Category Archives: Week 10

Photography as a Human Extension

Photo 1: Glass Tears  – Man Ray (1932), Paris Style: Dada

Gelatin silver print

I chose this photo because of the cinematic style and use of the woman’s gaze to draw in the viewer. The tears coming down from the her face are large and made of glass giving off the sense of added drama or exaggeration. To me, these stylistic choices result in an interface inviting the viewer to experience more than just what is literally in the image, but also space to fill in the blanks (similar to a painting). Capturing eyes in an image is also symbolic, and adds another layer to the photograph (looking up can represent innocence or reference religious imagery). This image is an example of storytelling rather than imitation. The departure from capturing a “realistic” image is a part of the genre or style demonstrated here: dadaism. Continuing to examine the photo from its social context, Man Ray was a significant contributing artist of the dada and surrealist movement. This photo was published in the surrealist art magazine Minotaur in 1935, as well as a 1934 book collection of Ray’s photographs. The Art Story website says, “Ray is exploring his interest in the real and unreal by challenging the meaning of still-life photography.” Using our tools for interpretation from class, it is clear to see that we identify and categorize images using social and historical context from other images that presuppose it. Another concept from class we discussed is the remix and reinvention of processes over time. In researching Man Ray, he participated in the “re-invention” of solarization and photograms which he called Rayographs (Balwin & Jurgens, 39). It is interesting to compare early methods of “photoshopping” or “editing” with the methods we use today, and  the way in which capturing “truth” has evolved over time and meant different things within different contexts.

Photo 2: Jonathan Bachman (2016) 

A demonstrator protesting the shooting death of Alton Sterling is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY – RTSH3XR

Photo taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 16mm; the exposure was 1/1600sec at f/5, ISO 2000

This photo went viral appearing all over social media and news websites, and quickly became one of the most circulated photos of The Black Lives Matter movement. In times of protest and civil uproar, photos are one way that these bigger than life moments become human and real. A powerful image has the power to reach people outside of the circumstance pictures, as well as create truth value. “The photograph allows for the existence of a multiplicity of narrations and storylines without privileging a single one by referring to some predefined notion of ‘truth’ ” (Lister, 24). The photo was compared to other famous photos that were considered iconic representations of historical movements including “Tank Man,” from the 1989 Beijing protests and “Flower Power” from the anti-Vietnam War protests in 1967. These photos symbolize nonviolent resistance, civil disobedience, and the oppressor vs. the oppressed (Gottschalk, 2016). Gottschalk (an Artsy contributer) states, “her position, that of Tank Man, and that of Jan Rose Kasmir—an individual standing up to a more powerful group that seeks to oppress or suppress her—is one that is infinitely relatable in a way that images capturing the actual violence that inspires such civil disobedience are often not. (This is particularly true for those in positions of privilege or power.) She becomes a blank canvas in which you can place yourself. You become a part of the struggle and the movement” (2016). The power in an image therefore, as we have discussed in class,transcends time because it is dialogic. “An image does not receive its meaning from its indexicality nor from its iconicity, but from the network of relations around it” (Lister, 36).

Photo 3: Miami Sunset 


I chose this photo (taken on Snapchat) because it exemplifies how the camera phone is a socio-technical object. According to Lister, Photography has “extended outwards from its traditional centre, to interface or become part of other technologies” (4). Snapchat is an extension of my memories, and is carried around with me on my phone, which makes my phone an (almost) physical extension of my body. Additionally, Snapchat features makes a photo taking and sharing more interactive and dialogic, allowing you to have a point of view but also to add or accentuate the part of the photo you find to be meaningful, add writing, or other forms of media on top of the image. Snapchat is a social platform, designed for sharing moments as they happen. This is achieved by the time constraint on each image (it only lasts 24 hours), which creates urgency to capture a moment and share it, before it’s gone. This is perfectly designed for the generation of users that use the interface, anxiety, immediacy and a fear of missing out. It’s no surprise that the application is such a popular form of communication.

One of the issues with social media is that photos start to lose their appeal as they become recycled and clichéd. Lister says, “technologies of representation have the potential either to stultify life by reducing it to endless repetition of essentially identical moments and actions or that the same technologies and energies can be harnessed towards a view of life that embraces change, uncertainty, spontaneous becoming and difference” (24). This quote articulates a valid point that I’ve experienced over the years of using social media. For me, it’s the way I use the technology that determines my view of life. For instance, I found what works best for me is to document only in the moments I find inspiring, and often to just keep it for myself. The act of analyzing it and sharing it is what reduces the moments for me at times, so I choose to skip that step.  

Martin Lister, ed. The Photographic Image in Digital Culture. 2nd ed. London; New York: Routledge, 2013.

