Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture
Vol. 6, No. 2, 1992
Photogenic Papers
Edited by John Richardson

Picturing the landscape

John Richardson

Daguerre's polished plate caught the image as in a mirror, with all its marvellous delicacy and beauty. But of the two inventions Talbot's was the most useful, as the negative taken in the camera was at once fitted to multiple impressions indefinitely.
The daguerreotype may be likened to the most faithful and elaborate old-world records given on metal, while the calotype inaugurated the printing press of photography. Talbot was indeed the Caxton of sun-printing. (Thomson 17)


Published in 1878, John Thomson's distinctions are typical of the imagined divide between two prototypical photographic technologies. On the one hand we have the daguerreotype; its plate is reflective, gem like and permanent. This is the daguerreotype as Allen Sekula's research has it, endowed with the status of both a fetish object and a document; both a jewel and a mirror. On the other hand, stands the positive-negative calotype; a utilitarian technology, its image on paper is reproducible and yet ephemeral.

And never the twain shall meet. Or at least when they did meet the historical result was usually a collision. Most histories have pitted the properties of the one against those of the other, and conventional wisdom, as well as critical theory, tells us that the calotype emerged victorious. In Walter Benjamin's thinking, positive-negative photography, led to the displacement of the ritual structures, the cult value, and the uniqueness associated with an art object; and much the same properties haloed the daguerreotype. Following Benjamin's drift, Sekula affirms that 'the status of the photograph as a "unique object" had an early demise with Talbot's invention of a positive-negative process' (93). However, Sekula goes on to suggest that the concept of uniqueness was revived in the 'crafted' gravures of Stieglitz's Camera Work, at a time (circa 1910) when '"degraded" but informative reproductions appeared in almost every illustrated newspaper, magazine and journal' (93).

But neither Stieglitz nor Camera Work re-invented mass reproduced images as a unique objects, nor was their acceptance as such confined to the rarefied if problematic environment of "art photography". I want to argue for a general will to project on to positive-negative photography, the qualities already bestowed upon the daguerreotype. As the era of the daguerreotype set, and that of photomechanical printing dawned, the threatened qualities of uniqueness and permanence found a new home. They re-shaped the positive-negative silver-printed photograph into the "fetish object" that the daguerreotype once was.

The silver-print retained something of the daguerreotype's "mirror like" status too. But in an episteme which increasingly problematised the accessibility of "the real", a mirror of nature per se was becoming a liability. The physiologically driven theory of Peter Henry Emerson, the most "naturalistic" photographer of all, testifies to that.

We have shown why the human eye does not see nature exactly as she is, but sees instead a number of signs which represent nature, signs which the eye grows accustomed to, and which from habit we call nature herself. (Naturalistic Photography 1st ed, 114)

If the human eye could not capture nature, neither, as Emerson demonstrated, could the camera lens:

we shall show the fallacy of calling the most scientifically perfect images obtained with photographic lenses true. They are not true, as we have shown, and shall again show, but what is true is really what we have all along advocated; that the photographer must so use his technique as to render a true impression of the scene. (114)

So it came down to the photographer's impression of the scene, a subjective impression but still "true". The photographer was placed in a position of "interpretation", and equipped with a technology suited to the task. It was a technology which could render its imagery sharp or soft as the occasion demanded; a technology from which the referent was twice removed, replaced in the first instance by an inversion - the negative - which could be retouched, matched with others of its type, combination printed, generally manipulated, and reproduced. The calotype was the technology of "art", but not of art alone. It was a technology of an interventionist mode. The calotype and its relations were all of this, but were so without entirely losing the transparent properties bestowed on the daguerreotype. Once the standard had been constructed, it could still be portrayed as the most convincing standard of all - reality.

Like Henry Peach Robinson - whose anxiety provoked him to take stock of those landscapes in the National Gallery which included the human figure, so as to justify his preoccupation with that most daring and difficult of photographic genres, the figure in the landscape - modernity's subjects set about constructing landscapes of their own, and once constructed they tentatively took up residence within them. What I want to do here is unpack the constituent parts of those landscapes - landscapes which amount to a form of discursive production; and to argue that the imaginings which gave the daguerreotype its materiality could not be abandoned with the demise of this technological form. The daguerreotype, as a technology, could only be abandoned once its imagined constituents had been safely transferred to a technology made appropriate to the concerns of modernity. For it was only through these constituents that the discursive landscape could be assembled.


'Mr Talbot is right', affirmed Jean Baptiste Biot in his address to the Paris Academy, 'in representing this property of reproduction as an especial advantage of his process, and it would indeed be very useful in voyages' (qtd. in Hunt 25). For Biot, speaking before the advent of photomechanical reproduction made it possible to disseminate photographic images through the distribution structures of the press, the reproductive advantage offered by the calotype was mainly one of protection, and in particular protection in transit. For purposes such as this the calotype was to be preferred to the daguerreotype. Biot explains why:

