Editorial of November 24th 2005
 


Christian Joschke
conflicts over cultural legitimacy

 

Olivier Christin what is an amateur ?

Seminar of November 24th 2005
Christian Joschke studied art history at the University of Aix-en-Provence and recently defended his dissertation on “the rise of amateur photography in the Germany of Wilhelm II” at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. Having worked as the assistant to Hans Belting at the Collège de France, he now teaches the history of art as an “ATER” instructor at the University of Strasbourg II. Joschke has published a number of texts, including “Aux origines des usages sociaux de la photographie. La photographie amateur en Allemagne entre 1890 et 1910,” Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales, 154 (September 2004): 53-65, and “La photographie, la ville et ses notables. Hambourg, 1893,” Etudes Photographiques, 17 (November 2005): 136-157.
conflicts over cultural legitimacy


        Historians of photography have rightly considered the end of the nineteenth century to be this medium’s moment of artistic legitimation, the point where it passed from the status of a simple technique to the status of art. They have described the English tradition and the “Linked Ring”(1) along with the international pictorialist schools and the Camera Club of New York,(2) as major stages along this path. And yet it has been difficult so far to find an answer to the question why it was precisely photography that became the issue in conflicts over cultural legitimacy. This difficulty stemmed in part from the fact that even those historical studies that endeavored to put into perspective the mechanisms of aesthetic legitimation (such as the brilliant article by Ulrich Keller on the Camera Club of New York)(3) confined themselves to an internal analysis that was aimed principally at bringing out the strategies artists were using to attain a higher status in the eyes of critics, museum directors, and gallery owners.
        Now, the effort of some actors on the scene to legitimate photography within the field of art has to be seen in comparison with the larger question of the legitimacy of various sciences and technologies in organizing a world view. And it must be set within the broader context of conflicts over cultural legitimacy between old and new classes of the bourgeoisie. Here, we can call upon two traditions of historiography to shed light upon this problem: the history of sciences(4)--and of these sciences relations with the public space--and the history of educational systems(5). The example of the Germany of Wilhelm II will allow us with greater precision to shed light upon this problem.

Photography at the Crossroads of the Arts and Sciences


        There is no doubt that the question of art was of central importance for amateur photographers who were concerned about their image, eager to join in community life through participation in associations, and touched to the quick by the language conservative institutions used to express their attitude of defiance toward the art of photography. In their reviews, in their exhibitions, and in their instruction manuals, these amateur photographers attempted to give cultural legitimation to a minor art: using association structures, they endeavored to expose to the public at large the fruits of their activity, to leverage the “established authorities of cultural legitimation” (critics, museums, galleries),(6) and sometimes, as was the case in London and in New York, to affect the status of an artistic secession.
        The example of the pictorialist salons(7) that were organized in numerous European cities starting in 1891 testifies to this effort. Eighteen-ninety-one was the date of the first photographic exhibition, in Vienna, that was restricted to an artistic elite. These salons, which were more selective than the large exhibitions of amateur photography, presented the most beautiful shots of pictorialism and helped to establish a style borrowed from the pictorialist aesthetic. In short, they were taking up the various genres of painting--landscape, genre scenes, portraiture--imitating, with the help of bichromate gum prints or oil prints--brush strokes, and bringing out the grain of the paper.(8) In the articles published in photographic reviews, commentators who often came from these same clubs applied the criteria of aesthetic judgment and willingly spoke of different schools (English, French, Viennese, Hamburgian). Thus were the photographers of these clubs of amateurs attempting to achieve the status of artists in the eyes of the public and of major artistic institutions.
        Several distinctive characteristics of the amateur clubs in which this view of photography’s artistic legitimacy was held take us away, however, from the field of art and lead us toward a reconsideration of the boom in the practice of photography as a cultural phenomenon of greater breadth. On the one hand, only a small number of amateur reviews were devoted exclusively to the art of photography. Periodicals such as Photographische Rundschau, Der Amateur-Photograph, Photographische Correspondenz, Photographische Mitteilungen, Appolo, and Die Sonne treated a large spectrum of topics in a hodgepodge sort of way: technical articles, articles of scientific popularization and aesthetic commentaries, as well as all of photography’s applications to the arts and sciences were broached in these reviews. On the other hand, the social diversity of these amateur clubs also helps to explain the proximity among technical, scientific, and artistic uses of photography: these associations brought together many more doctors, military men, engineers, businessmen, and teachers than artists. Each practiced photography for his own personal reasons, and not all of them, far from it, claimed the status of artist. To borrow from the commentary of an amateur of the time, Wolf-Czapek of Berlin’s Freie photographische Vereinigung, “the artist, the ethnographer, and the naturalist were themselves also ‘amateurs.’”(9) Finally, in northern Germany and more specifically in Berlin, the vast network of clubs was overseen by individuals hailing from a scientific elite, most of them being members of the Berlin Society of Anthropology and close to the famous Dr Rudolf Virchow. These amateurs organized exhibitions, published the Photographische Rundschau review, and joined with innumerable other German clubs in order to foster an exchange of information and to construct together a shared scientific and artistic visual culture.
        While the social and cultural reasons for these groupings into associations may remain obscure to the historian of art, the history of the sciences and the history of educational systems may shed some light here upon the question.

