Category Archives: Week10

Photography: A Look at the Celebrity Portrait

By: Arianna Drumond


According to Pierre Bourdieu, “many of the attitudes provoked by photography are explained by the fact that it is located half-way between vulgar and noble practices.” This argument holds especially true where the celebrity portrait is concerned. As both the technology and attitudes surrounding the photographic process evolved, so to did the ways in which portraits were constructed. However, the use of photography to capture the essence of cultural icons has been a constant.

Forward thinking fashion photographer Edward Steichen produced iconic celebrity portraits throughout the first half of the twentieth century.  His partnership with Vanity Fair afforded him the opportunity to explore his art with a new modern perspective. His 1924 portrait of actress Gloria Swanson is particularly representative of photography as an art. There is both a softness and intensity to Swanson. She is a dramatic figure whose striking features are hardly obscured by the lace, but rather accentuated by the pattern.


As our societal notions of celebrity changed over the course of the last two centuries, so to have the methods used to capture their likenesses. The advent of the paparazzi in the mid twentieth century coupled with changes to photographic technology ushered in a new method for creating a celebrity portrait. Ron Galella, perhaps the most notorious paparazzo, is known for tirelessly stalking his subjects and for taking dozens for photographs in quick succession in order to capture dramatic and striking images. His iconic photo “Windblown Jackie,” a portrait of Jacquelyn Kennedy walking in New York City.



Work Cited

Bourdieu, Pierre. “The Social Definition of Photography.” Photography: A middle-brow Art. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1996.

Cartier-Bresson, Henri. “Statement of photography” The Decisive Moment Theory. Córdoba, Spain, 1933.

“Ron Galella.” Wikipedia, 2013. Web. 5 Nov 2013.

Preserving History

Vittoria Somaschini

According to Bazin, family photos are “no longer traditional family portraits but rather the disturbing presence of lives halted at a set moment in their duration…for photography does not create eternity, as art does, it embalms time, rescuing it simply from its proper corruption” (Bazin,8).

The readings inspired me to look at various photography projects that have cropped up over the years that aim to preserve history, or look at the changes that have occurred since the photos were taken. One of these projects has skyrocketed to fame over the past five years as its grown in popularity. Irina Werning is an Argentinian photographer who created the project, Back to the Future, in which people are asked to submit childhood photos and identically recreate these photos as adults.

Christoph 1990:2011 berlin wall

The project captures realism in its truest sense, as the childhood photos tend to be silly, endearing, and typical of children, whereas when they are juxtaposed with the photos of these children as adults, the realism of the image is jarring. The project aims to preserve the past as well as mark the passing of time, and it successfully does this, with significant shock value. The project has a postmodern appeal as it is a no longer a traditional photographer, passive subject, and product, but has been replaced by a new model of photographer, active subject, and product.

Other projects exist that similarly aim to preserve something about this current moment, and I chose to examine another project, created by English photography Jimmy Nelson, titled Before They Pass Away. Unlike Back to the Future, this project is completely documented by Jimmy Nelson and we return to a traditional model of photography in which the subject is passively photographed rather than actively participating. However, the project share something in their ability to reference the past, preserve it, and yet capture something about the present moment.


Similar to Werning’s project, Nelson chose to place his subjects in poses that mimic past anthropological photos taken of tribes during the turn of the century. By placing his subjects in these poses, there is a nod to the past, while looking forward, and again it has a jarring affect because the viewer is able to make reference to images that they have been previously exposed to, as there are semiotic signs coded in these images.

Both Back to the Future and Before They Pass Away document moments, either of small family histories, or of the impending doom of a culture. The projects aufheben reality, as they are “the creation of an ideal world in the likeness of the real, with its own temporal destiny” (Bazin 6).


Works Cited

Bazin, André. The Ontology of the Photographic ImageFilm Quarterly, 1960.

Nelson, Jimmy. Before They Pass Away. 

Werning, Irina. Back to the Future I.

Werning, Irina. Back to the Future II. 

Sonesson, Göran.Semiotics of Photography. Lund University

The Reality of the Photographic Image

Estefanía Tocado

Despite Henri Cartier Bresson´s lack of interest in the technical aspects of photography, modern photography has made technical devices, such as iPhones and all kinds of digital cameras, the means by which the majority of people experience what it is to make a photograph.  Pierre Bourdieu asserts that the ordinary photographer takes the world the way he or she sees it, according to the logic of a vision of the world which borrows its categories and its canons from the arts of the past, that is to say, to see photography as a way of capturing reality.  However, as he also affirms, photography captures aspects of reality that are the result of an arbitrary selection and of a transcription (73).

