Week 5 Lecture & Tutorial; ‘Painting is Dead.’

In this weeks lecture/tutorial we explored the history of the photograph & the connotations associated with it.
Before photography emerged, portraiture was a huge workforce, therefore when photography did emerge many were fearful about the loss of painting as an art. Photography was observed as a more faithful representation.
Instead photography freed up painting to explore other concepts and forms. For example surrealism which portrayed unrealistic concepts like ‘Boogie Woogie’ by Mondrian.
There was a cross fertilisation of play between painting and photography, a form of ‘pictorial-ism’ in which photos were set up in a Victorian Style, mimicking those of the Reconnaissance.
Photographers were classified as a lessor skilled person than painters, this created the photographers revolt against pictorial-ism. Photographers began manipulating images in the dark room which then lead to such confusion about what is the original image? Is it the original negative or the one that the artist has manipulated through development in the darkroom? With paintings there was always an original.
As stated within Sontag’s ‘On Photography’ photographers adopted a social commentary. They discovered that as ‘tourists’ they could raise awareness of social injustice. For example Lewis Hine’s images depicted child labour, immigrants and sweat shops. Hine was different compared to the other documentary photographers of the time, he reached out to the subjects instead of ‘othering’ them.

Lewis Hine Adolescent Girl, A Spinner in a Carolina Cotton Mill
Lewis Hine Adolescent Girl, A Spinner in a Carolina Cotton Mill 1908

Influential Modern Portraiture Photographers

Imogen Cunningham

Photographers like Imogen Cunningham challenged other social stigmas like gender. She was a female photographer in a male dominated industry. One of her most renowned photographs is ‘unmade bed’, proving that its not what the photographer includes within the image that is most powerful – its what they purposely leave out.

Imogen Cunningham 'Unmade Bed'.
Imogen Cunningham ‘Unmade Bed’.

Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry is renowned for his documentary photography, the world recognised photograph ‘Afghan Girl’ is his photograph. It demonstrates how an image can influence the entire world and the subject is unknowing.

Cindy Sherman & Tracey Moffat 

Cindy Sherman & Tracey Moffat are renowned for their visual storytelling. Sherman’s photographs are all self-portraits, she expresses that she is not portraying herself in these images but she is trying to teach the audience about themselves. Her billboard series challenged stereotypes of gender and race.
Moffat’s images also challenge stereotypes of race, identity, gender and sexuality. She portrays these ideals through ‘photo narratives’. Her series ‘some place better than this’ she created a set backdrop & shot a story on a stage.

In the tutorial we had to create a ‘faked’ photo in groups. With only 10 minutes my group quickly found a half egg at the UON Gallery and we faked a human hatching out of an egg, which if course is untrue.


We also discussed the meanings behind Barthes & Sontag’s underlying meanings within their texts ‘Camera Lucida’ & ‘On Photography’.

Our group discussed the quote from Sontag “Photographs are, of course, artefacts. But their appeal is that they also seem, in a world littered with
photographic relics, to have the status of found objects – unpremeditated slices of the world.  Thus, they trade simultaneously on the prestige of art and the magic of the real.”
We came to the conclusion that she is stating the importance of photographs. An artefact is a man made object therefore it is treasured and possesses immense value. They display a moment in time infinitely, it’s a message from the past. So the discovery of finding a piece from history is priceless and much like an architect finding a new tomb in the Egyptian Pyramids. The photos that Sontag mentions are the scenes of violence and hardship for example ‘Weegees Naked city’, therefore are not planned or staged. They depict the real world through an art form, thus “they trade simultaneously on the prestige of art and the magic of the real.”

Author: tjphoto

UON Design Student & Photographer Newcastle, AU

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