#CIHA202401381The photomechanical reproduction and the social and technological construction of a mass image. The illustrated periodical press in Argentina 1900

B. Penser la Matière 2
Photomechanical Prints and the Material Agency of Images
S. Szir 1.
1Universidad Nacional De San Martín - Buenos Aires (Argentine)

Adresse email : sandraszir23@gmail.com (S.Szir)


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The popular illustrated weekly Caras y Caretas (Buenos Aires, 1898-1939) can be considered a cultural artifact and printed device that articulates the transition between the periodical trends of graphic communication in the late 19th century and the transformative innovations of magazines in the 20th century. With miscellaneous content but a deliberate local tone, Caras y Caretas brought forward an unprecedented diversity of discursive genres and graphic forms in the Argentinean context, and it soon reached a mass audience.  The abundance of photographs through the adoption of the halftone technology is the most outstanding innovations regarding its material and visuals. I seek to interrogate the material conditions of possibility that enabled the mass reproduction of images in this periodical towards the end of 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century in Buenos Aires.

It has been said that the photomechanical image displaced the subjective hand of the engraver and that it could be a sort of image without code (Barthes, 1989).  It was argued that the halftone grid and the dots resulting from its production process are not discernible to the naked eye and, therefore, would operate as a transparent image, devoid of human agency.  However, observation of its production processes indicates that photomechanical techniques did not override manual labor. On the other hand, the dots in the image have a visible syntax and a particular aesthetic (Beegan, 2008).  The halftone is also a replica of the photograph, it is not the photograph itself. These are two objects with different qualities, materialities, contexts of production and consumption. Although the photographic negative can also be multiplied, at the beginning of the 20th century photography was a limited object, the halftone has the fundamental feature of being multiple and massive. It was consumed in a print surrounded by text with which it could be accompanied or compete in meaning, dialoguing with other images and commercial messages, linked to a singular, fragmentary, ephemeral reading process and part of everyday life.  Photographs were used as ideological reproductions of a truth by the cultural discourse of the media and this fact emerges today as a material trace that allows access to the understanding of the visual in that historical context and to the multiple and often contradictory social and political purposes of newspapers and their images.

From a methodological perspective of material culture, I propose to inquire on the technical but also visual, social and cultural characteristics in adopting the halftone, one of the essential conditions of production for the process of image industrialization in printed matter. This process of illustrating through a photomechanical means did not only allow photograph stamping, but the multiplication of all types of illustrations that were printed on the page in complex inter-medial relationships with the rest of the editorial material.  Through portraits and numerous social representations, Caras y Caretas positioned its readers also as subjects of the illustrated press within the reality it was generating.

Key words: Halftone-Illustrated magazines-photomechanical reproduction-Argentina-Caras y Caretas


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Sandra Szir holds a PhD in Theory and History of Arts (Universidad of Buenos Aires), and a Master’s Degree in Sociology of Culture and Cultural Analysis (IDAES-Universidad Nacional de San Martín). She is a specialist in visual and graphic culture, history of illustrated press and printed images in Argentina during the 19th and 20th centuries. She is the director of the Research Centre for Art and Heritage-CIAP (UNSAM-CONICET). She works as a researcher and professor at UNSAM and at the Universidad de Buenos Aires. She has published books as an author and editor, and written numerous articles in academic journals.

Résumé / Abstract

This paper discusses the links between representations and materiality in the popular illustrated weekly Caras y Caretas, the first pictured Argentinian mass magazine in early 20th century. The diversity of discursive genres and graphic forms, color and advertising were combined with abundance of photographs through the adoption of the halftone technology. From a methodological perspective of material and visual culture we consider that the halftone changed the magazine as a cultural artifact and conducted to image industrialization. It articulated manual and technical work, human agency and codes, aesthetic and material features, ideological, social and political purposes of images in newspapers.