Cover image for Hold That Pose: Visual Culture in the Late Nineteenth-Century Spanish Periodical By Lou Charnon-Deutsch

Hold That Pose

Visual Culture in the Late Nineteenth-Century Spanish Periodical

Lou Charnon-Deutsch

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ISBN: 978-0-271-03203-0

192 pages
8" × 9.5"
90 b&w illustrations
2008

Hold That Pose

Visual Culture in the Late Nineteenth-Century Spanish Periodical

Lou Charnon-Deutsch

“Charnon-Deutsch offers previously unpublished material, inspiring analysis of culturally complex images and texts, and an innovative methodology for producing historically rich interpretations of visual culture.”

 

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Hold That Pose explores the role of visual images in Spain’s transition to a fully modern illustrated press by the first decade of the twentieth century. It examines both the ideological impact and the technological transformation of image production in Spanish magazines during the Restoration. In the brief period of forty years, 1870 to 1910, technological and manufacturing advances revolutionized Spain’s illustrated press and consequently Europeanized the tastes and the expectations of its elite urban readership. By 1900, once subscription prices fell and magazines began to apply modern photojournalistic techniques, the middle classes became inured to illustrated magazines. Advancements in photomechanical reproduction allowed periodicals to focus more extensively on the vicissitudes and pleasures of everyday life in urban Spain along with world events in increasingly remote locales. Hold That Pose explores this period of transition through an analysis of the images that spoke for and to the burgeoning numbers of subscribers who purchased the most popular weeklies of the period.
“Charnon-Deutsch offers previously unpublished material, inspiring analysis of culturally complex images and texts, and an innovative methodology for producing historically rich interpretations of visual culture.”
“Charnon-Deutsch has established herself as the foremost chronicler and interpreter of pictorial art and visual culture in the 19th-century Spanish periodical.

Charnon-Deutsch provides an altogether engaging picture of how magazine images influence the common interests of society and how mass-marketing shapes the tastes of a wide-ranging readership.”

Lou Charnon-Deutsch is Professor of Hispanic Languages at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. Her previous books include three published by Penn State Press: Narratives of Desire: Nineteenth-Century Spanish Fiction by Women (1994), Fictions of the Feminine in the Nineteenth-Century Spanish Press (1999), and The Spanish Gypsy (2004).

Contents

List of Illustrations

Acknowledgments

Introduction: The Globe in the Palm of His Hand

Racial Fetishism in the Nineteenth-Century Illustrated Magazine

From Engraving to Photoengraving: Cross-Cut Technologies

Torcuato Luca de Tena’s Blanco y Negro and Spain’s Move Toward a Mass Media

Cartooning the “Splendid Little War” of 1898

Conclusion

Bibliography

Notes

Index

Introduction

The Globe in the Palm of His Hand

After the early work of Walter Benjamin and later Roland Barthes, and, more recently, others like Pierre Bourdieu or Richard Ohmann, who recognize the intricacies involved in the “selling” of popular culture, it no longer seems necessary to defend the study of magazines as an appropriate form of scholarly pursuit. Although there will always exist a “hierarchy of legitimate objects of study,” never before has the imperative to understand the production of popular culture so thoroughly occupied literary studies. The impact of print media, a hotly debated issue beginning in the early twentieth century, continues to be a focal point of cultural studies criticism even as we move on to study other media more representative of today’s obsession with visualism. Some cultural critics believe that their work is justified by the mere fact that they are exposing the complexity and diversity of culture against a norm of culture that is belleletristic, elitist, and geared to the educated few. The magazine was undeniably an important part of the symbolism of nineteenth-century urban life, and in deciphering its “surplus of meaning” the researcher reaps many rewards. To justify the study of magazines and other ephemera, however, it is now understood that the cultural critic must contribute to knowledge in a more positive way, for example, by exposing a nationalism that disguises itself as something wholesome, patriotic, and inclusive, or by interrogating the economic issues, specifically marketing and production, and their relation to the technology that drove magazine production.

