Objectivity in Photography

18 Apr


Objectivity and objectivity of a photograph for me is one of the oldest questions in photography, going toe to toe with photographic truth. I feel that has yet to be fully investigated at least in a photographic sense rather than philosophical.

The use of objectivity was pioneered by Bernd and Hilla Becher (third image), in their various topologies such as Gas Tanks (Figure 1.0). Whilst the initial framing is subjective the resulting series is objective, allowing a greater focus on the form and slight variations with each structure, whilst reinforcing the conformity of design imposed.

The Kunstakademie Düsseldorf under the command of Bernd and Hilla Becher, produced a number of photographers Thomas Ruff being one such example, who have at various times have used objectivity as a means to an end (Portraits (Figure 1.1)) or a direct investigation of it, in their work (17hr 16 minutes 43 seconds (Figure 1.2).

Richard Avedon’s In the American West (fourth image) series and later David Bailey’s Democracy series (fifth image) using both a white background, identical lighting setup and framing, resulted in images that only differed in terms of the subjects themselves and a greater reflection upon the portraits as a whole. The deadpan aesthetic, so common in contemporary fine art photography, as to become a cliché,  arose out of a need to allow the subject to present themselves to the camera rather than have the photographers view of them imposed on them.

In the STERNE series, Thomas Ruff (first image) wanted to take an image that was as objective as possible, so he decided to photograph the sky. Anybody looking up to the same part of the sky in roughly the same location in the world, pointed in the same direction would arrive at the same image. After realising the limitations of his own equipment to take images of a high technical quality he decided to make use of images taken as part of a astronomical survey from the European Southern Observatory, in Chile. This series was also the Ruff’s first use of appropriation, a theme that would dominate his later work and to which I have drawn upon. Ruff early in his career did a series of portraits (second image) blown up to larger than actual size appear very much like crimal identy kits, due to thier consistancy in allowing the physical features of each person to become more pronouced.

Tim Macauley






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