Along with being credited as the inventor of photography, Daguerre is also known for perfecting the diorama. “The diorama – like most illusionism, and particularly like photography – is a demonstration of a technical power to transform the material of the world into representation” (Slater, 1995: 219). There is little doubt that the Cornish Alps appears to be evidence of the industrial power to fashion a direct material transformation of a landscape. As Slater identified, two senses are invoked by the diorama: “wonder at the experience of being transported to a fully realised unreal world; and wonder at the (incomprehensible, hidden) technology which makes it all possible” (Ibid). Thinking about this location as having the qualities set out by Slater and the concept of the diorama and its relationship to the Cornish Alps has remained with me for much of my thinking about work produced in this area. However, the use I have made of the term was to shift my representational thinking,[1] and to consider what actually is an image.

Considering this landscape as a diorama suggested I could limit discussion around the natural landscape and pay attention to questions of representation. It also offered a way to conceptualise natural landscape which is then transformed into representational object. This line of thought also suggested questions related to fantasy and the idealisation of space, as well as questions as to what actually is ‘real’ or ‘natural’ landscapes. It was also pointed out to me by a participant in this research, that there is no place or location that is completely ‘natural’ or ‘unspoilt.’ These terms are all only qualified by ignoring particular conditions of production. It was these prompts that took the research further away from being a project about landscape or landscape photography toward looking at the how space, place and people might be interconnected. With these interconnections in mind, I focused my attention on production and labour and relating these to the construction of place and to photography.[2]

Participants in my research, who spoke about the china clay area, did not always echo Slater’s reflections of being transported to a different, unexpected place and the sense of wonder at creating it. They acknowledged it as a picturesque location and there was a sense of wonder at how the entire landscape had been altered. But there were also concerns at romanticising the location. As one participant noted, “I think the idea that people who have been part of it all their lives think that it’s made picturesque, trivialized, is very telling.”  Furthermore, as an area where people live and work, one expressed: “People feel sometimes, it was their livelihood, it was hard, it was difficult, it didn’t pay well. And now it’s just part of the tourist trail in Cornwall” (Anonymous Research Participant). While another acknowledged, “I’ve always had an artistic outlook and I’ve always liked the china clay area from that point of view” (Anonymous Research Participant). From conversations, discussions and interviews, the views about the area were largely as one might expect. The area represents industry, work and employment for local people. However, an idealised, fantasy version of the landscape, expressed by the name the Cornish Alps, is in direct tension with the day-to-day experience of living there. Accompanying any idealised view of the landscape is nostalgia for the industrial past of china clay.[3] Additionally and as I stated previously, the sky-tip is more considered an intrinsic part of local identity.

When working with participants I identified a gap between the fantasy and the actual landscape. Initially, convinced that photography could bridge the gap, the research eventually revealed photography to be able to only provide a representation of the difference between fantasy and reality. The desire to reconcile these two was therefore often not met. For example, as one participant expressed: “I became dissatisfied with the photographs because they didn’t capture the emotion and the scale of the landscape I was walking in.” Another noted, “when you take a photograph it’s got body or shape but when you look at it, it’s flat” (Anonymous Research Participant). While some were also very aware that photography often failed to capture everything: the sounds, the smells and the mood of a place. “Hearing birds sing, seeing the sunrise, seeing it set, that’s what matters, that is what is important to me” (Anonymous Research Participant). Clearly, here, the visible is only one part of an interconnected experience and sense of place. If our understanding of landscape and place comes through senses and experiences including movement, sound and time (Ingold, 1993 & 2000; Pink, 2011; Tuan, 1977) then despite it being one of the dominant forms of representation, the visual is rarely exclusive from other experiences. In addition, as Wells notes, “landscapes bear an imprint” (2011: 20), and such an imprint is not only something we can see but also an imprint of history, of production and of time passing.

A common-sense view, suggests landscape is outside in the world; and thus subjects have to enter into landscape. But thinking about how landscape also enters us opens up a more profound understanding of the experiences we have. For example, rather than landscape being read or interpreted as an external text (Wylie, 2007: 70), landscape should be thought of a process that pre-figures our own presence. Furthermore, as much as landscapes bear an imprint, we also bear its imprint inside us. The nostalgia for the china clay industry, the claims that the sky-tip is part of the local identity, the references to cultural heritage and tradition, all suggest landscape is as much inside as it is outside but it is more usually discussed in a particular, romantic and representational way. Liz Wells observes that as spiritual identity is intertwined with landscape (2011: 211) it inevitably heightens tensions in regard to wider national identity. Examining a wide range of photographic work from the Baltic and Nordic areas, Wells connects ideology and nationhood through photographic imagery. Her assessment, following Brecht, is that as ideologies change so do the shape and form of our representations.

Although industry is a largely hidden activity, occurring on the periphery of locations, there is a contradiction which seems to prefer a certain visibility of the landscape. Such visibility is largely configured through romantic ideas of what is experienced. This was supported, throughout the project, by the observation that landscape was regularly referred to by participants using romantic language, such as: “mystery,” “discovery,” “the real comes from your heart,” “harmony,” imperishable beauty.”

