Sociological analysis of photography occurs at various points in Bourdieu’s work, particularly in Photography: a Middle-brow Art and the opening sections of Distinction. Bourdieu was also concerned with visual art and its importance more generally as a powerful locus of symbolic power, and in social and cultural classification (Bourdieu 1993a). Bourdieu recognized that photography in particular was a vital ‘stake’ in social classification struggles because of its immediacy and popularity. Bourdieu argues that it is in ‘photographic production and judgements on photographic images that the principles of “popular taste” are expressed’ (Bourdieu 1993a: 296). But because photography was an easily accessible ‘middle-brow art’, situated midway between more ‘noble’ and ‘vulgar’ practices (i.e. fine art vs. graffiti), it ‘condemned its practitioners to create a substitute for the sense of cultural legitimacy which is given to the priests of all the legitimate arts’ (Bourdieu 1993a: 131). In terms of the visual arts it is probably still true to say that photography takes up this ambiguous role and certainly the art market values art photography far less than fine art.
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