Gordon Baldwin and Martin Jurgens. Looking at Photographs: A Guide to Technical Terms, Revised Edition. Los Angeles, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2009.

Visionaries to Visions: Looking at the World through Rose Colored Lenses

I chose three photographs rather randomly and yet I have seen all of them before. The photograph made before 1940 (in black and white) is a portrait of Frederick Douglass taken with a Daguerrotype. The second photograph is a background photo-journalist/ documentary type photo of John Kennedy in Hyannis Port before getting interviews for CBS in September 1963. Finally, the recent personal snapshot photo is a photo of a landscape I took when I was vacationing with my family in Duxbury, Massachusetts.

The portrait of Frederick Douglass has a rather interesting background story to it.  The Onondaga Historical Association loaned the full-plated daguerreotype of Douglass to the River campus Libraries at the University of Rochester in April of 2016. The speculation around this photograph is precisely because the photo is rather odd- it’s a 61/2 by 81/2 inch which makes it the only known full-plated daguerreotype of Douglass, an escape slave who became one of the nation’s most prominent abolitionists (Empire Magazine). The photograph was taken at a convention held august 21 and 22 of 1850. Douglass is sitting at a table surrounded by other people. It is the only one of the nine known daguerreotypes of Douglass to be precisely dated. What interests me is how a former-slave could have been photographed this much during this time and how one was exposed or even possession of this new and expensive technology during this time. Douglass’ portrait is iconic and indexical in the sense that it represents the abolitionist in full detail, there is nothing left to the imagination. According to Empire Magazine, several things from this portrait stand out as “tokens”, specific to the time, place and material instances. For example, Douglass is glancing into the distance instead of directly looking at the camera- a portrait technique of the Boston studio was famed for. The critical focus of Douglass’ face is evidence of a specific kind of lens used by the Boston Studio because the lens is “positioned a little below center line so the camera is looking slightly up at Douglass” (Empire Magazine).

Kennedy’s photograph is much less manufactured, in the sense that there is no toying with the camera lens or making specific requests to have the camera angle a little to the left or right- it is a “true” photo- it takes everything as it is. It is a background snapshot, a behind the scenes kind of photo of Kennedy being interviewed by CBS Evening News Anchor Walter Cronkite to inaugurate the first half-hour nightly news broadcast in September 1963. The event itself is the first of its kind whereas Douglass’ photo is one out of 9 daguerrotypes- a replication rather than something revolutionary. The photo acts a symbol of the work it takes to put together an interview of this caliber- one famous news anchor with the president, a relationship that will soon die with the President’s demise only a few months later in Texas. The photo is not only symbolic but also a representation of an interface- there are different mediums at play in this one snapshot of a behind the scenes interview. There is the TV medium with the different cameras and recording devices that are transmitting the interview to the audiences into their living room and then there is someone taking the photo of these different mediums at play to create a snapshot; almost like someone taking a picture of a picture in a museum. There are different layers that are all in one “scene” so to speak. As such, this picture becomes a “type”, a genre that has been re-tokened into a different media.

My personal snapshot is doctored or manipulated like Douglass’ portrait. It is not a true presentation of, in this case, a landscape, but rather what I want the audience too see from the landscape. I increased the saturation of the photo and used the “mirror” function on Instagram to change the way people would see the picture (also on Instagram). I wanted to create a ‘trippy’ element to my photograph, much in the same way as Douglass’ portrait has certain aspects that are not true to what he looks like- his blazer that he is wearing looks grey (even though it’s black) and his white shirt looks bright white (because of the different lens that was used). Even though the photography also is manipulated, the lens is not the one that has done the manipulation but rather other settings are to blame for this seemingly mirror-like landscape of land and water. In “Introduction to Photography and the Optical Image,” Irvine talks about the view of “the middle brow art form” where anyone with a photographic device can be a photographer. It becomes almost mundane for someone to alter a photo, post it on social media and wait for feedback in the ways of likes and comments (or none at all). Society is now dependent on people who post landscapes, brunches, social gatherings to create a kind of social anticipation or fever among audiences browsing the various social media platforms. Such photos become “cliches” or “stereotyped performances” where such performances become part of our ritualistic behaviors of posting something that you think people might like or looks pretty. It comes to a point where such postings are an after thought of the image itself- an the image is no longer the focal point of conversation but rather it’s the buzz of of the photos that takes precedence.



Martin Irvine, “Introduction to Photography and the Optical Image” (intro essay).


