Simmel’s alpine aesthetics and the stereoscope: The aesthetic qualities of the stereoscopic gaze and the stereo views by Manuel Alvarez

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Abstract

In this paper, I argue that the practices of stereoscopic photography throughout the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century can be interpreted as technological answers to many of the questions raised by the theories of art regarding the landscape genre, such as immersion, volume, scale, and subjectivity. However, it was not a direct influence, since stereoscopic photography was perceived as part of popular culture and, thus, excluded from the artistic field. Stereoscopy’s middlebrow reputation is largely due to the perception that photography’s automated character and its mass diffusion as a visual commodity would prevent it from gaining any artistic value. To assert the possibility of a filiation in landscape theories, I focus on two essays by Georg Simmel, ‘The Alps’ (1911) and ‘The Philosophy of Landscape’ (1913), which are representative of these modern debates. I argue that the exclusion of photography from Simmel’s essays does not prevent us from a cultural reading, clarifying both that exclusion and the possibility of relating stereoscopic images to the pictorial challenges of the time. This is to state that visuality, although moulded by institutions and power, also spreads across many different social fields. I take as an example the alpine stereo photographs by the Portuguese amateur Manuel Alvarez, a tourist and photographer in the Swiss Alps at the same period of Simmel’s essays.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-27
Number of pages27
JournalEarly Popular Visual Culture
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2020

Keywords

  • alpine aesthetics
  • early 20th century visual culture
  • manuel Alvarez
  • photography
  • simmel
  • Stereoscopy

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