Saturday, 16 January 2010

Ruskin and photography

Some years back, I found this image by Ruskin of the 'Mer de glace, Chamonix'. It's one of the earliest photographs ever taken in the Alps. Ruskin made many historic early daguerreotype photographs in the 1840's and 1850's. However, in his Lectures on Art (1870) Ruskin expressed warnings for the use of photography and argued that it had a negative impact on art:

Let me assure you, once and for all, that photographs supersede no single quality nor use of fine art, and have so much in common with nature, that they even share her temper of parsimony, and will themselves give you nothing valuable that you do not work for. They
supersede no good art, for the definition of art is ‘Human labour regulated by human design’.

His original enthusiasm for photography arose out of it's mechanical aspect, however, and the media’s ability to deliver images with minimal involvement of human labour seems to be the very quality that impressed Ruskin deeply in his first contacts with daguerreotypes.

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