Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Photographic Progressions | History, Community, and Health

Hi Colleagues,

Years ago I wrote this article for my budding photography business.  I've since researched photography in health contexts and continue to photograph organizations and community events.  I also earned my MA in Communication and Leadership Studies wanting to more responsibly and credibly apply my crafts to sectors in health, education, and politics.

Now I continue to doctoral studies at Grand Canyon University's Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in Organizational Development.  My connecting thread includes writing as applied and living history: 

Self portrait. c. Dena Rosko 2007.
"Photography" derives from the Greek words photos ("light") and graphein ("to draw"). It is my purpose to aid my prospective clients in their research, to hail photography's influence on our times, and to recommend a performance ethos for medical anthropology and community and health photography.

Changes in photography, like many technological or industrial advancements, often occurs in sync with historical events and changing social attitudes.

The First Camera
Vintage Cameras.
c. Dena Rosko 2003.

Photographic history involves a combination of chemical, mechanical, optical, and artistic discoveries coupled with popular demands for images. Following are some photographic achievements in history:

  • Chinese philosopher Mo-Ti records the first noted inverted image in the 5th Century BC.
  • Many figures, like Aristotle, Alhazen of Basra, and Leonardo Da Vinci, use or describe a portable tent with a hole cut in it to create an inverted image from the light that passes through the hole.
  • Johannes Kepler determines the physical and mathematical laws governing mirror reflections in 1604, and coins the term "camera obscura" for the portable tent observatories.
  • First published photochemical invention by 18th Century German physician and professor Johann Heinrich Schulze, who discovers that light blackens silver salts.
  • Joseph Nicéphore Niepce produces the first permanent image in 1826 from a camera obscura and invents an iris diaphragm to correct lens defects.
  • Niepce and Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre briefly collaborate to produce the first camera.
  • Daguerre, though he is not said to invent photography, popularizes photography with his use of mercury to develop the image in 1837.
  • Scientist Sir John F.W. Herschel coins the term "photography" in 1839.

American Photojournalism:
The Golden Era
The camera no longer illustrates. The camera tells... The camera shall take its place as the greatest and by all measurements the most convincing reporter of contemporary life.

~Pullitzer Prize winning Poet Archibald MacLeish telegram to Henry Luce

Henry Luce.
Photo Spartacus Educational.

"American photojournalism was a public and by and large a public-spirited undertaking," and was marked by an optimism for the betterment of the nation and humankind (Goldberg, 1986, p. 363).

Still photography shone in this era during the 1930s and 1940s as photojournalistic magazines birthed a new way for readers to view their world.

Life magazine was the premiere big picture magazine from its inception in 1936 until its end in 1972. Before Life, no other American periodical told the news chiefly and exclusively in photographs.

Life began when Time Inc. created the book Four Hours a Year, which housed a collection of newsreels from Time Inc.'s The March of Time. The March of Time started in 1931 as a radio show where it recreated current events with actors impersonating major figures. In early 1935, The March of Time played in movie theatres where it combined active footage with its reenactments. Time Inc. wanted to use Four Hours a Year to show advertisers photojournalism's potential (Goldberg, 1986, pp. 172-173, 360).

Henry Luce, Life's founder, captured this era's pictorial fervor in his own words: "We have got to educate people to take pictures seriously, and to respect pictures as they do not now do... While people love pictures, they do not respect them" (p. 174).

This sentiment illustrates the "call to action" behind much of American photojournalism. Photographs weren't meant to simply be, they were meant to be respected and regarded. Photographs persuaded viewers to notice events and persons and to frame them as significant in some way. 

T.V. and 35 mm Photographers

T.V. Reflection.
c. Dena Rosko 2004.

After World War II, the television came on the scene. Still photography lost its place with the new moving picture in a box.

Social discourse changed from communally listening to the radio and watching theatre newsreels to individually watching television reclined with T.V. dinners. With these changes, photojournalism's fervor and "call to action" faded to black.

35 mm photographers also entered the scene, whose 35 mm cameras produced color, convenience, and popular appeal. Professional photographers used 35 mm cameras instead of the larger and heavier previous equipment. Novice photographers who just happened to be at the "right place at the right time" captured images. The field of photography became more competitive.

Robert Frank. Photo The-artists.org.

In the '50s and '60s, photography and press changed from optimism to pessimism, notable with the occurrence of McCarthyism and the advent of the Beat generation. Life Magazine's patriotic appeal began to be out shouted by new photographers who sought to sing the angst of the outsider rather than praise progress. Cynicism of romance, progress, and patriotism were more trusted than the previous era's faith in such things (Goldberg, 1986, p. 363).

