Modern Time: Photography and Temporality

By Kris Belden-Adams.

Published by The Technology Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Within a decade of photography’s unveiling, the passenger train (1830), computer (1833), and trans-Atlantic telegraph (1844) were introduced, followed by the invention of the telephone (1876), automobile (1890s), cinema (1894), radio (1900-1910), airplane (1903), television (1939), internet (1969), the first popular personal computer (1976), and cell phones (1982). This flurry of technological advances has accelerated the pace of life dramatically, forever altering our experiences and conceptions of space and time. As a consequence, time itself has been the subject of insistent theorization, speculation and anxiety.

This paper will explore the fluid relationship of photography to time, and its connection to these technological forces which conditioned patterns of perception. 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. Barthes’s analysis poses a challenge to all commentators on photography – what exactly is photography’s relationship to time, and to reality?

This paper will address 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 will instead focus on illustrating time’s sculptural nature.

My study then will examine the motivations for photography’s insistent struggle to reorganize time’s passage, to freeze or slow it, or to give form to time’s fluctuating conditions. I will suggest that this struggle is both symptomatic of modernity, and is a manifestation of the photographic medium’s conditional relationship to reality, a relationship which arguably has been complicated by digitalization. These trends are shaped by the medium’s status as one among many technologies which redefined time-and-space.

Keywords: Human Technologies and Usability, Technology in Community, Knowledge and Technology

The International Journal of Technology, Knowledge and Society, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp.25-42. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.404MB).

Dr. Kris Belden-Adams

Lecturer, Art History, City University of New York – The Graduate Center, New York, USA

Kris Belden-Adams teaches the history and theory of Modern and Postmodern art, and its intersections with technology. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and master’s degrees in art history from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the City University of New York – Graduate Center. She expects to complete her doctoral degree and dissertation on photography’s relationship to time and to technological Modernity by the end of 2009. Kris is engaged in taking an interdisciplinary and theoretical look at the boundaries and definitions of Modernity and Postmodernity.

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