March 5, 2010


 Mary Paraskeva, The Erechtheum, Athens, n.d.

Ian Jeffrey’s perceptive comments, below, specifically address the earliest amateur photographs taken with the Kodak celluloid-based films of 1890, but they apply equally well to amateur travel photography of the rest of the 20th century – indeed, to virtually all amateur snapshot photography, irrespective of period or technology. They certainly apply to the quasi-totality of contemporary cellphone photography.

“The problem which emerged in 1889 was – as it had been in 1839 – one of intention or ‘commission’. What kind of pictures could or should be taken with these new cameras? Travellers could buy competent photographs of tourist sites all over the world, and if they were interested in geography and anthropology there were comprehensive sets of stereocards available, which covered almost any topic. That left accidents of travel, encounters, mere contingencies, and it is precisely these subjects that appear on the earliest Kodak rolls: street-scenes, pieces of landscape, small events. [..] Nor was it clear what should be done with the pictures afterwards, for if they were of minor events of travel they could hardly be cherished. In fact the round Kodak pictures of 1889-90 were little more than reminders or prompts: a hotel in Switzerland, a terrace overlooking an Italian lake, the shore of the Adriatic. That is, a snapshot of 1889 had a moment of maximal use when its author recalled time and place for the benefit of friends, but thereafter it could only fall into desuetude, its narratives forgotten. The more this happens, the more mysterious and even tragic these pictures become, for they exist as evidence of commonplace time, merely lived through.”

Ian Jeffrey, Revisions: An Alternative History of Photography, p.66. National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford 1999. ISBN 0 948489 60 X.

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