiesces to the objectification provided there is a ritualised language in place? Maybe I don’t understand what he is saying fully here. (And elsewhere I hasten to add!)
  • Photographs provide an image that is more real than the individual, are defined by their social relationships as witnessed in the pictures (how else can we be defined? – we need a structure of some sort in order to exist)
  • This is quite a tricky thing for me to read because I think I might secretly agree with a good deal of it, but feel it says things which are utterly against many of the virtues I uphold and aspire towards.  The problem though is that if you remain bound by a narrow set of conventions about what is tasteful or not, acceptable, works well  – then you’re limiting yourself quite a lot in your creativity… maybe that is what he is saying though…
  • Aesthetics obey cultural models rather than arbitrary (of course! – seems an obvious thing to say but then I’ve been reading about varying cultures and the idea of norms for some time)
  • I think Bourdieu is actually unfairly down on just one section of society because actually, much of what he says can be applied to pretty much everyone – expect the cultural elite, a few educated and erudite souls who are lucky enough (if you view it that way) to have transcended the tastes that are bound up within society – also he is writing at a different time… and he actually seems rather more old fashioned than the decade in which he is writing.  So much has happened with imagery since he wrote this – not least of which, famous actors on the front of magazines, naked and pregnant, now seeming normal and not at all shocking, (don’t they?  or maybe I’m wrong?) Also, people will photograph literally anything to put on social media nowadays too.  Taste in these photographs are irrelevant.  William Klein says in a documentary about his work, everyone posting stuff to FB is extremely avant-garde of them, photographing their breakfast, bus stop, selves, books they are reading, children’s everything etc etc etc… For me, what that leads to is people wanting images that transcend that – i.e. highly polished, advertisment-style images of their babies wearing wings, tiaras or leg warmers, curled up in buckets and draped over furniture.  As I write that I recognise Bourdieu’s words as being fairly accurate when he says ” (they) expect every image to fulfil a function”  So, maybe what he says is true about what people expect from photography ‘proper’, despite the fact they might ignore the conventions and rules for social networking purposes”pg 171
  • “Taste that requires an element of charm and emotion for its delight, not to speak of adopting this as a measure of its approval, has not yet emerged from barbarism”  pg 174. Such an intellectually narcissistic thing for Kant to say – and I really hate that I want to agree and fear, horrifically, that I may be wrong for doing so (it so goes against the grain in me to admit to any feelings of imagined superiority…it’s wrong, wrong, wrong, every cell in me squirms!!)  I’m an awful person for thinking Kant can possibly be right!!!!
  • The final section categorises various levels of taste – placing photography not quite in the upper levels, but in a middle brow, right alongside jazz.

This essay is incredibly complex and I felt it was necessary to record these notes in order to make sense of it, and then hopefully with something that is less rambling than it might otherwise be (as is my habit!)




3 thoughts on “2: Notes for Project 2

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