Swiss photographer Robert Frank's 1959 book The Americans demonstrates this cynicism. His 35 mm candid photography was extreme: grainy and cropped, highlighting sad and uncertain faces. Margaret Bourke-White's photography, on the other hand, was well-thought out, composed, suggesting that "a sense of order ruled the world, or at least that photographers could divine enough order to explain it" (Goldberg, 1986, p. 364).

Art: Modern Criticisms

Rugs. c. Dena Rosko 2004.

In recent years, photography's role has moved from photojournalistic to the visual arts. Critics have called Bourke-White's work "'overly emotional and... ultimately superficial'" and "'lacking subtlety or ambiguity'" (Goldberg, 1986, p. 364).

This expectation carries with it the prejudice that past eras aren't reliable or valid in their photographic storytelling simply because they aren't modern--that they don't operate under today's standards for art or photography--that they're outdated--old.

Such criticism of the "before now" biases itself to the present and so lacks appreciation and vision for past photographic achievements and news values. These academic judgments tend to be cynical because they distrust anything but their own opinion. If photography, by their standards, is to be ambiguous and without meaning or purpose, then how can they make such a distinction?

These modern criticisms stem from the prevailing assumption that art must be separate from politics or other worldly institutions whose intent is suspect because it is other than artistic (Barber, 2006). Further, these criticisms attest that art must have no meaning at all. It must not be or even do.

Trends are just that, trends, and often a response to prior paradigms while trying to cement a new one.  So I don't suggest that Untitled ought to be the title of images.  I don't define good photographs as ambiguous, vague, and suspect and suspicious of its subjects and the world at large.

As Hunter (1999), I am aware that making one text or paradigm primary over others risks the same pendulum swing that the shift critiques.  It's important to be aware that changes in best practices or norms change because they respond to a text prior.  Development often responds to what we learn from something before, tries to normalize a new practice now, and attempts to actualize a future vision.  As such development fluxes and remains in tension with itself.

In any case, such assessments reveal a change in social and academic attitudes in photography's history: photographs are to no longer serve a national or communal purpose; photographs are to cater to the individual's experience.  

For my purposes, photography draws with light human experience as situated and systemic.  So I aim to be honest about my intent and document my process in creating this aesthetic text in a socio- cultural, anthropological, and political context.  Remember that "co" means with.

The Information Age

Grandma's Yellow Phone
. c. Dena Rosko 2003.

It can be difficult to filter all the images and messages that we receive in our present day 24-hour news cycles and social media feeds.

Take a deep breath and embark on the self-proclaimed "Information Age."

35 mm cameras and photographs aren't new to us anymore. We are hard-wired: cable T.V., cable modems, and cell phones accompany us through our day. T.V. cards, streamlined audio, and mp3s sing to us through our computers. We are attached at the hip so to speak, perhaps even taking our gadgets along on our much needed vacations--just in case. We, those of us with resources to access technology anyway, easily and readily access people, places and things, and the news just does not (most likely) surprise us anymore, save the occasional *facepalm*.

What's On?.
c. Dena Rosko 2004.

Also, people have changed how they digest information. Web research indicates that users scan sites instead of read them. "How Users Read on the Web" reads Nielsen's article of the same title. "They don't," Nielsen deadpans.

And so the question begs to be asked: amidst this steady stream of information, are we really more informed than before?

The unanswered question above hints at the belief that less is more, and the concern that current trends of quantity and speed boot quality and composition out the door. This belief and concern may be more apt than it is nostalgic.

However, in recent years I'm more inclined to set aside hype/hysteria surrounding communication technology development.  Multi-modality and intermedia provide yet another avenue for us to connect and apply our crafts for a social benefit.  For instance, I've benefited from a hybrid program for my MA, and applying what we learn from storytelling and social media can greatly benefit medical reform, as far as health communication goes.  So technology for education and health proffer practical and creative ways to improve our quality of life, social justice, and dignity.

Film and Digital

Deconstructed Labtop
c. Dena Rosko 2004.

"Do you use a digital camera?" people asked me, once upon an analog time, while they whipped out theirs, no larger than a couple matchboxes, from their pocket. "Check out mine!" and we watch cat videos or vacation pictures. Oh wait. Phone. Home. That fast.

The benefit of owning a pro digital camera for me is that I can
  • enjoy different compositions and lighting techniques;
  • see results on-site to make adjustments when needed;
  • efficient and prompt turn-around for my clients;
  • restore and enhance images;
  • provide greater quality and quantity of images for my clients;
  • photograph large batches and edit in software instead of in a dark room lab;
  • improved quality, color space, and style;
  • reduced monetary cost;
  • smaller carbon footprint assuming that print-on-demand is better than printing film and use of less chemicals for development (of course there's the exchange of computing hardware and energy cost).
With these benefits, one concern to consider regards archival sustainability (remember: living history...). With the ease of deleting images from a flashcard or hard drive, and with technology changing frequently, how will we preserve images for future generations?