It will, therefore, doubtless be found more commodious, and often even more practicable, to put four or five hundred drawings in a portfolio, than to carry about a similar provision of metallic plates with those indispensable protectors, squares of glass, to cover them. Attempts are being made, at this time, to fix the images produced by the Daguerreotype - perfect prints, it is true, but which are as light as the vapour from which they are produced; and, indeed, to bring a voluminous collection of these fragile products through the accidents incident to long, and sometimes perilous voyages, is a task requiring no ordinary care. But whoever has attentively studied the combination of physical conditions whence these admirable images result, will find it very difficult - I am far from saying impossible, - to fix them without destroying, or at least without essentially altering, the causes which produce their charm; and then, for the very purposes which I have mentioned, papers very susceptible of impression would still have the advantages of being less troublesome in removal from place to place, as also of more easy preservation. (qtd. in Hunt 25)

Biot makes much of the calotype's utilitarian advantages here. He has it as the ideal conveyance of various documents from scattered locations to a central source. But we should note that at this stage the traffic was one way. Once lodged in a holding area, an institution, the calotype's first order of reproduction did not easily allow for mass dissemination, its powers of reproduction were seen primarily as a protective mechanism. But 'preservation' is briefly mentioned too, and perhaps the self-evidential importance of the provision required no elaboration. Indeed, the specific applications of the calotype envisaged by Biot were chiefly in the order of the preservation, and in particular, the preservation of ancient texts. Amongst the samples of his process presented to the Academy by Fox Talbot and remarked upon by Biot were 'copies of a Hebrew psalm, of a Persian Gazette, and of an old Latin chart of the year 1279' (qtd. in Hunt 23).

But the calotype could not yet fulfil Biot's prophesy. In a very important way it lacked the powers of preservation inherent to the daguerreotype. In 1925 Georges Potonniee wrote, 'we are no longer able to judge his images ... those Talbot presented to the Societe Fran‡aise de Photographie have become invisible and entirely black...' (181).

Anne Kelsey Hammond's account of the considerable effort levelled at solving the fading problem unearths a letter from Roger Fenton to Fox Talbot who, in 1854, like many of his colleges on both sides of the English Channel, was engaged in permanent print research. In it, Fenton told Fox Talbot: 'I hope that the honour of finally solving this question of fading photographs will by your researches be won for this country. It would be a rare good fortune for the same hand to have commenced & completed the structure of photographic art' (qtd. in Hammond 166). Permanent printing 'completed the structure' of photography. Anne Kelsey Hammond regards Fenton's comments as an affirmation that permanent printing was necessary for 'the survival of the photographic expression itself' (166). Hammond does not press the point, but if photography is itself an expression of modernity, then the drive for permanence should also find a nexus along the epistemic terrain. That is to say, image permanence is both a requirement which more effectively facilitates the preservation of particular documents - Biot's, Hebrew Psalms, Persian Gazettes, and Latin charts - and is motivated by a general will for preservation which emerged with modernity.

According to Michel Foucault, early modernity reinvested a trope already apparent at the end of the classical age. This was the construction of a 'classified time', a 'squared and spatialized development' which manifested itself in

[t]he evermore complete preservation of what was written, the establishment of archives, then of filing systems for them, the reorganization of libraries, the drawing up of catalogues, indexes, and inventories.... (132)

Thus modernity set about compiling data bases, the information contained in each having no necessary connection with that contained in others, to be turned to the aims of particular institutions or particular groups of users.

The data bases that Foucault implies here seem to lead inexorably towards his later panoptic technology of subjectivity. And there is plenty of evidence which aligns photography with a panoptic system of self- discipline. I want to follow one of these evidences here, an evidence set within the context of a conceptual organisation which gives rise to figures of surveillance; but with an end view of pursuing modernity's insistence on permanence.

In 1882 Henry Baden Pritchard of the Photographic Society visited Pentonville Penitentiary, there to research the techniques and studios of prison photography. He very soon realised that the 'strange accounts ... of cunning devices and ingenious tricks practiced on convicts in order to secure a photograph of their features' were misleading:

some little experience has shown us that a more docile body of sitters than our convicts do not exist. We do not say this because, as photographers, they are easily satisfied - because they never offer a remonstrance or suggestion - never ask to see the negative - and, above all, do not importune for a second sitting. But, so far as we have seen, they sit quieter and steadier, and are more ready to fall in with the exigencies of photography than their brethren in freedom. (119)

As the 'docile body of sitters' file in and out of the studio, Pritchard's interest begins to wane. But it is quickly revived when he is at last confronted with a prisoner of the refractory ilk:

"put your chin down." The sitter smiles faintly, but does not obey. Ah! here is a refractory prisoner at last; we are glad of it, for now we shall be able to see how matters are managed. But we are disappointed. "He is deaf," says the warder, who no sooner comes forward and explains to the sitter, than the latter is all obedience. (122)

One cannot easily conclude that the presence of the camera in itself somehow solicits obedience. Obedience is already ensured, according to Pritchard, by the threat of withdrawn privileges. But once safely exposed the mugshot takes its place as a fixed point within a system. A system of surveillance perhaps, but what is of interest to our own inquiry is the general formation of such a system - what allows it to be compiled, what it enables, and how it might be configured. Our interest is in both a technology institutionalised for the production of 'docile bodies', and the critique of those bodies - the subject who 'makes suggestions', 'asks to see the negatives', or 'importunes for a second sitting'; the 'nihilist'. It follows that the 'docile body' and the 'nihilist' are the same person, a subject who is both passive and active, simultaneously determined and determining.

