How technology changed art; photography and motion

Been reading an interesting book called Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture by Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright, which has got me thinking more about how technology has changed art. In this post I hope to expand some of the basic points I touched on in my first post about it, starting with photography and motion. One point I made:

Technologies such as photography and video provided artists with the ability to capture events and moments in time that would have otherwise have been depicted through painting or sculpture.

I still think this point is valid when discussing the development of photography and film in relation to the arts, however Sturken and Cartwright bring up some interesting points in relation to how these technologies rose to the level of popularity they have, taking them as a whole and not simply within an artistic field. When discussing the invention and influence of photography, the idea that these technologies have changed the way we view the world around us is briefly discussed, however the emphasise shifts onto society’s role in the development of these technologies. In this quote Sturken and Cartwright highlight the importance of technologies such as photography have had on society however try to make the reader question the influence of society on the development of photography:

It can be argued that technologies have some agency – that is, that they have important and influential effects on society but that they are also themselves the product of their particular societies and times and the ideologies that exist within them and within which they are used. (pg.184)

Society’s need for the introduction is also discussed, fields such as science and medicines need for documentation being examples, the emphasis focusing on the ‘need’ of society to possess these technologies as progression continues:

Photography emerged as a popular visual technology because it fit certain emerging social concepts and needs of the time – modern ideas about the individual in the context of growing urban centers, modern concepts of technological progress and mechanisation, modern concepts of time and spontaneity, the desire to contain nature and landscape in mechanically reproducible form, and the rise of bureaucratic institutions in the modern state interested in documentation and classification. (pg.185)

To take an early example of photography I have included a motion study created by Eadweard Muybridge:

This example is typical of Muybridge’s work, usualy depicting the nude figure in a range of different situation or performing various tasks. For these studies it could be argued that Muybridge was interested in the study of the human form in its natural state and could have merit within medical or scientific fields (The use of the body in these photographs could fit in well with my original research idea.) These works also bring up the idea of motion within photography or the idea of documenting a process. Sturken and Cartwright make reference to an experiment undertaken by Muybridge to investigate whether or not a horse, whilst running, will have all four legs off the ground at any given time, the experiment proving that the horse would for an instant be like this. The idea of documenting motion can be found not only in early photographs such as this, but also within paintings such as Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase no.2:

Following on from this the idea of the Zoetrope is discussed, an invention used by magicians and travelling performers that grouped a series of images together to give the impression of movement. These would consist of inner drums and a light source, each individual would look through a peephole to see the images moving in a rapid sequences in a circular motion, Muybridge’s horse images serve as a good example of this:

The development of the projector can be seen as a key event in the development of this technology, for these previous examples of motion within the Zoetropes were designed for the individual, this changed with introduction of the projector, allowing groups of people to view films presented on celluloid. I will research more into this as I haven’t done much reading on it and theres no point writing about it just now.

In relation to the creation of art I think a lot of this information has improved my understanding of how art objects developed to incorporate these technologies. The thing that stand out the most for me is the need to document motion, or to capture a moment in time that really couldn’t be expressed with mediums like painting. I think it’s relevant to include my second bullet point in my original post about technology and art:

Documentation of projects could be argued to be one of the fundamental elements of performance art and other works that involve real time aspects, without them would anyone have witnessed performances or developed an interest in this method of creating art. The documentation allowed viewer to witness the works by bringing them into the gallery environment regardless of where they were created.

Even though artistic groups like performance and video art where not present at this time, the development of photography and cinema is a crucial aspect to the working methods of these movements and beyond into the world of 21st century art. Again to sum up, for me the ability to document motion has been the fundamental element of how these technologies have changed the course of art practice. I’ll finish with this quote about the continuous development of these technologies

It is important to remember that each new form of visual technology builds on the code of previous technologies but that each constitutes as well a kind of epistemic shift.

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