Still, it's important to grow with the times. Businesses expect and need digital images as part of their marketing needs. People use digital images personally and professionally for slide shows, presentations, trade show displays, pamphlets, brochures, catalogs, manuals, Web sites, and e-mail.  With digital innovations, we can more quickly and easily produce and share images of our world.

Hence, the selective realm of the Golden Era in photojournalism gave way to an inundation of images.  The democratization of the camera, or affordable access to hobbyist grade gear, softens and saturates the market making it more difficult for professional photographers to succeed at their profession.  These changes make photography more open to application to social sectors and require photographers to develop their niche an inch wide and a mile deep while not alienating their publics.

Organizational Photography

Vintage Camera.
c. Dena Rosko 2003.
Given "new" ways to communicate an image, such as social media, organizations must create due process and learn how the media shapes culture, how relationships drive brand, and how quality is still in demand more than ever.

Technically I began my career with commercial photography of hot rods and classic cars.  Lore attests that I began my photography career when my aunt gave me a pink wind up camera as a gift.  In any case, Organizational, or formerly known as Commercial, photography isn't new. Margaret Bourke-White photographed commercial images for Fortune and Life magazines.

One of Bourke-White's most profitable advertising accounts was with Goodyear. She shot scenes showing "the distance between screeching halt and sure disaster... showing 'the Goodyear margin of safety'" (Callahan, 1972, p. 46). Goodyear wanted her to vividly capture the message of the safety and quality of their tires.

One such picture I like is of a woman screaming on her steed as it rears up in front of a car. The car is stopped, but the horse is in motion, probably more relaxed than the lady on its back.

"Commercial Photography" seems somewhat a limited term. Not-for-profit organizations and government also need images for marketing purposes. For this reason, I prefer to call this genre of photography "Organizational Photography."

Changes in photography, like many technological or industrial advancements, often occur in sync with historical events and changing socio-cultural norms.  Due to this trend, "the Information Age" benefits Organizational Photography as businesses and individuals wish to purchase images from photographers and stock photography companies for their diverse multi-modal and intermedia needs.

Learn more about my photography and consulting services.

Community Photography

Ecumenical Easter sunrise service 2014 (above)cc. Dena Rosko 
I enjoy photography for supporting comm[u]nity, locale, and the public commons.  Here, I emphasize photographing to create community space that celebrates, empowers, and heals.

Health & Life Cycle Photography

Christmas Mo[u]rning.
cc. Dena Rosko 2008.
My thesis emphasized the process of realizing intent in producing and performing an aesthetic text. In this way I adopt an ethos for my photography. Performance ethics mainly involve being aware that the intent to create an aesthetic text involves the intent to influence socio-cultural norms (see Conquergood, 1983; 1985; 1998; Pelias & VanOosting, 1987).

Performance’s lofty goals, such as to change society, to discover the self, and to heal from broken experiences requires a greater sense of responsibility to performance ethos and discourse (Langellier, 1985).  In short, tread lightly.

I describe photography as a performance narrative with an psychotherapeutic strategy (Mattingly, 1998; Polkinghorne, 1988). The healing component comes into play as a person produces and shares a photo. The creativity and intentionality required in photography provide a transformative process.

As such, photography yields an appealing medium to intervene in health contexts that require a person to adapt. Adapting in a healthy manner comes in part by creating photographs as ritual to process and make change be what one wants it to be. Overall I regard photography as a performance text with ethical implications to the socio- cultural, formative, and political contexts from which the text derives and performs.

Photography Business

It has been both my pleasure and challenge to photograph the beauty of those special moments for clients to enjoy for years to come.  I've photographed weddings, graduating seniors, special events ranging from anniversaries to hot rod roll-outs, maternity, and baby portraits.  Local publications have published my work.

I embedded development into my photography brand.  I wanted to show how photography, as with life, develops constantly.  As my photography tagline at the time declared:
Life's a flourish. Be vigorous. Be dramatic. Succeed. Grow. Work hard, live well, love true, and enjoy life. And while you're living life, let Dena Rosko Photography capture the flourish of it all.

To showcase my flourishing brand, I drew this flourish, which I often add to handwritten cards, etc., and inserted it into my letterhead and used it as a graphic for my then website:

Photography Transitions

Holding Hands.
cc. Dena Rosko 2008.
Now I photograph health and life cycle photography to give clients a tangible way to revisit those meaningful moments in life as they pass through difficult seasons of change.  I also photograph for events, travel, and locations, in an editorial and detailed style and for community service organizations.  My favorite genre thus far include Community Profiles, or photojournalism montages of people, places, events, and things.

