Unit 2: A Photographic Manifesto

Contextual Studies

Tags: contextual studies, LCC, photographic manifesto, reflection, research, unit 2

Contextual Studies Lectures that I found interesting during Unit 2: A Photographic Manifesto as well as research done for the term essay.

CTS Essay 2 - Essay Research 1

Edmund Burke's ‘A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful' (1757)

Some analysis of statements I found interesting in his publication. By doung this, i feel that I might be able to understand and draw inspiration for my essay.


pg 27 of Edmund Burkes essay:

“It is by this principle chiefly that poetry, painting, and other

affecting arts, transfuse their passions from one breast to another,

and are often capable of grafting a delight on wretchedness,

misery, and death itself. It is a common observation, that objects

which in the reality would shock, are in tragical, and such like

representations, the source of a very high species of pleasure.

This, taken as a fact, has been the cause of much reasoning. The

satisfaction has been commonly attributed, first, to the comfort

we receive in considering that so melancholy a story is no more

than a fiction; and, next, to the contemplation of our own

freedom from the evils which we see represented.”

Here he states that arts such as poetry and painting can transfer sympathies from one man’s heart to another, and therefore capable of transferring a delight on wretchedness, misery and death itself, as while in reality, it would shock or be tragical in reality, where it is a painting, we can take comfort in the fact that such melancholy are fictitious and can contemplate an be grateful for the freedom that we have from the evils that we see represented.

  • a kind of emotional manipulation
  • A cementation in the fact that we gain pleasure form these scenes of tragedy as pain is the most powerful and passionate of emotions. Therefore by seeing it glorified in a painting, we can feel a strong wave of pleasure from setting our sights on that.


pg 28:

“for terror is a passion

which always produce delight when it does not press too closely;

and pity is a passion accompanied with pleasure, because it arises

from love and social affection.”

  • says that though we have a subconsciously inhumane side, the humane also exists within us, as we still feel empathy and sympathy. the human is a constant study in contradiction.



  • Burke, E. (1757) A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Pages: 27, 28. New York: Collier & Son Company. [Accessed: 8 Mar 2018]

CTS Essay 2 - Essay Research 4

Laocoön and His Sons (42-20 BCE) by Hagesander, Athenodoros & Polydorus

Beauty and Suffering


The figurative Ancient Greek statue Laocoön and His Sons is an icon of Hellenistic art and considered one of the most famous sculptures from Ancient Greece, apart from Venus de Milo (130 – 100 BCE) by Alexandros of Antioch. Standing at almost eight feet in height, the monumental statue features the Trojan Priest Laocoön and his two sons Antiphas and Thymbraeus being killed by the giant sea serpents Porces and Chariboea, who upon hearing that he was going to warn the Trojans not to let the gift[1] into the city as it was full of Greek soldiers, were sent down by the Goddess Athena for she was the protector of the Greeks.

The Roman writer Pliny the Elder (23 – 79 CE) had commented that this sculpture was “superior to all works in painting and bronze” and when one looks at this statue, it is no wonder why he would say that. The dynamism and movement that is captured throughout the pose is stunning and expertly brought out via the twisting of Laocoöns abdominal, the way he and the son on the left arches their backs as the serpents’ coil around them and stretch them beyond their limits; the theatrically of it all; it can be seen as a masterful observation of the human anatomy.

In addition, the expressions of the three men – the language of despair on Laocoön’s contorting face as he looks to the heavens – and the visibility and tension of their muscles as they struggle and writhe against the serpents further adds to this sense of mastery over the material that was used to create the sculpture.

Yet, one would hold ambivalence in considering and admiring its beauty, as the overall sculpture is in actuality a magnificent display of death. It is ultimately to convey notions of agony and tragedy but despite this, its mastery over the anatomy of human form and expression is indeed in every sense of the word, beautiful. Hence, an interesting conflict can be felt, as we become aware that we are enjoying a scene of great pain.

Edmund Burke said, in his 1757 publication, “I say the strongest emotion, because I am satisfied the ideas of pain are much more powerful than those which enter on the part of pleasure.” hence stating that to him, the most powerful and passionate emotions are that of pain or the ideas of pain. With that in mind and seeing this sculpture, a creation that was made centuries before he had even put pen to paper, this shows me that man has therefore always had the tendency to see beauty and pain together; to glorify and make beautiful notions of pain and suffering and thus, carry a great tension in holding a pleasure in seeing that agony.


[1] The Trojan Horse.



CTS Essay 2 - Essay Research 6

Richard Mosse's Wave of Mutilation (2012) from The Enclave in relation to Romanticism


The Enclave (2013) by Irish photographer Richard Mosse was a six-screen video installation that premiered at the 2013 Venice Biennale in the Irish Pavilion, in which Mosse used a discontinued camouflage military film technology to shoot the landscapes and villages of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo during the years 2012 to 2013, rendering the green of the country’s foliage in vibrant hues of pink. Also featuring photographs of vast pink landscapes and pink portraits of soldiers, Mosse aimed to bring to light the ongoing conflict within the country that the mass media seems to forget or overlook, using this film as an artistic, metaphorical and poetic outlet as it was designed to locate enemies hidden away in the greenery.