One of the objects of this book is to look at the various innovations in the printing industry in the late nineteenth century, to gauge their significance in the formation of new classes of citizens as Spain moved “fitfully” toward modernity. The book examines both the ideological impact and the technological transformation of image production in Spanish magazines during the Restoration. In the brief period of forty years, 1870–1910, technological and manufacturing advances revolutionized Spain’s illustrated press and consequently further galvanized the tastes and expectations of its urban readership. But by 1900 certain middle-class sectors as well became inured to illustrated magazines once subscription rates fell and magazines began to apply modern photojournalistic techniques that integrated text and images and catered to middle-class interests. Advancements in photomechanical reproduction allowed periodicals to showcase extensively the vicissitudes and pleasures of everyday life in urban Spain as well as world events in increasingly remote locales. The possibilities for staying abreast of the modern world via the photographed image seemed endless. The periodical participated in the construction of the very notion of the city, “creating a community of textually initiated residents” (Resina, 14), forcing readers to apprehend the familiar in culturally conditioned ways, not just in terms of “order and unity, scale and space, light and shadow, and color and texture” (Resina, 13). The weekly magazine became an important ingredient of the collective life of the city, acting like a visual and discursive testimonial to its current heterogeneity as well as a kind of souvenir of its idealized urbanity.

As technology advanced, so too the pictorial content of images available in periodicals changed in specific ways, mediating Spain’s vision of itself as a nation and its place among other nations. By the end of the nineteenth century the visual field readily available to readers through print media had expanded tremendously, an indication of the growing addiction to visualism that characterized other industrialized nations already in possession of a mass media by 1900. Even before the 1868 revolution, images had invaded everyday life, especially in urban centers: they were inserted in aleluyas (broadsides), posters, folletines (serialized novels), weekly magazines, and illustrated books, and eventually they would make their debut in daily newspapers, stereographs, photo albums, cartes de visite, religious cards, postcards, cigarette and candy wrappers, and posters. This wide distribution implied new ways of perceiving the world that were scripted, arranged, and framed to suit the varying uses (both economic and ideological) and limitations (technological and bureaucratic) of the media but also to accommodate the vision that bourgeois and eventually middle-class urban dwellers had come to expect as part of their quotidian experience. Hold That Pose explores the end point of this period of transition and innovation through an analysis of several magazines and groups of images that spoke for and to the burgeoning numbers of subscribers who purchased the most popular weeklies of the period. For Spanish readers the results of this new organization and revelation of the physical world must have seemed truly remarkable and modern, something that is difficult to imagine in today’s vision-laden culture, but more easily grasped when one compares the visual culture available in 1800 or even 1850 with that of 1900.

Exalting the accomplishments of the modern periodical in his address to the Spanish Royal Academy in 1895, the dramatist Eugenio Sellés imagined that with their potential to make the world more accessible and comprehensible printed images had endowed man with truly godlike powers: “[T]he photograph copies, the buril engraves, in order to represent in the periodical’s pages a living drama, with its own adornment and personages portrayed in such a way that everything appears directly before us, completely revealed to us, as if man, like the divinity, held the globe reduced in the palm of his hand.” By the turn of the century the larger world not only seemed more accessible, territorialized, and comprehensible to men like Sellés; its visual traces conformed to the economic needs of the new knowledge industries, capitalist enterprises very much concerned with production costs and profit margins. Marshall McLuhan’s dictum, “The medium is the message,” has often been criticized as simplistic, but part of what it means holds true for emerging media like photography and the illustrated magazine that developed in its wake. The visual order conventionalized in the magazine image served social, economic, and national interests in myriad ways: convening groups of subjects in common interests; educating consumers about available as well as precious commodities; garnering support for national enterprises such as wars, railroad building, industrial and urban modernization; and finally visualizing appropriate and inappropriate public and private behaviors of the citizenry. The age of photography, as Barthes noted, “corresponds precisely to the explosion of the private into the public, or rather into the creation of a new social value which is the publicity of the private.” A key factor in the new visual economy was the “appearance” of photography (that is, printed images that appeared to be photographs) and the desire for accuracy it satisfied. The medium of photography invaded the periodical in part because readers demanded that messages be put into evidence in a more convincing way that eventually phased out other forms of hand-wrought representation. But the medium was also the message in the case of magazine photography, because whatever reality these images represented had to conform to the medium’s complex technical possibilities for representation, and readers, whether they knew it or not, were no longer able to say with certainty exactly how any image before their eyes came to be.

