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A new objectivity

The advent of the portable camera allowed for changes in the practice of photography, in the methods and goals of photographers.  Photography leaves the comforts of the studio, its tempo or rhythms, its formal ideas and established procedures and searches for novelty in the cadences, the pulses and figures of everyday life. Photographers such as Giuseppe Primoli and Paul Martin stand in between the amateur art of their predecessors and the developing discipline of photojournalism, as observed by I. Jeffrey (1). 


 

Roma - Via Ostiense 1890
self-portrait of Giuseppe Primoli
photographing the flooded street




The informal, the improvised, the ephemeral are made into new plastic values translating the energies of urban life, the heterogeneous world of modern civilization unified in the commodity form of its material products and social exchanges, and similarly equalized in the “democratic” vision of the camera, a vision more and more unconcerned with distinctions of taste, propriety, traditional aesthetics values, and other similar distinctions.  In this respect we can say that, like money, the photograph is, in some important ways, the great “cynic and leveler” (Marx) destroying traditional ways of seeing and their associated social-cultural concepts and practices. And yet imagination is a fluid and unpredictable force, and the image a more unstable unity of meaning/ signification that can provide for, as much as it can and escape from the workings and functions of ideology. 


The portable camera allows for the emergence of the undetected photographer amid the flow and fluxes of everyday life. We witness the birth of a kind of “subject-less” art, an art of “pure objectivity” both in the sense of the “hidden” or perhaps, in fact, the disappearing subject behind the camera, and the kind of bafflement we may experiment in identifying the theme, content, meaning or subject of photographs, the exact reason for an image to appear or be recorded in this rather than that other possible form or moment. “ What exactly was Martin’s subject? “ asks the historian of photography (2). Or, we can understand that the “incomplete”, paradoxically impermanent character of the images of Martin, and also Primoli and other “photographers of daily life”, refers to photography itself as an open form, to its new kind of autonomy, the autonomous life of the image reflecting the autonomy of the modern subject, unless this latter can be understood more specifically as an effect of photography itself.

Marcelo Guimarães Lima

1)   Jeffrey, I., Photography: a concise history, London 2010 (originally published in 1981)
2)   Jeffrey, I., op cit, page 109


links:


 
MARTIN, Paul, «  Couple on Yarmouth Sands », 1894



  
MARTIN, Paul, «  Couple on Yarmouth Sands », 1892




 Paul Martin, Street Accident in London (1895)  





Giuseppe Primoli
entrance to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in Rome,  1890 





 Giuseppe Primoli
Annie Oakley in Rome with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in 1890 





 Giuseppe Primoli, Three Figures, n/d









Giuseppe Primoli, portrait of Eleonora Duse, Venice , 1894








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