Photographs have a deep affinity with memory, and memory is an absolute necessity for the existence of history. In this essay, I will be looking at the iconic mode of photography and its relationship with our collective memory through examining iconic images of London in the 18th century and during the Victorian period. These images are significant as they feature photojournalistic stories and arouse our collective memory of specific events and locations surrounding 18th century London. Life in this city can be summarized using iconic photography, and this can aid in determining the modern lifestyle that Londoners lead, their history and their encounters (Kuhn, 2007). Figure 1 The images we’ll be looking at of the city of London enable people to recognize and identify the social position of the various people within the London society and the roles they played. These images that were produced by photojournalists have helped future generations to efficiently reflect the type of life that was experienced in London through the Victorian period.
The 18th and 19th-century London wasn’t the same as it is 2 today. Just like any growing city, it had its challenges. The photo above depicts one horrendous fire inferno that razed London’s popular residential area. Markedly, the peasant on the picture is on a rescue mission trying to save his wife and kid from utter destruction. The photo insinuates that whilst he has hopefully saved his wife and kids, he has lost other material properties. Indeed, this is because of the raging fire that acted as London’s last plague.
Lovelace (2010) acknowledges that photography is not immune from deception. It is true that technology can allow manipulation of images through photographing to fit the artistic theme that the photographer aims to explain. In the current society, the evidence of digital program at the photographer’s gallery to date suggests the limits of this approach that it has been established. Hybridism or digitization of photography is there to stay. However, accurate reporting requires the physical availability of a photographer to be present at the time of an event.
Photography is indexical and therefore, if a photograph exists there must be an element of reality and truth – light has passed through a camera to capture a visual likeness that possesses a degree of accuracy to the real world. Therefore, iconic photographs are important for our collective memory of historical events, as we understand that if there is a photograph, than there was definitely a man escaping from a fire holding his daughter, as someone must have been there to take the photo. In the current century, London is an excellent city, which has even had the privilege of hosting the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics games. Living in the capital the UK is an aspiration of many people throughout the globe. The existence of green parks, sprawling suburbs, and towering futuristic towers is the life that many people would 3 adore. Still, this should not deter one from touring the old areas and the museums. The uniqueness of the life in London is that one gets to brush shoulders with a historical architecture whenever they interact with a new structure.
London is thought of as an iconic city with many historic structures, and the iconic photographs of London have helped to push this impression onto the rest of the world. Wells (2015) notes that photography is a mode of surveying the unknown. The lens can determine what it entailed to be a Londoner, and the expectations of the life you could live there. But the lens does not forget to remind you of London’s past. From the 17th to the 18th century, reporters managed to snap the dark side of London. Even though photographic licenses were later required to use film in many places, photographers still managed to caption some of the deplorable activities that took place in London.
Consequently, this enabled many social institutions to improve the conditions of the wretched settings in London (Spratt, Peterson, and Lagos, 2005). 4 Figure 2 Notably, iconic photography in all its forms holds the past before our eyes with the unprecedented verisimilitude. According to it, photography offers a sense of the recent past, inclusive of an individual’s experience. It allows the past to get vividly present to those living in the current era, a present from the preceding generation. Even though this is true, academics have contended that no photograph can give a clear and straight insight into history (Wells, 2015). Consider figure 2, and you will see that residents of London have conveyed in a hood setting.
These residents are suffers of the poor in Lambeth, caused by the annual tidal overflow of the Thames. This photograph contributed to inspiring public sympathy surrounding the grim realities for poor and working class people in 18th century London. This photograph makes it evident that life in early London was not as comfortable and enjoyable as it is today. It is iconic because it arouses our collective memory of the stories we have been told about the calamities that occurred throughout British history. Collective memories are societal-level memories, and they are often about events that we might have intimate knowledge of even if we weren’t born when they occurred (Sterheimer, 2014). Photojournalists highlight that personal photography has a history of its own that meets up and overlaps with the social history. It is important to note that in the current era, the digital generation’s experience of photography has radically shifted. The daily stream of photojournalistic images, while often are just an accessory to a news story or report, defines the public through an act of common spectatorship.
We live in a society where we are surrounded by photography, and picture viewing is an experience that 5 can be used to connect all people. Photographs are rapidly viewed with new possibilities and expectations, and new forms of new technology have been adopted to make illustrations become more viable (Spratt, Peterson, and Lagos, 2005). Despite the development of the modern city of London, several plagues affected London ranging from smallpox epidemic to the last plague that occurred after the 1642 civil war. The last outbreak of plague in London was in 1655 where a fire razed a large part of the London suburbs. Indeed, this image has been digitized in figure 1.
