Modern Time

T09 3

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Within a decade of photography’s unveiling, the passenger train (1830), computer (1833), and trans-Atlantic telegraph (1844) were introduced, followed by the invention of the telephone (1876), automobile (1890s), cinema (1894), radio (1900-1910), airplane (1903), television (1939), internet (1969), the first popular personal computer (1976), and cell phones (1982). This flurry of technological advances has accelerated the pace of life dramatically, forever altering our experiences and conceptions of space and time. As a consequence, time itself has been the subject of insistent theorization, speculation and anxiety. This paper will explore the fluid relationship of photography to time, and its connection to these technological forces which conditioned patterns of perception. Roland Barthes, for example, wrote that the photograph has a peculiar capacity to represent the past in the present, and thus to imply the passing of time in general. As a consequence, Barthes argued, all photographs speak of the inevitability of our own death in the future. Barthes’s analysis poses a challenge to all commentators on photography – what exactly is photography’s relationship to time, and to reality? This paper will address that two-part question by analyzing in detail a sample of understudied vernacular photographic practices. Rather than provide a comprehensive, and necessarily incomplete, study of every possible way in which photography can relate to time, this study will instead focus on illustrating time’s sculptural nature. My study then will examine the motivations for photography’s insistent struggle to reorganize time’s passage, to freeze or slow it, or to give form to time’s fluctuating conditions. I will suggest that this struggle is both symptomatic of modernity, and is a manifestation of the photographic medium’s conditional relationship to reality, a relationship which arguably has been complicated by digitalization. These trends are shaped by the medium’s status as one among many technologies which redefined time-and-space.