The photographs from this series of his, to me, embodies many elements similar to the Romantic painters of the 19th Century. In the series, what I feel connects him to paintings like Delacroix’s Liberty is the fact that he is also making beautiful a conflict and war in which millions of people have been massacred or shot in battle. And just like the Romantics, he wanted to instill this sense of Sublime into his photographs in order to make his audience react and feel something, consciously bringing to light an atrocity in a beautiful way in order to get his audience/viewers to react.


In one of his photographs, Wave of Mutilation (2012), we see a lone soldier laying on the side of the road, dead and mutilated as the title of the photograph suggests. His clothes are torn and coated in grime, indicating that he has been laying there for a few days already. The water marks on the road further cement this as a fact, suggesting to us that his dead body has gone through rain.

The atmosphere is lonely, implying the isolation and loneliness of the death. This could also be a message of how unaware or ignorant of this Congo conflict, which is a humanitarian crisis because of the millions of deaths this conflict has caused since 1998 (5.4 million deaths). The fact that this lone soldier died right at the side of this empty road could be Mosse displaying the loneliness the Congo feels, not receiving any aid from other countries like the United Kingdom or United States. 

The sense of bringing to light something hidden is very evident in this photograph, as the soldier has died on a road that seems deserted, hence implying the many deaths that the Congo has suffered through this seemingly never-ending conflict; death that we are unaware of. To further emphasize on the dead body, he has made the depth of field shallow, blurring the background to draw our eyes to the foreground and though subtle, a faint, soft pillar of light seems to fall onto the dead soldier, heightening a sense of drama and isolation. As he says about his work:


“The primal importance to me is beauty. Beauty is one of the main lines to make people feel something, it’s the sharpest tool in the box. If you are trying to make people feel something, if you are able to make it beautiful, they’ll sit up and listen.” (Mosse on Frieze, 2013)


Thus, just like Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, the act of composing the image to make it beautiful and evoke a sense of Sublime and strong emotions is perhaps what makes the painting such a masterpiece; perhaps it is what makes it so important; as it is only by achieving this Sublime within the pain and suffering of others are we also to feel a sympathy and want to relieve them of their suffering as well. As Edmund Burke wrote in his 1757 publication A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful "for terror is a passion which always produce delight when it does not press too closely; and pity is a passion accompanied with pleasure, because it arises from love and social affection.”



CTS Essay 2 - Essay Research 2

Susan Sontag's 'Regarding the Pain of Others'

Once again I looked at and noted down one or two sentences that caught my eye. I'm not sure if it will feature in the final essay, but just to note down in case it might be useful later on. 


pg 37

“To shader at Goltziu’s rendering, in his etching The Dragon Devouring the Companions of Camdus (1588), of a man’s face being chewed off his head is very different from shuddering at a photograph of a First World War veteran whose face has been shot away.”

  • saying that a photograph brings in an additional dimension that an engraving does not have, which is a dimension of realism, as with the engraving, we can take pleasure and comfort in the fact that it is of fiction, but in a photograph, no such thing is provided. For us to be able to see this photograph, means that somewhere out there, thing really did happen. Hence, the horror we feel is much more real and less comforting than if we were to see an engraving or a drawing of it.



  • Sontag, S. (2004) Regarding the Pain of Others. Page: 37. London: Penguin Books.

CTS Essay 2 - Essay Research 3

The Dragon devouring the companions of Cadmus (1588) by Hendrick Goltzius

Beautifying the grotesque


In this 16th Century engraving by Dutch mannerism artist Hendrick Goltzius—made after fellow mannerist artist Cornelis van Haarlem and inspired by Roman poet Ovid’s story of Camdus in ‘Metamorphoses’—he depicts a scene of a Dragon gnawing at the face of a fallen man as he tries with all his might to dislodge its teeth from him, pulling at its neck while sprawled lifelessly atop his being is another body, the Dragon sinking its claws into its flesh and drawing blood. Behind the distressed man, a decapitated face lays unceremoniously near the small of his back, most likely belonging to the dead body across his waist, weighing him down and leaving him susceptible to the Dragon.

As we gaze upon this engraving, one cannot help but shudder at the horror seen, imagining the muffled screams of the man as the Dragon sinks its teeth further and further into his meat, ready to pull and rip it clean from the rest of his head in one terrifying bite. However, though it shows a scene of a gruesome violence and death, where bodies are twisted and mutilated and we are placed in a state of fear and hopelessness as the man tries in vain to pull the Dragon’s maw off his face, one cannot help but see a beauty in this scene as well. 

