Tainted with Vulgarity

All discourse about photography takes on the artificial air of an exercise in rhetoric, because feelings or tastes are being engaged without being applied to their proper objects. Since it has not been properly socially consecrated, photography can only be granted value at the whim of each viewer, who, because he likes it and not because it is imposed by cultural propriety, may decide to promote it, as if in a game and in the space of a moment, to the status of an art object.

Thus, dedication to photography can only be maintained insofar as consecrated activities, like going to concerts or the theatre, museums or art cinemas, do not compete with it or devalue it. It follows that senior executives in Paris, who, as we know, play a greater part in cultural activities, practice photography much less often than senior executives in Lille. Similarly, while a higher proportion of the children of senior executives take photographs during childhood, the proportion who then go on to engage in an intense and fervent practice is smaller than it is among the children of clerical workers and junior executives.

Thus, out of a population of literature students, the proportion of photographers is always greater among the children of clerical workers and junior executives than senior executives, the reverse of what we observe with regard to the most consecrated cultural behavior (apart from membership in film societies). Similar competitive phenomena may be noted in other areas: if the proportion of television owners is barely higher among senior executives (35.8 percent), despite the differences in income, than among junior executives (31.5 percent), if ownership of a record player and ownership of a television are mutually exclusive, and if senior executives are keen to point out that they use television only selectively, this is doubtless because consecrated practices devalue less prestigious practices, and perhaps also because members of the upper class seek to distance themselves from distractions which are tainted with vulgarity by their very diffusion.

Pierre Bourdieu, Photography: A Middle-brow Art (1965), p. 65-66