User:Janis Klimanovs/The burden of representation: essays on photographies and histories

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Annotation: The burden of representation: essays on photographies and histories (1988)

John Tagg

In the chapter A Democracy of the Image: Photographic Portraiture and Commodity Production J. Tagg introduces with meanings and importance of image, how photography has developed, how it has been used in our daily life and what does it mean to us. He admits that, portrait is a sign whose purpose is both the description of an individual and the inscription of social identity and almost immediately since beginnings of photography appealed it was exploited in portraiture. Individuals from different classes enjoyed to have a portrait of themselves since it was affordable. (p.37) The possibility of producing photography claims to offer a mechanically transcribed truth. (p.40)

He is describing the development of photography since from the early time when Lois Daguerre fixed photographical image on a metal plate - daguerreotype and introduced it to the world. It spread immediately and Tagg is comparing photography era to a model of capitalism in the nineteenth century. Technique and mechanisms improved as well as other inventions were introduced and photography became a great industry and was more usable and affordable to everybody. Off course, with these aspects also changed the significance of photographers profession. Following the new possibilities photographers had to be innovative for to succeed. The knowledge and technical possibilities improved to glass plates, after from wet to dry plates, to flexible film, faster lenses, hand-held cameras, radical reconnection of the boundaries of photographic practice within industrial system established by kodak machinery and also the problem of reproducing photographs was solved. With all the upgrades in technology the entire economy of image production was transformed. (p.56) A limitless reproduction of photographs was possible, people even had began to expect to see more pictures in the news than text. Photos became items of passing interest, to be consumed and thrown away, with no residual value. Author referrs to W. Benjamin about the cult value of the picture, explaining that it was effectively abolished when photographs became so common as to be unremarkable. Another history of portraiture begun, having less to do with commodity production, which, according to the author, offered new kinds of knowledge and means of control enabling the state to increase its power over the social body, as the use of photographical portraits with concrete criteria was stated as documentary material evidence.


Tagg, J. (1988). A Democracy of the image: Photographic Portraiture and Commodity Production. The Burden of Representation. Essays on Photographies and Histories. Hampshire and London, The Macmillan Press Ltd: 34-59.