It happens that Pritchard's research leads him to the Prefecture de la Police in Paris. He quickly notes that French law governing police photography is somewhat more liberal than the English law of the day. French law allowed the police to photograph suspects who had been convicted of no particular crime, and for the photographs to be kept on record. Having finally gained admittance to the basement records office, Pritchard first takes note of a batch of cartes arranged for mounting:

They are of men ... and for the most part very untidy about the hair and beard. Hairy individuals, who have an aversion to the barber, and whose features would evidently be improved by the lavish application of yellow soap.... "Nihilists," the chief briefly explains.

Affairs in Russia have made European Governments extra cautious about the unsoaped and unshaven of the community; and the collection is the result of extensive research by the police of Paris. (223-224)

It seems that little has changed since 1882. And if little has changed, perhaps we should question the effectiveness of such a system of control - one which encourages self-subjectification, or at least encourages one to trim one's beard more frequently. On the other hand, the stasis might be explained by a continual reconstitution of the subject, perhaps abetted by such a system of control as this.

In fact the typicality betrayed by the Prefecture's Nihilists is not so very different from that sought by Emerson in his theory of Naturalistic Photography. Consider, for instance, Emerson's instructions on selecting a subject. Not any subject would do; it must be at once picturesque and typical. Given these qualifications, 'you will find that the best pictures are those which hit you hardest in nature, those which strike you so much that you feel an irresistible desire to secure them' (Naturalistic Photography 3rd ed, bk.3 29). But one might well question the extent of the relationship between nature and this 'desire to secure' subject material. In the end it appears to be little different from the type of idealism favoured by Emerson's bitter opponent, Henry Peach Robinson. And like Robinson, Emerson urged extreme caution when considering 'by far the most difficult branch of photography', the figure in the landscape:

One thing we must never forget, that is the type; you must choose your models most carefully, and they must without fail be picturesque and typical. The student should feel that there never was such a fisherman, or such a ploughman, or such a poacher, or such an old man, or such a beautiful girl, as he is picturing. (31)

Emerson's figures in the landscape are not unlike the Nihilists discovered by Pritchard. They are at one and the same time atypical-typical in their relationship with the real. They are images apparently abstracted from nature, but abstracted, treated or selected in such a way that they stand as a metaphor for the whole of their type. No less than Pritchard's description of the Prefecture's Nihilists, they are meant to stand for essential, rather than positive qualities of the object. And like most philosophical properties of essence, what is required of them is a universality, an authenticity, and a permanence. The quest for image permanence was implicated with the will for, indeed the necessity for, the capture of essential objects. Objects which, once severed from a spatio-temporal reality, become universals housed in a system that at once maintains their autonomy and also, in a transcendental moment, allows them to be manipulated in time in the act of constructing particular worlds.

The Prefecture's collection of Nihilists is the tip of an iceberg. In all, the records office houses portraits of 40,000 'bad characters'. Indexed both by the suspect's name and by the nature of the crime, set in sliding trays retracted into pigeon holes, the cartes-de-visite are arranged according to the principles of the "author/topic" library retrieval system.1 They are fixed or permanent points, each contained and held separate by the system which houses them. At this stage, the space the cartes are set in, the space which maintains them in an ambiguous materiality, resembles the 'Riemann space' which Jonathan Crary equates with the planar arrangement of stereoscopic imagery, and by implication with a general epistemology of modernity. Crary cites Gilles Deluze's version of Riemann space as support for his argument:

Each vicinity in a Riemann space is like a shred of Euclidian space but the linkage between one vicinity and the next is not defined. ... Riemann space at its most general thus presents itself as an amorphous collection of pieces that are juxtaposed but not attached to each other. (Deleuze qtd. in Crary 126)

The index system allows the manipulation, the re-ordering and the cross-referencing of the material within its partitions in address to a particular problem germane to the concerns of particular institutions - in the case of the Prefecture de la Police, the solution of particular crimes. It allows institutions to construct pretexts, to organise bodies of evidence according to specific requirements and to manufacture temporal links between them, thus installing causality and constructing a type of narrative or discourse. It seems that the system makes for the construction, command and administration of knowledges or discourses at the level of the institution.

So far as the knowledges constructed in this way impact on the subject, and at one level or another they invariably do, they impact in the form of an already assembled and analytically resistant narrative. But there are forms in which the type of space described above - a space of analysis, initially stripped of its causal/temporal connections - is accessible to the manipulations of the reading subject.

Perhaps the photographer whose work most closely approximated this type of spatial deployment was Edward Western. By 1930 Western had recuperated "sharp" photography and high gloss printing, both of which had been rejected by the early pictorialists. He worked towards a surface which displayed microscopic detail, a high degree of tactility, and which often erased markers of perspectival depth. In these particulars, and in a related problematisation of authorship, Western's pictures exhibit the tendencies that Crary and Krauss find in stereography. As was the case with many photographers before him, Western's 'reductions' were aimed at stabilising a notion of "the real". In Crary's description of early modernity the distinction between observer and observed, subject and nature, was dramatically problematised. Early physiological research had the image patterned at the brain by the function of nervous and optical mechanisms, with no necessary dependence upon an outside referent. Thus the notion of the referent as a fixed standard was imperiled, and with it the contemporary system of meaning. Just as later physiologists such as Helmholtz and Lotz struggled to reinstate systems of signification (Crary 91), modernity's photographers set about restoring the absented standard. They did so by explicitly or implicitly attempting to capture an "essence of nature". As Henry Peach Robinson had it, by the "artistic" manipulation of the elements of pictorial effect 'you can get nearer to nature than nature herself' (98). Although Western's techniques and surfaces were radically different to those of the pictorialists, he shared these same ends - the discriminating photographer 'can reveal the essence of what lies before his lens in a close-up with such clear insight that the beholder will find the recreated image more real and more comprehensible than the actual object' (qtd. in Frampton 158).

