Why is it that every time I start to put things together I always find that someone else has been there first? I really need to get going on writing about the twentieth century aspects of my project, but when I so much as glance at the Romantic period my head gets sucked into it in a rush.

Here’s the deal. I must have rewritten that attempt at making sense of the transition from silhouettes to Humphry Davy’s experiments about a dozen times yesterday. And it still isn’t right. I found out from another source that what really prompted the project was a commission for the transfer of about 1,000 landscape drawings of Russia (done by camera obscura) onto dinnerware for Catherine the Great. The cool thing about that piece of trivia is that Catherine the Great also had her silhouette made around the same time. There are just so many incredible connections between the image-making mediums of the eighteenth century and the market environment that it’s hard to figure out how to write it out— how to present it. Just as it’s starting to come together, I stumble on this:

AUTHOR(S): Bann,-Stephen, 1942-
SOURCE: History of Photography v 26 no1 Spring 2002. p. 16-25

ABSTRACT: The writer examines the visual economy in France from about 1815 to about 1860 to show how some of the founding myths of photography sit awkwardly in this context. Defining “visual economy” as the sum of all the means of visual reproduction available at the time, he discusses the places held by engraving and lithography in this economy and the relationship of these printmaking processes to the genesis and development of photography. He considers how Nicephore Niepce’s work on photography can be illuminated by his dealings with printmaker and seller Augustin Lemaitre. He examines the complex conjuncture of art politics that attended the development of photography after the divulging of the photographic process in 1839. He concludes that the high standard achieved by French photography by the end of this period should be measured in terms of the aesthetic attention and laborious craftsmanship traditionally directed to fine reproductive prints.

The most amazing thing is that our little library has this obscure journal ($162 per year, quarterly). That article promises to save me a lot of time, but it’s also a bit ego-deflating. Gosh, I’m not the only person who thinks the early histories (or founding myths) of photography are wrong. The really shocking thing is the date of the article— it’s virtually brand new, though a little more research turned up a 2001 book from the same art critic with much the same agenda.

I suppose that’s why I always feel so damn stupid. Someone else has always thought of it first. However, I must admit that my scope is broader— I’m not just interested in what was going on image-wise, but textually as well.

2 thoughts on “Why?”

  1. I wouldn’t worry too much about one book, Jeff. It sometimes seems impossible to find anything worth writing about that hasn’t been covered by someone.
    Strangely enough, this is kind of the thing I was referring to when I suggested that I had not desire to write a PHD thesis in a recent blog entry.
    The topics required were often are so obscure that you wonder who could possibly be interested in reading them, much less writing them.

  2. Jeff, I used to be uptight about similar concern, someone else getting there ahead of me or publishing ahead of me, and anxiety over whether he/she might not be so much better at it all anyway. If my livelihood depended on this (it doesn’t), I might still have some anxiety, but eventually, this concern dissipated, so much so that I no longer care whether I get something out there that engenders credit or recognition. (On the other hand, having something out there & getting ripped off — i.e., someone stealing your work by not crediting the source — is another thing, sad & irritating, for a minute anyway.) How did this change of mind come to me? It had something to do with that phrase An Idea Whose Time Has Come. I began to see that this phrase opposes The Great Man Theory, something with which I already disagreed. No man (or woman) exists in a vacuum of genius and just pulls great things out of his own isolated mind. The mind isn’t isolated, the very productive mind probably less so than others, I don’t know. All kinds of things and people precipitate and coalesce and assist in the process of an idea or gesture coming to fruition. The idea doesn’t come to just one special creature. The idea itself may be “special” or “great” … it sounds a bit Platonist, doesn’t it? And I’m generally not drawn to Plato — well, he said some things that probably are in line with my own thinking but he used his ideas as justifications for an elitism that I find repugnant. Anyway, if one is more interested in the manifestation and advancement of ideas than in self-promotion (I’m not using this word in an unkind way either — self-promotion can be driven by survival instincts and practical needs as much as by ego or vanity), one can maybe relax a bit, trusting that there are enough ideas for all. In addition, every single person has his/her own unique take on any one idea. If we live in an intertextual reality, perhaps it’s quite possible to feel and act brilliantly at peace… or peacefully brilliant? Is that too rosy? (Wake Up And Smell the Roses … I have to remind myself.)
    P.S. Depression could be neurochemical. Or it could be a gestation, something new about to birth itself in you. Or both.

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