U3AC Summer School 2018: A (Partial) History of Photography in 50 pictures

I ran my one hour session on the history of photography for the U3AC Summer School today.  As the title above says, it was partial in being only part of the story and my personal take on the subject.  It seemed to be fairly well-received.  Some feedback gave things to think about for future sessions.

  1. Someone thought the pictures I included were not always interesting or attractive – not something she would hang on her wall.  I had explained that I was not showing the pictures that were necessarily the first or best is a subject area, rather the aim was to establish a broad narrative.  She did have a point, however, and the pictures must engage a non-specialist audience.
  2. Why had I not included fashion and erotic photography, the latter from the Victorian period especially?  Was it because they are not important in the development of the medium, or out of respect for the sensitivities of the audience to the darker byways of photography?   Well, it certainly wasn’t the latter and both could have been included, as indeed might have sports photography and so on.  It was really a matter of the time available.
  3. How much should the work have to be explained?  If it is so esoteric it needs an explanation isn’t it failing as a work of art?  This is an issue for all the arts and I’ve always taken the view that most people (self-included) will benefit from having some introduction to the work.  My presentation would have been a deal shorter if I had not tried to explain what conceptual photography and so on is about and the audience would have gone away a deal more confused.
  4. Why is the staged work of Gregory Crewdson highly regarded while the comparable approach adopted by members of tie Photo Secession and the Brotherhood of the Linked Ring is largely derided?  Discuss, as they say.
  5. And a bit of self-criticism.  I sought to avoid doing a technical history of photography, but probably ought to have included a bit more on why the pursuit of faster film and lenses and more compact cameras was important in allowing photographers to realise their creative visions.

Photos:  1.  Untitled (Ophelia), Gregory Crewdson, 2001  2.  Fading Away, Henry Peach Robinson, 1858

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