If the essence which stands for the real emanates from a recreated image one must question the site at which 're-creation' occurs. Does it occur at the site of the photographic text, at the site of the photographer, or at that of the beholder? Hollis Frampton can enlighten us here. Frampton describes the formation of Western's texts and their relationship with the reading subject by aligning them with a literary modernism as exemplified by the work of Beckett, Robbe-Grillet and Borges.

Again and again, we find texts that amount to nothing other than minute descriptions, in flat, declarative sentences, of spaces, of objects disposed in those spaces, of the surface and volumetric attributes of those objects. ... Causality and temporality having been dispossessed from the text, we are left free to enjoy the gradual construction of the space within our consciousness which the text will occupy, as we experience the process of reading in a time, that of the spectator, which is explicitly and entirely disjunct from the atemporality of the text itself. (143)

Thus, it seems that the site of re-creation is the consciousness of the beholder. The text is made so as to invest this readerly operation. Essence is not pregiven, it can only agglomerate as the spectator restores a temporal, a causal link between objects 'disposed' in the spaces of the system, or retrospectively constructs a pretext for an object. Essence is not pre-given, but if the modern system of meaning is to be preserved, if essence is to act as reference, the parameters of its re-creation cannot be entirely arbitrary; and one might allow that it may be possible for the consciousness of the photographer to share the same perspective as that of the beholder in relation to the re-constructive operation. The subject must operate within a matrix of 'liberties and limitations' akin to that which Robinson preached for photography.

Western did not "invent" this way of representing, we have seen that it is related to the epistemic determinations of modernity, nor was he the first to formalise these determinations in the shape of a photographic text. The surfaces and reading techniques that Western's photography unveiled for "art" had already been applied by the "public" to types of photographic artifacts prepared for them at their own insistence. This particular aesthetic of representation was already in place in the late 1800s, some forty years before Western proposed it for a photographic art. Public representations were unencumbered by the conventions and formalities which pictorialists of various ilks employed to mark their representations as "artistic". Western divested these conventions and set the chemistry, the optics, the mechanics of photography to the task of producing a print which could take its place in relation to other artifacts as the result of mechanisms of representation specific to the medium - the photograph as a product of photography, without paying the customary lip service to painted art. The markers which declared the photograph as such were sharpness, detail, glossiness and tactility. At this point the aesthetic of Western's art approximated that of the public realm. Indeed, Frampton's description of Western's artifacts might equally well apply to the picture postcard: "The photographs, as physical objects, are of a voluptuousness that rarely falls short of the exquisite. At the same time they are only scraps of paper, held in the hand: typical merchandise of the industrial age" (Frampton 151).

We should note straight away that the "object" which Frampton refers to here is explicitly not the pretextual object - the object in nature. But nor in Western's thinking, could the materiality of the photograph be entirely separate from the referent. We have seen that he tried to set photography apart from other media but, in Frampton's view, Western's intentions in emphasising the chemical, optical and mechanical specificities of photography also served to 'identify the work of art with its own medium rather than its pretext' (142). As Western himself put it: "To see the Thing itself is essential: the quintessence revealed direct without the fog of impressionism - the casual noting of a superficial phase, or transitory mood" (Daybooks 311). The photograph hovered between this referential (quint)essence, or at least provided a means of accessing it, and an object in its own right. In this sense, the photograph was Western's Thing itself. We will see that this too, belongs to an aesthetic of public photography.

So far as a public access of these "exquisite objects" is concerned - a collective access perhaps, but also a subjective one - the type of space discussed above was made available by the solution to the problem of the fading image. That solution came in the form of photomechanical printing, but also in the form of the more stable albumen emulsion used for silver-printing techniques.


According to Walter Benjamin, 'from a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask to see the "authentic" print makes no sense' ("Work of Art" 224). Benjamin is wrong. For the modern subject it precisely made sense to ask to see the 'authentic print'. After the introduction of photomechanical printing, and the demise of the daguerreotype, the public, like Pritchard's troublesome sitter who asked to see the negative, demanded to see a "real" photograph.

Photomechanical printing never replaced one or another form of the traditional silver-printed photograph. In the late 1800s the silver-print was produced by exposing the negative to a paper coated with an emulsion capable of being sensitized by a solution of silver nitrate. In the silver-print's classical condition, that emulsion was albumen, the properties of which imparted a glossy surface to the paper. But there was no necessary technological reason for the high gloss silver print to become so "popular". Other emulsions were available: 'The prints obtained by this process [resinized paper] are very beautiful, and lack that gloss of albumen which is often called vulgar and inartistic' (Robinson and Abney 100). Other processes were available: 'When first we began photography, we printed in all sorts of ways; but silver printing; on account chiefly of its unpleasant glaze, was soon discarded' and 'we emphatically assert that [for artistic purposes] the platinotype process is facile princeps' (Emerson 191). And the degree of glossiness produced by albumen could be suppressed by lowering the temperature when coating the paper.

