Saturday, December 4, 2010

Is Photography Over?

John Baldessari.

Many of the arguments posed in this symposium are rehashed and outdated theories that no longer even need to be discussed at this level - Jennifer Blessing discusses her belief as photography as indexical, Barthes and Stieglitz and Szarkowski are mentioned various times, there is talk of dying materials and digital manipulation. If the panel, by default of its members is assuming an educated audience, then half of the arguments are really already "over." This panel is dominated my white, male, western figures, also, which speaks volumes to me about the conception of photographic theory. This alone assumes those engaged are a part of an elite group of "accepted" photographers. Firstly, as Douglas Nickel observes, this is a problematic question because "photography" is an extremely loaded term. It depends on what we're talking about. The medium as a whole, historical views or theories on what photography supposedly is? "Photography over? More often these days, it feels like it's only just begun." This is what Vince Aletti claims and you know what? I want this to be true, but in reality, I'm not really a believer. I don't believe photography is "over", either. As many of these arguments display and as Lorca diCorcia brilliantly puts it, its just tired.

Tired indeed, I am very tired of hearing the same boring argument rehashed and redisplayed. The only person who really appealed to my sense of photography's place in art history was Beshty who makes an important argument that is often glossed over in photographic discourse. Art, not just photography, is a business, a money maker, an institute. Its planned and assembled into a neat degree programme and taught to you, marketed and sold to you. Beshty claims that the "crisis" of photography is one largely created by its critics, creators and teachers. He asks, why is there a visible segregation of photography departments within art school, when these distinctions do not exist in the contemporary art world? As for these distinctions not existing in the art world, I am not entirely in agreement, but I do whole heartedly agree that the segregation of photography from art in teaching institutions is infuriating. It is something I have always had a problem with and yes I would love for photography to be over and art to dominate. Why is painting, sculpture, performance art, etc lumped under "art and design" and photography is separate? I'm not a photographer, I'm an artist who enjoys making use of photography and desired to learn more about it then other mediums. Why then, is my only option to be isolated from the rest of the art world? If you disagree with this, take a walk over to the A&D building and realize how much you're missing out on.

Perhaps this is my own personal gripe and many of you may be content with just learning about photography and that's not my complaint. My concern is that by segregating departments in this way, photographers are essentially being pigeon holed into one area and isolated to a particular set of rules, standards and expectations and this, in my opinion, is artistic suicide. As Peter Galassi puts it "there is a difference between anything being possible and everything being the same." If photography constantly strives to be accepted as art, why is it so exclusive? As Corey Keller claims, calling yourself a photographer rather than an artist has a very layered connotation. Many may find comfort in being a part of their own special world, their own private room in the art hotel, but personally, I'm greedy and I want it all and I really wish learning institutions would facilitate this better. I think this would result in more interesting, radical and experimental work, better and more engaged arguments about photography and a new perspective of its relation to the larger art world.

Is photography over? Absolutely not. There are many photographers I've met who still believe they are making truth, who still believe large format cameras and the perfect print is the only way to make work, who align themselves with the Michael Frieds of the world and believe this is the only way to go. These people have remarkable talent, I am not denying this, (there's nothing wrong with making beautiful prints, of course, that's what we're here to learn!) I am simply pointing to the fact that there is a certain way "good" photography is positioned and this is far from being over. The cornering of photography as its own (often boringly conservative) medium in art schools is alive and well. There has been such a fuss kicked up about digital and the loss of materials, but the reality is nothing much has changed. Yes, it is really sad to see beautiful papers and films go and old processes fade out, but people are still using photography in a very similar, slow moving way. Photography is not radical enough (speaking in contemporary terms) to be over. After all, it matters as art as never before! After three years of studying photography I am a little jaded, so excuse my personal art baggage, but I think its all very blown out of proportion and Beshty is one few who points to the facts. Photography "for the wall" is nowhere near over. Some of the most radical or different work I have seen is that created by people not formally studying photography who are experimenting with the medium and this depresses me. Photography is not over, far from its just a bit stuck. Large, beautifully printed work is amazing, but its beginning to look far too similar and say less and less. Perhaps this is why my favourite photographers are those who have a complete and utter disregard for the preciousness of the medium and how it is supposed to work. I get more of a thrill out of looking at photography made by people from other areas of art, who are experimenting with the medium, rather than the work I see everyday in my own department. I seem to see more "new" ideas here. What does this say about Contemporary photography? I would love to know if I am alone in these thoughts (which I frequently find I am) or do others in the class share this view?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Relational Aesthetics - Nicholas Bourriuad/Ben Lewis BBC Documentary

