The myth of objectivity



Andre Bazin, from the course notes: “For the first time, between originating object and its reproduction there intervenes only the instrumentality of a non-living agent. For the first time an image of the world is formed automatically, without the creative intervention of man…in spite of any objections our critical spirit might offer, we are forced to accept as real the existence of the object reproduced, actually, re-presented…” (Andre Bazin, ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’ in What is Cinema? 1945 p.7)


Allan Sekula, again from the course notes: “If we accept the fundamental premise that information is the outcome of a culturally determined relationship, then we can no longer ascribe an intrinsic or universal meaning to the photographic image.” (Allan Sekula, ‘On the Invention of Photographic Meaning’, 1997, p454)

If we ignore that Bazin’s quotation is taken perhaps out of context, I would say that even in 1945 it would be a naïve view that the camera never lies, or at least misinforms. That the camera is capable of extracting a verisimilitude is what the automatic process was designed to do; but for many years, decades even it was discussed that the photograph, taken out of context, discontinuous and artfully framed would elicit ‘a’ ‘truth’ that the photographer would desire. Interestingly the quote, coming at the end of the second war, might suggest a linkage between the aims of futurism and, maybe constructivism, which lauded the absence of the interventionism of man within the process. Leaving that aside, Bazin goes on to say ..” The personality of the photographer enters into the proceedings only in his selection of the object to be photographed and by way of the purpose he has in mind. Although the final result may reflect something of his personality, this does not play the same role as is played by that of the painter. All the arts are based on the presence of man, only photography derives an advantage from his absence.” (ibid) Completely ignoring the ‘artfulness’ in the process of printing! That the photographer may decide to absent themself from the capture of the image was, until the development of the remote control, a difficult if not impossible project. Google Street View and other contemporary developments have made the non-interventionist capture now readily available, but that was after Bazin’s time.

In a post, post-modern visual world, where the grammar of visual imagery is being mediated by countless channels of information flow in fixed, recorded video and pseudo live video, it is unlikely that many, in the consumerist societies, believe everything they see. Sekula’s point seems to be that because the reading of an image, and by inference the moving image, therefore cannot have a universal truth or decoding. That the viewer’s reading will be informed by social conditioning, gender, race and all the mediating norms of whatever society they are situated in, is I would say, common currency nowadays; though it doesn’t provide a meaningful suggestion as to why western consumer advertising is often left unedited when taken to, for example, Asian markets.


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