Principles of Cultural Legitimacy


        With photography, amateurs--whether scientists or artists, landscapists or ethnographers--participated in bringing about changes in the system of cultural references that served as a basis for the criteria of social legitimacy. Photography as practiced by amateurs featured the technical forms of knowledge--optics and chemistry--that most of them had acquired in the realschulen, where “modern” subjects--history, living languages, mathematics, optics, and chemistry--were taught.(10)
        Now, when the Prussian administration decided in 1861 to create, parallel to the gymnasien, this second educational system, it did so with the intention of modernizing the system without, for all that, calling into question the elitism of the high schools, which were reserved for the aristocracy and the educated middle classes (Bildungsbürgertum). The high schools remained the sole guardians of cultural legitimacy, being based on the humanities, and the realschulen were to have only a utilitarian function in the structure of the economy and in the German system of administration. Neither chemistry nor mathematics nor even history ought to upset the dominant system of cultural references. After a “decade of reaction” separating these reforms from the liberal revolutions of 1848, the established power was in no way concealing its will to break in this way the revolutionary upsurges of the liberal bourgeoisie.(11)
        University teachers and scientists experienced this system as an intolerable form of hypocrisy.(12) On the one hand, the claim was that society was being modernized; on the other, the new bourgeois classes’ access to the central operations of power and to cultural legitimacy were clearly being limited. This “symbolic violence”(13) had, however, an unexpected effect. Disciplines like history, to be sure, but also medicine and the natural sciences (physics, astronomy, geology, biology, zoology, natural history) were placed at the center of a project whose aim was to regain social and cultural legitimacy by constructing a genuine “world view.”(14) The liberal scientific elite thus took advantage of the disappointment of a class of teachers and of a generation that had gone through the realschulen and the technical universities (Technische Hochschulen) between 1861 and 1882 (the year of the merger between the “realschulen erster Ordnung (R.I.O.)” and the high schools) in order to attempt an overthrow of the dominant system of cultural values. The annual congresses of the “Society of Naturalists and Doctors,” for example, was the setting for passionate exchanges about the orientations of school curricula or scientific research as well as about the major naturalist theories and the systems of interpretation of natural history.(15) Thus, despite the cultural illegitimacy in which the old elite tried to maintain the teaching of the new technical and historical subjects, science took an active part in the construction of a world view.
        With the spread and advance of photography beginning in the 1880s, images took on capital importance in this symbolic change. In numerous fields of the natural sciences, images represented a powerful factor for innovation. In astronomy, in cellular biology, in pathology, and especially in physical anthropology, photography became one of the main modes of scientific observation.(16) Now, all these changes were being followed by amateurs, were the topic of articles and brochures as well as handbooks, and constituted a significant part of the major photographic exhibitions. Likewise, most of the amateur photography clubs had an active part to play in the process of scientific popularization. Berlin’s Freie photographische Vereinigung brought together doctors, biologists, and anthropologists situated at the heart of the scientific system; this club maintained excellent relations with the major academic institutes, such as the Institute of Hygiene founded by Émile Du Bois Reymond, as well as such museums as the Ethnology Museum. It was, as a matter of fact, these men of science who took an interest in spreading the practice of photography by publishing the Photographische Rundschau review, by organizing exhibitions, and by federating with others to exchange opinions about the evolution of photography.
        Thus do the stakes in the legitimation of photography become clearer. While, for some artists, what was at issue was to give a minor art the status of a major art, for most active amateurs in these clubs what was at issue was also and especially active participation in the cultural changes that were bringing science and technology to the fore. And yet the scientific elite’s support for the activity of amateur photographers is not to be explained solely by this conflict over social legitimation. While it left its marks on an entire generation and continued to be the motive force guiding its will, it was nonetheless too old to justify by itself alone the symbolic charge these amateur clubs took on. How is it that so many official institutions would participate in and encourage the major exhibitions of amateur photography, whereas the sciences had already won certain symbolic victories over the humanities, and whereas, contrary to the legitimacy of the new middle classes, the legitimacy of this scientific elite was no longer in danger?

