In the absence of photographic reproduction techniques, if drawings are to be issued in significant numbers they will need to be hand engraved onto a metal plate or wooden block. Two key consequences result from this laborious
technique: both would significantly limit the number of images in circulation.
Firstly, hand-drawn images are expensive to produce, because they require skill and time. When picture production involves the expenditure of effort, time, and money, images are likely to be restricted to the illustration of significant things. Photography, in contrast, excels at depicting everyday life and casual appearances.
Consequently, throughout its history, the hand-made image has been, invariably, reserved for prestigious projects: images of the powerful and the famous, world historical events, subjects deemed elevating or worthy of attention by official culture. Imagine, for instance, the magazines currently on display in any newsagent deprived of their photographs. Many of these publications depend for their appeal on their pictures, and a good percentage would, undoubtedly, cease to exist without them.
Would gardening, DIY, or fashion magazines, or those weird lads’ mags, have half the appeal without their images? Would anyone go to the time and expense of reproducing this stuff in the absence of cameras? The people in Mudd’s future would find very few illustrated books, magazines, and newspapers available to them; even for those who could afford them, images of their family and friends would be limited to a few forgetting photography
Secondly, whereas photography is more-or-less instantaneous, even the most rapid sketch requires time to execute. Moving subjects can only be reproduced as an artist’s impression. (It took photography to establish the way a running horse plants its feet.)
In a number of pioneering texts written during the 1920s and 1930s, the German critic Walter Benjamin argued that photography should be thought of as a technology of the ‘optical unconscious’.
Benjamin’s analogy was with psychoanalysis, which allegedly brought the murky realms of the unconscious into view: he believed photography did something similar for the aspects of our world that eluded standard vision. He had in mind the ability of the camera to extend human observation beyond its normal parameters.
All manner of instruments are regularly employed to enhance vision: eye-glasses, magnifying glasses, simple microscopes, and telescopes to name just a few. Some of these instruments are straightforward to use and we are readily familiar with their results. These optical devices are, though, designed to be used individually and
communicating their findings can be difficult.
What an observer sees in a simple microscope or telescope can be recorded in a drawing, but doing so requires a great deal of skill and patience: the objects of study often move or metamorphose, and the focus of attention has to be repeatedly shifted from the eyepiece to the paper. (There are plenty of examples in which what the observer
recorded did not exist.)
- MAMTA MANTRI