The Era of Ubiquitous Photography

In the reading of introduction to photography, it mentioned that we are living in an era of post-photographic, where we are accustomed to “read photo-produced images” while every day producing photographs that imitate photographic features without actually using devices with lens or projected light.” Nowadays, taking pictures becoming such an easily and common thing. Using portable device like your cellphone you can take good pictures and instantly share on social media with the world. I would describe this as a era that digitalization ruled photography and us.

I chose these three photographs from different period to illustrate.

                                               A Tanghulu* Vendor (taken in the late 1930’s)

This is a photograph taken in the late 1930s in Beijing by Hedda Morrison, a German photographer who created memorable documentary images of Beijing during her thirteen years in China from 1933 to 1946. Morrison later published a book called ” A Photographer in Old Peking” that included tons of photos that provided unique insight of life in Beijing at that period. This photo specifically, captured a tanghulu vendor on the street. This snack called Tanghulu or crystalline sugar-coated haws on a stick. Today this kind of candy does not require much promotion among young sweet-lovers in Beijing. The photographer took many photos about street life of Peking and the everyday activities of ordinary working people, especially the traditonal craft like the tanghulu. Even though tanghulu is still selling today in Beijing, but not like this traditonal way, so a photo like this not only present us the documentary of old Beijng, but “the collection of photographs is an important historical archive relating to the look of the city and the lives of its inhabitants that have changed beyond recognition since 1933.”

                                                                       Saigon in 1960s

This is a color photograph took in Saigon in the 1960s.  I really like this photo because it captured some precious moment that is bright, memorable and have story in it. It presented people’s life in Vietnam in 1960s. In this photo, we can see that it captured the bride and groom’s lovely moment in the car on their wedding day, where the man kissed his love and the bride smiled. It not only showed as the lovely couple at that time, but the interesting part is that outside the car, the face of these children also gave us strong impression. They looked like they have never experience or witness a moment like this before, which made the audience to think about the story and context behind the photo.  Unlike the black and white photos, the more recent color photo made the image colorful and vivid. This photo captured the lively moment and also created an interface of the image itself and the context of the story. It documented the moment which  I think is strong and powerful.

                                                   South Beach, Miami. Taken in March, 2018.

I took this photos in March during my Spring break in Miami.  I really like this one because I captured a dad and his son’s lovely moment. I want to use this photo to illustrate because it reflects the current situation that some people have about photography. I took this photo using a 35 mm single-lens reflex film camera. And I then send the roll of film to the photo lab that could help me do the film developing and scanning. It is not the way that we usually take photos today using a digital camera or cell phone. It is old-fashioned and time-consuming. However, I do think the trend of people started to reuse their old film camera in this digital age reflect the thought about what taking photograph really means today. Nowadays, photo produced instantly in digitalize form stored in their cellphone or computer, while fewer people choose to print it. Press the shutter button becomes easy because we can instantly see what we took and retake one if it is not satisfying. We could capture every moment of our lives at any times using our cellphone or portable camera. The process of taking photos becomes so easy and less time consuming and less cost maybe is changing how the picture taking means in the past. While i choose to use film camera instead of digital camera sometimes because i want to restore the moment where every shutter you press is thoughtful and precious, because you never know what is the real image you took at the time, this unknown journey maybe can take me back to the original intention of photography.


Irvine, I. “Introduction to Photography and the Optical Image.”

Some thoughts about photography’s influence on painting

The invention of photography, in the middle of the 19th century, caused many painters to consider that this signed the end of their art. When he saw the first daguerreotype, the French painter Paul Delaroche said this: “As from today, painting is dead!” Painters whose work consisted of the production of life-like images to satisfy, generally, the egos of their customers, could see that photography was a far more efficient and inexpensive way of achieving this. Another commentator of this period had this to say: “Photography is so rigorously true to optical reality that it is likely to destroy individual conceptions of beauty.”

This last remark was proved to be not true, as was soon shown by the work of the impressionists who went inside immediate, superficial vision to investigate how images, and particularly colors and shapes, are perceived by the eye and the brain. And many art movements since then have taken this much further. As for aesthetics, or perceived beauty, we have since seen just how much this lies in the eye of the beholder (or, to be more cynical and in respect to some contemporary art, in the pocket of the investor), and how impossible it is to set hard-and-fast criteria for beauty.

The realism of photographic images was also criticised from the start precisely because it was too realistic. This precise reproduction of what people really saw in the world around them kind of blew apart the hypocrisy of constructed, often idealized images of what people wanted to see, as in this nineteenth-century painting by Bochereau. And of course the same can often be been said about portraits prior to photography, with many very notable exceptions of course. Photography not only opened up new fields for painting to explore by removing the responsibility for slavishly realistic reproduction but, especially with the invention of films, it also profoundly changed our way of viewing things. Vision has never been the same since. The impressionists, like Monet, could do things like this:

What Monet showed was that vision was a continuum that ebbed and flowed and not a fixed snapshot. One could attempt to catch an instant of it, but that would merely provide an “impression” because capturing reality is an illusion. Reality is there, whether we look at it or not. All we can do is to create our impression of it and of its impact on our senses and emotions, as Lucien Freud said.