Eugenio Sellés believed that the power of the press was vast; that the periodical was above all an organ for progress, capable of producing men “fit for society,” imbuing even the working classes with notions and information able to redeem them from the “malignant power of shadows.” Modern Cultural Studies clings to this notion of the social power of the press, now, however, often spelling out its nefarious consequences rather than its redemptive capacity. Nevertheless, caution about overstating the impact, positive or negative, of the implementation of new technologies must be the guiding principle of anyone examining both the ideological and the visual effects and determinants of magazine production. Searching for technological explanations for the massification of the media at the end of the nineteenth century is to overlook the structural and social changes that were occurring in society, changes that demanded an expanded national media. For one thing, the relationship of photography to the traditional arts has often been overstated. As Peter Galassi reminds us, “[P]hotography was not a bastard left on the doorstep of art, but a legitimate child of the Western pictorial tradition,” responding to social pressures to see the world differently. In other words, the conventions of photography reflected social and political transformations and pressures that determined a significant shift in point of view already in place as photography in the press was making its debut. So it was not just that photography suddenly and magically allowed viewers to see or to understand the world in a different way; rather, photography responded to the desire to see the world both in a broader and at the same time more intimate and mundane way. Consumer demand for increased graphic images “spurred both manufacturers and inventors to seek new ways in which it might be.” The rise of the middle classes spurred consumer demand for image production, and the history of photography is “a history of needs alternatively manufactured and satisfied by an unlimited flow of commodities; a model of capitalist growth in the nineteenth century.”

It is always tempting to exaggerate the importance of a new technology, whether photography, television, or the Internet, when it first emerges as a recognizable social force that proponents claim advances knowledge. Opinions abound that, owing to their very novelty, the media of the nineteenth century had a greater impact on citizens than the same media today, capable of forcefully creating national stereotypes and mobilizing public hatred or sympathy for various causes. It is no doubt the case that, in addition to entertaining readers, magazines educated, socialized, and indoctrinated them, interfacing with other institutions whose aim was not primarily entertainment, so that their role was indeed multiple and complex. But print media alone is not responsible for constituting social reality, even though it is indispensable for understanding how the sense of a nation expanded in the nineteenth century. And although the photograph transformed the world into a spectacle, it was not the technology on its own that determined the new visual regime by making the printed image a part of everyday life. Rather, photographic technology and the media in general were put to use to further specific ends. Among these ends were capitalism’s expanding search for new investments and ways to market products, political agendas for garnering national support for unfavorable policies and struggles, and shadowy forces of apparatuses like the Catholic Church battling against a waning sense of religion as the defining element of national identity. In the following pages I make the argument that the expanded visual dimension of print media, especially with the regular use of the image-based news item, contributed to the formation of a public sphere with a national and even international dimension, but without taking for granted like Sellés that this resulted in a progressive, healthy homogenization of Spanish culture or even that innovations in the press were alone responsible for great shifts in public opinion whatever the consequences. The technology that increased magazine production did not simply create a demand; it responded to a demand for an unlimited flow of commodities.

As I also hope to demonstrate, the message of images discussed in the following chapters is often complex and contradictory. Magazine visuals played a double role of emphasizing differences––national and international, class and ethnic––and at the same time erasing differences and celebrating the “family” of man or the “family” of Spanish citizens and the immutability of human nature. Through visual tributes the past was venerated, celebrated, eulogized, and thrown up as a model against a paltry and diminished present, yet the present was also heralded as an age of fantastic advances, a radical break with an outdated past, a door to a modernity that was full of possibility and wonder. Magazine editors understood that visual culture, then, could be all things to all people, and it is important, while discussing its usefulness as an ideological tool, both to avoid falling into a technologism that exaggerates its power and to be cautious about generalizations regarding the influence of images in general. That the power of the image is a key to the transformation of the magazine into a commodity is undeniable, but it was not just that the image-laden magazine was becoming a profit-driven enterprise like any other modern enterprise. The magazine became a conspicuous pawn in the advancement of capitalist ideology, which seized on the media to sell not just its goods but its philosophy, and the ways in which these transactions happened were subtle and multiple.