What is apparent is how these notions lack any reference to how landscape is produced. They remain firmly within the frame of romantic ideas of representation and appearances. Being focused in this way they obscure the connection between the industrial transformation of space and the economic pressures of capital. Even the term ‘post-industrial,’ which indicates historical, social and cultural transformations of landscape, has become romanticised, aestheticized, perhaps even abstract. It takes on a vagueness connected to a wider misunderstanding of ‘industry,’ which is often associated with an inaccurate concept of “machines, smoke, the transformation of raw materials” (Stiegler, 2012: 9). Whereas industry is also “standardization, economy of scale, calculability applied to all processes: there is industry in all realms — traveling, the realm of affects, or in the ‘cognitive’ domain” (2012: 9). Industry then is not only a romantic construct but a part of a ‘process of production.’

Following a direction set out by Allan Sekula in his essay “Photography between labour and capital” (Wells, 2010: 443), in which he suggests photographs create an imaginary world but claim it as reality, I next consider the relationship between photography and the economics of capital – the processes of production – in order to establish a connection between the two.

Sekula’s essay deals firstly with the archive followed by a range of claims that: “visual and pictorial histories reproduce established historical thought” (Wells, 2010: 448); “history takes on the character of spectacle” (Wells, 2010: 448); viewers of photographs identify with the authority of photography (Wells, 2010: 448); historical documents become aesthetic objects and are then uncritically viewed (Wells, 2010: 448). All these arguments begin with the visual and focus heavily on looking at what photographs show. However, if we consider photography as a thing into which labour-power has been expended and in which labour is embodied (Marx, 1867/2015:28), then any visual meaning, contained on the surface of photographs, becomes less significant to our understanding of photography. This may not appear a radical conceptualisation of photography but I suggest it makes photography a different object to think through. I do not propose what photography visually shows is unimportant; instead, I highlight how photographic representation has privileged its visual condition at the expense of other qualities. One reason this is helpful is that we need new ways to understand why we are engaged in more photography and producing more photographs. It is unlikely we can account for this change only because we need to see more images of people, objects and things. I suggest the circumstances in which everyone is becoming a ‘photographer’ are driven by a configuration of the forces of labour and pleasure and with pleasure being driven by desire and fantasy.

Photography provides continuity between pleasure and labour. Its agency is not only discernible through visibility or through representation but also through how the labour of production is mediated by pleasure. The most obvious example of the pleasure of hidden labour is the uploading of images to social media sites such as Facebook. Images form a substantial amount of content for the site; in turn, these images attract users’ attention. Attention is converted into revenue for Facebook through advertising. The infrastructure is made freely available however fundamentally user-generated content is what produces value on the site, not the technology provided by Facebook itself. Through this logic, the production of content (images or text) is intrinsic to the economic success of the site. Clearly most people add content to the site for pleasure, yet it is their labour which contains the surplus value that Facebook is able to convert into capital and profit.

Following this, I argue photographs are ideological – although this is clearly not a new claim – but my proposal is that they operate ideologically through their form as well as through the cultural meanings they are interpreted as having. What this means is that ideology is manifested in how they make invisible their own production. That is to say, any ‘labour value’ contained in photography is made less apparent because what is taken as being a manifest property of the photograph is ‘the visual’ not the material labour of photography. In ideological terms, images hide their purpose by positioning the visual at the centre of what they are. The ‘use-value’ (and here I am making ‘use’ of Marx) of photography is considered to be what they show visually and how they can be interpreted or understood. However, if use-value is also understood through labour production then photography can be opened up to questions about its specific process, about repetition and about duplication. That is to say, common to all photographs is a single mode of production, namely photography. What this suggests is that when looking at photographs we are both presented with and blinded from their ontology. By reflecting on the visual we maintain a focus on photography as a process of ‘making selectively visible’ that which a mode of production and labour ‘Enframes.’[4] However, the labour and production appear to be lost.

This is not a technical argument for photography and I am not suggesting technically difficult or challenging photographs somehow contain more value. Instead, when considering technology I take Heidegger’s notion of techne (1977: xix)[5] in which a subject is established – becomes constituted – through technology rather than adopts it as a means to do certain things. Heidegger sees technology and art as ways of disclosing; enabling “what is coming into appearance to appear” (Costello, 2012: 103). He considers both as different modes of a revealing process.

In summary of the above points, moving away from the visual to considering embodied labour and production helps develop a new understanding of photography. I argued photography is ideological in two ways: firstly, as it has been traditionally understood, in relation to the cultural production of the visual image but it is also ideological, I claim, because it hides its mode of labour and production and stresses the visual. Labour and production refer not only to the effort taken to construct a photograph but also to the complete photographic process – specifically it takes into account processes such as: reproduction, repetition, duplication, difference and sameness, circulation and consumption. Importantly, following Heidegger, these are processes of revealing. The significance of this position is how it brings to the surface a series of questions connected with processes and makes these specific to the condition of photography. When extracted from its visual surface we are then able to examine photography as a different kind of commodity. What this means, as I detail below, is asking why photographs might trigger behaviours (such as picturing sunsets or portraits with smiles, swiping, sharing, zooming or even looking itself).