A little later, the Cubists would de-construct the traditional single viewpoint to encompass many perspectives in a single painting, something later investigated, perhaps with more finesse and in another way by the English painter David Hockney. He used Polaroid images of the same subject taken from different viewpoints that were minute variations on a theme, just as one’s two eyes, combined with the movements of the head, will produce small differences in the vision of a subject. 

So I don’t think art is concerned with the imitation of “real” life. Bonnard had this to say on the subject in the early part of the 20th century: “The question is not the painting of life, but making painting come alive.” Art is concerned with human imagination, and the juxtaposition of elements that may or may not be perceived directly in visual reality. The act of painting imposes choices on the painter, and these choices will constantly be confronted with the constraints of executing these decisions.

Photojournalism, Art, and #Basic

Pre-1940: On Social-Use Context

“Photographic genres became connected to the social institutions and social class functions that continue to today: documentation, news and journalism, family rituals, advertising, portraits, personal snapshots (with the development of inexpensive, small portable cameras), and the remediation of artistic genres (landscapes, still lifes, portraits, nudes).” (Irvine, 5) In other words, when comparing these photographs, I attempt to understand why these photographs were made? How did the social mood affect what was being captured?

A(n) (African American) going in the Entrance for (African Americans) at a Movie Theater by Marion Post Wolcott – Belzoni, Mississippi, USA


Photographer: Marion Post Wolcott
Camera: Twin Lens Reflex Camera (TLR)/Rolleiflex
Type of Shot: Establishing Shot
Photographic Print: Gelatin Silver Print
Received In: N/A
Genre Frame: Racial Segregation
Social Use Context: Documenting

A photojournalist, Wolcott’s job consisted of reporting and documenting the functioning of the cotton industry, as well as the working conditions on cotton plantations. The social-cultural function of Wolcott’s photographic image is mainly to document. Although it wasn’t published for public relational purposes and wasn’t received in the newspaper, her boss, “dreamed of creating a photographic archive that would embrace the American experience” (Mason,). In 1939, the beginnings of racial segregation began to define the American experience: access to everyday life activities and opportunities – including but not limited to entertainment centers, public transportation, employment, and education – was separated according to racial ethnicity, specifically between African Americans and white people. Her photograph of an African American at an entrance specifically for people of color is a token image of racial segregation at the time: showing the “colored” vs “white” signs; usually one person is shown; if there are two, it’s one of each racial ethnicity; and they are usually captured in 3 different spaces: theatre entrances, water fountains, and then in the post-1940s, they were retokened in buses, where groups of African Americans would be seen at the back of the bus, while white people sat in front. Here, Wolcott captures a theatre entrance for African Americans in Mississippi, with both the segregational signs (on the door, it reads: “white men only” — for the bathroom; on the staircase, “colored admission”). In addition to its geometric aesthetic and the interplay between light and dark, this photo is iconic, in the sense that it captures one of the many realities of the experience of race and segregation in America. In an interview, Wolcott explains “I was really interested in that I was photographing and I was looking for something that would be, well, more useful or had more purpose to it” (Interview), in comparison with photos that she would take for the newspaper. By “transforming a mundane scene into a complex composition with deeply layered meanings” (Mason,) , Wolcott successfully depicts segregation, burdened with alienation and humiliation.

Post-1962: On The Concept of Iconic and Indexical

“[Iconic] Photographs for which meaning now transcends the specific circumstances of their making as they have come to represent particular ideologies or political attitudes (Hariman and Lucaites 2007)” (34) – Critical Introduction

“[Indexical Photographs] that is, ways in which the image stands as a reference to or trace of actual phenomena (Elkins 2007)”

“Sontag takes a particular position within debates about realism, stressing the referential nature of the photographic image both in terms of its iconic properties and in terms of its indexical nature. For Sontag, the fact that a photograph exists testifies to the actuality of how something, someone or somewhere once appeared. Max Kozloff challenged Sontag’s conceptual model, criticising her proposition that the photograph ‘traces’ reality, and arguing instead for a view of the photograph as ‘witness’ with all the possibilities of misunderstanding, partial information or false testament that the term ‘witness’ may be taken to imply (Kozloff 1987: 237).

In other words, what makes a photographi iconic?

