Snaps! Bourdieu and the Field of Photographic Art

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This paper situates itself within a growing body of work which applies the ‘theory of practice’ of the French social theorist Pierre Bourdieu to a range of artistic field contexts. The paper begins by locating Bourdieu’s approach to photography as a ‘middle brow art’ within a methodological framework which highlights the relationship between field and habitus. It explores the dynamic of this field in terms of capital configurations in the course of the rise of photography as a popular art form. The impact of technological development of photography is exemplified in terms of art practice and the greater field of cultural reproduction. The paper will include examples both from consumers and producers of photographic images. Bourdieu’s own practice as a photographer will also be used to illustrate the potential of visual records in ethnographic analyses. Finally, the paper will apply this approach to a range of established photographers: Mapplethorpe, Brassai, Sherman, Lange, Serrano and Lichfield. Using a series of illustrations, we will show the relationship between the photographic field and fields of commerce, media, education, and politics. The potential of this approach to the study of aesthetics will be assessed.


Keywords: Photography, Habitus, Field Dynamics, Theory of Practice
Stream: Arts Theory and Criticism
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Snaps!


Dr. Cheryl Hardy

Director, Continuing Professional Development
Faculty of Education, University of Winchester

Winchester, Hampshire, UK


Prof. Michael Grenfell

Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences
School of Education, University of Southampton

Southampton, Hants, UK


Ref: A09P0009