Continuing this thought process, if we compare the work of Bresson and that of Annie Leibovitz, their way of understanding reality is quite different from each other. For Bresson, photography was meant to be “an instant drawing” without the artifice of technical manufacturing.  This is in contrast to photographers such as Leibovitz, known for her work done with celebrities and the fashion magazine Vogue, who polish that “instant drawing” with technical techniques such as Photoshop.  




In today’s society in which the majority of people have a digital camera in their smart phones, the relationship with photography has changed.  The main concern of the reflection of the photographic image as a vehicle to portray reality has shifted to a medium to create a view of reality, that is to say, that the author would like to portray in the digital world of social networks such as Facebook or Twitter.  The person taking the photograph presents an interpretative source of his or her reality with the aim to make it look referential and empirical despite the fact that it is just a simulation of the real.

Jean Baudrillard asserts that:  Simulation…stems from the utopia of the principle of equivalence, from the radical negation of the sign as value, from the sign as the reversion and death sentence of every reference.  Whereas representation attempts to absorb simulation by interpreting it as a false representation, simulation envelops the whole edifice of representation itself as a simulacrum. […] (6-23).  Following Baudrillard´s theory, photography on social media has become a means by which to create the hyperreal, a reality that has no referential reality because it does not exist.  That way, the photographer portrays a specific interpretative vision of reality and captures a simulation of his desired reality to create a new identity of his or her personality on the web.

Works cited

Baudrillard, Jean. “The Precession of Simulacra.” Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. Michigan: Michigan UP, 1981. 1-27.

Bourdieu, Pierre. “The Social Definition of Photography.” Photography: A middle-brow Art. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1996.

Cartier-Bresson, Henri. “Statement of photography” The Decisive Moment Theory. Córdoba, Spain, 1933.

Irvine, Martin. “Introduction to Photography” Communication, Culture, and Technology Department, Georgetown U, Nov. 2013. Web. 4 November 2013.


Redefining Photojournalism: From Cartier-Bresson to the Postmodern Photography of Kahn and Selesnick

by Abby Bisbee

Over the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries, photography has not only progressed in technique because of advancements in technology, but also in ideology. When the practice of photography was first created in the early version of the daguerreotype, the focus on the artist was to capture the reality that the element of light presented. The subject matter centered on either still lifes or human subjects posing for a portrait. As the quality of the technology around the camera and the lens progressed, however, so did the subject matter as the importance of various techniques shifted as well. A comparison between two photographers from extremely different historical backgrounds will help elaborate upon how both technology, technique, and relative importance of subject matter has changed since the first half of the twentieth century and the first decade of its predecessor.


Henri Cartier-Bresson was a French photographer that is considered to be the founder of street photography, or the photojournalist style. He started his work in the 1930s and responsible for capturing some of the most powerful photojournalist style photographs of the twentieth century. Cartier-Bresson was one of the first photographers to venture outside of the studio to capture the exciting moments on the street, framing the pinnacle of action. His photographs are defined by his recognition of geometric shapes created by light and shadow. He was an early adopter of 35 mm format, the film gauge that is most “commonly used for chemical still photography and motion pictures” (Wikipedia). Even though the gage was accepted internationally as the standard gauge in 1909, Cartier-Bresson was one of the first to use it with a photojournalist approach. In Images à la Sauvette, Cartier-Bresson’s capture of a couples’ kiss at the train station captures what is the “Decisive Moment” of an event. What is pivotal to this approach is that Cartier-Bresson did not stage his photographs, but instead he relied upon his camera and artist’s gaze to capture the most important element of everyday events. The focus of the photographs then moves to the geometric shapes, the action of the subjects, and the contrasting and framing elements of the light.


From Images à la Sauvette by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

From Images à la Sauvette by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

In high contrast to Cartier-Bresson, we can examine the artwork created by the artist-duo Nicholas Khan and Richard Selesnick. These two artists capture the direction photography has taken since the mid-1990s and the first decade of the twenty-first century. The two artists use the photographs that they take to create “a series of complex narrative photo-novellas and sculptural installations” ( Unlike Cartier-Bresson’s artwork that depends on capturing a moment scene that has come to fruition without the artist’s hand, Kahn and Selesnick returned in the late 1990s to staged photography. In a postmodern approach, the artists addressed the past and the future through staging scenes that challenged preconceptions about reality. Technologically, their photographs differd from Cartier-Bresson because instead of capturing a single frame with a 35 mm camera lens, the duo chose to create epic panoramas because they could “more faithfully create a truer, more cinematic sense of place, while…[the]…manipulation of costume, props and period color would help alter the sense of time” (