Grace Jones’ album “Island Life” artwork (1985) by Jean Paul-Goude


Photographer: Jean-Paul Goude
Camera: N/A but manipulated pre-digital era
Type of Shot: Long Shot (i.e. entire human subject is shown)
Photographic Print: Lithograph
Received In: Jean-Paul Goude’s Autobiographical Book “Jungle Fever” (1972); Grace Jones’ Album “Island Life” Artwork (1985)
Genre Frame: Exotic Fetishism; Nude
Social Use Context: The Resurgence of Feminism; Modern Photography and Photography as Art

This photograph is indexical in the sense that it marks the beginnings of the conception of photography as art: it does not seek to document, report, publicize or advertise, nor does it seek to tokenize social rituals. Instead, this photograph seeks to empower the image of African American women, despite its critical reception at the time it was released and even today. Jean-Paul Goude wanted to convey his love for African Women and beauty – coining the term “Jungle Fever” through the name of his autobiographical work. In addition, his photographs of (and love for) Grace Jones empowered her image: he seemed to present her as a strong female. However, his photographic images were deemed fetishizing the exotic by the public and visual culture. “It was argued that the term ‘nude’, central to the visual arts tradition, lent a guise of respectability to the practice of naked women being objectified for fantasy libidinous gratification” (Critical Introduction, 326). The duality between “erotic fetishism” and “nude female empowerment” render this photograph an indexical and iconic piece. Moreover, Jean-Paul Goude wanted to communicate the impossibility of creating such a pose through his manipulation of the image in a pre-digital era. This image is iconic as it embodies what we call photoshop today and precedes the digital era we live in today. Jean-Paul Goude was able to create this image by taking multiple shots, and cutting and sticking pieces together into a final collage, in order to create the impossible pose Grace Jones was taking.


Recent: On Tokens of A Genre

What makes a moment worth capturing?

Sunday Tam-Tams on Mount Royal – Montréal, QC, CANADA


Photographer: Dina El-Saharty
Camera: Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR)/Nikon D3400
Type of Shot: Two Shot (i.e. two people are shown)
Photographic Print: Digital Imaging
Received In: Personal Portfolio, Professional/Academic Use, NOT Posted on Social Media, Circulated Among Friends and Family for Portfolio Help
Genre Frame: Remediation of Socio-Political “Peaceful” Racial Interrelations
Social Use Context: Coexistence, the Rise of Social Movements, Pushing for Racial Equality

This photo is a typical instance of representing “peaceful” and coexisting interracial relations: a two-shot, a handshake, same hand gesture/mimicking one another. The photo was certainly edited to mark the contrast in racial differences, but also not so much in a way that perpetuates racial discrimination (usually, when you want to represent minorities, they’re darkened, but here, he is brightened). As such, the composition of the picture isn’t “original”: there are hundreds of pictures of politicians and world leaders shaking hands to represent peace; etc. Nevertheless, these photographic images, as tokens of social rituals, serve as additional tools understanding the world we live in today and making sense of what is happening. Sunsets are constantly being captured because we live in a technologically emprisoning world, so sunsets reflect our connection with nature and our appreciation of Mother Nature’s beauty. The same images of food are endlessly being reproduced on social media perhaps because food trends are becoming more and more international, but also because we live in an era where we’re fighting against food shaming and body image. And finally, the fact that I found this moment worth capturing was probably due to the fact that we live in a time where we’re advocating peace, among racial ethnicities (after all, this was taken at a hippie festival).


Are We Taking or Making a Photograph?

Our linguistic tendency to say we are “taking a photograph” indicates that we are simply making a “quotation from reality” as Irvine states (p. 3). However, any (pre-digital) photograph “is a product of a chemical process that captured and fixed the light reflected off an object into an image of that object” (Peres & Osterman, 2007, p. 180). In the image below, Tato’s work falls into the genre of Fantasy and Surrealism as he wanted to show the “state of mind” of an individual. According to the Guggenheim, Tato’s photograph dealt with the “Futurist concept of simultaneity through the transparency of objects and the transfiguration of the real. He said he sought to achieve “a new reality which has nothing in common with reality” (Guggenheim). In this photo, Tato depicted his friend who as a aviation enthusiast by using multiple negatives and photograms to make the propeller show movement.

Tato (Guglielmo Sansoni), 1934. Photomontage, gelatin silver print, 24 x 18 cm.

“A photogram is a kind of photograph, although made without a CAMERA or LENS. An object (or objects) is placed on top of a piece of paper or FILM coated with LIGHT-SENSITIVE materials and then the paper or film is EXPOSED to light” (Balwin & Jurgens, 2009, p. 39).