The silver-print achieved a considerable penetration of the mass market in the face of photomechanical printing. According to Pritchard, Valentine and Sons, 'the largest photographic establishment in Scotland, and one of the largest in the world', silver-printed some 3,000 prints per day. They did so by constructing 'the biggest printing room we have ever seen', and by employing forty staff, most of them presumably engaged in printing and associated processes. In comparison, the studio of Joseph Albert of Munich, who was engaged in Lichtdruck (a form of photomechanical printing) used two Schnellpressen powered by steam engines. The two Speedpresses produced up to 2,000 prints per day,2 but required only a mechanic and an operator to run each press. On these figures, it seems that the days of silver-printing were numbered. But Pritchard adds the qualification that the prints were not so fine as those produced by silver-printing - 'in ordinary circumstances people who know what silver-prints are would not be satisfied with impressions in Lichtdruck' (268). Nevertheless, in what Pritchard seems to regard as something equivalent to a sleight of hand, '[m]ost Lichtdruck prints are treated with shellac varnish after drying, and in this way are made to look very much like silver prints, for which they are frequently sold' (270). The problem with Lichtdruck appears to be that it deviates from a standard, but that standard was not only the referent in nature, the privilege of reference had come to be shared by the silver-print.

Pritchard's next port of call is the studio of Herr J. Obernetter, also of Munich and also an exponent of Lichtdruck. The difference is that Obernetter uses Sternpressen as opposed to Albert's Schnellpressen. By doing so he has 'arrived at a wonderful pitch of excellence in his work' (272). The hand press is slow, Pritchard doubts whether a dozen prints per hour are pulled. But the "craftedness" of the process seems to be appropriate to Obernetter's subject matter, which is 'the printing of negatives from nature, rather than the printing of negatives from pictures, engravings &c.; and everybody conversant with mechanical printing knows the former to be more difficult' (272). Pritchard does not say why this should be, but he had indeed observed Albert's "inferior" Speedpresses at work reproducing copies of a picture. More specifically, the Schnellpressen were,

printing copies of Schutzenlisl, a work just now much in request by the Munich public. The negative is from a huge painting of a Munich beer girl-a lively young person indigenous to the soil, who trips about among her patrons with half a dozen foaming tankards in each hand.... (268)

It seems that Speedpresses are suitable for reproductions of a cultural artifice whereas a natural object requires more a more crafted treatment. But as Pritchard's observations of Obernetter's subject matter proceed, the constitution of nature is problematised - 'here is a delicate interior (from nature) ...' (274). The concept of an interior from nature seems to destabilise the sense of difference between the cultural and the natural. It seems that (what Pritchard regards as) the inferior quality of the Speedpress print is suitable for the representation of a representation, whereas "nature", which appears to be anything external to the immediate system of representation, requires a finer process. But there is a way, too, in which the physical presence of the silver-print had become a reality which parallels and accommodates that of an increasingly problematic and distant "nature" - by 1882 the silver-print already occupied the position of Western's Thing itself.

Despite the superlatives ladened on Obernetter's work, for some applications it fell short of what was ideally required. This refined form of photomechanical printing would do very well for representations of nature, in so far as these representations took on the form of book illustrations, the book being the medium through which Obernetter's work was normally disseminated; but in order to ascend to the status of a Thing itself, this superior type of photomechanical print still required, in as much as this was possible, to take on the appearance of the silver-print - Pictures other than book illustrations 'that are to pass muster among silver photographs, are, on the other hand, printed upon fine, thin paper, and then varnished and pressed to impart to them a better surface' (274). Like the artifacts of Albert's Speedpresses, to stand as Things themselves, Obernetter's highly crafted prints must be transformed into more accurate representations, not of nature, but of the silver-print. It was a transformation they could not yet satisfactorily achieve, for beneath their glossy coat of shellac, there lurked a mechanical reproduction masquerading as the real thing. The ink-printed artifact was a reproduction masquerading as a silver-print - a reproduction masquerading as a "real reproduction".

There is other evidence of this phenomenon. Later, with the advent of photographic picture postcards, silver-printed cards, as opposed to photomechanically produced cards, began to appear with the legend, 'this is a real photograph'. And the persistence of the "real photo" crippled the sale of picture postcards (photographic or otherwise) produced by photomechanical techniques. As was the case with the photomechanical artifacts observed by Pritchard, the manufacturers of ink-printed cards tried to counter the trend, not by refining the technology in a way which presented an increased verisimilitude with some external reality, but by mimicking the appearance of the "real photograph". According to David Cook, finer half-tone screens were used and a glossy finish imparted to the surface (166). If the "unreal photograph" was to approach the acceptability of its standard, it must be infused with the same 'delicacy' and also the same tactility, the same "body", as the fine, glossy, silver-print. It must become a form of fetish object, and a referent. It must take on board those same qualities once reserved for the daguerreotype but now the property of the silver-print. And the day would come when it did.

