Date of Degree
History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology
This dissertation explores the fluid relationship of photography to time. Many theorists have noted that photography has a distinctive manner of representing temporality. Roland Barthes, for example, wrote that the photograph has a peculiar capacity to represent the past in the present, and thus to imply the passing of time in general. As a consequence, Barthes argued, all photographs speak of the inevitability of our own death in the future. Moreover, he linked photography's peculiar temporality to its capacity for a certain kind of realism: "false on the level of perception, true on the level of time." Barthes's analysis poses a challenge to all commentators on photography - what exactly is photography's relationship to time, and by extension, to reality?
This dissertation addresses that two-part question by analyzing in detail a sample of understudied vernacular photographic practices. Rather than provide a comprehensive, and necessarily incomplete, study of every possible way in which photography can relate to time, this study instead focuses on a number of in-depth analyses of specific photographic practices. These practices represent time in at least three distinct ways: as narrative time, device-altered time, and composite time.
My study examines the motivations for photography's insistent struggle to reorganize time's passage, to freeze or slow it for a moment, or to give form to time's fluctuating conditions. I suggest that this struggle is both symptomatic of modernity as a general phenomenon and a manifestation of the photographic medium's conditional relationship to reality, a relationship which arguably has been complicated by the use of digital technology. This dissertation examines photography's unique capacity to represent the passage of time with a degree of elasticity, simultaneity, and abstraction. The medium's ability to represent many levels of temporal experience and indexical slippage, I argue, illustrates photography's potential to relate to and reflect the complexities of modern consciousness. This dissertation also exemplifies the need for a new kind of history - one that addresses the multiple identities of "the photographic" rather than simply "the photograph." This work is a contribution to that project.
Belden-Adams, Kris, "Modern Time: Photography and Temporality" (2010). CUNY Academic Works.