With Tato’s photodynamism, the distinction Ansel Adams made between “taking a photograph” and “making a photograph” is clear. One could not go out into the world and capture this image; it was constructed with the iconic code of the face and the indexical code of the propeller indicating movement. Within the process itself lies the symbolism of multiple layers of the “state of mind” of the subject.

Although this photograph is not a depiction of reality, it shows how creative minds were experimenting with this ‘new’ medium. Tato “declared photography to be a powerful tool in the Futurist effort to eliminate barriers between art and life. With the camera, they could explore both “pure” art and art’s social function” (Guggenheim).

Jumping forward a half a century, I chose a photo that showed movement in a different way. Taken at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, an athlete is depicted mid-dive with picturesque shot of Barcelona in the background. After years of decay and neglect, Barcelona had been undergoing a self-reinvention and hosting the Olympics was a chance to showcase the city as modern and thriving. Recognizing the power of photography to communicate messages, city planners gave photojournalists the best seats on top of Montjuïc so that the athletes were not the only thing people were talking about. In the distance, you see the iconic Sagrada Familia giving us an “aura of authenticity” (Benjamin, 1936) and creating a reference for the viewer.

Diver with Barcelona Skyline, Simon Bruty 1992.

Photography in the genre of photojournalism functions “as a means of freezing a moment in time” and giving us a trace or testimony to “the actuality of how something, someone or somewhere once appeared” (Wells, 2015, p. 19-20). Barcelona had not been not been seen for many years as a result of Franco’s dictatorship, so showing that the city was alive and thriving was an essential step towards the Barcelona we know today.

This chemically produced photo is indexical in that the athlete had to be there for the photograph to be made, making the image a ‘trace’ which would “circulate in specific cultural contexts within which differing symbolic meanings and values may adhere” (Wells, 2013, p. 53). Photojournalism’s social function was based on the “claim to be the people’s witness, the dispassionate relayer of factual truths for the benefit of distant viewers” (Lister, 2013, p. 185). In this case, photojournalists were able to mediate the experience of the Olympics in Barcelona.

A Work of Art by Catherine Boardman

This last photo of my sister-in-law’s bouquet was my own work of art, though portrait-mode on the IPhone X really deserves the credit. If Lister (2013) were writing in 2018, I believe he would argue that Hipstimatic had a minuscule impact on professional photographers, but that innovations in IPhone cameras – like Portrait Mode – pose the biggest threat. Having been newly immersed into the wedding world but a veteran in the Instagram world, algorithms constantly present me of photos from other weddings.

Almost every collection of wedding photos I see are almost exactly interchangeable – each bride wants the same token cliché moments captured. There are the black-and-white “first look” photos, the fake candids, bridesmaids smiling, bridesmaids looking at the bride smiling, bride and groom looking at each other smiling, and of course, photos of the flowers. Does the fact that these photos begin and end as binary representations make them non-indexical?

As Wells (2015) described, “photographs can also exhaust experiences, using up the beautiful through rendering it into cliché” (Wells, 2015, p. 33). With social media, we take these snapshots on our own phones so that we can say “I was there.” Even though we had professional photographers at the wedding with both film and digital cameras, I still wanted to have my own photo, proving that photography has become a sociotechnical object. According to Wells (2015), photographs can be a “stand in for memories” (p. 20) and since my memory is below average at best, I will continue “making memories.”

Benjamin, W. (1936). “The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility” Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.

Irvine, I. “Introduction to Photography and the Optical Image.” 

Lister, M. (2013). The Photographic Image in Digital Culture. 2nd ed. London; New York: Routledge,.

Peres, M. R. & Osterman, M. (2007). The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4. Oxford, UK and Burlington, MA: Focal Press.

Wells, L. (2015). Photography: A Critical Introduction. 5th ed. London; New York: Routledge. 


Food Photography Through the Ages

William Henry Fox Talbot, A Fruit Piece calotype, 1844. Image via Project Gutenberg.

One of the earliest food photographs—if not the earliest food photograph—comes from a book of prints generally considered to be the first commercially available book with photographic illustrations. Written by the inventor of an early form of photography, The Pencil of Nature included 24 calotype images pasted into the book. Talbot’s goal was “to place on record some of the early beginnings of a new art, before the period, which we trust is approaching, of its being brought to maturity by the aid of British talent”; while he saw photography as an art form in itself, he also explicitly ties its goals and styles to those of painting (Talbot 25).

