What is a Photograph?

Imagine technology as a train that constantly moves forward, as time does, according to our perception. Photography is a product of technology, in this example acting as a single coach, which is inherently synced with its direction, and shares many of its attributes. In order to understand how photography has taken it’s current form and attempt to think of a possible future we have to trace its origin, and course in time.

Joseph Kesisoglou, 2014

Photography is a product of the industrial revolution, and like a lot of the innovative technology at the time, it has evolved. The practice and purpose of photography was to document the ‘truth’ because what was before the lens was inherently ‘real’. It certainly was not considered as creative practice. ‘What is a Photography?’ a review by Jacob King, explores what photography is now: it wasn’t until the 1970s that photography was exhibited in galleries, much in the same way that art and sculptures were. Suddenly, photography was worthy.Although photography in its definition is a very ‘real’ representation of the world; during the analogue period, every print was unique, just like any painting or sculpture. However now, with imagery being the driver for how we interact virtually (especially over social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat), is contemporary photography meant for the gallery space? Most of the images produced every day are from smart phones for their ‘exhibition’ on apps designed for mobile use. In essence, your Instagram feed is like your own personal gallery which you curate.

As King reflects on the photographic exhibition he says “photographs had the potential to show us something that existed out there, at a certain moment, in front of the camera’s lens,” but now we live in a world where it seems that there isn’t a moment that is missed. I will be using my photography of the George Rodger Archive not to share a ‘moment’ but to tell a story. An archive that wasn’t created digitally, but in analogue; yet, I will be using contemporary digital means to document it. Does that mean that I should be presenting it ‘digitally appropriately’? I’m not sure: when Marshall McLuhan says that we define the world using a rearview mirror it’s true: I will be using a DSLR, the digital version of an SLR. SLRs produced rolls of films to be printed. DSLRs produced pictures made up of pixels; should then these pictures be displayed in their original form, on a screen? The camera is not designed to upload and share pictures online instantly, so should I then share it online? These are questions that I really need to be considering.

King explains “photography was once defined by its capacity to be reproduced across different media: a single photograph could appear on a contact sheet, in a magazine, on a billboard, in a book, or as a framed print” (2014). At the International Center of Photography, Robert Capa’s prints are hung on the wall and the same image can be seen in the magazines in the viewing cabinets. Jinx Rodger has said that she would happily lend me some of George’s prints which live in the archive, to add a sense of validity and authenticity. This is because, the pictures I will be taking of the archive and parts of the archive will be digital and then printed into a book, a far cry from the analogue processes of George’s work itself.

This has really made me think critically about how photography can be positioned for its audience and for what purpose. Diaries and letters written by George Rodger were not meant for public exhibition. Letter writing was the father of the email: at the time it was contemporary, but now its reflected upon as nostalgia. The art of letter writing is dying; which I think adds value to them. Not only that, but the physical imprint of a person’s thoughts onto paper just feels more authentic than those written on a blog (hypocritical I know). But when we say “the art of letter writing,” the fact that we see it as an ‘art’ means that surely it can be presented in a white wall gallery, right? I will be exhibiting copies of these letters; however, I don’t want to dismiss the fact that the intended reader was the recipient and not strangers in a gallery.



Kesisoglou, J. (2014) Optimising Photograph (symposium presentation). Unavilable online. Last Accessed 26th February 2014

King, J. (2014) What is a Photograph? Available online: http://www.aperture.org/blog/jacob-king-icps-photograph/. Last Accessed 25th March 2014

McLuhan, M. (1967). Medium is the Massage. London: Penguin. Last Accessed: 12th March 2014

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