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: Burden Of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories (): John Tagg: Books. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. Front Cover. John Tagg. University of Minnesota Press, – Photography – pages. The author traces a history which has implications not only for the theory and practice of conventionally separated areas of amateur, professional, technical.

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Burden Of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories

Return to Book Page. Essays on Photographies and Histories by John Tagg. Photographs are used as documents, records and evidence every day in courtrooms and hospitals, on passports and driving licences. But how did photographs come to be established and accepted, what sort of agencies and institutions have the power to enforce this status and, more generally, what concept of photographic representation is entailed and what are its consequences?

In addressing such issues, John Tagg traces a previously unexamined history which has profound implications not only for the theory and practice of conventionally separated areas of amateur, professional, technical, documentary and art photography, but also for the understanding of the role of photography in processes of modern social regulation.

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To ask other readers questions about Burden Of Representationplease sign up. Be the first to tagf a question about Burden Of Representation. Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. My friend Eric sent me the course on visual sociology that he teaches – well, the texts reprwsentation he uses anyway. Some of them I will eventually get around to reviewing on my blog – but that might take representatioon while. Anyway, two of the readings he uses are from this book and he also suggested I get my hands on the actual book – so, I did.

Eric proving to be one of those providing road signs along the way down the path to my new life. Except this book starts with an introduction and it is so hard. Not just My friend Eric sent me the course on visual sociology that he teaches – well, the texts that he uses anyway. Not just hard, but aggressive so. This is joh introduction designed to stop you reading — and that would be an infinite shame.

Being rather fond of bullshit psychology, here is my explanation for the introduction. Once upon a time this guy was a Marxist. Then he read some Foucault. Now, while this isn’t always a mistake, sometimes it can be exactly that.

The Burden of Representation Essays on Photographies and Histories

The problem with Marxism isn’t so much Marx, as it is the Marxists. Christianity suffers much the same fate. Repredentation Marx did see the main game as being the class struggle and I do understand that women and non-whites might just think, ‘stuff you, I’m not waiting till you guys sort yourselves out before I get my freedom’.

But, as something else I’ve been reading lately says, the difference ot the women’s movement and the Black Power movement and the class struggle is that the class struggle is the only one that wants to resolve things by getting rid of the ‘Other’. Too often ex-Marxists who read Foucault understand that things can’t be reduced to the class struggle, but can’t see thd things can then be ‘post-modern’ either.


How can you ever have a positive outcome if all erpresentation just one power game after another? Marx would have just quoted Hegel – but unfortunately, no one reads Hegel anymore. It’s all a matter of concrete universals. The way class is a subset of all of these other relationships and therefore changing that one ought to change all others too. Not that that ever proved to be the case when tried, unfortunately. So, the introduction is almost unreadable.

He is desperately seeking a way out, but rather than cutting through the maze, he just builds more chambers. I finished this book on the plane on the way to my conference.

I’m in London at the moment, as part of the PhD they send you to one international conference – and this is it. Visual sociology, ragg we come. Once the introduction of this book is over it becomes what the intro isn’t – clear, beautifully written, smart and stunningly good.

The first chapter is about how photographs became representatipn middle class version of oil portraits.

The early portrait photographs even look like portraits that the upper classes would have paid ‘proper artists’ to paint for them. It is amazing how often old art forms inform new ones. He quotes figures of how many repesentation from the early years of photography where portraits – and it turns out that it was often nearly ALL of them. This book starts getting incredibly interesting at Chapter 3. This is where he starts talking about Foucault’s idea of surveillance. You know, as a society we like to think that what defines us is our desire towards increasing freedom.

But really what we seem to increasingly choose is to be more and more watched over. There are security cameras everywhere thf in London – it is actually rhe bit of a joke – even if a not terribly funny one. This chapter is straight Foucault.

It didn’t take long for people to work out that cameras were pretty good at documenting people. Police files obviously wouldn’t be complete without a photograph — ‘recognise this man? But this was also the age of Eugenics in medicine and so photographs could also be used to help define which physical features were related to which antisocial dysfunction. We needed photographs of criminals, the insane, the sick, the poor — all to help us understand why these people were like that.

But more than that – we needed to be able to make sure these people are kept ‘safe’ – either safely away from the rest of us or encouraged forced? Capitalism is the great standardiser. It standardises production and it standardises people to meet the needs of production. Photos came along just at a time when they could help with precisely that need. Providing photos to explain if you were sick, photos to check how you were working, photos to decide what you had learnt and what still needed to be learnt to ensure everybody was behaving properly.

He makes the point that power isn’t just a matter of something that suppresses people in society, but rather, power creates spaces that allow certain types of people to become inevitable. Power isn’t always negative – it serves a very positive role in creating what we can be.

Power creates these roles by deciding what will be worthwhile as knowledge – there is a very close relationship between what is knowledge and what is power; they both inform each other. Both are used to suppress or encourage buurden behaviours and attitudes. But the most interesting part of this book is how the author applies these ideas in practice by looking at what jonn groups of photos do and mean.


He wants to move away from the idea that semiotics can provide all the answers — and by semiotics he means universally applicable rules for decoding meaning. The problem is that photographs don’t just mean all on their own.

John Tagg, The Burden of Representation Essays on Photographies and Histories – PhilPapers

Like children, then can’t be explained in their own terms, but rather they take a village to help us understand them. To understand a single photograph, you need to understand how it stands in relation to the society that produced it — what it was created for and by whom. To understand a photograph you need to understand why it was produced and how those who might read the photograph might have understood it. This isn’t in tthe least bit easy or obvious.

The Burden of Representation – John Tagg – Macmillan International Higher Education

It isn’t obvious because it is almost impossible for us to understand or believe that photos aren’t just stolen slices of time — unproblematically capturing reality. Photographic images are constructed by us – even when we are unaware of the fact we are setting about constructing them.

We take photographs according to our wants and needs and those wants and needs are pre-informed by the society we live in. There is a fantastic part of this book where he talks of the slum clearances in Leeds.

How the taking of photographs and how people were encouraged to read them proved essential to deciding to clear certain slum areas. Look, if all you read of this book is this one chapter the book would still be worth getting your hands on. The other brilliant part was the last chapter from about page through to about Maybe I was just ready to hear this stuff now, as it probably is just a quick summary of what is said in the introduction – but this part was utterly inspired. If you think there is an unproblematic relationship between the reality that is ‘out there’ and photographs we take of the world ‘out there’ then you really need to read this book.

Like so much else in life, the truth is both much more complex and interesting. Nov 27, Trinster00gmail. Feb 01, Gyewon rated it really liked it Shelves: A foucauldian approach to the state-survey photo. Codyramin rated it it was amazing May 18, Avi rated it liked it Dec 30, Zachary rated it really liked it Dec 25, Peter rated it it was amazing Jan 14, Dominika Solowiej rated it really liked it Feb 11, Stephan rated it really liked it Jul 15, Alan RH rated it it was ok Sep 15, Nathan Wilson rated it it was amazing Jul 22, Thornee rated it it was ok Mar 11, Erica Hasselbach rated it it was amazing Mar 21, Devon Johnson rated it liked it Apr 24,