I have since closed Dena Rosko Photography to make way for Text and Pixels, where I consult organizations in writing, photography, and communication intermedia strategy.  I place a higher emphasis on applying photography for therapeutic purposes and to generate social change in health, education, and the public commons.

So now my tagline is

Connecting & Consulting with 
People & Organizations to 
Write, Communicate & Lead for 
Health, Education & the Public Commons

Note that I define writing broadly to include intermedia and photography.  I use this logo with my favorite color contrasts with a play on a "T" (black area) and "P" (white circle), or graphic design abbreviation for "Text and Pixels":

Photography Premise

Holding Hands.
cc. Dena Rosko 2007.
progress, and that's the point of appreciating photography's history as founded on these two basic premises:

~ all communication is multimodal
~ all areas of social life are based on and touched by communication in some form

Now I resist terms that suggest photography contains things.  I no longer use "capture," "take a photo," "have," "record," or "document."  I try to avoid saying I "shoot" photos as I want my language to reflect the health ethos in my work.  Sans violence.

While I regard photographs as artifacts, I also understand that photographs reframe and exist as an interpretive, political, and qualitative text in their own right (see Phelan, 1993).  More importantly, the text continues when interacting with it (Chvasta, 2003).  The metric, then, comes with the interaction.  Healing comes with interactional and vocational continuity, realized intent, and dare I say art of a loving kind.

Moving forward, explore with me avenues to apply visual anthropology, intermedia, and narrative to shaping just, humane, effective, and creative practices in health, education, and the public commons.  Always be mindful of your place situated in history and your contribution to it.

Thank you for reading,


It would behoove the avid history buff to further research these topics by way of these sources, which aided me in developing this page:

12ozprophet.com. (2011). Route 66: Cruising the American dream - Robert Frank. Retrieved November 15, 2011, from http://www.12ozprophet.com/forum/archive/index.php/t-84810.html.

Barber, D. (2006). Archibald MacLeish's life and career. University of Illinois: Department of English.  Retrieved March 14, 2006, from http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/m_r/macleish/life.htm. Prepared and Compiled by Cary Nelson.

Bellis, M. (2006). Your guide to inventors. Retrieved March 14, 2006, from http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blphotography.htm.

Bourke-White, M. (1963). Portrait of myself. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Callahan, S. (Ed.). (1972).  The photographs of Margaret Bourke-White. Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society Ltd.  Estate of Margaret Bourke-White: Time

Chvasta, M. (2003). The mediated life; ‘And I loved her’.  Unpublished essay.  Retrieved October 26, 2010, from http://www.cas.usf.edu/~mchvasta/luckydip/mediatedlife.pdf

Conquergood, D. (1983).  A sense of the other: Interpretation and ethnographic research.  In I.M. Crouch, & G.R. Owen (Eds.), Proceedings of summer/conference on oral traditions (pp. 148-155).  Las Cruces, NM: New Mexico State University.

Conquergood, D. (1985).  Performing as a moral act: Ethical dimensions of the ethnography of performance.  Literature in Performance, 5(2), 1-13.

Conquergood, D.  (1998).  Beyond the text: Toward performative cultural politics. In S.J. Daily (Ed.), The future of performance studies: Visions and revisions (pp. 25-36).  Annandale, VA: National Communication Association.

Goldberg, V. (1986).  Margaret Bourke-White: A biography. New York: Harper & Row.

Hunter, L. (1999). Critiques of knowing: Situated textualities in science, computing and the arts. New York & London: Routledge.

Langellier, K.M.  (1985).  From text to social context.  Literature in Performance, 6, 60-70.

Mattingly, C. (1998).  Healing dramas and clinical plots: The narrative structure of experience.  New York: Cambridge.

Nielsen, J. (1997, October 1).  How users read on the web. Retrieved March 14, 2006, from http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9710a.html.

Pelias, R.J., & VanOosting, J. (1987). A paradigm for Performance Studies. The Quarterly Journal of Speech, 73(2), 219-31.

Phelan, P. (1993). Unmarked: The politics of performance. New York: Routledge.

Polkinghorne, D. E. (1988). Narrative knowing and the human sciences. Albany, NY: State University of New York.

Pollack, P., & Milton S.F. (Eds.) (1969). The picture history of photography: From the earliest beginnings to the present day (Revised and enlarged). New York: Harry N. Abrams.

Spartacus Educational (2006). Henry Luce.  Retrieved March 14, 2006, from  http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAluce.htm.

The-artists.org (2006). Robert Frank bio. Retrieved March 14, 2006, from http://the-artists.org/artist/Robert-Frank.

Wilgus, J., & Wilgus, B. (2006). The magic mirror of life: An appreciation of the camera obscura. Retrieved March 14, 2006, from http://brightbytes.com/cosite/what.html.