While some of the images include commentary on their genres or contents—copies of drawings and text, portraits, photographs of buildings—this image is one of several accompanied by a description of the photographic process, specifically the fact that (unlike the daguerreotype) the calotype was reproducible. The process created a negative, from which “a very great number of copies can be obtained in succession, so long as great care is taken of the original picture” (64). From this, we can note two things. First, that the still life of fruit was so recognizable as a genre that it could serve as a prototype in an introductory book, yet the actual contents of the image were so irrelevant to said genre that they required no elaboration (unlike many of the architectural photos in the book). Second, that even from the very start, food photography has been linked to reproduction and reproducibility.

Irving Penn, Frozen Foods, 1977. Image via Vogue.

Fast forward 130 years and things have both changed drastically in food photography and stayed the same. Irving Penn is best known for his fashion photography, but in his years at Vogue he photographed a little bit of everything. A version of this image originally accompanied a short article on iced soups, including recipes, and though that stretches the limits of the term “documentary” photography, I couldn’t resist discussing this photograph because of the way it plays with so many of the genres and codes of the medium.

A brief Vogue retrospective of Penn’s food photography notes his training as a painter and “Vermeer-like” eye (Borelli-Persson). When you open a fashion magazine like Vogue, you expect a certain elegance to pervade throughout. Where food is concerned, an over-the-top extravaganza won’t do*; even the most practical food has to be striking, edgy, and chic. The minimalist still-life structure of the composition codes it as something closer to Art than “mere” illustration, to the extent that a signed limited-edition version sold for $106,250 in 2015.

*Penn’s work wasn’t exactly standard for 1970s food photography, but even the laughably garish spreads we more often associate with the era have plenty in common with Talbot’s image—note the still life with cheese pineapple from the article linked above.

Jordan Moeny, untitled Instagram photo, 2017. Taken with Pixel 2 phone.

My sister and I have a regularly scheduled “cake day” where we bake a cake for no reason other than because we want to, so cake has unintentionally become part of my “personal brand” lately, if you will. Even though I’m a casual baker rather than a food blogger, photos like this reflect the food blog photo “type” or genre, which overlaps to an extent with professional food photography but is both more relaxed and more limited than what you might find in the glossy pages of a food magazine. (Few food bloggers, for example, would go for the abstract style of Penn’s photo, but they’re also allowed a measure of personality and playfulness that magazines often avoid.)

Hallmarks of the genre include the shallow depth of field close up and the over-the-top, attention-getting image; glitter, sprinkles, and lettering are also very “in” right now in the food blogging world. Like Talbot’s images, these photos are designed to be replicated, reblogged, Pinned, and shared. That is, to an extent, the nature of Instagram more generally as well: the app’s algorithm favors photos that get a lot of interaction (likes and comments) so users are encouraged, either explicitly or implicitly through comparison to the other images on their feeds, to get the perfect shot every time—even if that means taking 20 photos of your sister holding a cake.

“Fox Talbot’s Pencil of Nature.” Glasgow University Library. Accessed March 27, 2018.

“Irving Penn’s Unforgettable Food Photography in Vogue.” Vogue. Accessed March 27, 2018.

Talbot, William Henry Fox. The Pencil of Nature, 2010.

The Eiffel Tower, From Many Lenses

As you’ve all likely discerned by this point in the semester, I’m crazy about France, and Paris in particular. So, for this assignment, I decided to compare three photographs of France’s (maybe the world’s?) most iconic landmark, the Eiffel Tower. The location is one of the few common traits all three of these pictures share; it’s amazing how such a great variety of feelings can be evoked by photographing the same statue from various angles, at different moments in history, and with completely intentions coming from their photographers.


I know the instructions were to select a black-and-white photo from before 1940, but hopefully this one taken in 1940 can be considered valid. This was taken by Heinrich Hoffmann, Adolf Hitler’s official photographer, on June 23rd 1940 at the Place du Trocadéro. On either side of Hitler are Albert Speer and Arno Breker, who were, respectively, his go-to architect and sculptor. Behind them, of course, is La Dame de Fer, suffering the fiercest moment of humiliation she has known in her 129-year lifetime.

Like many great historical photos, the context of this one is immediately clear and alarming. This was taken just after Germany had invaded and taken control of France in the spring of 1940. Hitler and several other Nazi leaders made there way over to Paris and immediately rubbed salt into the French wound. They forced France to surrender in the same spot in the Compiègne Forest where France had forced Germany to sign an armistice at the end of World War I. Hitler ordered the destruction of several monuments dedicated to France’s World War I heroes. And he made a triumphant tour around Paris, visiting several monuments and making the Third Reich’s presence known to all.

