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Wharton – Value Paper | History of Design

Process and Value of Photography




The process and value of photography like anything else, is in the eyes of the beholder. What we have to determine is the affect it has had on our society and what we have done with it profound rippling that it has created in our lives. Photography early on was not considered art, but was more similar to a painting, due to its image was one of a kind. The daguerreotype produced only one negative image and was irreplaceable. This quickly changed however, as other forms of producing a negative/positive image was invented. The value of photography as a commodity has always been up for debate, due to the qualities of reproduction of multiple images. When an object is not one of a kind, societies frown upon this and value objects less. Despite the value that we put on a photograph we cannot overlook the impact that it has had on society–forever changing life as we see it.

In the historical text, “ Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin digs deep in to the value of art and deeply indulges into how he interpreted photography as an art from. While photography was a new invention capturing the old as well as the new, Benjamin beautifully explained what the advent of photography did for society. Benjamin stated, “Mechanical reproduction destroys the uniqueness and authenticity, the “aura” as he labeled it, of the work of art. The withering of aura in the age of mechanical reproduction is inevitable. And, in many respects, it is a good thing. If the mystique of the “original” is broken down, if the work of art is torn from the “fabric of tradition” (p. 211) of which it was a part, then it loses its false importance. This couldn’t have been explained anymore clearly and tied in perfectly with what I stated earlier about the value being in the eyes of the beholder. The false importance or value of the photograph should be looked at for it aesthetic value, not the fact that it can be reproduced multiple times and become monetarily less in value. The educational value alone of a photograph should hold “value” in different light other than monetarily.

The subject matter in the photograph Avenue des Gobelins, exemplified the urban living of Paris, France. As we looking through the pane glass window of the storefront, it brings us back to the era that Benjamin lived in and tried to define. This particular photograph although in France and not Germany still relates to what Benjamin explains about photography. The photograph feels timeless and invites us to go back and experience how individuals shopped in the early 1900’s. It is undeniable that we can relate to this subject matter because even in the 21st century, this is how some of us shop today. The value of this particular photograph taken by Eugene Atget to some is immeasurable. The composition of the overall picture has lines that cross diagonally as well as circular. Our eyes move from the top left of the picture with the tallest mannequin and down horizontally to the smallest mannequin. The frame of the window also brings our eyes back up towards the top of the picture once again. We also travel in a circular motion, visually looking at the reflection of the urban landscape on the glass and then following the frame of hats and other merchandise.

Eugene Atget understood the mechanics of how to make a photograph esthetically pleasing—this created value in his works. He allowed us to see where he was taking the photograph by cleverly incorporating the background. Where in most pictures the background would have to be described to us in a reading excerpt about the photograph, instead of actually getting to view it in the photograph. Atget stood on the sidewalk in a diagonal stance to capture not only the objects inside the glass, but the reflection of the background as well. If he did not angle himself correctly he could have lost either the image inside the storefront by the complete glare of the background or visa versa.

Atget showed his love for the environment around him—the love of France and its architecture by documenting it through his photography. Without Modern photographic technology, Atget would have not done so in the manner that he did. Atget felt he was embracing the authentic culture of France that modern technology was destroying, contradictory to the apparatus he was using to capturing the photograph. The embracement of old France showed how some like Atget, did not want to let go of the past for fear that all will be lost of all its splendor. The documentation photography was where he could at least remember things the way they were at one time.

Benjamin, like Atget appreciated the qualities of photography. In the article it stated that, “Benjamin’s sensibility was akin to that of a photographer. His eye focused on the moment, on the wonder of appearance as it is now and shall never be again, on the uniqueness of the historical present.” Despite Benjamin’s negative views on society, he was aware of the destructive ripples new technology presented. Photography had a profound impact on society and will forever change the world around him. The memory that the photograph captured was the value and the commodity. 



Rosenblum, Naomi. A World History of Photography: Fourth Edition. Abbeville Press Publishers. New York (2007)