John Tagg
[Writer, theorist, and photohistorian, b. 1949, North Shields, England, lives in Ithica, New York.]

 A childhood studio portrait, a school photo, a wedding group, a passport photograph, an identity pic, a holiday snapshot: we all have them. You could probably put together a similar selection. But what do such pictures do for us? What uses do they have? Why does it seem natural to have kept them? And how has it come about that, for most people, photography is primarily a means of obtaining pictures of faces they know? 
 [Photography’s] status as a technology varies with the power relations that invest it. Its nature as a practice depends upon the institutions and agents that define it and set it to work. 
 I wanted to have a go at this theoretical conception of the Real-out-there and the conception of ideology that goes along with it, but also to suggest that surveilling the streets or getting on the road in the search of truth were activities implicated in a sorry history and saturated in relations of power. 
 A repetitive pattern, the body isolated; the narrow space; the subjection to an unreturnable gaze; the scrutiny of gestures, face and features; the clarity of illumination and sharpness of focus; the names and number boards. These are the traces of power, repeated countless times, whenever the photographer prepared an exposure, in police cell, prison, consultation room, home or school. 
 ... it's impossible to teach the history of photography as a canon, as a discrete and coherent field or discipline. I mean, how could one teach the history of photography without talking about family photography, without talking about the photographic industry, advertising, pornography, surveillance, documentary records, documentation, instrumental photography—whole areas of production in which there is no common denominator? There is no such thing as photography as such, a common medium. 
 ... one cannot “use” photography as an unproblematic “source.” Photography does not transmit a pre-existent reality which is already meaningful in itself. As with any other discursive system, the question we must ask is not, “What does this discourse reveal of something else?,” but, “what does it do; what are its conditions of existence; how does it inflect its context rather than reflect it?” 
 Histories are not backdrops to set off the performance of images. They are scored into the paltry paper signs, in what they do and do not do, in what they encompass and exclude, in the ways they open onto or resist a repertoire of uses in which they can be meaningful and productive. Photographs are never “evidence” of history: they are themselves historical. 
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