Photography, cinema and medium as social practice

Joanna Lowry, David Green

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


One of the more interesting aspects of the dialogue between the mediums of the still and moving image that has taken place over recent years has been a concern within fine art photography for the cinematic. Photographers have turned to the style and iconography of the established genres of cinema as a means of reinventing the pictorial form of the tableau and thereby to explore the possibilities of narrativity within the static image. However, beyond any aesthetic interest the contemporary genre of the ‘cinematic photograph’ may hold, it is argued here that it may be indicative of an important shift in the social, economic and technological bases of fine art photography. This essay suggests that the significance of the ‘cinematic photograph’ lies in its complex forms of technical production, the mobilisation of skilled labour and professional expertise, and the deployment of substantial economic resources, which are to be found in the film industry. Through an analysis of the work of the American photographer Gregory Crewdson, the authors demonstrate how the formal and iconographic properties of his images are inseparable from his adoption of the cinema’s specific modes of production and that the latter is central to a reading of Crewdson’s photographs. The consequences this holds for our understanding of the medium of photography are developed with reference to Raymond Williams’ concept of ‘medium as social practice’. The authors conclude that the ‘cinematic photograph’ might be regarded as symptomatic of a trend within contemporary art practices to model themselves on cinema as the emblematic form of cultural production of ‘late capitalism’; a trend that has significant implications for the dominant conceptions concerning the nature of the work of art and the role of the artist.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-142
Number of pages11
JournalVisual Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2009


  • photography
  • cinematic
  • medium
  • medium specificity
  • gregory crewdson


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