Though the bodies are collapsed across the floor and in a losing struggle against the Dragon, one cannot help but marvel at the finely etched shadows of tensing muscle as seen on both bodies, the three dimensions of the forms brought out splendidly through the meticulous shadings and is somewhat reminiscent to the marble sculptures of ancient Greece, displaying the wondrous beauty of the human anatomy.

Other than that, the way the man’s arm twists behind his back looks so beautifully painful its almost erotic and the setting in which they are placed in, surrounded by trees and a vast nature that dives far into the background—once again similar t paintings such as ‘Madonna and Child with Saints’ (1530) by Titian, where parallels in their composition can be seen—almost make it more romantic and peaceful than horrifying.

Therefore, though one can definitely feel horrified upon looking at this engraving, perhaps, taking into account all these other aspects of form and figure within the landscape; of the nude body purposefully and beautifully etched, detailing every muscle and tone of flesh, a feeling more in tune to something subliminal, can also be instilled within the viewer.



CTS Essay 2 - Essay Research 5

The Romanticism Era, Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (1830) and John Trumbull’s The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker (1775)


Romanticism was an art movement that came to be in the late 1700s and early 1800s and arose as a reaction to the Enlightenment period, where during that time, man prioritized reason and rationale and praised the notion of progression and the dogmatic technology. The Romantics detested the Industrial revolutions that had brought out large chimney smoking buildings and steam-powered locomotives and instead, championed and promoted an idealized past, looking to nature and emotions and childhood; the most innocent and pure creative, unhindered by the problems and frigidness that plagued the adult; as a form and inspiration of pure expression. Artists explored various moods and emotional or psychological states that could be brought out through their vibrant colours and dramatic compositions.

The movement advocated expression and passion over the rationale, scientific and logical – key studies and elements that were very much prominent during the Enlightenment period. They embraced individuality and subjectivity to counter the objectiveness and insistence on logical thought which they [the Romantics] found to be excessive and unnecessary. Obsessed with the idea of the hero or the exceptional figure going against all odds, ousted by societies majority and understood only by the few who were closest to him, Romanticism looked to evoke that the creative spirit was more important than the adherence to formal or traditional procedures.

It was therefore in part spurred by the American and French Revolutions, seeing their fight and struggle for freedom and equality as an inspiration and promotion of justice and thus started painting current events and atrocities to rival and challenge the staider Neoclassical style that was the dominant and traditional way of painting. However, though their primary intention was to evoke a strong sense of emotion within the viewer through their paintings, it was also via these elements of the dramatic and extraordinary that showered a glorious light onto the millions of deaths and suffering that happened throughout the war.

Delacroix’s Masterpiece Liberty Leading the People (1830) and Trumbull’s The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker (1775) are two such examples that dramatized and glorified the many deaths and suffering of war, painting the horrors of war in an idealized and beautiful way while in reality, The French Revolution (1789 – 1799) was one of the bloodiest uprisings that the world had seen, with 40, 000 people either executed by Guillotine or murder only within the year of The Reign of Terror (1793 – 1794).


In Liberty, at the bottom left corner of the painting – very close to us – there is a man who seems to have been pulled from his bed and killed in his nightshirt, implying that he died in an undignified way with his bottom half nude and his feet only having one sock on. While this does show that Delacroix acknowledges the terror and atrocities that happened during the French revolution, he does not present the atrocities as atrocities. 

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In reality, this would have been horrible and tragic to see, yet the presentation of it in Delacroix’s does not seem to be horrible or disgusting at all. Despite there being blood on his nightgown, other than that no grime or dirt can be seen staining the white of his shirt and the man had died in a rather graceful pose, with his arms outstretched and his profile turned sideways away from us, bringing forth imagery like that of a profile on a classical coin. Furthermore, with his nightdress parting slightly down the middle, showing his cleanly shaven bare chest, he looks almost like an ideal Greek statue than a dead body.

This grandeur can be seen in the other lying dead as well, where there is a sense of dignity and beauty in the way their heads have fallen to the side and exposed their necks; similar to the way a masterfully sculpted statue would pose, with a facial expression of stabile neutrality rather than screeching pain or shocked agony.


The same can be said for General Warren, whose use of colour, lighting and diagonal lines throughout the canvas created a sense of drama and dynamic movement, evoking excitement and a sense of order amongst the chaos and glory amongst tragedy. While what we see here is a death of a human being, a soldier about to breath his last breath of life, what we are made to focus on instead are the emotions which the artists have imbedded into it, evoking in us a sense of sublime when viewing such atrocities or tragedies. 

In a time of strife and war full of death, pain, suffering and tragedy, the Romantics while brining to light those such things, also succeeded in instilling within us a sense of beauty and emotions of wonder and exhilaration that we now associate with such atrocious imagery. They had, in a way, unintentionally normalized and declared that beauty and pain can be seen together for our viewing pleasure.