ARTS & SOCIETIES
 

LETTER OF SEMINAR 7

Centre d’Histoire de Sciences Po

 
 
 

PHOTOGRAPHS BY AMATEURS


Adolf Meyer, German Study, 1893.


Christian Joschke
Conflicts over Cultural Legitimacy


Olivier Christin
What is an Amateur ?


Editorial Director: Laurence Bertrand Dorléac
Editorial Assistant: Elodie Antoine
Translator: David Ames Curtis

PREVIOUS LETTER

THE INFLUENCE OF THE SAINT-SIMONIANS AND THE IDEA OF ART IN THE VANGUARD OF THE SOCIAL REFORM

BODY MORALITY

DANDIES

The Model Child

The beautiful and the useful

New Publics, Between Utopia and Marketing

the market, at the start




 
EDITORIAL



 
        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.
        German culture 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.

Laurence Bertrand Dorléac




Letter published with the support of the Foundation of France

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