Two particular works not only demonstrate how the progression of technology between Cartier-Bresson and Kahn and Selenick was extreme, but even how technology has affected postmodern photography. In the first example from Eisbergfreistadt is ‘The Circular River, the R.E.C. Siberian Expedition of 1945-46’  (1998-1999) the Kahn and Selesnick continue a narrative from an earlier staged panorama project. The panorama project is brought  together in a seven foot wide leather bound book that included “laser-color prints on cotton but had the appearance of vintage folded panoramas, collaged together by hand, stained and inscribed with notes from the expedition” ( This project demonstrates how photography has taken a hybrid approach and that the capture of natural elements no longer can embody the postmodern photograph. Instead, the postmodern photograph relies on the integration of referential subject matter and also a referential and in this case also simulacral manner of production. These photographs were taken with a non-digital camera and collaged together by hand.

From Eisbergfreistadt from Richard Selesnick and Nicolas Kahn

From Eisbergfreistadt from Richard Selesnick and Nicolas Kahn

Kahn and Salesnick’s later “post-apocolyptic whisky-dark epic ‘Scotlandfuturebog’” takes the use of technology to another level. While the earlier works relied solely on staged photography that created the image through camera and lens work, the duo introduced the computer. This new technology allowed them to overlap and merge photographs from various locations such as Ireland, Isle of Skye, and Cape Cod to create the setting that they were looking to create for their photographic novella ( In addition to the new technology to create the photographs, another element that was critical in their creation of this story was the materials used to print them. These images were originally printed as “giclee prints on translucent Gampi rice paper up to twelve feet long and two feet high” that enhanced their “future historical impossibility.”

Sumpfinselwormloch from Scottlandfuturebog by Nicolas Kahn and Richard Selesnick

Sumpfinselwormloch from Scottlandfuturebog by Nicolas Kahn and Richard Selesnick

It is decisions such as these that separate photographers from people who capture images on modern technology, whether it is a digital camera or a mobile device. The social purpose of photography has been and will continue to be an artistic one, while the act of image making rather serves to capture social rituals and interactions. Both of these artists represent different historical movements in photography, but they both strive to create the photograph that speaks to the viewer beyond the subject matter. Interestingly, both seem to take a photojournalistic approach, capturing the past, present, and future. The question that postmodern brings to the forefront, however, is the veracity of a photograph and the reality that it depicts.


Works Cited:

“Henri Cartier-Bresson.” Wikipedia, 2013. Web. 5 Nov 2013. <>.

“Kahn & Selesnick.”, 2013. Web. 5 Nov 2013. <>.

Fashion photography: Constructing artistic and realistic beauty

Aena Cho

Following the contemporary movement in photography to establish photography as a form of art rather the mere reflection of reality, many photographers in the fashion industry also have tried to shed the overly commercial image of fashion photography and shifted that towards art.  Pictorialism and impressionism has inspired many of them in the early 20th century; and then other more contemporary artistic approaches such as modernism and surrealism also influenced them.

Guy Bourdin was one of those who incorporated surrealism into fashion photography as a way to oppose dream-like fashion photographs which create visual fantasy to which women could aspire.  The French photographer who represents the 70s of fashion photography is known as the first to create a complex narrative in fashion photographs which is strange and mysterious; sometimes full of violence and sexuality and simply associate it with a fashion item and model. One of his surrealistic and artistic approaches is the use of the double-page spread of a magazine as a structure for displaying his photographs.  He aligned models and the human body in accordance to the fixed forms of the double-paged magazine spread.  The pictures below are some of the best examples in which the model’s legs are positioned in each side of the fold. This creates a surrealistic and artistic combination of the abstract human form and the rigid and precise geometric form of the magazine.  Each image is like a story or a set up of something; a dramatic event, or a dark narrative.

In the 90s, documentary photography, a new style of photography also has begun influencing fashion photography.   This style of realism rejected constructed, highly stylized image for “the artless, the unstaged, the semi-conscious”. Juergen Teller is one of those who take such a natural approach.  Like Corrine Day and Nan Goldin and the likes who represent art documentation, he also tried to depict a fashion model as an ordinary fashionable person.   He particularly emphasizes an intimate relationship with his subjects which is shown well in pictures above.   All of the models look very intimate, as if they were at a private unstaged moment.

<Works cited>

1. Park, Jeanne. The art of Guy Bourdin. PBS. Nov 2010. <>

2. Scaltizitti. Anthony. Fashion Photography Some history. PictureCorrect.   <>

3. Fashion Photography Timeline. XTimeline. <>