During his meeting with the artist, Lewis asks Bourriaud what is the difference between Modern Art and Relational Aesthetics. Bourriaud explains that past art was defined by the fear of consumption, as seen the work of Warhol. Modern Art was born of “production” based society. Bourriud believes we are now living in a “communication based society.” For example, he mentions one of the artists in his book Santiago Sierra – who paid Africans to dig holes in the earth and hired Eastern European prostitutes to perform S&M. He claims, “the worst aspects of relationships today are shown, people hire people, they make them their slaves." He calls this work “a ground or sensibility for today.” I am a little skeptic. I can see how this work is about communication; perhaps about the troubled channels it weaves in Contemporary society. However, this type of work is not something that shocks me, something that I have never seen. According to Lewis, this type of art is based in Minimalism and Conceptualism but the key factor that makes it difference is simple: the use of ordinary people. Here is where I get a little uncertain. Art has always been dependent on ordinary people, it has taken advantage of them, utilized them, included them, exploited them, helped them, the list goes on. How is this new? I am extremely interested in the idea of Relational Aesthetics, but it seems too broad to be applied as an “ism.”

Jean Claude and Christo, ‘Surrounded Islands’

Perhaps if I read Bourriaud’s text myself, which I plan to, I would have a better understanding. Lets consider Jean Claude and Christo’s ‘Surrounded Islands’ from the 1980s. The pair could in no way have embarked on this project without help from hundreds of paid workers who helped cut, unroll, ship and place the giant pink material over the water surrounding the islands. Could this be Relational Art? (Jean Claude and Christo do claim labels are for wine bottles only and not art.) The pair has said their work is always “prepared and used by people, managed by human beings for human beings.” The point of this work is to change how we view our environment and as a result allow us to think critically about our world, as we had previously been unable to. Or what about the art work of Yoko Ono. ‘Cut Piece’ required the participation of the audience to make the concept come to life. (Ono had members of the audience cut off pieces of her clothes until she was naked as a commentary on the need for love and unification in society) Is this Relational art, too?

Yoko Ono, ‘Cut Piece’

Despite its broad applications, the main separation from Modern Art seems to be the essential dependence on interaction with humans. This is no Lewis Baltz photographing still, lifeless America. Relational Art embraces social interaction and depends on it to function. As Lewis claims, Relational Art "used minimal forms to make political statement. It dislikes capitalism and often relates to the space it is exhibited in. It is sometimes useful." Lewis shows how broad this application is with his light switch gag which is received coldly by Holler. However, this is what I enjoyed about the documentary. By way of Lewis’ personality, the pretentious veil of the art world was lifted and despite his sometimes cringe worthy jokes, he asked questions that everybody thinks, but are often too afraid or embarrassed to ask. Sadly the art world is full of useless art, not to mention crashing bores. Lewis is an amusing catalyst to this. Lewis almost resembles a character from the Office (UK version) and I loved it. There are some problems with the theory and the artists who work within its definition and Lewis unintentionally brings this to light.

