Week 10 Reflections

One interesting aspect of this week’s chapter is the role of technology, especially when looked at in a wider context. Earlier in the semester, we read about how the telegraph, alongside barbed wire, railroads, and machine guns, ultimately found itself used as a tool of political repression. Although this is not the entire picture, we can see the way in which repression evolved through the use of these technologies. Considering this, it’s interesting to look at the role of the radio, and photograph in shaping a political landscape. The proliferation of the printing press during the Renaissance era of Europe had a sort of forced democratizing effect on the status quo. This was because it led to an increase in literacy, effectively starting to break a monopoly held by the privileged classes for centuries. Obviously this did not end state repression, political or otherwise, but it had the effect of agitating the powers-that-be and limiting their absolute domination over society.

Although the radio proved an excellent tool for political leaders, I’d like to look at the importance of the photograph instead. Dawson gives an example about how a photograph of a worker being brutalized has an effect far stronger than any that could be derived from word of mouth. The proflieration of photographic techniques blew up in the late 19th century, allowing for an entirely new way of seeing the world, previously limited to literature, and storytelling. In reading Dawson, I got the impression that the experince of seeing onself elevated to the photographic form, in this case a worker seeing another worker from a different part of the world, would create an awesome sense of solidarity unlike anything else. I’m reminded of Gustav Courbet’s The Stone Breakers, a painting from 1849-50 which depicted to peasants performing the backbreaking labor of breaking rocks, presumably in order to create a road. This painting was met with huge amounts of controversy when it was displayed at the Paris Salon, as images of its size were meant to depict landscapes, or religious scenes, certainly not a dreary depiction of hard labor. I suppose what I’m getting at is the way in which Courbet, like the later work of the photograph, opted to depict a very real scene, one that was probably upsetting to the upper-class of Paris as it depicted the labor on which their lives were built. Whereas The Stone Breakers was found in an exclusive Paris museum, the photograph was much more flexible, and had the ability to reach into the most forgotten corners of society.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *