Jimmy Hare, thief

Mediated and Stolen Imagery

Across the nineteenth century, it was deemed important to mediate imagery. Part of this structure is purely an outgrowth of the way that images were reproduced. An artist or a photographer provided an “original” which had to be engraved either on copper or steel-plate, or more frequently, on wood as a woodcut. In the later part of the nineteenth century, attribution of the mediators was fairly rare. However, particularly in the case of illustrated newspapers, attribution was used to establish the veracity of the image.

This tradition seems to have emerged from aesthetic roots. In nineteenth century France at the time of the invention of photography, there was a thriving collector market for prints. Nicephore Niepce initial experiments in photography in the 1820s were actually targeted at reproducing drawings as engravings. The tradition of captioning engravings with both the artist and the engraver was well established. The usage of explanatory legends was also in place. However, the attribution of engravers across the nineteenth century, particularly in America, was spotty at best. The invention of the halftone in 1880 seemed to permanently relegate the mechanical producer of an image to obscurity. However, in aesthetic circles, the attribution of the engraver as artist remained.

Print collecting was also a big draw in America in the mid-nineteenth century. Inexpensive chromolithographs by Doré and others were given away as premiums, each clearly identified by their craftsman or artist usually in the traditional fashion. But in the popular press, adherence to such artistic standards was not entirely commonplace. Artists contrived new means of maintaining their stature as creators and interpreters of scenes, often making themselves a part of the very scene they drew.

Image making became a self-reflective, recursive process. Rather than objective witnesses, they became heroic participants. The construction of the documentary artist as the hero of questionable ethics is radically apparent in the career of the early photojournalist Jimmy Hare.

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Innocent Eyes

Jimmy Hare, Haiti, c. 1909

The eye comes always ancient to its work, obsessed by its own past and by old an new insinuations of the ear, nose, tongue, fingers, heart and brain. It functions not as an instrument self-powered and alone, but as a dutiful member of a complex and capricious organism. Not only how but what it sees is regulated by need and prejudice. It selects, rejects, organizes, discriminates, associates, classifies, analyzes, constructs. It does not so much mirror as take and make; and what it takes and makes it sees not bare, as items without attributes, but as things as food, as people, as enemies, as stars, as weapons. Nothing is seen nakedly or naked.

The myths of the innocent eye and of the absolute given are unholy accomplices. Both derive from and foster the idea of knowing as a processing of raw material from the senses, and of this raw material as being discoverable either through purification rites or methodological disinterpretation. But reception and interpretation are not separable operations; they are thoroughly interdependent. The Kantian dictum echoes here: the innocent eye is blind and the virgin mind empty. Moreover, what has been received and what has been done to it cannot be distinguished from the finished product.

Content cannot be extracted by peeling off layers of comment.

Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art 7-8