German Study, 1893.
Conflicts over Cultural Legitimacy
What is an Amateur ?
Editorial Director: Laurence Bertrand Dorléac
Editorial Assistant: Elodie Antoine
Translator: David Ames Curtis
We knew that photography had become an art in its own right by
fighting for its legitimacy on the very terrain occupied by the
Fine Arts. Today, it is a key component on the contemporary arts
scene and in the art market. We did not know how, from the nineteenth
century onward, it had positioned itself within society by participating
in a decisive way in the reorganization of the world.
We know the important
role the camera plays in the homogenization of modern life styles.
Strangely, we did not know very much about the photographic practices
of amateurs. Christian Joschke has just done their portrait in
an innovative dissertation where he brings out a subject that
was less egocentric than was thought to be the case, a volunteer
fighter who worked to change the order of the world. Paying close
attention to the German situation during the authoritarian reign
of Wilhelm II, he shows in what way, faced with the threat of
a breakup of the public space, bourgeois amateurs set their own
aspirations for liberal progress in opposition to the traditional
values of the aristocracy. Beginning especially in the 1890s,
a growing number of exhibitions, competitions, instruction manuals,
and texts helped to establish a kind of photography that was intended
to be the common weal of enlightened men.
was going to be changed thereby. That culture was no longer going
to be characterized only by a shared language but also by a share
gaze. By shifting politics from the explicit realm of a social
contract to the implicit one of images, the liberal bourgeoisie
nevertheless dangerously mixed up ethics and aesthetics. We know
what was to be the posterity of this movement launched at the
end of the nineteenth century, and not just in the vicious process
that witnessed Nazism leaning to a massive degree on this culture
of images in order to aid its intensive propaganda campaigns.
How did one go
from a desire to educate crowds to the will to fascinate them?
That is one of the questions posed by Joschke, which lies at the
juncture of social history, political history, the history of
the sciences, and the history of technologies. With his work,
the history of art makes a contribution to the study of people’s
mentalities. He belongs in this way of the pioneering tradition
of his interlocutor, Olivier Christin, who has long studied the
status of images in the West, in particular in his excellent book,
Les yeux pour le croire : Les Dix Commandements en images.
XVe-XVIIe siècles. Via the detour of ancient history,
Christin has opened up some totally prospects on the power of
images in a world dominated by the visual, our world.