The myth of objectivity


The following quote from Andre Bazin exemplifies a historical belief in the objective authority of the photographic image:

For the first time , between the 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 may offer , we are forced to accept as real the existence of the object reproduced , actually represented
(Andre Bazin ,’The Ontology of the Photographic Image’ in What is Cinema? 1945 p.7 ) 

“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, p.454 )

Write a 250 word reflective commentary on the above quotes by Andre Bazin and Allan Sekula. Briefly compare their reflective positions and record your own view on the issue of photographic objectivity.

Bazin states emphatically that photographic images cannot help but be inherently objective , with no input from the photographer, whilst Sekula declares that cultural influences consequently mean they are inevitably subjective. What initially struck me was that over fifty years separates the two quotes and time irrevocably influences theoretical thought , hence some consideration must be given to this.

By the mid1930’s world change caused by war and economic depression meant photographers “valued immediacy and looked continually for affecting pictures of man under stress” (Jeffrey, 1981,pg.186). I feel Bazin’s beliefs belong to a past era , when “social documentary photography was animated by the idea that images could precipitate social change”  (Warner Marien, 2010, pg. 416) . In contrast Sekula was part of group of like-minded individuals (including Martha Rosler) , post-modernists who rejected established documentary methods. By the 1970’s there was a movement towards more individual , hence what are considered more subjective, interpretations.

I disagree with Bazin , even before the shutter is closed the photographer alone chooses the viewpoint , what to include/exclude. These are subjective not mechanical decisions , and influential to the final outcome.  Choice of lens ,processing , even what light to shoot in , are based on individual choices and preferences. Like Sekula I also feel cultural ,racial, and personal histories are predominant factors . Furthermore the aim of taking an image is generally to show something , the intent , especially true of documentary photography , will always influence how  something is recorded.

I am currently reading Isabel Allende’s book My Invented Country and this quote seems so relevant “Who can define reality? Isn’t everything subjective ? If you and I witness the same event , we will recall it and recount it differently” (Allende Isabel , 2014 p.g 179) . The same might be said of photography , each image conceptualised and influenced by personal mores.

Bibliography / References

Allende Isabel , (2014 ) My Invented Country ,EPub Edition, Harper Collins , London , UK

Jeffrey Ian , (1981) . Photography A Concise History , Thames & Hudson , London , UK

Warner Marien Mary . (2010 ) Photography:A Cultual History Third edition, Laurence King , London, UK

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