Amateurs: Photography and the aesthetics of vulnerability /

Saved in:
Bibliographic Details
Author / Creator:Lee, Anna, author.
Ann Arbor : ProQuest Dissertations & Theses, 2015
Description:1 electronic resource (164 pages)
Format: E-Resource Dissertations
Local Note:School code: 0330
URL for this record:
Hidden Bibliographic Details
Other authors / contributors:University of Chicago. degree granting institution.
Notes:Advisors: Darby English Committee members: Tom Gunning; Joel Snyder.
This item is not available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses.
Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 77-02(E), Section: A.
Summary:This dissertation examines the role of aesthetics within the practice of amateur photography. I begin by considering the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition as a democratizing space for photography, one that required middle-class amateurs to fit newly emergent "Kodakers" into an existing hierarchy of practitioners. Kodakers became linked to a rhetoric of negative vulnerability: as aesthetically indiscriminate and quantity-obsessed as the devices with which they were associated. Next, I explore the recent appearance of vernacular photographs in art institutions---principally in the contexts of exhibition and accessioning. I suggest that the ambivalent critical reception they've received in this setting reveals a hesitation to apply received aesthetic criteria to material that has long wavered at the conjunction of the art/not-art binary.
I argue instead that amateurism can productively be considered in terms of an aesthetics of praxis, a view that attends seriously to the features of amateur photography that make it deeply familiar to viewers---those that prompt viewers into moments of recognition engendered by their own relationship to the equipment and habits constituting its burgeoning history. This familiarity---with, for example, the endearingly unlovely pictorial consequences of a shaky hand, an uncooperative subject, or the impulse to frame a cliched scene---can be read formally: as blurs, hands covering a face, and a dozen similar snapshots of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The aesthetics of amateurism, in other words, inheres in encounters that activate the formal knowledge we acquire as practitioners, viewers, and subjects of vernacular practice. If exhibitions of vernacular photography do not move us towards a critical consideration of amateurism, it is because they simply reflect our familiarity back to us. I suggest, however, that a strain of contemporary photography has been working to challenge viewers in precisely this way through photographic series that prompt viewers to embody a multivalent perspective in order to make sense of what they encounter. These series, by artists Bettina von Zwehl, Shizuka Yokomizo, and Ann Hamilton are united by the almost scientific way in which they ask viewers to investigate a string of similar images in order to understand what lies beneath their doggedly methodical construction; in this way, they address their viewers as bearers of a praxis-based visual intelligence rooted in vernacular photographic habits.