Bourdieu, Pierre

Photography, a middle-brow art

Bourdieu, Pierre (1996) Photography: A Middle-brow Art. Cambridge: Stanford University Press.

There are (at least) three editions: the original in French, 1965; this English translation, 1990; and an ‘illustrated, revised edition’ , 1996.

There is a PDF of this full 1990 edition available here [accessed 19 January 2021].





Preface to the English Language Edition

INTRODUCTION, Pierre Bourdieu

The study of photographic practice and the meaning of the photographic image is a privileged opportunity to employ an original method designed to apprehend within a total comprehension the objective regularities of behaviour and the subjective experience of that behaviour.

The Cult of Unity and Cultivated Differences,
Pierre Bourdieu

The explanation of photographjc practice with reference to the universality of a ‘need’ for photographs mistakes the effect for the cause.

Photographic practice as an index and an instrument of integration
Photographic practice is a function of the integration of the family while also having a function of integration as a rite of solemnization

Occasions for the practice and occasional practice
Deter1nined by its family function, photographic practice is ordinarily associated with the high points of family life, and cannot, without contradicting its function, free itself from the occasions which determine it and thus become transformed into an autonomous practice.

Devotees or deviants?
Practice freed from the family function is encountered amongst the least integrated subjects and often appears as a form of the expression of deviance. It is most often defined by the refusal of the nor111s which, for each social class, determine the quality and intensity of the practice.

Class distinctions
Unlike other cultural practices, photography is devalorized by being popularized to the extent where the attitudes of the different social classes towards this practice obey the logic of snobbery.

The Socjal Definition of Photography,
Pierre Bourdieu

An art which imitates art
Only a naive realism sees the photographic representation of reality as realistic; if it appears objective, it is because the rules defining its social use conform to the social definition of objectiviyy.

Barbarous taste
The popular aesthetic expressed in photographic production or with regard to photographs is the opposite of a Kantian aesthetic; it always subordinates the production and use· of the image and the image itself to social functions.

The hierarchy of legitimacies
Many of the attitudes provoked by photography are explained by the fact that it is located half-way between vulgar and noble practices.


Along with the broad mass of users of photography who realize, in their behaviour, the social truth of photography without perceiving it as such, the common feature of the groups which will be studied here is the break that they have made with naive attachment to the social definition of photography, which is never better recalled than when one seeks to mock or to exploit it.

Aesthetic Ambitions and Social Aspirations: The Camera Club as a Secondary Group
Robert Castel and Dominique Schnapper

While all the members of a camera club may share their desire to break with the current usages of photography, they do not all provide the same justification for their new practice.

Impatience with limitations
In a society dominated by the traditional model of art ( and by the groups which tend to monopolize its use), the activity of camera clubs is conceived with reference to painting. However, photographic practice is inspired less by the attempt to imitate this art than by the effort to become worthy of a certain image of its social function.

The patience of the profession
In clubs with a more working-class membership, reference to art diminishes in favour of technical justification. Although photography is no longer an end in itself, one might nevertheless wonder whether open acceptance of the camera and its operations does not recreate a lost attitude towards a culture which has been replaced by the ‘mechanical arts’.

Mechanical Art, Natural Art: Photographic Artists,
Jean-Claude Chamboredon

Exceptions and commonplaces
The proliferation of aesthetic theories and discussion reveals, through the recurrence of problems and the uniformity of responses, the awareness of opposition to the social definition of photography.

An uncertain creation and an arbitrary aesthetic
Because the discontinuous and selective perception of the moments of the photographic act stresses the ambiguities of the act of creation, the artistic intention, which is still in question, may seem like obedience to the definitions imposed by the machine and fidelity to the works that nature provide . It asserts itself by dictating a rigorous and arbitrary system of norms and prohibitions.

Aesthetic reminiscence and social status
Forced by the uncertainty of the photographic image to demand that aesthetic traditions should define a hierarchy of valorized objects, aesthetes are primarily characterized by their relationship to the groups which establish those traditions.

Professional Men or Men of Quality: Professional Photographers,
Luc Boltanski and Jean-Claude Chamboredon

Photographers stress the low level of cohesion of their profession. The reason for this may be sought in the analysis of the expectations that precede entry into the photographic profession and those that survive it.

The expectation of the profession and the expectations of the professionals
The diversity of photographers’ attitudes to their activity actually masks the diversity of objective conditions within the profession, which itself derives from the persistence of differences related to social origin.

Good manners: photographers and success
Because success in photography is linked to the photography of valorized objects and contact with prestigious milieux, only a consideration of ‘manners’ and ‘class’, the social inheritance par excellence, enables us to grasp the modalities of the effect of social origin on professional situations.

