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.