The examples Bourriuad gives in his book, Vanessa Beecroft’s "scantily clad women" in VB 35079, Philippe Parreno’s Japanese cartoon character, being liberated from mass cultural narratives, Felix Gonzalez Torres stacks of boiled sweets and Rirkrit Tiravanija’s kitchen cooking all certainly fit into his description. There are two main problems though. Firstly, this art could be lumped into various other categories. The main characteristic of an “ism” is a certain continuous aesthetic or formal quality (most of us can easily point out a Dada artwork, or a Cubism piece). I would not instantly recognize any of these pieces as purely “relational.” Secondly, as many people have mentioned in their blogs, a lot of this art is not very significant, irritating and could easily be performed by anyone. As someone who spends a lot of time defending art that is regularly called “useless” or “non-sense” I am not in anyway claiming that art that can be performed by anyone is worthless. However, what has always been of great importance to me and my taste in art is the significance of a piece in certain socio-political contexts. Take Duchamp’s readymade ‘Fountain,’ for example. Many people pull their hair out at this type of art, as it is “too-easy.” However, it is the idea and timing of this art that makes it so incredibly significant. Rirkrit Tiravanija cooking meals in his apartment, however, not so significant. I don’t think all art has to be significant. Why not make an art piece about cooking a meal for people you like? I have no problem with this, but it’s not particularly important to me. As Lewis mentions when interviewing Phillipe Parenno, Relational Art does not have to have a particular meaning. Parenno’s incredibly boring and depressing piece is simply just a light illuminating an empty room. Personally if I’m ever making art like that and getting paid for it I’ll jump off a bridge, but Parenno doesn't seemed concerned with this, and that’s simply the reality of the art world, not all artists care about making significant work all the time.

Rirkrit Tiravanija

Lewis goes on to claim Relational Art is often Left wing, "like the plot of the Matrix, but with Capitalism instead of killer robots." He includes a clip from ‘Vicinato II’ which discusses "soft capitalism" and comments on the absurdity of the old political systems disguised and relaunched. I can’t help but agree with Gavin Brown who sees this work as made by "incredibly unradical people who play a game of a radical life” and calls it "incredibly pretentious.” It seems the Relational Art “group” Lewis focuses on is one exhausted and depressed by Capitalism, rather than an energized force of social change or upheaval. Talking to Lewis, Carsten Holler claims, "fulfilling needs is saturation, the post utopian ideal would be to give this up. The goal would be not to have a goal anymore." It seems this is what is achieved in Parreno’s work.

Obviously there is a common thread in this work but I’m not sure I’m sold on the idea of Relational Aesthetics. What I see in the works given as examples is huge contempt for Capitalism and an attempt to involve and include the public rather than exclude them (although some do exactly this). However, the most radical and exciting change for me is the breaking away from traditional museum, frame based art, via the mixing of medias, including photography. (The Ice-Cream van convention discussed in the Royal Academy with Simon Pope, for example). I disagree with Lewis. This is most certainly not an “ism” (I really dislike the placing of genres in general, its way too limiting), but rather a common theme, a sensibility, a result of similar living conditions and its saturation of minds. I don’t really think its useful to try considering Relational Aesthetics, as a new genre of photography, as the terms just isn’t solid enough. However, photography plays a central role in all contemporary art, as does video, the Internet, etc. Photography is integral to the documentation of these so called Relational art works and essentially become the end product of the work itself (the documentation of the hole digging, for example). In this vein I can see how photography could be considered as “relational art.” Think for example, of the simple street photographer. His/Her pictures would not be possible without the interaction and participation of everyday strangers.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Photography as Narrative.

In Swarkowski’s article, he explains how photography exploded into the world, disturbing the second reality created by painting. Photography added a new layer of vision to art and planted what Swarkowski calls “remembered images” in our minds, which fundamentally saturated our mental images of the world. He explains, with a strange similarity to today’s concerns, (his use of the word “stream” of images) how photography became the “everyman’s” too, a less precious medium than painting. Swarkowski outlines how photography evolved through various experiments, accidents and systems, he calls “section views through the body of photographic tradition” (3). In his first section “The Thing Itself,” Swarkowski describes that the condition of the 19th Century was not to remember the moment itself, but the photograph of the moment. Obviously, as he acknowledges, this creates complex problems. Even, if as Hawthorne claimed, the photograph outshone the painting in its ability to unlock the secrets of the world, how can we trust its image?