The Political Stakes of Amateur Photography

        The exhibition of amateur photographs organized in Berlin in 1896 offers some interesting hints as to the reasons why elites were involved in these clubs. It was the second major exhibition of this kind on German soil. Organized under the aegis of the two amateur photography clubs of Berlin, it brought together a large quantity of photographs from every country and presented photography as much from its scientific side as its artistic one. Still more astonishing, however, are the political symbols that accompanied this event. The idea for the above-mentioned exhibition came from “Empress Frederick III,” the mother of Wilhelm II, whom her son had coldly pushed from power as soon as he acceded to the throne on account of her “cosmopolitan and liberal” outlook.(17) In order to continue her liberal activities at the margins of the real exercise of power, the empress widow took refuge in charity work and offered her support to institutions of popular education. It is in the same spirit of popular education and scientific popularization that she proposed to amateur photographers that she sponsor this exhibition.
        Added to this very symbolic sponsorship by the mother of the emperor was a second symbol: the exhibition took place in the new Reichstag building that had been inaugurated just four years earlier. Now, in Berlin, this building crystallized the opposition between Liberals and the Emperor, an opposition that reached its apogee in the ban, ignored by the architect, not to make the Reichstag’s copula exceed the height of the Schlosskapelle. The building was a project instigated by the Liberals and inspired by Liberal deputies who wanted to offer the people a symbol of its sovereignty over the emperor.(18) However, these same Liberals had suffered such an unprecedented political defeat in 1891 that many among them, and Rudolf Virchow in particular, did not enjoy the honor of sitting in the new building.
        This political and scientific context in Berlin therefore adds a second important stake to the first one, which was furnished to us by a look at the history of the educational system and the history of the sciences. It would seem, indeed, that the liberal elite used “cultural strategies” to retain an influence it had lost on the political terrain.(19) Thanks to an exhibition of this sort, it was able to affirm both liberal values and a liberal culture.(20) Such values were characterized by exchange, debate, the principle of deliberation, and the elective sociability of amateur associations. And such a culture was influenced by both the sciences and the arts, as well as by an enlightened reading of images and a taste forged in common as a bearer of cultural consensus.

