In Lentil Soup, Allen Douglas Coleman argues that the establishment and vertiginous development of photography should not be seen as a turning point, but as a culminating moment in a process of lens-based experiential paradigm that was set up as far bas as the sixteenth century. In Coleman’s thinking, this regime gave the lens not only priority in the way the European world visually related with the world, but an overall privilege position as a metaphor organizing a number of broader cultural trends, -such as the rise and establishment of empiricism as a dominant form of creating knowledge, and the development and increasingly dominant role that sciences started to play in these societies.
Is Coleman’s suggestion still valid nowadays? This question may be surprising given the ubiquitiousness with which photographical production has entered the everyday live of middle-class urban life in the United States and many other parts of the world. This massification, however, may be exactly the symptom to ask if the photographic lens has lost its aura as an organizing trope of a cultural zeitgeist. In a time of big data and vertiginous change, where constant visualization is important and explanation –more often than not articulated into constellations of hypothesis concatenated with one another amongst a relationship of precedence, the “still life” that photography presents may have become overpowered by the modern life’s cinematism, where capturing time presents itself as specially critical.
Has photography become a “legacy” way of capturing reality? In what ways does this affect its production? In what ways does it liberate it?
In an entirely different question, I couldn’t help but perceive a uncomfortable Euro –or should I say U.S.- centrism in Coleman’s argument. For example. Coleman argues that [bouregois] forms of visual culture were unproblematically diffused into “the European colonies of North America”, and not in the Spanish and Portuguese possessions located in the “South” (I suppose that Coleman here is taking the Rio Grande as a metaphor for the Equator). This argument is quite strange, for all the specific advances related to the lens actually happen in Italy, a romance country that had until the seventeenth century vast regions colonized –the way Mexico and Peru were, by the Spanish Crown!
It seems that rather than organizing and empirically verifiable proposition, Coleman’s operation here is related to secure for the U.S. –and the U.S. alone, the pedigree of sharing a lineage with a European visual culture, which Coleman repeatedly comments as the most “sophisticated” in human societies. Why should this be the case, I don’t know. If at all, one should ask if this would be the case, or in what ways does photography has become enriched when it has transited and interacted in societies whose “ways of seeing” would have probably been qualified by Coleman as background, if not plainly inferior.