top of page
  • Writer's pictureRevolta

Photography: An active social language.

When finally established in France at the beginning of the 19th century, photography came across a space for the reorganization of society and eventually developed with it. The bourgeoisie, which was nevertheless socially despised, ascended economically and began to mimetize the behaviors of the higher class.

At this time only nobles and high aristocrats had their portraits made by painters. This new ascending class, the bourgeoisie, found in photography a way to mirror this behavior and as it was easier and then cheaper to hire a photographer than painter, the bourgeoisie began to reproduce its own images with photographs in order to seek equivalence with the traditional upper classes.

Photography was shaped and formed based on this demand. Hundreds of photographers building their business and adapting their work to the tastes of this bourgeoisie, bad taste, as expressed Nadar several times. "It is certain that economic development brings to the less favored clases possibilities of education. However, inteclectual emancipation does not move as fast as economic emancipation."


This same bourgeoisie was responsible for the invention of "post-production". Disgusted by the extreme realism and sharpness of the photographic technique, already in 1856 the photographers were forced to find techniques to soften the skin and eliminate imperfections, even if rudimentary.

The directions that the history of photography takes, which we photograph participate in, are the results of the material and political context of our times. The evolution of our language is due to the superstructure.

In the great wars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries photography was widely used as a political tool. Photographers were sent to war zones with a specific goal: to collect images that motivated young people in their nations to engage in conflicts. They were images of young, well-dressed soldiers after a victory. Images of devastated enemy terrain. All without showing violence, wounded or dead. Although it was forbidden to portray or publish war photographs from other points of view, most of the photographers who submitted to these works were already taken by a nationalism and guided their vision by this feeling.

The creation of the famous LIFE magazine, known for "uncover life as it is", also runs on the same tracks. LIFE was acquired and transformed by the creator of TIME magazine in 1936, which declared itself "capitalist, nationalist and Presbyterian" and reproduced in its publications the values of the "American family". The magazine exhibited rickets photographic reports on the most different places and subjects, but the editorial line was strict. Whenever sad scenes were shown, the editors were obliged to highlight something of hope at the end to compensate, it was also forbidden to publish subjects in the same tone that referred to the lives of Americans. They reproduced a convenient cutout of reality.

Magazines like LIFE used the photographs and reports of their photographers without them being able to give their opinion or control the use of their images. Often his photographers had their images shared in articles that contradicted their political views.

Photographs were used to shape our society as society shapes the way we deal with them.

"Even though photography appears as "art", because it competes in a space with painting, it gives itself more as "industry" most of the time. Photography is perpetuated by its mechanical way of reproduction and its easy handling compared to painting." László Moholy-Nagy.

We understand photography today as a tool unrelated to the issues of our time, as an object of supposed political and social neutrality. As if photography itself were an apathetic language, designed to fill empty spaces with images.

Most of the use that is given to photography today is for entertainment and advertising. Fashion photography, products, an exorbitant amount of selfies, tourist landscapes, vintage places, vintage cars, abandoned buildings, personal essays, camera tricks, abstract photography, weddings and etc. That says a lot about what we've become as a society.

Wim Wenders, in a recent statement, says that we as a society should find another name for this new way of creating and reproducing images. For him selfies and photos from smartphones are not photography. These images, created by the millions, are mostly forgotten and become the object of instant consumption and solvent, which are born and die in the very act of photographing. Millions of images taken and never seen again. It is the photograph away from any reflection on the system in which we live. It is the photograph of our time, determined to feed our longing for consumption, productivity, competition and accumulation of wealth.

The development of this whole structure, this way of life and the way we organize ourselves as a society does not happen spontaneously as daily life makes us perceive. It is important to understand, as in the case of LIFE magazine, what interests and objectives of the platforms we are exposing our photographs now. There is no spontaneous neutrality. This transformation of photography is not something "natural" that reflects the interests of the people. There is no natural movement, there is social construction.

Walter Benjamin already unseen the depoliticizing character of aesthetics, and called us to rethink our position as artists, as photographers, and combat the "aestheticization of politics" with the "politicization of aesthetics (or art)".

Photography is a tool that touches people , that expresses a truth of its own, that's why it is so powerful. To make political and social use of it is to occupy a space of expression of our society and shape it our way.

Many of us, out of necessity or by inertia, let ourselves be carried away by trends, we move away even from what we appreciate as photography to reproduce something that "works". It is certain that to survive we have to get over our tastes but this has nothing to do with not being authentic and honest as photographers. It doesn't matter if you photograph portraits, abstract, street, documentary or whatever. We must photograph with conviction, with substance.

If art defines and represents the world around us, and our art is empty and futile, we are empty and futile. If our aesthetics are irrational and inexpressive, we are irrational and unimpressive.

When we photographers deal with themes and expressions relevant to us, when we resonate our visions, we are occupying this space, giving the disinterested life that is worth to a manifestation of culture. That is not regulated by consumption, by the interest of capital. That is built from what makes us human and that leads us to evolve.

We have to insist on our own and photograph with conviction to build a path that makes our interests count and that the interests of the few do not echo in our expressions. There would be no Nadar, Bresson, Morath, Salgado, Meiselas o Parr, if there was no conscious and material perspective on who we are as a society.

Susan Meiselas

Photography is an expression that in its essence makes us open our eyes, think and feel new things. We photographers will not change the world alone, but a true art is able to instruct, thrill, amuse and awaken and when we are touched by it we open the door to the formation of a new critical consciousness.

"Art is not a mirror to reflect society, but a hammer to shape it." Bertolt Brecht.

Photography is not about what one sees, it's about what one quotes. It is about making one quote the memory of the other and what we reaffirm as a joint memory is essential to do justice to the past and in the face of the future.


"Photography as a social document". Giséle Freund.

"The work of art in the era of technical reproductibility." Walter Benjamin.

"The one-dimensional man." Hebert Marcuse.

9 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
  • Black Facebook Icon
  • Black Instagram Icon
bottom of page