Swarkowski continues by expressing his view that photography is a failed tool to convey narrative. Its rather curious, reading this article from 1966 to read Swarkowski’s description of Robinson and Rejilander’s composited negatives (1857) as “pretensions failures” in the eyes of the art world, received poorly in comparison to how work such as this is received today. From the image above, we can see that these composites are similar to the work of contemporary photographers Fried categorizes in his “new regime.” Robinson and Rejilander are the original Wall and Crewdson, yet in their time, their work was criticized. Why such work viewed differently today? Is it that the work of Wall, etc, now has the support of cinema to hoist these images into acceptable art? Is it the distance from its shaky past as painting’s competitor? Is it that the moments Wall attempts to recreate a “near documentary” rather than “near painting?” I think this is really interesting to consider. As Swarkowski, the general consensus during his time was that if you need text, your photographs are not good enough, if you are mocking painting; you are disregarding photography’s true power to capture the “decisive moment.” I think the dominance of advertising and television along with of course the internet, in more recent times has again shifted our view and allowed these type of images to be, not only acceptable, but expected. In fact I would go as far to say, as Fried so aggressively suggests, if you’re not photographing “for the wall” you will have a hard time being recognized as a professional photographer.

Marcel Duchamp 'Nude Descending a Staircase.'

Photography is in a very different place now and I wish Swarkowski could write this article again, in 2010. I would love to hear his views of Fried’s claims. What influenced the work and the structures then was, as he mentions, other photographers and painting (as he mentions, Duchamp’s motion paintings which merged Cubism and Futurism to create a radical study of stop motion) and positivistic studies of the world (Muybridge’s galloping horses). The world has changed an insane amount since then, so much so that Swarkowski’s terms need to be expanded. The decisive moment is no longer dominant. Photographers have slowed down and are realizing their power to construct stories through methods used by Wall and Crewdson. In the 60’s, the “real” moment was privileged; in 2010 the recreation of the real is dominant. Simply ask the one classroom of students at Columbia and I am willing to bet half are working with recreated or fictional images rather than snapshots, students don’t wander the streets seeking out the decisive moment, they don’t have time for that. Photography was not such a widespread practice in terms of degree programs in the 60’s and I think this accounts for the shift also. Working in an institution with deadlines and rules hinders intuitive and impulsive work. The Jeff Wall’s of the world are taking over whilst the Henri Cartier Bressons are suffering. Swarkowski’s view is that photographs cannot tell stories, that they are simply images that portray a certain moment in time. He dismisses any attempt of the image to convey a narrative, through text or awesome (I mean this in non “dude” like terms..) composites. Interestingly, he fails to mentions what Barthes calls Syntax as an attempt at image narrative or photo-journalistic systems of the “three-picture story.” Personally, I think photographs have thousands of stories to tell, these stories are not necessary the truth, they are not necessarily real, but they speak to us. Photographs are always rooted in text and rooted in the real and therefore human beings will always bring their active minds to an image and perceive some sense of the world, some form of account. I think what Swarkowski is more concerned with is photography’s failed attempts at story telling, its imitation of painting, it overbearing theatrical elements, which seem to embarrass him. Swarkowski seems to think documentary images are more “real” and acceptable as they are acknowledging their inability to tell a story, but embracing their ability to freeze a moment in time and transform it into a solitary representation.

Edward Steichan, 'Acropolis at Athens.'

Clement Greenberg, however, believes that images can tell a story, but in turn, fail as pictures. Greenberg’s article is harsh in its criticisms and brushes aside any photography that falls outside of his snobbish view of art. Greenberg’s privileging of painting and sculpture is clear as he seems to only discuss work that relates to it in some way, then takes pleasure in calling its attempt at measuring up as “disastrous” (4). He pokes fun at experimental photography claiming it is a reaction to the purely formal or abstract. His ideal of the successful photograph is clear, he wants photography to be art and simply art, not a story telling device. I imagine his views are not entirely but somewhat similar to Fried’s (obviously Fried’s view is in a different era) and that he desires absorptive, non-theatrical art. For example, he discusses Steichen’s ‘Acropolis at Athens’ as a failure due to the woman’s ruination of the picture by lifting her arms gayly, disrupting the possible “artiness” of the picture. (I am reminded of Fried’s discussion of a picture where the artist’s wife was engaging the subject and therefore disallowing absorption and the problems this caused). By gesturing as such, she creates a tension between herself and the stone bust, asking the viewer to compare the two, with her more successful as the living object. In other words, she creates a theatrical element; she is attempting to tell a story and therefore, the picture fails.

