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The Concept of “Visual Truth” in the Photography of the 19th Century, Essay Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1133

Essay

In modern society photography plays an important role in our everyday lives, serving as a tool of preservation of memories and impressions; as a tool of individual’s identification; being tightly connected with different spheres of science, art and trade business, such as fashion and  advertising; and as a  tool of providing the information about the world’s events. The photography as a field of activity appeared in the 19 century and was developing rapidly enough, gaining the acceptance of being the art and was evaluated as a means that was able to depict the reality. There existed a diffused opinion that the photography is a kind of documentary and mechanical illustration of the reality, however this statement can be prejudiced. Susan Sontag put the matter of the issue in the words “Photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it” (Sontag).  In the given research paper the history of development of the photography in the 19th century, the spheres of its application and the concept of visualizing the truth are presented.

The photography appeared in the 19th century in some kind owing to the development of the optics and the medicine and firstly was evaluated a supplementing tool for both these spheres. In connection with it the main goal of the photography was considered to be the objectivity and accuracy, or the depicting of the reality without such factor as human’s subjective evaluation. This goal can be explained through the nature of the process, that was automatic and this seemed to be more independent than handmade way of reflecting the reality. Gradually the photography began to be evaluated as an art and the example of the spheres of its application the portraiture can be mention. In this genre the photography was at an advantage because it was cheaper, took less of the time needed to create a portrait, and reflected the person’s image more accurately and in more details, that was the most significant feature. It is known that owing to that fact a lot of painters preferred to change the field of activity and became the photographers. Another sphere of application was a travel photography that can be examined as a precondition of the development of documentary photography because the images were produced in order to be published and served as a substitute for the travel; they included the scenic views and landscapes or even wars. The first photographs were called daguerreotype, because of the name of its inventor Louis Daguerre. The process of taking picture was complicating and long-lasting, the other drawback consisted in the fact that the subject had to remain motionless in order to achieve the needed sharpness of the photo. This feature provoked a lot of problems for the photographers, and as example of it Mathew Brady can be mentioned. He was one of the most prominent American photographers who having decided to document the Civil War in America formed a group of photographers in order to work with them in different regions of the battlefields. The problem consisted in the long exposure time, that didn’t allow him to take photos of the soldiers during the battle because the subject must be static. The static were only corpses on the battlefield and Brady had to be contented with pictures of dead bodies. This fact witness that in some way the photos are not able to depict the reality and raise the question whether people are able to assert that photos are the most trustworthy way to reflect something.

Besides such factors as technicality in the process of taking photos, which influences the reliability of the picture, the issue of the perception should be examined. According to Walton “photographs are not necessarily more accurate than paintings” because all of them represent the point of view of the creator. As the painter put in the portrait his perception of the model or of the view, using different genres of drawing, various  colors and methods to achieve his aim in depicting the definite subject, so does the photographer, selecting the necessary position which portray the subject in the way most suitable for him. Slater confirms that “The essential difference between paintings and photographs is the difference in the manner in which they … are based on beliefs of their makers. Photographs are counterfactually dependent on the photographic scene even if the beliefs (and other intentional attitudes) of the photographer are fixed. Paintings which have a counterfactual dependence on the scene portrayed lose it when the beliefs (and other intentional attitudes) of the painter are fixed” (Slater).

It should be noted that like an every sphere of art the photography represents and possesses the subjective point of view.  In order to manifest clearly the idea the authors can resort to different supplementary means that helped them redefine the image.  Even in the early stage of development of the photography it was possible. As an example Henry Peach Robinson can be mentioned. He worked in the middle of 19 century and tried to create the images as a painter. One of his characteristic methods was the imparting of the “feeling of atmospheric perspective” (Osterman), so he made the background of the picture a little lighter than the subject. Such method is mentioned to confirm the statement that photography in the 19 century showed “the technical power to transform the material of the world into representation” and presented the combination of the “of artistic, technical, theatrical and entrepreneurial achievement” (Slater).

Nevertheless one should pay attention to the fact that photos represent the reality clear enough. Walden notes that he considers the photos to be “potential sources of true beliefs” (Walden). He is concordant with the opinion that both handmade images and photos are formed under the photographer’s subjective perception of the subject though he is convinced that people have more reasons to accept the interpretation through photographic images than through painted ones.

The perception of the photographic truth during the development of the photography was gradually changing. In our days the thought that a photo can serve only to represent facts in its natural state will seem to be rather silly to the most photographers. In our society people realize that the meaning of the picture can be modified by the choice of the photographer of the integrating content method, the composition, the structure. Another important point in the question of image changing is reflected to the development of computer technologies that helped people to obtain new possibilities.

Works Cited:

Osterman, M. ‘Photographic truth’. 19 Oct 2011. Available at <http://notesonphotographs.org/index.php?title=Osterman,_Mark._%22Photographic_Truth%3F%22>

Slater, D. ‘Photography and modern vision: The spectacle of ‘natural Magic.’ in C. Jenks, (ed.) Visual Culture, London and New York: Routledge. 1995

Sontag, S. ‘On Photography’. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977.

Walden, S. ‘Photography and Philosophy: Essays on the Pencil of Nature’. Blackwell Publishing, 2008.

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