Hold That Pose begins with a look at the psychological and political dimensions of a category of images that held special fascination in high-end magazines during the period that these publications were at their moment of greatest success and cultural prominence. The discussion centers on female portraits that reached a pinnacle of refinement and audacious display in the 1890s in expensive illustrated magazines just as other magazines were beginning to focus on photoengraving as the defining visual of their weekly output. These images had the double effect of bringing European genre art to the attention of Spanish magazine subscribers and, through their incredible refinement and idealism, preparing readers to distinguish the engraving from the image resembling a photograph that was by contrast mundane, immediate, and “realistic,” and consequently more suited to a mass-circulation magazine. In an earlier work on Spanish graphics I examined the use of the feminine portrait as one of the chief visual anchors of the illustrated periodical. Before such engravings disappeared in the popular press and were relegated to specialized art magazines, they reached a level of sophistication and refinement that made it obvious that the hand-engraved image did not surrender easily to the mundane photograph as the visual of choice in the illustrated magazine. The refined portraits of women discussed in Chapter 1, technically speaking unchallenged in the 1870s and 80s, appeared alongside photographs in the 1890s and 1900s where they contrasted sharply with the newer photo images. At that point they became associated either with the past or with high art and stood out for their highly posed and idealistic, as opposed to realistic, content, as well as for their power to evoke sensuous reactions in magazine viewers. I chose a group of images of exotic women bedecked in coins to exemplify this high point of late-century magazine engraving, not just because of the images’ technical excellence, but because though they were largely foreign imports, these images responded to the demands and sentiments of Spanish bourgeois consumers in specific ways. Because the sensuous appeal of the exotic women was heightened by their juxtaposition with the precious objects that adorned their bodies, these images occupy a special position in the fetishization of the female portrait that reached its high-water point at the end of the century, just as Spain was experiencing one of its most difficult political and military crises.

Documenting the events of that difficult period would have been the work of the army of skilled illustrators and engravers, before the use of field photography became the norm in the illustrated press. The task of tracing how and when periodicals began to use photography to reproduce art and document political events, daily activities of the citizenry, or battles and scenes from abroad is a complicated task. The processes employed to get ink to paper were in constant flux, with new techniques rapidly replacing the old, and with traditional engraving techniques combined with newer photographic techniques in ways that are in many instances difficult to gauge and that publishers rarely documented with clarity. Nevertheless, assessing the uses of technology is key to understanding the potential of the magazine industry in arriving at the desired level of mass production. Chapter 1 looks at both the various processes that led to the replacement of manually produced, mechanically printed engravings by images that were photographed and reproduced photomechanically, and the effects that resulted from this substitution. What is evident is that the processes employed not only impacted the pictorial content and level of refinement of whatever process was utilized; they also influenced the choice of subject and the content of the text that accompanied the images. The aim of juxtaposing the images and modes of production of two important and widely disseminated magazines, the prestigious Ilustración Española y Americana and the more populist Blanco y Negro, is precisely to show the mutual influence of traditional engraving and photoengraving processes. This juxtaposition also demonstrates, to the extent possible, what made process printing using photomechanical reproduction win out in the race with xylography and other manual printing processes to supply the increasingly insatiable thirst for visual culture that marked the end of the century.

