The Photographic Image as Found-Object

The 1960’s sees artists such as Rauscheneberg and Warhol react against the Greenbergian philosophy of “form must follow function” where the medium/material used by the artist must dictate the artwork created. They dismiss this notion and begin drawing inspiration from Duchamp and Surrealism. They are not alone in this breaking from “prescribed media for prescribed creations” within art philosophy.

Across the Atlantic in the 60s – artists such as David Hockney are also seen questioning traditional barriers of form and expression. Amongst this change of perspective within the field of art, there is social and political unrest with global impact. With the construction of the Berlin wall, the cold war going transnational with the Cuban Missile crisis and Vietnam, the photograph becomes tool, witness, narrator and for artists, a found-object. With the television invasion and the photographic image slowly replacing the physical signs of reality the 1960s slowly unravels as a decade with two realitiesthe image and the word.

The photographic image in the 60s soon becomes the number one means to transmit information and propaganda creating a position of authority and power for itself. It is in this cultural, historical, political, economic and social context that artists soon find new media they can use, appropriating it in new contexts using mix-media to exemplify their break from Greenberg’s insistence on media-specificity. Thus, we enter the age of the post-modern. Not by thought, planning or conscious thought, but fuelled by the experiences of the artists as consumers of the “photographic-image”. The most significant technological innovation that aided in the photographic-image being placed as found object – carrying tales of war, love, strife and unrest was the television set.

Let us go back to America and the U.K. post World War II. By the late 50s both nations were in a time of economic boom, nurturing a consumer society. In 1957 forty million televisions join families across America in their living rooms, this is a significant leap from the ten thousand televisions a decade earlier. And it is this exponential growth that created a platform for the photographic image to reach every man, woman, and child in 1960s America and Britain.

So how was the photographic-image of the 1960s any different from the time gone before? How did it become a found-object?

It is true that from its birth, the photograph’s perception and interpretation has been greatly influenced by its process of production.Talbot’s photograph was ritualistic and magical, Neice and Degas added an urgency and immediacy to the process, empowering the masses to produce the image.In the hands of the amateur photographer the photograph begins to document the personal as well as the public, be it family albums, court documents, police records of criminals, and/or war. These documentations of human experience in image began a process of understanding our world that was beyond the written and spoken word. However, these images were still involved primarily with recording what had passed. With its stream of images and its unquestioning acceptance of these same images the Television delivered the world to your living room. By placing the image within nature, it soon became a measure of reality. By occupying the natural world the photographic image lent itself to being treated, especially by artists like Rauschenberg in the US, as a ‘found-object’. Hence converting the image into a “true” representation of reality, the photograph was now transformed into an entity that was more than documentation, more than reportage, it became an artefact in of itself. A found-object that is attached to a new world, and a new reality.

photograph-as-found-object

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