Following the above, our attention can be moved away from questions around the ‘similarity of the object photographed to the image created,’ toward the condition of similarity between photographs. Drawing from Deleuze[6] (2014: 02), I argue a start point for photography is not the contemplation of endless numbers of sunset photographs, which can be quickly found from an image search. Instead, these serve to intensify the actual sunset that, in advance, pre-configures the photographs of it that will follow. In a similar fashion, there is an actual face which is the repeat of all the selfies taken of it. To be clear, this is not a return to the visual by another route. What I am suggesting is a model to reflect differently upon mechanisms of representation and repetition.  Drawing from Marx again, what is common to all photographs of sunsets and all selfies is not that they can be visually exchanged for one another but that they are products of the hidden labour and production of photography. The force behind the production of photography is a fantasy of verisimilitude driven by an always-unsatisfied desire. This is to say, they duplicate and repeat the conditions of their own existence and these conditions reproduce the logic of capital in which dissatisfaction creates demand. At its most radical this means photography, far from being a force for change and resistance, can also be understood as inescapably a site of stability and conformity.

Each new photograph of a sunset celebrates and replaces all previous photographs of sunsets. What we gather from this is not how unlike[7] a real sunset they visually are (I discuss this further in Chapter Four) but how similar each photograph is to the other.[8] This is increasingly evident in the age of ubiquitous photography (Hand, 2012) and was shown in the research when participants produced similar versions of the same subject matter. Photography’s value is as an immaterial, objective social relation that exists in the form of affects. No doubt the visual content of a photograph will have an affective impact but so too does photography as a process. I claim photography is processual not only before it becomes visual but also in excess of the visual, since it maintains its processual properties, through sharing, distribution and interaction.

To conclude, similar to most landscapes, photography contains a hidden value of its production. Photography is as much responsible for a configuration of social relations as it is for providing us with visual likenesses. Therefore, as well as being understood by what it shows, photography can be approached as being a process of reproduction, repetition, duplication, difference and sameness, circulation and consumption in its own right. By putting aside the visual and understanding photography through these processes and how it operates through the drives of fantasy and desire photography intensifies real experience, this is examined in the following section.


[1] One of the distinctions that can be made between a diorama and photograph is the specificity of the medium through which the object or referent is represented. In photographic terms, this is usually a flat surface, such as the photographic print or a projected or screen-based surface. Whereas the diorama is three-dimensional, it contains depth. It can be navigated through the three geometrical planes of ‘x’, ’y’ and ‘z’ (it should be noted that often the experience of the diorama’s audience is restricted to a horizontal x-axis, along a separating boundary, nevertheless there is always potential to move into the diorama). This then brings the terms of ‘movement’ and a third ‘z’ axis into the considerations of image and representation.

[2] The starting points for researching this area was Marx, Lefebvre and latterly a series of lectures I attended given by Professor David Harvey. From a photographic position, I read Alan Sekula’s “Photography between labour and capital” (Wells 2010: 443) and his work “Fish Story” (1995/2002). All of these are discussed in the following pages.

[3] This nostalgia was evident when I visited and spoke with staff at Wheal Martyn museum. Many of the items they held in their archive were objects local people had donated that they “just didn’t want to throw away.” At the time I visited in 2013, much of the archive at the museum had been moved to Exeter University. The archive seemed to have become more of a repository for minor, personal items, which were only very loosely linked to the mining history of the area. I discuss this process in more detail in Appendix 01 of this thesis.      

[4] Heidegger’s term has been referenced elsewhere in this thesis. In this context, it is used to suggest how “both men and things  . . . take their places in the stark configuration . . . for use” (1977: xxix). It is therefore used here to suggest ordering, assembling order or configuring production and labour together into something which has a use.

[5] Heidegger examines the etymology of the word technique and describes how the word techne refers to crafts as well as the fine arts (arts of the mind). He states its use as a term for bringing forth and revealing. He also draws attention to its link with episteme and therefore suggests it has a direct connection to knowing (1977: 13).

[6] Deleuze himself is borrowing from Charles Péguy’s account of the fall of the Bastille and the study of Money’s Nymphéas in his book “Clio,” as a way of considering repetition for itself. Péguy’s book on “history in relation to life,” takes the notion of Bergson’s durée and sees duration as part of the process of ageing (Bell & Colebrook, 2009: 144).

[7] Photographs appear to contain the essence of their distance from reality while still maintaining a claim on the real. The distance is what makes a photograph an image, as posited by Derrida (1998: 23) wherein there is différance between a signifier / image and what it signifies / the object.

[8] Here I differ from Daniel Rubinstein who claims photography is a force of difference.