Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Photographic portraiture and commodity culture

In Liz Wells' book "Photography: A Critical Introduction", there is a section by Anandi Ramamurthy concerning the development of portraiture photography and the important role it played in the development of photography.
There is mention of the way portrait photography developed as capitalism grew during the nineteenth century and it became a medium through which the middle and lower-middle classes could try to elevate their social status through images that conformed to certain established conventions with painted portraiture. Initially, this took place with the daguerreotype and the carte-de-visite and had the effect of stifling creativity within the medium. Not only were such photographs meant to establish bourgeois credentials they were also meant to elevate photography as a high-brow art.
These kind of photographs are themselves an expression of bourgeois culture upholding capitalist values relating to the nation-state, the family and the individual.
The upper classes also used photography to assert their influence with Queen Victoria leading the way while President Lincoln that his carte-de-visite made by Matthew Brady was in part responsible for his election as president.
Nowadays, the high-street studio still continues to uphold such conventions.

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