Notes

1. Margaret Harker, The Linked Ring : The Secession Movement in Photography in Britain, 1892-1910 (London: Heinemann, 1979).
2. Françoise Heilbrun and Danielle Tilkin, New York et l'art moderne. Alfred Stieglitz et son cercle (Paris: Musée d'Orsay, 2005).
3. Ulrich Keller, “The Myth of Art Photography: A Sociological Analysis,” History of Photography, 8 (1984): 249-75.
4. David Cahan, “Helmholtz and the Civilizing Power of Science,” in David Cahan, ed., Hermann von Helmholtz and the Foundations of Nineteenth-Century Science (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), pp. 559-601; Andreas W. Daum, Wissenschaftspopularisierung im 19 Jahrhundert. Bürgerliche Kultur, naturwissenschaftliche Bildung und die deutsche Öffentlichkeit. 1848-1914 (Munich: Oldenburg Verlag, 1998); Constantin Goschler, ed., Wissenschaft und Öffentlichkeit in Berlin, 1870-1930 (Stuttgart: F. Steinert, 2000); Anne Rasmussen, L'internationale scientifique (thesis; Paris: École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, 1996).
5. Christa Berg, ed., Handbuch der deutschen Bildungsgeschichte, vol. 4, 1870-1914. Von der Reichsgründung bis zum Ende des ersten Weltkrieges (Munich: C. H. Beck 1991).
6. Pierre Bourdieu, “Le marché des biens symboliques,” L'Année sociologique, 22 (1971): 51-126.
7. Le Salon de photographie. Les écoles pictorialistes en Europe et aux Etats-Unis vers 1900, exhibition catalogue of the Musée Rodin for June 22 - September 26, 1993 (Paris: Musée Rodin, 1993).
8. Claudia Gabriele Philipp, ed., Kunstphotographie um 1900. Die Sammlung Ernst Juhl, exhibition catalogue for June 23 - August 27, 1989 (Hamburg: Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, 1989); Michel Poivert, Le pictorialisme en France 1892-1914 (thesis; Paris: University of Paris 1, 1992); Wolfgang Ullrich, “Unschärfe, Antimodernismus und Avantgarde,” in Peter Geimer, ed., Ordnungen der Sichtbarkeit. Fotografie in Wissenschaft, Kunst und Technologie (Frankfurt-am-Main: Suhrkamp, 2002), pp. 381-412.
9. K. W. Wolf-Czapek, “Die Ziele und Leistungen der Freien photographischen Vereinigung,” in Franz Goerke, ed., Denkschrift anlässlich des zwanzigjährige der Freien Photographischen Vereinung zu Berlin (Halle: Knapp, 1910).
10. Gert Schubring, “Mathematisch-naturwissenschaftliche Fächer,” in Christa Berg, ed., Handbuch der deutschen Bildungsgeschichte, vol. 3, Ernst-Karl Jeismann and Peter Lundgreen, eds, Von der Neuordnung Deutschlands bis zur Gründung des Deutschen Reiches (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1987), pp. 204-21.
11. Manfred Eckert, Die schulpolitische Instrumentalisierung des Bildungsbegriffs. Zum Abgrenzungsstreit zwischen Realschule und Gymnasium im 19. Jahrhundert (Frankfurt-am-Main: R. G. Fischer, 1984).
12. Gert Schubring, Die Entstehung des Mathematiklehrerberufes im 19. Jahrhundert (Weinheim: Beltz, 1983).
13. Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron, Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture (1973), trans. Richard Nice (London: Sage, 1990).
14. Andreas W. Daum, Wissenschaftspopularisierung im 19. Jahrhundert.
15. Ibid.
16. Peter Geimer, ed., Ordnungen der Sichtbarkeit.
17. Kaiser Friedrich III (1831-1888), Geheimes Archiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz exhibition catalog (Berlin: Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, 1988); John C. G. Röhl, Der Aufbau der Persönlichen Monarchie. 1888-1900 (Munich: C. H. Beck, 2001).
18. Horst Bredekamp, “Kuppel wider Willen. Das Reichstagsgebäude Sir Norman Forsters,” in Andres Lepik, Anne Schmeding, and Christian Gahl, eds, Architektur in Berlin: das XX. Jahrhundert. Ein Jahrhundert Kunst in Deutschland, (Cologne: Dumont, 1999), pp. 122-123; Michael S. Cullen, Der Reichstag. Parlament Denkmal Symbol (Berlin: be.bra Verlag. 1995).
19. Goeff Eley, “Notable Politics, The Crisis of German Liberalism, and the Electoral Transition of the 1890's,” in Konrad Jarausch and Larry Eugene Jones, eds, In Search of a Liberal Germany: Studies in the History of German Liberalism from 1789 to the Present (New York/Oxford/Munich: Berg, 1990).
20. Joern Leonard, “Semantische Deplazierung und Entwertung. Deutsche Deutungen von liberal und Liberalismus nach 1850 im europäischen Vergleich,” Geschichte und Gesellschaft, 1 (2003): 5-39.


