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Image and Idea: photography and ideology in the 19th century


John Thomson -Public Disinfectors
from Street Life In London, 1877


 

Technical developments during the last part of the 19th century changed the context and the forms of production of photography: smaller cameras, more efficient (faster, economical) methods and materials for taking, developing and printing photographs allowed for a wider dissemination of the activity and of its products via the press, magazines, illustrated books, etc.  We see here the beginnings of photography as a “quotidian” practice. The vocation of photography to “immerse” itself in reality will be translated in the refashioning of the world as a “photographic environment”.

Photography invests daily life with the its forms and is invested, in the same process, with the dominant perspectives and ideas about social reality, the particular points of view, perceptions, values, mental patterns, etc., and the prevailing hierarchies of meanings and of the production of meaning in social life.

Ideology turned into image has its counterpart in the image as ideology. Here we may perhaps point out a complication or paradox of photography as a social-ideological practice: the presentation of the social image, or the self-representation of a society (the prevailing image of society, which is the image of the prevailing social groups) implies also, as pertains to ideological processes as such, its own particular “blind spots” or, in the context of the dissemination of the new industry of images, their photographically (in)visible blind spots. The apparent paradox of photography is that of the ideology of representation turned into the re-presentation of ideology.


Marcelo Guimarães Lima

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