Reframing Photography
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Reframing Photography

Theory and Practice

Rebekah Modrak, Bill Anthes

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eBook - ePub

Reframing Photography

Theory and Practice

Rebekah Modrak, Bill Anthes

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Table of contents

About This Book

To fully understand photography, it is essential to study both the theoretical and the technical.

In an accessible yet complex way, Rebekah Modrak and Bill Anthes explore photographic theory, history and technique to bring photographic education up-to-date with contemporary photographic practice. Reframing Photography is a broad and inclusive rethinking of photography that will inspire students to think about the medium across time periods, across traditional themes, and through varied materials. Intended for both beginners and advanced students, and for art and non-art majors, and practicing artists, Reframing Photography compellingly represents four concerns common to all photographic practice:

  • vision
  • light/shadow
  • reproductive processes
  • editing/ presentation/ evaluation.

Each part includes an extensive and thoughtful essay, providing a broad cultural context for each topic, alongside discussion of photographic examples. Essays introduce the work of artists who use a diverse range of subject matter and a variety of processes (straight photography, social documentary, digital, mixed media, conceptual work, etc.), examine artists' conceptual and technical choices, describe cultural implications and artistic influences, and analyze how these concerns interrelate. Following each essay, each part continues with a "how-to" section that describes a fascinating range of related photographic equipment, materials and methods through concise explanations and clear diagrams.

Key Features:

  • case studies featuring profiles of contemporary and historical artists
  • glossary definitions of critical and technical vocabulary to aid learning
  • 'how to' sections provide students with illustrated, step by step guides to different photographic methods, alongside related theory
  • fully up-to-date, with both high and low tech suggestions for activities
  • online resources at: will update information on equipment and provide further activities, information and links to related sites
  • lavishly illustrated, with over750 images, including artists' work and examples of photographic processes.

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Part 1


Most sighted artists who perceive and record the visual world rely upon their eyes every day, yet cannot describe and do not consider the operation of these most fundamental visual tools and their many ways of looking, from smooth scanning to rapid jumps. When we overlook the opportunities of the eyes as tools of visual creation, we also tend to underutilize other optical devices. For example, we start to think a camera can only record one way, such as sharply focused images. But what if a camera was used to make rapid jumps or to record the transitions between glances? Being aware of these processes is the difference between consciously viewing and passively consuming. Part 1: Vision takes an expansive look at diverse optical devices, from the operation of the eye and brain, to other tools, such as linear perspective, camera obscuras, optical toys, and the functions of analog and digital cameras. Part 1 contains two chapters, the essay “Seeing, Perceiving, and Mediating Vision” followed by the how-to chapter, “Vision: Tools, Materials, and Processes,” and draws upon the work of historical and contemporary artists to examine these various ideas and processes.
Open your eyes and look around. “Seeing, Perceiving, and Mediating Vision” offers a comprehensive understanding of the interlocking physical and cerebral actions this seemingly simple act entails. The essay takes an expansive view of vision, beginning with primary sensory portal, the eye, and dissecting its form and function, and continuing with an exploration of how physical vision is affected by cultural perception. We will explore how this neural phenomenon has parallels in visual culture, and how shifts in pictorial convention—from emphasis on sharp focus, through linear perspective, challenges to rules of proportion, assumptions of the role of symmetry—are connected to cultural and physical preferences. We analyze visual decisions in respect of the cause and effect relationships they have in forming the world around us—from landscapes that guide and shape vision to artists who reveal and document these physical manipulations.
Following these two primary stages, seeing and perception, we come to the prosthetics that frame and capture these actions. The essay follows these manipulations of vision through the creation and use of tools to manipulate vision—including eyeglasses, camera obscuras, optical devices such as zoetropes and stereoscopes, and digital technologies. Mechanical eyes produce images at continuously faster speeds. Although contemporary viewers absorb masses of images in streams of information via television and the Internet, this myriad of vantage points and viewpoints is not a new visual phenomenon. This essay looks at how, historically, visual devices have often extended the bounds of our innate human capacity, providing ever lighter and more portable mechanical eyes. Each revolution in technology has been accompanied by a revelation in vision. For example, the ability to scale new heights at the Eiffel Tower enabled humans to take a new perspective. Armed with the information that follows, the acts of vision and the process of perceiving, capturing, and editing can be informed and dynamic.
The how-to chapter, “Vision: Tools, Materials, and Processes,” promotes practical ways of putting vision into effect, through altering human vision, using viewfinders and other frames to direct perception, and by understanding how diverse photographic equipment differs in its capture of visual information. This processes chapter aims to provide a guide for various methods of recording images, from the panoramic eye of a pinhole camera, to the sharpness of an SLR lens, the directness of the digital scanner or photocopier, to the mobility of a cellphone camera image. For additional description of this section, refer to the introduction of “Vision: Tools, Materials, and Processes.”

Theory 1
Theory: Seeing, Perceiving, and Mediating Vision

Rebekah Modrak


Through much of modern history, the act of seeing was considered to be purely mechanical and the eye was understood as a passive vehicle of image production. Experiments by Enlightenment philosopher RenĂ© Descartes (1596–1650) further demonstrated that even an eye detached from the rest of the body will form images. Descartes removed an eye from a human corpse. When holding an object in front of the eyeball, an inverted and reversed image of the object appeared on a sheet of paper held behind the eye. This discovery—that an eye unattached to the human body and brain can project an image—reinforced the notion that seeing is a purely physical act. In the late 1830s, William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877), inventor of the calotype, the first paper negative process, defined photography as the pencil of nature, because he understood the camera to be that disembodied eye, mechanically reproducing whatever fell before its lens.
Seeing photographically is still often considered in these passive terms. Some photographers wait for an event to occur, for the “right” moment to photograph. In the 1970s, Susan Sontag, author of the influential book On Photography, described the act of photographing as “essentially an act of non-intervention.”1 She stated:
An early photographic process, made public by William Henry Fox Talbot in 1841. The process was the first negative–positive one in which endless reproductions could be made from an original negative.
An image in which the tones are the opposite of those of the subject. In traditional photography, the image is on film. Light passes through the negative onto photographic printing paper to produce a positive print.
The Pencil of Nature
The title of William Henry Fox Talbot’s book, published in 1844 and the first to be illustrated with photographic prints tacked in place. Fox Talbot published the book in order to publicize the advantages of the calotype process and to inspire and instruct photographic hobbyists and budding professionals with a range of compositions and subjects. The term “the pencil of nature” references Fox Talbot’s belief in the objective nature of photography, in which the sun produced the images, not the artist.
Part of the horror of such memorable coups of contemporary photojournalism as the pictures of a Vietnamese bonze reaching for the gasol...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Reframing Photography
APA 6 Citation
Modrak, R., & Anthes, B. (2010). Reframing Photography (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2010)
Chicago Citation
Modrak, Rebekah, and Bill Anthes. (2010) 2010. Reframing Photography. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis.
Harvard Citation
Modrak, R. and Anthes, B. (2010) Reframing Photography. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Modrak, Rebekah, and Bill Anthes. Reframing Photography. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2010. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.