The Cult of Progress Continues

Posted by Tim Rietenbach on
World War One trenches, Ypres, Belgium
Photo by Nutopia Ltd
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author. 

The first human image in a photograph was of a man getting his shoe shined.

Recently, a police officer asked me to move from my position in a closed street adjacent to the starting point of the Columbus Pride parade. It seemed an odd request, but what was actually happening was the “drone man” was photographing the parade from above and I was too close to his landing site. Thanks to this episode, I know that the first version of this idea was the “Giant” a hot air balloon used by the photographer Nadar to document Paris from above not that long after the invention of the daguerreotype. I think that indicates that the cult of progress continues.

From the cotton mill, as the beginning of mass production to the first-hand accounts of war by Otto Dix, this episode traverses a great deal of territory. How we look at art and how art looks back at us, who owns the rights to an image. colonialism, tribalism, manifest destiny, cultural appropriation and ultimately war. All of which could not be more relevant in today’s art world.

Interesting to view Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt as a scholarly investigation of the birth place of civilization. Once again, thinking broadly about the level of unrest and war that exist in the Middle East. The notion of conquering seems eerily familiar, not so much for the learning anymore.

We live in a time of correction. Compensating for the past failures to protect the rights of ownership and the right to cultural identity. This episode navigates how our past has defined this problem. As we work to remove confederate statues and pressure sports teams to rethink their mascots in US, other cultures still being defined as caricatures, push back against the melting pot and an ever-increasing military budget. Unfortunately, the ‘drone man’ can also blow up your home.

According to Forbes, the richest 3 people in the U.S. hold more wealth than the bottom 50%. The asymmetry built into that statistic, along with other disturbing trends motivate my studio practice. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos alone might be seen as the perverse lineage of manifest destiny. Unfortunately, they’re joined by another 582 billionaires in the U.S. and total of 2,208 around the globe. This rapidly increasing trend might make the activity documented in the first photograph seem eerily prophetic.

Tim RietenbachTim Rietenbach lives and works in Columbus Ohio, currently a Professor of Fine Arts at Columbus College of Art & Design and represented exclusively by Angela Meleca Gallery. You can see more of his work at

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