Torrens Power Station

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This Torrens Power Station image is from the incompleted Port Adelaide  project.  It was made prior to the  photography being eclipsed by digital media. This sees photography  as the obsolete, 19th- century technology that practitioners, occasionally frustrated by its limitations, have long suspected it to be.

 The picture  was produced at a time when  conventional  art histories  continued to represent the modern era as a perpetual artistic battle between reactionary naturalists and a progressive, anti-realist avant-garde. The linear history is one from  mimetic illusion to experimental modes of realism and  then abstraction.
Torrens Power Station
Torrens Power Station

Peter Galassi’s argument in Before Photography rejects the conventional  narrative that characterizes photography’s invention as a predominantly technical or scientific achievement.Photography has largely sought to define itself as distinct and separate from the traditions of painted pictures. The reasons for this are many but the view of photography as a purely technical invention has been central to this emphasis on discontinuity and difference.

Galassi argued  in favour of  viewing photography as a legitimate product and continuation of  the European pictorial tradition. He  traces the pedigree of photography back to early Renaissance Italy and the discovery of linear perspective. The Renaissance system of perspective harnessed vision as a rational basis of picture-making–the derivation of a frankly flat picture from a given three-dimensional world.

So  photographic vision, the informality and directness of approach that we admire in photography, had been already prepared in painting from the late eighteenth century on, particularly in painted studies or sketches of landscape. In Galassi’s view, the freedom and directness of photography, in order to be communicated, depended on certain modes of presentation, certain methods of cropping and points of view, that were already developed earlier in a particular kind of painting and taken over by photography.

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