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Early Photography

Until the advent of Kodak cameras in the 1880s, photography was only for professionals and the rich. This was changing by the turn of the century. Kodak cameras used flexible roll film that did not require the constant changing of solid plates, as was the case with earlier cameras. The firm invented a self-contained box camera that held 100 exposures of film (larger than more modern 35-mm film) and was fitted with a small single lens with no focusing adjustment. It seems likely that Draycot used such a camera during the war. None of Draycot’s cameras has survived but there are mentions in his diaries of sending his camera back to the factory for the film to be developed (he did this when he returned to England on leave; occasionally he sent his camera home with a trusted friend).

The Draycot collection contains no colour photographs. The first practical colour photographic plates, invented in France, were not introduced until 1907, and it was primarily the French army who used them. Autochrome film was expensive, slow and rare at the time of World War One. Meanwhile, only posed portraits could be taken with the early cameras. The limitations of technology thus account for Draycot’s photographs being portraits; they do not, however, explain why he is invariably in the foreground. Reality in the photographs is ‘staged’ either by the photographer at his own discretion or under the instructions of Draycot himself. The consistency of Draycot’s foreground placement suggests that he was normally the director of his photographs.
Photographic Truth
As a visible testimony to something that exists or existed, the photograph has traditionally been associated with truth.ix It is ‘a certificate of presence’x or, as Rosalind Krauss suggests, an index of reality. Krauss describes a photograph as:
an imprint or transfer off the real; it is a photochemically processed trace causally connected to that thing in the world to which it refers in a manner parallel to that of fingerprints or footprints or the rings of water that cold glasses leave on tables ... On the family tree of images it is closer to palm prints, death masks, the Shroud of Turin, or the tracks of gulls on beaches... Technically and semiologically speaking, drawings and paintings are icons, while photographs are indexes.xi
Photographic truth has been a disputed issue for more than a century: the Impressionists, for example, claimed that their paintings captured the truth of light better than photographs could. For Westerners, transparency was long regarded as unproblematic. As Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin demonstrate, this is only because we have learned to overlook, or ‘look through’ the conventions which represent a static, monocular view. While experimentation with the representation of reality in photographic images was initially rare and limited by technical knowledge, combination printing was well known (having existed since the early nineteenth century). Two young girls, for example, had taken pictures with cardboard cut-outs, convincing some Englishmen that fairies exist.xii With the advent of digital photography, the opportunities for modifying reality have become almost endless.

As discussed earlier (in the section on the autobiographical ‘I’ in websites), the Web enables photography and digital technologies to remediate each other. The immediacy of the photograph is no longer taken for granted, as current ideas on hypermediacy have increased viewers’ awareness of the process of representation and how it influences our perception of images. Not only does photography represent a different form of seeing, as it ‘peel[s] away the dry wrappers of habitual seeing ...: both intense and cool, solicitous and detached; charmed by the insignificant detail, addicted to incongruity’;xiii it also becomes possible in its remediated form on the Web to explore new ways of studying both the narration process and the different facets of the narrated ‘I’. While Draycot’s diary entries suggest immediacy and transparency by revealing ‘what was’, the photographs reflect what ‘could have been’; they are expressions of a desire which was just as real to their director as the physical reality perceived by others. By enlarging the images on the Web to reveal body posture and facial expression, it is possible to see just how strong this desire was.

ix Roland Barthes, for example, argues that ‘[m]ore than other arts, photography offers an immediate presence to the world’ (Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), 84). He claims that ‘[t]he photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here’ (ibid., 80). For Barthes, a photograph is always an expression (not a representation) of loss or of death because it is an emanation of a past that cannot be retrieved (this aspect of photography is discussed by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin in Remediation: Understanding New Media (Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 1999), 110–112). See also Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright, Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 16–22. Sturken and Cartwright challenge the concept of photographic truth, claiming that it is a myth.
x Paul John Eakin, ‘Touching the World’, cited in Timothy Dow Adams, Light Writing and Life Writing: Photography in Autobiography (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), xiv.
xi Rosalind Krauss, ‘The Photographic Conditions of Surrealism’, cited in Adams, Light Writing and Life Writing, xv.
xii See The Cottingley Fairies for a history of the photograph and its reception. Accessed on 20 February 2015.
xiii Susan Sontag, On Photography (New York: Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1989), 99.

Next: Diary and Photographs Compared
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