The Third of May 1808 by Francisco Goya

An ode to the photograph


Writer SIN I NG considers the ever-changing world of art in the face of so much new technology

There is no doubt that the form of art has encountered major changes after the establishment of technology. Technology interrupted art the moment Joseph Nicephore Niepce, a French scientist, pressed the button on his camera in 1826 and produced the first ever photograph. The introduction of photography has changed the world ever since and continues to do so today. Niepce’s photo signified the change of expression and the change of appreciation. Unlike painting or sculpture, photography allows explicit presentation of art, there is no more guesswork or hinting, which is powerful when put into appropriate use. I am not suggesting the idea that photography diminished the powerfulness of paintings or sculptures, they are still very impressive ways of presentations. What I am suggesting here is that photography, as a “new” form of art, allows a different form of expression than traditional forms of art. Not only does the improvement of technology lower the threshold of art, photography allows more people to be involved in the production of art as well as reaching out to more people for the appreciation of art. While increasing the accessibility of art, photography achieves a level of expression similar to those that are done traditionally. The digitalisation of photography marked the combination of technology and art which birthed other forms of art such as movies, TV etc. Photography introduced and symbolised the new generation of art creation and the far-reaching quality of digital media also symbolises the success of globalisation.

I would say one of the most powerful photographs of the twentieth century is the Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange. It is also a good example of how photography can be impactful and world-changing. According to Eve Watling in the Independent, the picture “has become one of the most famous photographs ever” and that “when it was first published in a newspaper, the State Relief Administration delivered food rations to 2000 migrant workers the next day.” The power of Lange’s photograph came from the distressed eyes, detailed, captured wrinkles, the uneven sleeves and the dirty clothes they have on. Such precision allowed by the camera strengthened photography to be a form of art as well as a document. The duality of photography also permits multiple interpretations. Another example of powerful photographs of the twentieth century, The Kiss by Alfred Eisenstaedt, not only acted as a document that captured the moment Japan surrendered and ended the Second World War, it could also function as a strong interpretation of freedom, joy, etc. This is one strong example of how photography could capture in the “spur-of-the-moment” that would be difficult for traditional art. Another picture I would consider, together with the above mentioned photographs, to be a “classic” is the Tank Man by Jeff Widener in 1989. The significance of the photograph is the same with any revolutionary paintings such as the Painting Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix in 1830 and The Third of May 1808 by Francisco Goya in 1814. As a matter of fact, the digitalisation of photography might perhaps make the Tank Man more influential by the wide-spread of the picture. It has never been the form of art that decides if a piece could be a “classic” or not, it is the meaning behind that crowns the piece of art.


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