Paris Between the Churches, Or, The Unconscious of a Sociologist

seminar presented by Associate Professor Peter Corrigan, UNE

22nd May 2014


For Howard S. Becker, a sociologist with a camera was no longer a sociologist, but someone in thrall to the conventional aesthetic ways of seeing that happened to be dominant in their historical period. Becker’s answer to the question “what should I, a sociologist, photograph as a sociologist?” is a recommendation to draw explicitly upon one’s sociological theory in order to determine what is photographable and what is not. Now this may be fine if one has an explicit theory upon which to draw, but what if one is a member of that group of sociologists that prefers to work upwards from data to theory, rather than using explicit theory to frame the recognition of appropriate data? If they decide to take photographs, are they still sociologists or are they something else? If all they have is a split second to make a decision on what is appropriately photographable, what is it that goes into shaping that near instantaneous
decision? Conventional aesthetic notions of what is photographable, or does one’s sociological training still have a role? Is there a sociological unconscious that takes over for the 1/250th of a second that the shutter clicks? This paper begins a discussion on this point through examining the results of a photographic project that the author undertook in Paris on various occasions between 2008 and 2012. He walked systematically from one Catholic church to the other until the whole city was covered, photographing whatever appeared to be of interest at and between the churches. Topics discussed include art, the notion of repetition, childhood, politics, language and death.