The History of Photography, the Materiality of the Medium and its Digital Dematerialization
On July 11, 2019, Katharina Fackler has published an article entitled “Of Stereoscopes and Instagram: Materiality, Affect, and the Senses from Analog to Digital Photography” in Open Cultural Studies.
A Blog Post by Pablo Markin.
In her paper, Katharina Fackler has explored how “photography has been “dematerialized” in the […] writings about photography from the early 19th to the 21st century to demonstrate […] the medium’s material, sensory, and affective valences” (519). This author, thus, seeks to argue “that the dematerialization claim that followed the digital turn is, at least partly, based on a certain disregard of the longstanding precarity of photography’s place within different dimensions of materiality” (520). In this respect, this article reminds that the “early conception of photographic access to the material environment is closely connected with the rise of sight as the sense for knowing the world” (521). In contrast, as Fackler explores, “[i]n the first half of the twentieth century, modernist photographers and critics strove to establish photography as an art form” (522).
Furthermore, as this researcher delineates, “[i]n the second half of the twentieth century, however, critical thinking on photography at first veered into a different direction. […] Prominent scholars of photography, ranging from Susan Sontag to Alan Sekula and John Tagg, were more interested in the content of visual representation than in photographs’ material and non-visual sensory qualities” (522). Likewise, as this paper shows using secondary sources, “[p]ostmodern approaches, centered on the content and ideological valence of the image rather than its material form, had often displayed a preference for privileging both the eye and human reason” (523). These comparative analyses of different positions also indicate that “the non-visual dimensions of photographs have served as theoretical and methodological entry points for a critique that complements and counters various forms of subjection and domination that have been largely legitimized through the eye” (524).
Consequently, Fackler’s overview of scholarly literature suggests that the theoretical “turn towards the materiality, multisensoriality, and radical potential of print photographs in photography criticism roughly coincided with the emergence of profound concerns about photography’s dematerialization through digitalization” (525). The perspective this paper proposes indicates that “the logic that opposes digital to analog photography often fails to address the fact that photographic print products, including photobooks and exhibitions, continue to thrive” (527). Thus, according to this author, “to understand photography, its materialities, and its agential capacities means reckoning with pluralistic and contingent practices” (528).
By Pablo Markin
Featured Image Credits: A Distant Meeting (NYC 2007), December 31, 2006 | © Courtesy of Zohar Manor-Abel/Flickr.