Greenberg continues in his harsh and almost dismissive tone. He informs the reader that photographer’s should be thankful we don’t have the same concerns of sculptors and painters (as “real” artists, ladies and gentlemen). He can’t resist criticizing even “one of the best photographers of our day” (4), Cartier-Bresson for being too esoteric in his conquests as a street photographer. He praises WeeGee’s daring yet belittles him as a tabloid photographer and calls him “demotic” (4). However, it is Greenberg’s belief that the demotic is more apt in photography, the tool of the eveyman. I’m not really a huge fan of this article as Greenberg discusses four photographers and vaguely pertains to some experimental techniques with a tone that, frankly is rather offensive to me as a photographer (and believe me, I know how to criticize and recognize the failings of my own medium) and seems to think he knows the medium inside out. I would be interested in reading more of his writing on photography, because at least from this article, he seems to consider himself quite the expert, yet doesn’t really offer much. He fails to acknowledge that he is accounting for a very small part of photography in his article and seems to look down on the medium as art’s annoying little sibling. Basically, Greenberg sees photography that is too theatrical in its story telling as failures as art. He privileges the silent, contemplative, absorptive image and basically suggests photographers stay away from anything more complicated than that, otherwise we will fail.

Anna Gaskell, 'Untitled #59 (by proxy)'

Miles Coolidge, 'Safetyville'

Charlotte Cotton brings a more contemporary view to this matter of narrative photography. She discusses how this type of photograph is now often called the “tableau” and that this type of work is not mimicking painting, but simply employing the same code of representation. She discusses the work of Jeff Wall and Phillip Lorca di Corcia and notes that this work should not be seen as an attempt to imitate cinema either, nor advertising, nor the novel, but simply as acknowledging these elements as points of reference that can enhance the images’ story telling ability. Cottons also discusses how tableau images, though often referencing, criticizing and paying homage to painting, can also be ambiguous, inviting the viewer to make up his or her own mind about the story. Some images depict subjects with their faces turned away, leading the viewer to grapple only with the surrounding interior and its objects to construe meaning. Other images play directly on fairy tales, legends, historical references or fantasy. Cotton outlines a variety of contemporary artists who use story telling in their images using techniques that differ significantly from Swarkowski’s description. These images are rigorously planned, produced and subtle in their story telling. The images prove that to tell a story, an image does not have to be overly dramatic or obvious, for example, Anna Gaskell’s ‘Untitled #59 (by proxy)’ tells the story of Geneva Jones, a nurse who murdered her patients in a simple yet very effective manner. Miles Cooldige's 'Safteyville', without including people or employing any theatrical elements at all points out the bizarreness of contemporary society. That a model building attempting to create the ultimate safe town was built sheds light on the paranoia and desire for utopia that exists in Western society. These images are examples of how far photography has come since Greenberg's and Swarkowski's time. Their texts were significant and accurate in the context they were written in and certainly the ability of an image to tell a story is still in question. However, the picture-as-story is widely employed in Contemporary art and is continuously proving its ability as narrative. I think the most important thing to remember is that a photograph is always only the point of view of the photographer. Thus, the photograph is their story and it is our job as viewers to interpret a photograph with this in mind.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hal Foster, An Archival Impulse/ Foster-Rice, Systems Everywhere.