Bibliography


BERG, Christa (ed.). Handbuch der deutschen Bildungsgeschichte. Vol. 4. 1870-1914. Von der Reichsgründung bis zum Ende des ersten Weltkrieges. Munich: C. H. Beck 1991.
BOURDIEU, Pierre. “Le marché des biens symboliques,” L'Année sociologique. 22 (1971): 51-126.
BOURDIEU, Pierre, and PASSERON, Jean-Claude. Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture (1973). Trans. Richard Nice. London: Sage, 1990.
BREDEKAMP, Horst. “Kuppel wider Willen. Das Reichstagsgebäude Sir Norman Forsters.” In Andres Lepik, Anne Schmeding, and Christian Gahl (eds), Architektur in Berlin: das XX. Jahrhundert. Ein Jahrhundert Kunst in Deutschland. Cologne: Dumont, 1999, pp. 122-123.
CAHAN, David. “Helmholtz and the Civilizing Power of Science.” In David Cahan (ed.), Hermann von Helmholtz and the Foundations of Nineteenth-Century Science. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993, pp. 559-601.
CULLEN, Michael S. Der Reichstag. Parlament Denkmal Symbol. Berlin: be.bra Verlag. 1995.
DAUM, Andreas W. Wissenschaftspopularisierung im 19. Jahrhundert. Bürgerliche Kultur, naturwissenschaftliche Bildung und die deutsche Öffentlichkeit. 1848-1914. Munich: Oldenburg Verlag, 1998.
ECKERT, Manfred. Die schulpolitische Instrumentalisierung des Bildungsbegriffs. Zum Abgrenzungsstreit zwischen Realschule und Gymnasium im 19. Jahrhundert. Frankfurt-am-Main: R. G. Fischer, 1984.
ELEY, Goeff. “Notable Politics, The Crisis of German Liberalism, and the Electoral Transition of the 1890's.” In Konrad Jarausch and Larry Eugene Jones (eds), In Search of a Liberal Germany: Studies in the History of German Liberalism from 1789 to the Present. New York/Oxford/Munich: Berg, 1990.
GEIMER, Peter (ed.). Ordnungen der Sichtbarkeit. Fotografie in Wissenschaft, Kunst und Technologie. Frankfurt-am-Main, Suhrkamp, 2002.
GOSCHLER, Constantin (ed.). Wissenschaft und Öffentlichkeit in Berlin, 1870-1930. Stuttgart: F. Steinert, 2000.
HARKER, Margaret. The Linked Ring: The Secession Movement in Photography in Britain, 1892-1910. London: Heinemann, 1979.
HEILBRUN, Françoise and TILKIN, Danielle. New York et l'art moderne. Alfred Stieglitz et son cercle. Paris: Musée d'Orsay, 2005.
Kaiser Friedrich III (1831-1888). Geheimes Archiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz exhibition catalog. Berlin: Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, 1988.
KELLER, Ulrich. “The Myth of Art Photography: A Sociological Analysis.” History of Photography, 8 (1984): 249-75.
LEONARD, Joern. “Semantische Deplazierung und Entwertung. Deutsche Deutungen von liberal und Liberalismus nach 1850 im europäischen Vergleich.” Geschichte und Gesellschaft, 1 (2003): 5-39.
PHILIPP, Claudia Gabriele (dir.) (1989). Kunstphotographie um 1900. Die Sammlung Ernst Juhl. Exhibition catalogue for June 23 - August 27, 1989. Hamburg: Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, 1989.
POIVERT, Michel. Le pictorialisme en France 1892-1914. Thesis. Paris: University of Paris 1, 1992.
RASMUSSEN, Anne. L'internationale scientifique. Thesis. Paris: École des Hautes Études en Sciences sociales, 1996.
ROHL, John C. G. Der Aufbau der Persönlichen Monarchie. 1888-1900. Munich: Beck, 2001.
Le Salon de photographie. Les écoles pictorialistes en Europe et aux Etats-Unis vers 1900. Exhibition catalogue of the Musée Rodin for June 22 - September 26, 1993. Paris: Musée Rodin, 1993.
SCHUBRING, Gert. Die Entstehung des Mathematiklehrerberufes im 19. Jahrhundert. Weinheim: Beltz, 1983.
SCHUBRING, Gert. “Mathematisch-naturwissenschaftliche Fächer.” In Christa Berg (ed.), Handbuch der deutschen Bildungsgeschichte. Vol. 3. Ernst-Karl Jeismann and Peter Lundgreen (eds), Von der Neuordnung Deutschlands bis zur Gründung des Deutschen Reiches. Munich: C. H. Beck, 1987, pp. 204-21.
ULLRICH, Wolfgang. "Unschärfe, Antimodernismus und Avantgarde.” In Peter Geimer (ed.), Ordnungen der Sichtbarkeit. Fotografie in Wissenschaft, Kunst und Technologie. Frankfurt-am-Main, Suhrkamp, 2002, pp. 381-412.
WOLF-CZAPEK, K. W. “Die Ziele und Leistungen der Freien photographischen Vereinigung.” In Franz Goerke (ed.), Denkschrift anlässlich des zwanzigjährige. Halle: Knapp, 1910.

 



 

 

Fig. 1 Poster for the Hamburg International
Exhibition of Amateur Photography, 1893.


Fig. 2 Initials of the Association of
Amateur Photographers, 1893.

 

Fig. 3 Adolf Meyer, German Study, 1893.

 

Fig. 4 A. W. Ferdinandus Michaelsen, The Lotefos,
Norway Waterfall, 1893.

 

Fig. 5 Count Tyszkiewicz, Nude Study, 1896.

 

Fig. 6 The Reichstag in Berlin--placed as an insert for the Catalog and official guide of the Berlin Reichstag Exhibition of Amateur Photographers (Berlin: Rudolf Moss, 1896).