Ilustración Española y Americana was the benchmark publication for combining art with information about world events, natural wonders, and manmade inventions and constructions, a gazette publication with rich and varied appeal. It, however, like other high-profile periodicals that emulated it––Ilustración Ibérica, Ilustración de Madrid, Ilustración Artística, Ilustración de Catalunya, and others––was doomed to share diminishing markets and eventually to be replaced by more modest, but also more populist magazines that featured local artists and popular entertainment. It is tempting to conclude that technological advancements that made the mass production of images and text together possible led to the leveling of culture, resulting in a democratization of the press with increased appeal to the masses. While this is an important factor in the popularization of the medium-format magazine, the idea of an organ of mass communication in Spain in the late nineteenth century remains a problematic concept. Even if we accept for a moment the notion of calling a magazine like Blanco y Negro a mass-circulating publication, as some have described it, it is important to discuss the interrelation between the mode of production of the magazine and its content, an issue I look at more closely in Chapter 3. A combination of factors ensured that Blanco y Negro was an instant success when it appeared in 1895. Apparently urban readers were receptive to the kind of news doled out in small batches, often with a heavy dose of humor and numerous accompanying pictorial images, that functioned as a kind of shorthand messaging system. Paul Aubert even credits the magazine for instilling in consumers the expectation of graphic coverage as the best way to establish the historical veracity of news items. Another important factor was that reduced overhead costs and modern equipment, modes of production, and access to raw materials and markets made it possible to offer the magazine at an affordable price for middle-class consumers who would not have been able to afford a subscription to the higher-end illustrated periodicals such as Ilustración Española y Americana.

Inexpensive illustrated magazines made it possible for large groups of people to understand if not constitute their common goals, customs, and morality, but it did this in ways that simultaneously excluded other large groups from what the magazines were setting up as the social norm for the nation’s readers. For example, field reportage, which was increasingly accompanied by photographs shot on site, largely documented the important affairs of white European men who were most heavily featured in early photographic journalism. This focus was also in keeping with the conventions of high-end magazines that doted on engraved portraits of illustrious men. Photographs of actual women were slow to appear—although the artistic feminine portrait still dominated all types of magazines in the period studied—so that the way that “differences” between men and women were portrayed depended on the technology used to portray them. On the other hand many photographs and sketches illustrated ethnic or national differences from the European norm. As the century drew to a close, photography not only fueled the demand for visual validation of the written word in the reporting of world events, descriptions of other nations and their peoples, and scientific and technological progress; it also put into perspective the vast differences in the mores and conduct of other nations. For example, the cartoons that proliferated in the mainstream press leading up to and during the War of 1898 provided a way for the upper and middle classes to represent themselves and their moral hierarchy in a way that distinguished them from the impoverished ideals of other nations. The final chapter of this book looks at the way that popular magazines like Blanco y Negro, as well as more specialized periodicals like the humorist-anarchist magazine La Campana de Gracia and others, developed a stereotypical library of images to lend support to or impugn national interests and to constitute the image of a mythical Spaniard as the norm against which other peoples were to be measured. Comparing the warmongering techniques of the 1890s in Spain with those that proliferated in the United States press during the same period underscores the particularities of Spanish cartooning, but also the way in which the political cartoon came to function as a handy propaganda tool for future conflicts and political campaigns.

Most of the reasons for the success of the illustrated weekly magazine examined in the chapters of this book concern image content and production, but what also ushered in what we can properly call a mass culture in which magazines played a definitive role was the transformation in the relationship between the products that were being manufactured, distributed, and sold to consumers and the new methods for constituting ready consumers of those products in the form of advertising. Studying the formation of mass culture in the United States, Richard Ohmann suggests that significant changes in manufacturing, distribution, and advertisement were what propelled the magazine into such a prominent social force in the nineteenth century. The concluding section of Hold That Pose looks briefly at the advertising in what became the most popular magazine of the 1890s, Blanco y Negro, to see whether a similar causal relationship was forming between popular weekly magazines and new advertising techniques that reflected a transformation in manufacturing and business practices. Spain was, after all, just emerging as a modern industrial nation as the century ended, while America could already be called without exaggeration a consumer capitalist state. An examination of the content of magazine advertisements between 1895 and 1905 reveals that Spain had interesting parallels to and departures from the American and European models of advertising. Publicity was still in a very primitive stage in the magazine, compared with, for example, the newspaper or poster. Magazine advertising nevertheless solidifies the overall thesis of this book––that illustrated magazines were about selling, not just ideas, social norms, and images, but the magazine itself as an indispensable consumer product for an authentically modern world.