Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Short History of Photography - John Daly-Peoples reviews

Arts writer John Daly-Peoples of New Zealand's National Business Review writes:

Harvey Benge invents a new history of photography.
Most artists are copiers, inspired and guided by other artists. In many cases this stylistic appropriation is obvious as with work by Michael Parekowhai in his borrowings from McMahon, Walters and Moore. However for most artists the borrowing is not intentional and not immediately obvious with influences continually refined and redefined.
Appropriation in its various forms is the history of art. No artist is really free from the ideas, processes and styles of the past.
In his latest book of photographs A Short History of Photography, Harvey Benge has acknowledged his connections to other photographers and the history of photography.
Initially he noticed that one of his pictures reminded him of a Friedlander, another of someone else. Picking out his Friedlander and his Parr and his Baltz he embarked on a collection of contemporary photography featuring some of its biggest names.
So the book lists the names of these photographers on the cover of his own version of the history of photography.
Its generally easy to see the connections although sometimes as with his industrial tower work it is really just a witty reference to the Bechers work.
It is a nice conceit, the idea that one person can embody the history of an art form and Benge pulls it off partly because his own approach and style are still obvious.
In many of the examples where he has seen connections between his and other photographers work the similarity only alerts the viewer to the fact that there are other connections.
So when he uses one of his seascapes to show the similarity to the work of Sugimoto the work could equally well be a nod to the seascapes of Laurence Aberhart.
Similarly when he links his shot of a high flying plane to the work of Tillmans there is as much a connection with a similar work by Peter Peryer.
And his beach scene by Vitale looks like the famous Brian Brake image.
One could probably go through his appropriated works expanding the linkages and connections with a host of other photographers.
The introduction to the book by Gerry Badger makes some perceptive comments about photographic style noting that Susan Sontag believed that “Style in photography… is a function of subject matter. In short it is usually a matter of the style for the job.”
Badger also makes the point that “It is also important that the pictures here did not arise from a conscious stylistic exercise where Harvey Benge set out deliberately to make a Shore or Koudelka. These images emerged from his normal practice as a street photographer.”
While the book is interesting from the point of view of guessing the photographer they real pleasure with this book is that it is another set of the photographers work in which he takes an idiosyncratic look at the world, seeing humour, drama, eroticism, dysfunction and unity in the world about him.

1 comment:

Aaron Benge said...

I am an artist too, and a Benge. My name is Aaron Benge, and I live in the US. Can you tell me any history on your name?