The hoods that were reduced down to the ground were mostly for the poor, working class majority living in the London hovels. Many lives were spent in appalling conditions in the shadow of epidemics of killer diseases like typhus, diphtheria and cholera. The few rich people designed their elegant and lavish homes so large that they ate into the suburbs. The photographer behind figure 2 was keen to expose the actual contemporary situation. The industrialization era made most of the British citizens migrate to the urban centers, and this is what led to the overcrowding of the poor hoods in London (Harriman, and Lucaites, 2007). Elkins (2013) narrates that iconic photography is a complex phenomenon that takes hold in discourses ranging from fine art to journalism. Photography undergoes various physical and cultural changes, and this is very reason why the camera can double up as an extension of one’s self. Photography continues to experience continuity in various ways.
To bring the point closer to home, we realized that the digitization of camera had connected the social network lifestyle to the camera such that Instagram 6 allows our daily lives to use our pictures to communicate (Harriman and Lucaites, 2007). The role of photography has expanded in current times. In the past few decades of the 20th century, the roles of photographers have been remarkably dissimilar from their current status. The analog part of photography has been swept away by modernization. Computing has assumed the functions of the analog media, and this has resulted in the unique modes of production that have added many aesthetics into photography.
The automatism of photography has also raised many shortfalls, which have made the artistic status of photographs get placed into question. Whenever philosophical basis to establish the position of photography as art comes, difficulties emerge. As we have focused earlier, digitization of photography is a matter that we can never escape from even though several of these problems are brought together into sharp focus by the device that recurs with frequency in the photographical philosophical debates (Gaut and Lopes, 2013). 7 Figure 3 In figure 3, we see two men hard at work along the famous river Thames. It is implied that these men are rough and poorly educated from the type of work they are doing and the way they are dressed. This image aids our memory of the actuality of life of working class men in 18th century London. It was difficult for them to secure an education for their children, and there were a tremendous percentage of men who could not read or write themselves.
Many working class men spent their lives in poverty, living in cramped up in small and overcrowded cabins, working long hours for little money. People today have been charmed by many of the photographs of 18th century London but also shocked by the reality of the lives they captured. Even though we might collectively remember being taught about the Victorian era, the history and politics of the time period is often lost. Most people do not know, for example, that the life expectancy for a boy in 1840s England was 15 years. These photographs are important as they help to aid our collective memory around this time period and the struggles many of the people faced, especially considering that some of these struggles are still apparent in the world today. Sterheimer said that fear of forgetting is part of what drives those who work to create collective memories. Human tragedies like mass poverty and appalling living conditions are part of collective memory in part to prevent such things from happening again.
The human memory is unpredictable, and just as people remember, they also forget. The passage of time causes memory distortion as memories are shaped due to loss of detail and emotional intensity. It is vital that we have iconic images to aid our 8 collective memory as without them, we may be in danger of forgetting tragedies of the past. Iconic photographs can also motivate public action on behalf of democratic values, as they typically symbolise national valour, human courage, inconceivable inhumanity, or senseless loss (Lovelace, 2010). When we are examining the iconic photographs of 18th century London, it is important for us to note that whilst the situation has changed for people living in London today, many of the issues we see in the photographs are contemporary issues: immigration, housing, poverty, urban sprawl and employment conditions. Behind the superficial attraction of the iconic images you can see that these issues are present, and you can connect these issues to events that are still happening in the world today. I began this essay by stating that memory is an absolute necessity for the existence of history, and I would like to bring this point up again.
If we choose to forget about the past, if we choose to move on and start a new, history ceases to exist. Without history, we cannot understand the past, and we cannot use lessons from the past to benefit our future. With history comes social knowledge, and communicating social knowledge establishes a context within which specific vectors of influence can develop. One of these vectors is collective memory. The more collective memory is constructed through our media, the more likely it is that iconic photos will be used to mark, frame and set the tone for later generations understanding of history and culture (Hariman and Lucaites, 2007). To conclude, iconic photography is instrumental in the visualization of the domestic life in London. Notably, we should appreciate the invention of photography, its 9 indexicality and how it has helped us to understand and connect with historical events. In this essay, I demonstrated how iconic photography has helped us to comprehend the harsh realities for working class people in 18th century London.
Indeed, photography has aided us in framing the distant exotic suffering of the early Londoners as well as the blooming and active current lifestyle that fashionable Londoners are enjoying today. The legacies present in interpreting and examining photography enable one to understand London and the life Londoners lead physically. It is indeed true that iconic photography can aid in understanding the affairs of any society through collective memory.