"American Photography"

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In an earlier post I raised the idea of nationality in photography, with respect to an Australian photography. Most would immediately reject the idea of an Australian or British photography and immediately move on without further consideration.

To post that I offer the example of Robert Frank's classic text The Americans, which is universally seen as a book that shows you what photographs are supposed to look like. This tragic poem defines the very visual language of photography.

FrankRAmericans.jpg
Robert Frank, untitled from The Americans

Isn't this a book about American photography? W.J.T. Mitchell in an essay on Frank in his essay entitled "The Ends of American Photography" in his book What Do Pictures Want? says that the phrase American photography does not refer to photography made in or about the United States.

American photography refers to photography becoming incorporated in American national ideology:
Invented in France and England almost simultaneously in the 1840s, it migrates to the United States in the nineteenth century, where it seems to find its most ambitious vocation. When it returns to Paris and the Centre of Pompidou (as it did for an exhibition in 1996), it does so with a passport in hand, a carte de visite inscribed with the signature of American photography.

For those photographers living in Australia in the 1970s and 1980s American photography was photography per se. It was what art photography was in its essence rather than the ongoing construction of American art photography.
Australian photography was constructed within, and against, an American photography that had become a part of Australia's visual language. The nation is a cultural construction made up of images, discourses, myths, traditions idealized narratives, counter narratives of resistance and struggle. Photography is a part of this. It is also constructed, especially Australian art photography with its contested meanings.

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This page contains a single entry by Gary Sauer-Thompson published on May 20, 2009 4:01 PM.

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