This picture is probably the best-known image of Hitler’s visit, the only time the Führer ever made it over to Paris. I couldn’t find the exact camera which Hoffmann used to take this picture, but this site lists a thorough variety of the cameras used in this time period, some of which were developed in Germany at the time (especially Kodak cameras). Hoffmann probably used some number of these cameras throughout his career– a career which was dedicated to contributing to “the Nazi propaganda machine.” Hoffman, “Hitler’s most prodigious image-maker and propagator,” shot over 2.5 million photographs of Hitler, images which “projected a Hitlerian image that seduced Germany and left quite a pictorial legacy.”

I would certainly classify Hoffman’s famous picture as a token of the World War II era. Not only because it is a well-known image of the conflict’s central villain and one of its most pivotal moments, but because it is a token example of a prominent element of the Nazis’ strategy throughout this era: visual propaganda. By glorifying Hitler and his entourage by means of posters and photographs like this one, the Third Reich facilitated its own rise to power and control over its people.

Hoffmann’ image feeds into the impression of Der Führer as an all-conquering leader– no one, not the great nation of France, not one of the world’s most beloved and iconic structures, is safe from his clutches. This image was heavily circulated in German newspapers and press, I imagine with the intention of making the news of the fall of France instantly obvious, as well as to send a warning to the countries Germany was planning to invade next (namely, Great Britain) of what was to come. The tremendous symbolism packed into this single image make it a startling and memorable one, almost 80 years later.



My time spent living in Paris was full of happy and exciting memories, but also one very dark one: the Charlie Hebdo shootings, which took place midway through my year there in 2014-2015. Since the perpetrators were tracked and taken down relatively quickly, I didn’t really feel unsafe in the aftermath of the attacks, but I do remember the great feeling of shock and unease that took over Paris during that whole period.

Seeing this image, which French photographer Aurelien Meunier took on a digital camera and released to Getty Images, really brings me back to that grim moment. What’s especially jarring to me is that the Eiffel Tower is traditionally thought of as a positive symbol: it was first built to mark the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, and when it lights up every night as the tallest, brightest structure in the City of Lights, it seems to represent all of the vibrant culture and technology that Paris has to offer. Whenever we pick up a travel guide or brochure encouraging us to visit Paris, the Eiffel Tower is always right there: generally speaking, the simple image of the tower is very inviting and plays a major role in Paris’ status as one of the world’s most visited city.

So, to see all of that symbolism reversed by the sight of this unlit tower on the night of January 8th 2015 is very powerful, about as compelling of a gesture of mourning as Paris could have possibly made in the wake of these shootings. I am not surprised to see this image was scooped up by a lot of major news outlets, including CNN, BBC and the Daily Express. In today’s digital media environment, such an image has the ability to travel far and spark thoughts about how to properly respond to moments of tragedy: a fine use of “interfacing,” if you ask me.



This picture was taken in April 2015, while I was spending the year in France teaching E.S.L. Melissa, my Canadian sightseeing buddy and fellow E.S.L.-teaching assistant, was accompanying me that evening. She took a picture on her iPhone of me playing basketball at Centre Sportif Emile Anthoine, which was my destination-of-choice for pickup ball throughout my year in France (with good reason, as you can tell!)

After Melissa sent me the picture, I knew I had a keeper. I posted it on social media with the caption “Nothin’ like some evening HOOPS! Watch as I grab yet another rebound (my longtime speciality!) in what is genuinely the most awesome place in the world to play pickup.” No one argued.

One quality that makes this picture so effective is how familiar and yet unfamiliar the setting is. Everyone can imagine what the Eiffel Tower looks like; who knows how many pictures we’ve seen of our friends standing at Troacdéro or the Champ de Mars, smiling in front of the Dame de Fer or pretending to pinch the top. And yet only so many people have heard about Centre Sportif Emile Anthoine or know that there is an amazing place to play basketball right by the Eiffel Tower (not to mention another one not too far away, down the Champ de Mars).

Perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch, but this picture is effective rather in the same way that Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mt. Fuji collection is (I saw an exhibit on Hokusai at the Grand Palais while I was in Paris, so the example comes readily to mind). Hokusai’s original perspectives on one of the world’s most famous mountains make for a fascinating display of paintings; similarly, my original perspective on one of the world’s most famous monuments makes for a picture that never loses its appeal. Never. All I ever have to do to sum up how great my year in France was, I just have to pull out this picture on my phone… and I’ve sold my case.  

In a sense, this picture is a token of social ritual— it’s a major rite of passage for everyone to make it out to Paris and take pictures of ourselves in front of the Eiffel Tower. I’ve engaged in that social ritual as well, only in my own personal manner by having the picture be taken from a non-traditional point of view, and also have it be a picture of me in action playing sports, rather than smiling with my friends and trying to pinch the top. This idiosyncratic spin on a classic tourist ritual makes this a picture I’ll always cherish.