Posted by: marycib | October 6, 2010

Transformation of Photography

As Breandán Mac Suibhne and Amy Martin point out in their article, “Fenians in the Frame: Photographing Irish Political Prisoners”, the system of photographing prisoners “marked a major transformation in the uses of photographic technology” (115). This new phenomenon of photographing prisoners created a way for the government to keep track of the prisoners after they had been released. The reaction of the prisoners to having their photograph taken varied, with the majority of them not feeling comfortable with having their faces documented. Their objection poises the question of whether or not this practice is legal and if it violates the prisoners’ civil liberties. One prisoner in particular, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, accurately drew the distinction between portraiture and this new form of having prisoners’ photographs taken. Although Rossa’s conversation with the guard is his attempt to avoid having his picture taken, he “plays on the association of portrait photography with intimacy, romantic attachment, and the domestic sphere in order to signal the state’s intrusion into these domains” (114). Rossa’s statements mark the transition and change in function of photographs from having an emotional sentimentality to simply serving as an evidentiary commodity. By illustrating this idea, Rossa portrays the division between the new use of photography to what photographs previously signified. The availability of photographic technology has created many issues that were anticipated by the implementing of criminal photography. The question of who has the right to one’s photograph is still an issue today, especially now that photographs can be put on the Internet, making them accessible to anyone.


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