In ‘An Archival Impulse’, Foster is careful to distinguish that work he is discussing is less interested in “absolute origins” and more with “unfulfilled beginnings or incomplete projects, that might offer points of departure again.” (144) He also notes that this work has departed from mourning or criticizing the museum as a failed platform for artistic display, but rather suggests an alternative kind of ordering, “within the museum and without” (145). What is interesting about this kind of work is that it invites the spectator think about how art is made, why it is made in a certain, how it is popularized, etc. It asks us to consider the politics, control, construction and destruction of public archives, also. Instead of presenting a piece in a way that closes off further questioning, it asks questions. As Foster notes, it “ramifies like a weed or a rhizome” (145). He acknowledges the absurdity and paranoia associated with such work and how it can sometimes seem “tendentious, even preposterous” (145) to attempt to replicate the archive. He ask, is it obscene, to attempt to recuperate failed visions of society and art into an alternative kind of social relations, an attempt to reassemble a failed dream of utopia? I don’t think so. I think this kind of interrogation is necessary and has always been a practice I have admired. I think the shift from “excavation sites” towards “construction sites” is essential for artistic practice to evolve.

In his introduction to 'Systems Everywhere', Foster-Rice Points out the underlying complications of aligning photographers such as Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher and Robert Adams and the exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-altered Landscape to the Minimalist art movement. Foster-Rice argues that there are, in fact many unmentioned differences between the New Topographics aesthetic and the largely sculptural based Minimalism. Though distinctly separate in style and form, (3D, “in” space, as opposed to flattened on paper, denying interaction), what these works have in common is their “structural and strategic characteristics” (46).

This type of art’s main concern (Minimalism, Earthworks, Conceptualists, etc.) was to be more interactive with the world it resides within. Foster-Rice discusses that what was revealed by this method of thinking, was that notions of art were transforming and artists were aware of and challenging past and current systems. Consequently, the emphasis of object making had shifted to an interest in systematically made art. The materials became of lesser importance, whilst the concept, the system became key. The photographs from the Man-Altered Landscapes become something different in this sense, not simply a muted display of minimalist lines, repetitive images and shapes without purpose other than aesthetic, but rather a challenge of the mid-century Modernist aesthetic using a systematic approach.

Instead of..

In fact, as Foster-Rice explains, this was one of the most pressing areas explored in this Systems approach, that of the human-altered landscape. Artists such as Tony Smith and Lewis Baltz began to criticize the malfunction of new structures of mass suburbanization and the expansion of roads into super highways. Despite Jenk’s overlooking or perhaps disinterest in this issue, those in the larger ‘New Topographics’ sphere were addressing the disastrous implications of these growths, as Foster-Rice notes, what Frederic Jameson called the “cultural logic of Capitalism.” To overlook this would be to deny an important section of art history. As Foster-Rice claims, this exhibition has more to do with Late-Capitalism, rather than a universal alteration of the landscape driven by human development. The images Foster-Rice discusses display various concerns about the irreversible effects of such developments on the natural landscape and the pathetic and dysfunctional attempts to control the resulting waste it produced. These images stand in contrast to those created by previous landscape “masters” (sorry, I really detest that word) who made images to promote the strength and beauty of America in all its infinite resourcefulness. As Foster-Rice notes, the advent of the atomic bomb and its looming possibilities shook such perceptions and shaped the ambivalent anxieties inherent in the photographs of the New Topographics. Foster-Rice argues that what became of central importance at that time, as pressed by Valie Export was to avoid separating the art object from lived experience and rather to see art “as an analogue for experience”, a notion in which photography played a central role.

Foster-Rice claims the New Topographics addressed these issues through three central systems-based strategies: an emphasis on serial images, procedure over aesthetic composition and the creation of images whose arrangement was emblematic of the system as a whole. The work of Adams and the Bechers exemplify the use of serial images, employing linear progression and grid systems. Foster-Rice notes the importance of this practice in focusing the audience’s attention on the project as a whole, rather then as individual photographs. Foster-Rice explains that the New Topographics dismissed Formalism as championed by Szarkowski and embraced a procedural method of creating photographs; in other words “process takes place in the conceptual domain” (64). This work did not depend on the whimsical, fleeting moment, but rather a rigorously planned formula. The work privileged arrangement over composition, attempting to approach the object as a whole, rather than focusing on specific parts, as, for example, a Winogrand portrait would. As skeptic as I am about any possibility of passivity of frame, these artists came as close as possible with this technique. Foster-Rice also discusses the ability of this work to present “Whole Systems” (66), reminiscent of Smith’s quote about the overwhelming lack of reference points in Late-Capitalist society, which was aided by the mode of presentation, which mocked this society, repetitive, lifeless, practically identical.

