Monday, February 25, 2013

Photographs - a sheer endless stream...

Google image search - the photograph
Since Joerg Colberg's February 11 post on his blog Conscientous EXTENDED there has been a whole lot of internet buzz on the subject of photo overload.

Joerg's opening shot was this: Let’s face it, the tedium of seeing the sheer endless stream of photographs on Tumblr, images that might or might not be properly attributed, is just depressing. We might be all photographers now, but does that mean that we all have to be mindless consumers as well? Of course, our late-capitalist culture is based on just that, on people turning into consumers without questioning what is going on.
Joerg suggests we need a new strategy, a new approach to evaluating photographs. And he talked about what is at stake? What's at stake for the photographer, what is at stake for the viewer? And he suggests we ask, does the artist risk something with their work?

It's true, there is an endless stream of photographs, made possible by digital production and digital dissemination. And this flood is indeed filtered through our capitalist culture. Photo art (all art) has been commodified and so often evaluated against a yardstick of will it sell rather than is it good.  But we don't have to join this party. We don't have to be mindless consumers at all. Or mindless producers for that matter. Surely it's a question of discriminating and knowing where to go to see work that really matters. And adopting a discriminatory strategy of one's own when it comes to making our own work.

In workshops I like to talk a lot about authenticity. Doing work for the right reasons. Well what are they? Although I don't believe that art can change to world, it can change how we look at the world. It's a way of trying to reach some understanding. At least ask the hard questions. A strategy to confront prejudice, break down stereotypes, and challenge preconceptions. Approached authentically, that is from the heart and head, work of substance can result.
Second, an authentic photograph that works is one that's got the balance between form and content just right. Decorative rubbish is all form. Impenetrable, dull, boring conceptual work is all content.
We owe it to ourselves as producers and to the world as consumers to aim to make photographs of substance. Good if not great, certainly authentic and balanced. Not too difficult if you hold on the truth that one great photograph can out-distance a stream of mindless decorative crap.

Of course in reality there aren't many great photographs at all. There is the story of Henri Cartier-Bresson in a taxi with Bill Brandt. HCB asked Brandt, how many great pictures did you make last year? Brandt replied, twelve. HCB responded, you always did exaggerate. I hope I got this story right, please correct me if I'm wrong.

You can read all of Joerg Colberg's piece HERE

A Great Photograph - Meudon, 1928 by André Kertész 

Post script - Richard Dailey, Paris based, artist, film-maker, friend and colleague made this comment: I always like the comparison of digital cameras today with pencils in the 18th century - everyone had one, but not everyone could use it like Watteau. Nice!

And this quote from Lewis Baltz adds to the discussion: In becoming inutile – no longer content-driven – photography became self-reflexive, much as painting did from the time of Manet. Photographs no longer provoke a meditation upon external phenomena, but on the conditions of their own existence. Photography became Modernist at precisely the moment when Modernism faltered, and became commodified at the moment when the intellectual prestige of the commodity is at its lowest ebb. Poor photography. On the other hand, given the recent applications of technology photographs are now quite acceptable objects for the market.

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