Contemporaneous Extension

Photography: Do you GET it?

I was forwarded on Paul Graham’s essay ‘The Unreasonable Apple’ and welcomed the criticism of art writing as a call to action. Graham makes a distinction between artist who “use photography to illustrate their ideas, installations, performances and concepts,” (think Rudolf Schwarzkogler in the folds of Viennese Actionism), artists who “deploy the medium as one of a range of artistic strategies to complete their work,” (I envision Cindy Sherman’s Film Stills), and those who use photography “for and of itself… taken from the world as it is.” This last category is subjected to his discontent, claiming that its inability to satisfy critics’ obsession with process (in residing in the real world) facilitates dreary discourse. Although there is quite a bit of photography consisting of simple explorations of immediate surroundings, the oftentimes painstaking formulation of a photographic storyboard is as much of a process as sketching prior to a painting or sculpture and can be equally as draining/inspiring. Photographers are also forced to constantly adjust seeing as reality will interject and alter a story’s blueprint inevitably. Furthermore, it’s easy to overlook the complication of the artist’s tool in the age of abounding point-and-shoots. Although shutter speed and ISO can be fixed on professional cameras, the ability to tinker suffices as a component of the artist’s invention within an ostensibly sterile technique. Photography functioning in itself tends to be written off as peripheral, making attempts to alter or contribute to the visual certainty one must come to terms with to remain sane (which is not always welcome). As a viewer, an unspeakable attachment to photography reminiscent of family travel photos or bites of the viewer’s own reality rather than “art” can further paralyze the effects of photography, and thus criticism as such.

In this sense, it’s even easier to write off photojournalism in the art sphere as telling us what we already know: people are suffering, atrocities occur, cities are thriving/crumbling, weird things happen. The brilliance of photography, for Graham and myself, lies in the formation of a potent truth from an empty reality. In this sense, I think there is a new responsibility for photojournalist to function within the art sphere and think more thoroughly about their work in the context of their ultimate impact on photographic criticism. Despite my huge discrepancy with Graham’s claim of a “Post Documentary photographic world,” I am hoping his understanding comes from a desire to see an uprising in more contemplative photography across the board. What is photography if not documentary of an artist’s surroundings and insight, whether it be predetermined or random? Criticism of photography should optimally stem from the unique minutiae, the immediacy of the photo and the signifiers of the artist’s dynamic hand (not finger!). Based in reality, they may be more difficult to spot, but I can agree that rudimentary interpretations provide the largest disservice to an aspiring photographer.

There are definitely a few photographers I think deserve a bit more insight, the next post will be a follow-up on the subject.  Here’s a sneak-peak:

Untitled (Benjamin Norman)

Model T HQ, Detroit (Andrew Moore)

Image Riot series (Julius Metoyer)

Untitled (David Walter Banks)


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