The Unfettered Image
We live in a time in which photographs have become extraordinarily mobile. They can be exchanged and circulated at the swipe of a finger across a screen. The digital photographic image appears and disappears with a mere gesture of the hand.
Yet, this book argues that this mobility of the image was merely accelerated by digital media and telecommunications. Photographs, from the moment of their invention, set images loose by making them portable, reproducible, projectable, reduced in size and multiplied. The fact that we do not associate analogue photography with such mobility has much to do with the limitations of existing histories and theories of photography, which have tended to view photographic mobility as either an incidental characteristic or a fault.
Photography : The Unfettered Image traces the emergence of these ways of understanding photography, but also presents a differently nuanced and materialist history in which photography is understood as part of a larger development of media technologies. It is situated in much broader cultural contexts: caught up in the European colonial ambition to "grasp the world" and in the development of a new, artificial "second nature" dependent on the large-scale processing of animal and mineral materials. Focussing primarily on Victorian and 1920s–30s practices and theories, it demonstrates how photography was never simply a technology for fixing a fleeting reality.
Table of Contents
List of illustrations; Preface and acknowledgements; 1 The itinerant image; 2 Unfixing the image; 3 Reproduction and transparency; 4 The book of the world; 5 Second nature; 6 The universal equivalent; 7 Streams and flows; 8 We are here, but where are you?; Notes; Bibliography; Index.
Michelle Henning is Professor of Photography and Cultural History in the London School of Film, Media and Design at the University of West London, UK. Her previous publications include Museums, Media and Cultural Theory (2006) and Museum Media (2015). She is also a visual artist, working with PJ Harvey on Let England Shake (2010) and The Hope Six Demolition Project (2016).
"Moving from X-rays to the labour of reproduction, and from Walter Benjamin’s writings to photography’s dependency on the chemical industry, The Unfettered Image examines the neglected history of photography as a tool for making images move freely and easily, which, indeed, is at the heart of today’s visual culture. Henning’s book is an important contribution to recent efforts in opening up photography history to new questions beyond the pictorial, the singular and the material object."
Estelle Blaschke, Université de Lausanne, France
" ...Michelle Henning's Photography. The Unfettered Image is a successful attempt to give nuance to the assumption that the era of the digital image would have profoundly transformed what the character of photographs: in reality, the history of the mobility of photographs began much earlier and in many guises."
"an insightful and deeply-researched resource, notable for its astute synthesis of existing photography literatures as well as for the breadth and richness of its historical material… This book has much to offer for students and scholars of photography, whether they come to it with an interest in the history of photography as a communications medium, in the current state of photography theory, or even simply in one of the special topics that she addresses in her many case studies. "
Frances Cullen, Visual Studies Journal review