Thursday, June 21, 2012

Photography After Photography? (A Provocation) from Joerg Colberg

Paul Graham, Pittsburgh, 2004, from the series 'A Shimmer of Possibility'.
Last week on his blog Conscientious (you can see the full post HERE) Joerg Colberg wrote a piece which made the point that photography had become tired, predictable and preoccupied with a past way of seeing things.  Joerg said this:

Photography has finally arrived at its own existential crisis. It is far from being over - no medium is ever over as long as there is just an ounce of creativity left on this planet. But photography has long been running in a circle. Over the past ten years, it has increasingly become dominated by nostalgia and conservatism. Even the idea that we now need editors or curators to create meaning out of the flood of photographs ultimately is conservative, looking backwards when we could, no we should be looking forward.
Who - or what - can move photography forward, looking forward?

Any art form needs to evolve. Otherwise, there’s stasis, and stasis in art is death (just ask any jazz musician). These kinds of debates are being held in other art forms; it’s not just a photography thing. The one thing that seems unique to photography (maybe this is just me not being familiar enough with other art forms) is that its practitioners for the most part are incredibly conservative as far as the medium is concerned. So I could have also asked whether photography will survive the conservatism the vast majority of its own practitioners have come to embrace. I currently doubt it will. To use jazz again, with its current wave of nostalgia photography is at risk of becoming the Dixieland of the visual arts.

What Joerg has said is true. There is so much wrong with the state of photography today. The problem lies not just with the photographers. Art schools must share the blame, they seem to have given up teaching the history of the medium and have become side-tracked into theoretical backwaters. And then there is the commodified dealer gallery system, gallerists obsessed with "product", showing easy decorative work that will sell.

And the photographers. Given the avalanche of images out there I sense a feeling of desperation to succeed. No longer content to be called photographers, today we want to be seen as "artists".  This accolade has to be earned and not by work that's contrived, derivative, formulaic, seen it all before and just plain dull. I'm so over seeing images dragged from the internet (100 of this or these), constructed pictures of people standing in fields holding things, (maybe bags over their heads), groups of preppy kids running naked through fields, forests and/or sand-dunes and photographs of mid-west families standing against a fence.

It's sad really because there are so many good, even great photographs out there in life to be made. It's about having an idea and "seeing". Seeing clearly. Dealing with the ordinary and the obvious. Eggleston said that he was at war with the obvious. And so we all should be, in the sense that we need to transform the obvious and do something with it. Surely then the work becomes art because the photographs question and demand that we look at the world in a fresh more telling way. Two photographers that I immediately think of do this. Their work is from the heart, authentic and so simple. I'm talking about Paul Graham and John Gossage. Photographers yes but true artists.

Look, be inspired and go out and make some pictures.

John Gossage, Map of Babylon, 2009


David N said...

I live in a part of the world that is pretty much tuned out. If I tell someone Im a photographer they ask if I do weddings.
However I have of late been introduced to the land of new active photographers like some running down the side of your blog .For a long time I worked in the studio doing arty nudes, playing with alt old technologies at the expense of content.
I have returned to my roots in street photography using the camera to document the world instead of giving viewers puzzles to solve and I find it more satisifying.
Debates over equipment and processes have a way of clouding what I think of as a real purpose of the medium: describing the world

Brendon said...

I second the Paul Graham- he's one of those photographers who, at first glance, I feel like there's a bunch of photos of nothing but afterward I find myself continually going back and relooking through his work trying to figure out why its left such an impression on me.