Index A-C


abstention from photography
and aesthetic attitudes 71
justification of 16-17, 43-4

abstract photographs ·119

and photographic practice 51, 57, 183n.
and professional training 156-60

aesthetic judgements 78-94
by camera clubs 108-9
by clerical workers 61, 62
by junior executives 63
by peasants 80-4, 88, 93
by senior executives 64-5
by the upper class 67
by the working class 58-9, 84-9,95,98

aesthetic photographers 46, 146-9
in camera clubs 105, 106-16

of entry into professional photography 157-8
and photographic practice 41, 182n.

agricultural shows, photographs at 21

allegories, photographs as 91, 92

amateur photographers 138, 155
and art photography 168-9
and camera ownership 33
and local photographers 172-3
and social class 168
at weddings 20

apprentice photographers 154

Aristotle 129

art photography 131-2, 141, 143
amateur practice of 168-9

artistic photography, aesthetic judgements of 89-90

Atget,J. E. 142


as devotees 41
numbers of photographs owned by 25

baptisms, photographs of 21

beauty, in photography 79, 108, 109, 119, 120

Benjamin, Walter 76, 138

Bernard, Claude 2-3

Bologna camera club 104, 106, 107,108,109,110,112,115, 123,127

bourgeoisie see upper class

Brassai 145, 146

Broglie, Louis Victor, Due de 130


camera clubs 46, 103-28, 145-6, 155,169
participation in, after marriage 41
working-class 116-28

attitudes to 125-6
automatism of 6
discrediting of 106-7
as family property 40, 177n.
ownership of 13-14, 32-3; class differences in 42; and families with children 19
and photographic practice 153
relationships with 139, 141, 145
as technical objects 18

CAP (Certificat d’ Aptitude Professionelle) 152, 156

Cartier-Bresson, Henri 142

childless families, and photographic practice 41

families with 19, 23, 41
first communion photographs 21, 22, 29, 163
of photographers 160
and photographic practice 26, 43,66
photographs of 21..:.2;26,29, 30,34,52,55,71,113

Christmas holidays 25

cinema, and cultural legitimacy 95-6, 97, 131

aesthetic judgements by 88
peasant attitudes to 50, 53, 57, 80-1
and photographic practice 25
see also urban society

class distinctions
and aesthetic judgement 98
and art 112-13
and camera clubs 124
and devotees 44-6
and photographic practice 6-7, 9,46-72, 105
and professional photography 156-62, 166-9, 170-1

Clergue, Lucien 139, 143, 145, 147

clerical workers
abstention from photography 44
aesthetic judgements by 84, 85
and camera ownership 42
children of 66
and photographic practice 57, 60-2, 184-5n.

clothing see dress

colour photography
and aesthetic judgement 92
and clerical workers 62
expenditure 9n 32
refusal of 63
and the showing of photographs 87
and working-class practice 57-8

consecrated arts, legitimacy of 95, 96-7

Corsica, family photographs in 29

couples, photographs of 81

creation, photographic, difficulty of defining 132-41

cultural legitimacy, of photographic practice 95-8, 137



Daninos, Pierre 68, 69

darkroom work
in camera clubs 107,111,116, 118, 121-2
and professional photographers 151, 154, 160, 167
social status of 161

Descartes, Rene 90
devotees 39-46; among manual workers 44-5; among senior executives 64; and cultural legitimacy 97-8; satire of 68-9

Disderi 164

dramatic art courses 171

dress, of professional photographers 166-7

Durkheim, E. 20, 28, 41


educational level and photographic practice 182n.
and professional training 155, 156

Eiffel Tower, photographs of 36, 88

ETPC (Ecole Technique de Photo et de Cinema) 158, 169-70

executives see junior executives; senior executives


face, human, photographs of 94

family function, of photography 19-31, 33-5

family photographs 30-1
and aesthetic judgements 90-1
judgements by others of 81-2, 88-9
and junior executives 63
rejection of 40-1, 103-4

film-making 38

first communion photographs 21, 22,29, 163

forgeries 138

Francastel, Pierre 74

frontality, principle of, in photographs 82, 83


Giacometti, Albert 142

godmothers, sending family photographs to 26

grandparents, sending family photographs to 26

of aesthetic photographers 146-7
photographs of 26, 81-2
of professional photographers 150-1


Hartung, Hans 136

Hegel, G. W. F. 5

holiday photographs 35-7, 81

holiday-makers, peasant attitudes to 8,48-9,50

holidays, and photographic practice 25

home decoration
of clerical workers 62
of manual workers 59
of peasants 24-5

home movies 62, 63, 181-2n.

