Project Barbarous taste

This project involves reviewing Pierre Bourdieu’s essay The Social Definition of Photography  considering the following statement he makes:

‘in conferring upon photography a guarantee of realism, society is merely confirming itself in the tautological certainty that an image of the real which is true to its representation of objectivity is really objective’

The aim is to interpret what Bourdieu means by this and whether or not I agree with his contention.


Bourdieu contends that people sees photographs as real. In his view they do so because of the mechanical nature of photographic reproduction, the social uses of photography and because it is consistent with the  ‘representation of the world which has dominated Europe since the Quattrocento’,  in other worlds the conventions of  European painting since the Renaissance. Photographic images are projected through perspective onto a flat plane, just as in painting.  He is not specific about what he means by social uses, but he is most likely referring to photography’s use in everyday portraiture, public services such as passport and criminal photography and everyday family ‘snapshot’ photography. These factors result in society ‘conferring upon photography a guarantee of realism’.

Thus what I believe Bourdieu means is that an image of something which is real, or exists, which is made according to the socially accepted conventions of objectivity, i.e. photography, is considered by society to be objective. In doing so society overlooks the capacity for the photographer to influence the image through selection of  subject, framing, lens, shutter speed, aperture and viewpoint. The fact that a photograph for most of its history has been a black and white rendering of the visual onto a flat plane is also ignored.

Do I agree?

The old adage ‘the camera never lies’ exists for a reason. Certainly I agree for most of the time since the invention of photography society has seen photographs as real and people did believe in this adage. More recently however this notion has been undermined – particularly since the birth of the digital age. People today are much more suspicious about photographs. They are more likely to question whether they have been manipulated. Do people really believe that the women in the advertisements and magazines have such  perfect skin – I think not. Scandals about the manipulation of press photography have also undermined photography’s reputation for objectivity. I also wonder whether video has taken over the mantle of reality.  The rise of the internet as a means of distributing un-mediated video coverage of events could well be impacting on perceptions of reality.

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