Positive-negative photography did not lead to the displacement of a sense of uniqueness or auratic presence. Instead, its privileged end product, the silver-print, the "real photograph", was made to manifest an auratic presence - despite its openness to mass dissemination. It was made to manifest the same qualities once the province of the daguerreotype. But these are the result of no particular technology, rather, technologies must be made to manifest them. And when a technology comes into play which threatens the integrity of the unique object, it will either be resisted or made to accommodate this particular desire.

The silver-print was transformed into a fetish object, at once real and representational. This desired object was an object in a prior relation to that disseminated by the press, or at least one form of the press - a form which allows the dissemination of an already articulated, finished and polished discourse across the public sphere, with the photograph sutured into it as evidence of its correctness. In the terms of modernity's library index system, this is a press in which words sutured into argument direct the reader from evidential point to point in a causal grid. Put another way, words constitute the links between the photographic objects which materialise in the shreds of Riemann space. The imagery of this type of press comes to us already implicated in a variety of institutional discourses. But it is not the only format open to the press and its publications. The silver-print, as a Thing itself, retained the autonomy required for a form of discursive production in the hands - or the consciousness - of "the public".

We can glean something of the determinations of this "unique public artifact" by returning to Pritchard. We find him at the studio of Payne Jennings, who has been commissioned to illustrate eighteen different volumes of poetry -

'all, I am sorry to say, in silver', said Mr Jennings. 'I should very much like to employ a mechanical process, or carbon, or platinotype, and hope sincerely I may soon be able to do so; my only desire is to produce prints as delicately and as brilliantly as I can, and, so far as I have seen, none of these processes can compete with silver. I shall be only too happy to adopt them when results as beautiful are to be secured by other means'. Mr Payne Jennings, as a producer of pictures, must please his master - the public; this is the main point he must keep steadfastly in view. (26)

But we must examine this determining "public" more carefully, for surely such a homogeneous figure cannot exist. The "public" is already cut through by class, by gender and by multiple other interests within and across communities, all of which constitute positions which an individual might adopt in relation to the 're-creation' of an image. And a particular subject might adopt different positions at different times in relation to the same image so as to satisfy one or another goal. Nevertheless, one might say that it is the availability of shared positions from which essence is supplied with particular inflections that helps to standardise and stabilise meaning. But if there is one thing which unites all of these disparate communities of readers, and/or individuals, it is a set of operational possibilities which modernity bestows upon each and every subject. This takes the form of a function in an active/passive or determining/ determined duality.

Geoffrey Batchen has already underlined the significance of Foucault's 'empirico-transcendental Man' for modernity's photographic impulse.3 And as Batchen also points out, this same figure is part of what propels Crary's analysis of early modernity. Modernity also gave rise to the human sciences which, according to Foucault, constituted man as an object of knowledge. At the same time, it was hoped that knowledges of this type could be turned to the 'liberation' of the subject:

in the same 19th century one hoped, one dreamed the great eschatological myth ... which was somehow to make this knowledge (connaissance) of man exist so that man could be liberated by it from all his alienations, liberated from all the determinations of which he was not the master. ("Foucault Responds" 36)

The goals of this search were never achieved. What characterises nineteenth century modernity is not the overturning of man's finitudes or determinations, but the unceasing struggle to do so. It is within this framework that this determining/determined figure posed for the modern subject should be read. This same duality is apparent in the discursive forms constructed by and for such a subject. At the level of the textual possibilities we have already discussed, the figure was not confined to the autonomy of the silver-print set against an already integrated form of imagery constructed and disseminated by photomechanical means. It came to be implied within a structure of difference assigned to photomechanical printing itself.


Photomechanical printing allowed photographs to be ink-printed and eventually published either integrated within, or set alongside pages letterpress. The distinction is important because the two processes registered the desire for two alternative reading practices. In his discussion of books illustrated with "real" photographs, Robert Holden designates the integrated form, the equivalent of that allowed by half-tone typographical block printing, as a 'romantic' style, as opposed to the 'classical' format of pre-photomechanical mounting - the silver-printed photograph pasted to the page, and the very operation in which Jennings was engaged when spied by Pritchard. We can extend Holden's 'classical' effect to the results produced by intaglio photomechanical techniques such as the Woodburytype, which similarly required the print to be cut and mounted independently of letterpress. And Woodburytypes had a hard glossy surface which made them virtually indistinguishable from silver-prints. In Holden's reasoning, the classical format undercut the 'romantic', interactive flow between image and letterpress typical of earlier engraving or later typographical processes. It did so by lifting the image into a position of isolation. According to Holden, the Classical format 'seduced attention away from the printed text', it gave full expression to the 'undisputed authority' of the photograph, 'a visual verisimilitude which dwarfed any literal truth' (4). So in the first instance, during the pre-photomechanical era, Holden's version of classicism was allowed, or forced if you will, by technological process. But later, when typographical and intaglio methods presented the option of either romantic or classical formats, neither achieved absolute dominance over the other. The two styles have persisted through time and have tended to be associated with particular genres of publications. Among those artifacts which insist upon a separation of text and image, whilst simultaneously retaining the glossy markers of uniqueness typical of the silver-print are; the coffee table book, the pornographic magazine and the picture postcard. I want to take the picture-postcard as an example for the whole of this genre. At first it seems as if the postcard's particular properties - its letter-like mode of circulation, its space for the sender's inscription, its formal division into public and private spaces - might set it apart from other 'classical' artifacts. I would argue that these same features are also apparent in the postcard's fellows, albeit in a less manifest form; but here, I want to focus on just one aspect of the picture postcard, its function as a collectable.

