Plattform fotografi
Plattform fotografi

Karen Cross

Sunday 28 march 2010

Photography and ‘The Cult of the Amateur’
Far from being the “othered” and “forgotten” of photography’s history, amateur and popular photographic practices are increasingly institutionally recognised. Seeking to challenge the structures of traditional art history, artists, art historians and curators of photography have taken an interest in such mundane and everyday forms. This presentation will address the shifting fortunes of the amateur and map the processes by which the amateur has become culturally valued. It might be the case, as the critic of the web Andrew Keen has argued, that what we are now witnessing is “the cult of the amateur.” In his view, “amateur hour has now arrived, and the audience are now running the show” leading to the death of the cultural intermediaries and the erosion of “truth” and professional values in society. But this dystopian vision of a culture in ruins at the hands of bloggers and ego-centric self-promoters seems unconvincing, not least because the corporations remain omnipotent, providing the stage for such a show. Others have heralded amateurs as active and participatory citizens working simultaneously to professional standards whilst also countering the rampancy of the corporations. Amateurs make great contributions to society and apparently experience a high level of social integration. Being engaged in serious leisure might also function as insurance in times of unemployment. But, what is the critical position of the amateur? How radical can amateurs be when their activities seem implicitly bound to the values of the entrepreneur and are often defined in terms of consumption? Is amateur activity actually opposed to professional and dominant paradigms of practice? In response to the recent celebration of the amateur, I question whether there is yet anything necessarily radical or counter-cultural about the position of the amateur.

Karen Cross is a lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of Roehampton, London, UK where she teaches on the Media and Culture undergraduate programme and convenes a course on ‘Visual Culture and Memory’ which forms part of the MA in ‘Media, Culture and Identity.’ She is currently researching and writing on theories of amateur photography and is also interested in the uses of broader cultural conceptualisations of ‘the amateur’ within Cultural Studies. Karen co-organized the ‘Photography, Archive and Memory’ symposium at Roehampton last year, which is due to be published as a special issue of Photographies Journal in 2010.