John Tagg How do photographs gain their meaning and power? Photography can seem to capture reality like no other medium, wielding the power of proof. How can a piece of chemically discolored paper have such potency? How does the meaning of a photograph become fixed? In The Disciplinary Frame, John Tagg claims that, to answer these questions, we must look at the ways in which all that frames photography determines what counts as truth. Any publication by John Tagg is an event, so important have his contributions been to the study of photography and its histories.
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To what degree can photographic images act as documents, transparently medi- ating between reality and its representation? When and why do they resist such a task? And is it possible to answer these questions with any degree of uniformity? It was always a local outcome, an effect of a particular closure of the discursive field, a function of a specific apparatus or machine, in the sense in which Foucault used these terms.
The clarification serves the dual purpose of explaining as response to his critics his purpose in his The Burden of Representation and fram- ing the ensuing essays. It is a snapshot illus- trated in W. We see a silhouetted figure, wearing a dark coat with the collar turned up and hunched against the cold, standing on the shores of an ocean, waves crashing behind him.
Rather than offering clues, the images are reticent; in lieu of laying bare a historical moment, they puzzle and mystify, enigmatic in meaning. Rather than text working to reinforce a seemingly natural photo- graphic meaning, image and text serve to ambiguate one another.
In these few opening pages, Tagg gets at the paradox of a photograph speaking for itself and its fundamental inability to do so. Tagg is now, as he has been, fundamentally concerned with where, how, and why photographs come to mean in particular ways, at specific social and culture junctures, and within specific kinds of apparatus.
Anyone serious about the study of photography and, in particular, the often uncomfortable collision between its theoretical and practical manifestations should be wrestling with the very issues Tagg addresses. Tagg turns in chapter 1 to the resumption of his long-standing interest in photographic meaning in the realm of the instrumentalized and disciplinary state apparatus with material that forcefully resists his own earlier suggestions of photographic indecipherability and reticence.
He is concerned with photographs that are repressive, that hold their subject in place, that insist on parameters of meaning, and that set into motion the disciplin- ary apparatus of archive, the state, the document.
This bracingly restrictive analysis of photography, not just at the level of image, but in the optical principles of the medium, is squarely at odds with the richly evocative impact of the Sebald material. Here, in chapter 2, Tagg links his charting of the modern state in chapter 1 to specific language Grierson used in defining goals for his work as a critic, a filmmaker, and an administrator.
With the same historical rigor and detailed analysis that enlivened his discussion of John Grierson, Tagg hones in on two well-known photographs. Not surprisingly, Evans is summoned to provide a counterweight to all this photographic certainty.
In his briefest chapter, Tagg makes a case for the end of the moment of social documentary in Summing up the social transformations around women in the workplace and moving on to the racial displacements and violence of the period, particularly as embodied in the counterculture styling of zoot suits, Tagg paints an overview of an unstable social dynamic, though makes less clear the connec- tions between this material and the broader concerns of the book.
Tagg closes with his oldest material; earlier versions of chapters 6 and 7 were published in and Here, Tagg studies various methodological approaches to Reviews the relationships among archive, history, testimony, and photography, focusing first on the British publication The Camera as Historian in which the three authors H. Gower, William Whiteman Topley, and L. Stanley Jast , all at one point employed by the Photographic Survey and Record of Surrey, develop a regimen of photographic truth and transparency that relies nonetheless on the system of the archive to produce meaning.
Ultimately, Tagg argues that we not—indeed, that we cannot— choose sides between the two seemingly competing lenses for understanding the image and its frame. Her research focuses on the relationships between and among photography, memory, and history, with Reviews specific attention to photographic technologies and ways in which photographs are struc- tured and compiled to produce knowledge.
The Disciplinary Frame: Photographic Truths and the Capture of Meaning
In some cases, a photograph itself is attributed the force of the real. How can a piece of chemically discolored paper have such potency? How does the meaning of a photograph become fixed? The meaning and power of photographs, Tagg asserts, are discursive effects of the regimens that produce them as official record, documentary image, historical evidence, or art. Teasing out the historical processes involved, he examines a series of revealing case studies from nineteenth-century European and American photographs to Depression-era works by Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Margaret Bourke-White to the conceptualist photography of John Baldessari.
The Disciplinary Frame
Anyone serious about the study of photography and, in particular, the often uncomfortable collision between its theoretical and practical manifestations should be wrestling with the very issues Tagg addresses. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. Sign in Create an account. It was always a disciplinagy outcome, an effect of a particular closure of the discursive field, a function of a specific apparatus or machine, in the sense in which Foucault used these terms. Buy the selected items together This item: Click here to sign up. Testing a Theory of Photographic Meaning. Learn more about Amazon Giveaway.
JOHN TAGG THE DISCIPLINARY FRAME PDF