Media Practice and Everyday Agency in Europe

Title chapter: Records of Facts or Records of Mystification? Brief Notes on the "Surplus Value" of the Photographic Image
Author: Ilija Tomanic Trivundza
Keywords: Photography, Visual Representation, Surplus Value
Abstract: When photography was invented in the first half of the 19th century, it was conceived of as an epitome of rational Western thought and scientific methods of appropriating (subjugating) the world. By the beginning of the 20th century, photographs had acquired an unprecedented social status as a means of (visual) record, and as both visual facts and the practice of visualising facts. Photography managed preserve this status at the beginning of the 21st century after weathering attacks concerning the ontological uncertainties raised by digital technology, which turned out to be more about resurrection than about the death of the medium. In this simplified and commonly accepted narrative, photography marches in step with modernity's project of Webrian disenchantment of the world and seems to be one of the showcase examples of its "rationalization and intellectualization" (Weber, 1948: 155). Photography thus comes to be seen as "modern vision in every sense, but above all in its alliance to the modern epistemology of vision through its realism" (Slater, 1995/2002: 223). This master narrative is a gross oversimplification, however; if anything, photography has participated prominently in several of modernity's central projects of re-enchantment of the world, ranging from "the mundane daydreams of advertizing and consumption" (Jenkins, 2000: 18) to rituals and phantasmagorias of nation-state. Moreover, it seems that the realm of photography might very well prove to be one of Weber's "transcendental realm[s] of mystic life" into which sublime values retreat (Weber, 1948: 155); or rather " where they persist. J.W.T. Mitchell, for example, claims that images today persist as one of the last strongholds of magical thinking [...]
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