Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Geoffrey Batchen

Committee Members

Katherine Manthorne

Alison Griffiths

Claire Bishop

Subject Categories

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.


Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.