In recent years, globalization is one of several new terms to appear in the demise (and fatigue) of ‘postmodernism’ as an academic debate. It is notable, for example, that the first book by one of the key theorists of postmodernism, Fredric Jameson, to come after it was called The Geopolitical Aesthetic.1 Although far from easy reading, this book, published in 1992, attempts to map the local aesthetics of different cinema traditions for what they reveal about the global ‘world system’ in their ‘geopolitical unconscious’.2 While ‘globalization’ is now a well-established topic in the study of cinema, media and cultural studies, it is not at all developed yet within the field of photographic studies.
So this chapter begins to examine the neglected issue of globalization and photography. Globalization offers a new paradigm for thinking about photography. As a consequence it has surprising effects on thinking about the global impact of photography, a story that is spatial rather than chronological, as in the history of photography.
Indeed the spatial dimension of globalized photography is increasingly important, partly due to the ease with which images can slide around the world today. Questions immediately emerge here about the impact this facility has on specific local cultures or on values of culture more generally. Of course, there are provisos to the idea that the globe is saturated with accessible images. Economic hardship, state censorship, religion, geography and politics all still mean that access to modern media technology and the information it generates is not necessarily available to everyone everywhere. Yet, those issues notwithstanding, to not acknowledge the vast changes that have happened – and are still happening – would be to ignore the impact of the modern and inhibit our understanding of the global impact of photography.
While the meaning of globalization is still a contested concept (exactly what does it mean, is it a good or bad thing?), it certainly is a process that has affected and changed many people’s lives around the world. Goods produced on one side of the world are often consumed on the other and this has clear economic, social, political, cultural and ecological implications for everyone involved. The question is what role does photography play in globalization? How, what and why does the circulation