One should not underestimate the force of "collection" as an early determination of the picture-postcard. By the turn of the twentieth century, picture postcards were manufactured with collection in mind. Indeed "Collection" is implied by the name of the first company to produce pictorial views of Western Australia - the Vienna based Collectors of Illustrated Postcards. As with the environment assembled from the Prefecture's collection of Nihilists, the picture-postcard album is compiled from a pre-existing catalogue of thoroughly repetitious images - St Paul's Cathedral, Brooklyn Bridge, Schutzenlisl, - the permanent points indigenous to a cultural soil. Under the force of collection, these particular points, these particular cards, must now juxtaposed with others, arranged into a thematic unit or into a set which conforms with an overall theme - a pretext. Often postcards were issued as a set or series - a series of ships was issued by the Orient Line, picturesque illustrations of caves were released by the Caves Board of Western Australia - with producers relying upon the condition of thematisation to maximise the power of the medium as an advertisement. But the production of a card as one of a series need not determine an alignment with others in the formal set at the point of collection. The collector is allowed a certain latitude, she or he is presented with a range of options when making the match. A ship from the Orient Line set might be juxtaposed with a steam train from the Rose Series, the Caves Board's picturesque cave might be matched with an image of a wild-flower from the set of Western Australia for the Tourist, and so on. Thematisation need not follow the course of a straight line between fixed points plotted for the collector beforehand, it can take on one of a number of courses determined by the position adopted by the subject in relation to the re-creation of the image. So that inherent in the device of collection is an ability to configure the system. It cannot be configured to the power infinity, but it presents a latitude for the expression of various perspectives which its reading subjects might adopt. The same starting point in a chain of thematic representation need not terminate in the production of identical themes. Collection already assumes that meaning is not fixed or finite. Indeed, it demonstrates the case. It allows the collector to manipulate, to juxtapose, to re-create, and in so doing provide essentials with a particular inflection, to actively participate in the formation of a discourse, or to configure the universe to which she or he might hope to belong.

Walter Benjamin is one of the few theorists to attend to the figure of collection. In "Unpacking my Library" he tends to treat collection as a renewal of past experience. Benjamin was himself a collector of books, and the collector of old books is true to the origins of collection because: 'To renew the old world - that is the collector's deepest desire when he is driven to acquire new things ...' (61). But one might contextualise this essay within an oeuvre which includes "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction", "The Storyteller" and "On Some Motifs in Baudelaire"; essays which try to come to terms with a bygone tradition entailing a communal negotiation of meaning. As is the case with the story and the tradition of story telling, "collection" lends itself to a type of textual construction, or in our terms 're-creation', at the point of reception. The problem for Benjamin is that it is a solitary, rather than a communal endeavour. Indeed, the most privileged form of collecting books is to write them oneself, and the will to write implies a dissatisfaction with the already written artifact:

Of all the ways of acquiring books, writing them oneself is regarded as the most praiseworthy method... Writers are really people who write books not because they are poor, but because they are dissatisfied with the books they could buy but do not like. (61)

Hannah Arendt notes that in Schriften 1, Benjamin likens the collector to the revolutionary. The collector

dreams his way not only into a remote and bygone world, but at the same time into a better one in which, to be sure, people are not provided with what they need any more than they are in the everyday world, but in which things are liberated from the drudgery of usefulness. (qtd. in Arendt 42)

Here, the collection stimulates a view of both the past and the future, but a future marked as utopian; and utopian constructions proliferate in modernity. But the moment they approach a state of materiality they are immediately found to be deficient. The perpetual search is not so much a search for origins, except in that the elusive origin is also an equally elusive destination. It is within this context that we might place the discourse of criticism offered by collection and/or re-creation, inasmuch as it pertains to modernity.

Benjamin's collection exists in an essentially private state, and is partly impelled by the will for possession. But possession does not imply the empowerment of the collector over the objects of collection, or of a transcendental relationship with them. Once assembled as a collection, the collector takes up refuge within the world of objects that she or he has assembled:

ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him [the collector]; it is he who lives in them. So I have erected one of his dwellings, with the books as the building stones, before you, and now he is going to disappear inside, as is only fitting. (67)

It seems that modernity can neither confirm nor deny the synthetic value of the text. Or alternatively, it does both. The text hovers uncertainly at the interface of analysis and synthesis, offering up the former in anticipation of the latter. And the subject resides at this same interface, in a cyclic motion adopting the transcendental position of the author of the text, and receding into the text which she or he has assembled.