honeymoon photographs 36, 37

human bodies
aesthetic judgements on
photographs of 94
poses in photographs 80, 81-2, 83



IFP (Institut Francais de Photographie) 169, 170-1

illustration photography 143, 161,163

and camera ownership 14, 32, 42
and photographic practice 35, 43,44,60
professional photographers 151, 152

photographed in social roles 24
and photographic practice 9

industrial photography 161,162, 163,164

industrialists, and camera ownership 42


jazz, and cultural legitimacy 95- 6, 97,131

junior executives
abstention from photography 44
and art 113
children of 43, 66
devotees among 45-6
and photographic practice 62- 4, 65, 185-6n.


Kant, I. 85-6, 89, 92


camera club 107, 115, 123
senior executives in 66

local photographers 165, 171-3


manual workers
aesthetic judgements by 84, 85, 87
and camera ownership 42
devotees among 44-5
and photographic practice 15-18, 57-60, 184-5n.

see also working class

married people
numbers of photographs owned by 25
and photographic practice 41
see also wedding photographs

memories, captured in photographs 27

middle class (petite bourgeoisie)
adolescents, and professional training 156, 158, 159, 170-1
aesthetic judgement by 98
bourgeoisie of Bologna 112-13
and camera clubs 124
and photographic practice 47, 105
professional photographers 161, 169

and photographs of children 21, 22, 57
see also wives

motivations for photography 14- 18


Nadar, G. 164

naturalist photography 94

Nietzsche, F. W. · 6

nuclear families 25, 28

nude photographs 89


objectivity, and photography 130

objects, valorized 144-5
photographing of 163


attitude of junior executives to 62
and the bourgeoisie 112-13
and camera clubs 114
and photography 71, 77-8, 104, 110-11, 129, 134, 14(,..;.7
and realism 93
and working-class camera clubs 124-5
and working-class practice 58

holiday photographs in 36-7
senior executives in 66

aesthetic judgements by 93
household displays of photographs 24-5
and photographic practice 8-9, 19-25,28,34,47-57,80-4

poses in photographs 80, 83

petite bourgeoisie see middle class

‘Photo-cession’ movement 141

Platonic aesthetic 144

‘play’ in photography 108-9

posing for photographs 80, 81-2

professional photographers 149, 150-73
and family photographs 29

Proust, Marcel 74-5,1 44



qualifications, professional, for photography 152-3, 155, 156


radio consumption 70

Ray,Man 138, 139-40, 146

realism in photography 74-6, 77, 93-4

record-players, ownership of 66

recruitment of professional photographers 154, 155, 160, 170-1

relatives, sending family photographs to 22, 26

repetition of photographs 137-8

restraints on photography 14, 15

romantic photography 108

rural society see peasants


Sartre,Jean-Paul 109

senior executives
and camera ownership 42
children of 43, 66
and photographic practice 64-6, 67

Simondon, Gilbert 77

slide-shows 37-8

social functions, of photography 8, 70, 71-2, 79-80

social mobility, and professional photographers 160-2

social roles, of individuals, in photographs 24

Steiglitz, Alfred 141

still life 78

street photographers 173

Sudre,J. P. 135,136, 141

Sunday abstract painting 113

Suzuki, D. T. 13


taste, among photographers 167

advanced, and photographic practice 153
refusal of 63, 107-8, 109, 111-12, 114
in working-class camera clubs 121-2, 125-6, 127

television, ownership of 66

temporal dimension, in photography 76

tourism 67

towns see urban society

training, professional photographers 152-3, 154, 155-60

transcience of photographic subjects 135-6

‘Trente et Quarante’ camera club 103, 106, 107, 108, 109, 111, 114-15, 116,122,123,127


United States 141

upper class (bourgeoisie)
adolescents: and professional training 156, 158-9, 160
aesthetic judgements of 67
and holiday photographs 25
and photographic practice 9, 47,69, 105
professional photographers 161

urban society
peasants’ relationship to 8-9
and photographic practice 28, 57-60
see also city-dwellers


virtuosos, photographic 131, 132, 135-41, 142-5, 146-9


Weber, Max 10, 126

wedding photographs 20, 21, 22-3,49,81

and photographic practice 40, 55
see also mothers

working class
adolescents 156
aesthetic judgement by 58-9, 84-9,95,98
and amateur photography 168, 169
and the artistic value of photography 78, 79
camera clubs 116-28
and photographic practice 9, 15-18, 57-60
professional photographers 161


young people and photographic practice 41,

see also adolescents

youth clubs 116-18, 124