Commons and crowds: figuring photography from above and below

Edwards, Stephen (2009). Commons and crowds: figuring photography from above and below. Third Text, 23(4) pp. 447–464.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09528820903007735

Abstract

This essay explores the differing images of the crowd in contemporary photography. The essay suggests that many of the images offer a contradictory version of a crowd emptied of collectivity or the common. in contrast, three photographic projects that engage with the anti-capitalist protests of recent years are considered as the basis of another paradigm for the crowd. These photo-works are: Allan Sekula's "Waiting for Tear Gas (White Globe to Black)" (1999)l; Joel Sternfeld's "Treading on Kings: Protesting the G8" (2002); and Chris Marker's "Staring Back" (2007).

Drawing on the work of Marxist Historians - particularly Christopher Hill and Peter Linebaugh & Marcus Rediker - the essay considers themes of the multitude and the motley proletariat as they occur in photography. It considers how the language employed to demonise the crowd of motley proletariat has played a significant role in shaping views of photography. Against this view from above, I employ Linbaugh and Rediker's idea of 'universalisation from below' as a contribution to rethinking photographic history and theory.

The essay provides detailed accounts of these three works of photography within the context of recent debates in art and theory. It is a critical study that draws on extensive research on contemporary photography as well as an understanding of theory today to provide an innovative reading of photography seem from above and below.

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