Perhaps we should leave the last word on modernity's difficult Subject to Henry Baden Pritchard, who has informed our discussion throughout. Amongst the studios visited by Pritchard was that belonging to Robert Slingsby of Lincoln, the auteur of a photograph of particular fame:

We speak of "Alone", a picture that has drawn more criticism, laudatory and hostile, than any yet produced for the camera. When we visited Mr Slingsby, at Lincoln, he was still busy printing "Alone," and he will apparently be condemned to go on with the work as long as the negatives last. The composition is well known; a placid sea washes the foot of some white sand-hills, and, in the foreground, alone, is a dainty little lady in summer costume. One hardly knows which to admire most, the rare charms of the maiden, the bright seashore that stretches along the picture, or the smooth hillocks of sand, so fine and silvery that you long to pass it through your fingers. (142)

If art had trouble appropriating the stuff of popular representation, it seems that the popular was more successful with the stuff of art. And Slingsby agrees with Emerson's sentiments on the location of art. 'It matters little ... whether the original scene be in Africa or Peru, so long as it serves its purpose', said Emerson. 'It mattered little whether it [Alone] was produced in Lincoln or Timbuctoo', said Slingsby. In fact if Alone was produced anywhere it was in Slingsby's studio. There in the studio, after 'two cart-loads of stones' had been arranged along the foreground sand hills, and the various plates exposed at various locations, five separate negatives were framed up for combination printing. And like Slingsby, Pritchard knew full well that this photographic imagery was nowhere to be found in the "real" world. Yet for Pritchard, who gleefully revealed the secrets of Alone's production to his readers, its 'smooth hillocks of sand [are], so fine and silvery that you long to pass it through your fingers'. But was the tactility that radiated here inspired by an association with the real, or by mystique of the photograph? No doubt both, for if Pritchard's construction is to make sense, the singular 'it' that one longs to pass through one's fingers must accommodate both the real and the representation, both the smooth hillocks of sand in their plurality, and their singular representation. 'It' can be none other than the fine glossy silver-print - the Thing itself.

So by way of a postscript, perhaps we might join Slingsby and Pritchard in their reflections on the appeal of Alone. In that most modern of modernity's impulses, Slingsby has boldly introduced a figure into the photographic landscape. It is the quintessential Other of psychologistic paradigms of identification - the 'dainty little lady in summer costume'. In an ambiguous space, surrounded by the shifting sands of nature, she is lonely but never Alone. For Slingsby's title is at once accurate and mistaken. Destined to be printed until the negatives disintegrated under the weight of popular demand, Alone also had the capacity to appeal to the members of its considerable audience in a personal address. It was a representation of a way of representing, simultaneously, one's self and one's world, which photography made accessible to each and every modern subject.


1. Rosalind Krauss' discussion of the catalogue system in relation to the housing of stereoscopic slides and as an organising principle for Atget's photographs is pertinent here. See her "Photography's Discursive Spaces".

2. John Thomson has the production rate considerably higher than Pritchard. According to Thomson mechanical presses used for Lichtdruck printing were capable of producing about 3,0000 prints per day. See John Thomson in Gaston Tissandier, A History and Handbook, p.339.

3. See Batchen's "Enslaved Sovereign, Observed Spectator", in this issue.

Works Cited

Benjamin, Walter. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction". Illuminations. Introd. Hannah Arendt (ed). Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books, 1976. 217-251.

----------. "Unpacking my Library: A Talk About Book Collecting". Illuminations. 59-68.

Cook, David. Picture Postcards in Australia, 1898-1920. Lilydale: Pioneer Design Studios, 1985.

Crary, Jonathan. Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge: MIT, 1990.

Emerson, Peter Henry. Naturalistic Photography for Students of the Art. 1st Edition. 1889; rpt. New York: Arno Press, 1973.

----------. Naturalistic Photography for Students of the Art. 3rd Edition. 1899; rpt. New York: Arno Press, 1973.

Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage Books, 1973.

----------. "Foucault Responds to Sartre". Foucault Live (Interviews, 1966-84). Trans. John Johnston. Ed. Sylvere Lotringer. New York: Semiotext(e), 1989. 35-43.

Frampton, Hollis. "Impromptus on Edward Western: Everything in its Place". Circles of Confusion: Film . Photography . Video, Texts 1968-1980. Rochester, New York: Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1983. 137-160.

Holden, Robert. Photography in Colonial Australia: The Mechanical Eye and the Illustrated Book. Potts Point: Hordern House 1988.

Hunt, Robert. A Manual of Photography. 1853; rpt. New York: Arno Press, 1973.

Kelsey Hammond, Anne. "Aesthetic Aspects of the Photomechanical Print". British Photography in the Nineteenth Century: The Fine Art Tradition. Ed. Mike Weaver. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989. 163-179.

Krauss, Rosalind E. "Photography's Discursive Spaces". The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths. Cambridge: MIT, 1987. 131-150.

Potoniee, Georges. The History of the Discovery of Photography. Trans. Edward Epstean. 1925; rpt. New York: Arno Press, 1973.

Pritchard, Henry Baden. The Photographic Studios of Europe. 1882; rpt. New York: Arno Press, 1973.

Robinson, Henry Peach and Abney, Sir William de Wiveleslie. The Art and Practice of Silver Printing. 1881; rpt. New York: Arno Press, 1973.

Robinson, Henry Peach. The Elements of a Pictorial Photograph. 1896; rpt. New York: Arno Press, 1973.

Sekula, Allan. "On the Invention of Photographic Meaning". Thinking Photography. Ed. Victor Burgin. London: Macmillan, 1982. 84-109.

Tissandier, Gaston. A History and Handbook of Photography. Introd. John Thomson (ed). 1878; rpt. New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Western, Edward. "Daybooks 1923-1930, an excerpt". Photography in Print: Writings from 1816 to the Present. Ed. Vicki Goldberg. New York: Touchstone, 1981. 303-314.

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