Example of Lewis Baltz display

Finally, Foster-Rice notes that this exhibition can be considered within George Baker’s “Expanded Field of Photography”, building on Krauss’s original essay. He notes that this work “clarifies and reconfigures the possibilities afforded by the opposition of “art” and “document” that tended to document much photographic discourse” (69). The Systems Artist inverted the notion of “not document,” “not art” and created what was both art and document.

Re-reading the Foster text and reading Foster-Rice’s text was really interesting for this assignment, as I have always bee interested in notion of the archive in art and also the New Topographics but struggled to grasp the driving forces behind this work. I think Foster’s text is of great importance as the archive is something that effects historical discourse more than many would consider and for artists to take on such a role is something I would be delighted to witness more of. Foster-Rice’s text achieved its goal of altering how the viewer considers this work, as considering the Systems approach actually explained this work to me more than I had been aware of before. I didn’t know anything about the General System Theory and I hadn’t connected up the ties to Late-Capitalism in this work, so I am grateful to have read this and it will certainly be useful in further studies of this work.

'Northerns Sunsets #2'

When I consider the Procedural Method of working and the Archive I thought of two examples immediately. Firstly, mostly in connection to the artist as Archivist, Irish artist Sean Hillen creates photomontages, which critically comment on the Northern Irish conflict (English occupation of Northern Ireland and the internal conflict between Republicans and Loyalists). Hillen grew up in Newry, which lies on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic and therefore witnessed much of the conflict first hand. Hillen’s work creates an alternative archive from many of the photographs available in Ireland’s main archival centre, the National Archive. His work comprises of his own photographs, and found images. He employs lengthy, often humorous and satirical titles to enforce his opinion on the situation. Hillen’s later work critically comments on post “Celtic Tiger” (short economic boom, followed by a massive and messy crash) Ireland. I thought this work was relevant to mention in relation to the archives discussed by Foster. As Foster notes, the goal of this work is to “offer points of departure again,” which it certainly does.

'The Quiet Man Cottage in Meeting House Square, Temple Bar, Dublin'

'Horse Racing Near the Ruins of Stephen's Green'

As for Procedural Methods, I thought of the artist Roni Horn and her piece ‘You Are The Weather.’ Interestingly, Horn’s origins lay in Minimalism, but she eventually began making Conceptual based work. In Horn’s ‘You Are the Weather’, she photographed a young woman in Iceland (you can see a short video about the work, here: standing in a body of water. Horn used the same vantage point in every single image and, similarly to the Bechers, the only difference in each image is a slight change of expression on the young woman’s face, as in the water towers photographed by the New Topographics couple. Perhaps one could argue, because Horn is photographing a human, rather than a lifeless water tower, that she had to have influenced the subject. What I am more interested in is the similarity of System of framing and presentation used, the notion of repetition, continuous framing, consistent printing, etc. How the images are displayed conveys an ever so subtle sense of emotional change that could only be achieved by employing this procedural system. When viewing the images in this manner, we begin to notice a slight stress in the models eyes, or an absence, or in some a relaxation. The work may not be as strictly precise as the Bechers, but, I think this work is really interesting to consider under the idea of Procedural methods of art making and systems as it shows how it can employed successfully outside of landscape based work.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Photography's Expanded Field - George Baker.

It seems that Baker's main claim is that photography is part of a continuously expanding field and what is essential, is a constant mapping and remapping of this process. He calls for a remodeling of a digram first employed by Krauss, instead of a return to old and dysfunctional theories of photography born out of Modernity and Post Modernity. He sees past theories as important but deems some editing, reshaping and reconsideration of such ways of thinking necessary. Baker's conclusion suggests photography's possibilities are infinite. He attempts to decipher past and current trends in photography in an effort to prove his claim that photography is not simply "stasis" or "non-stasis", nor "narrative" nor "non-narrative." He sees new photographic practice as now merging all four principles, thus expanding the field of photography, collaborating and integrating with other contemporary media, such as film, projection, etc. Baker claims photography becomes thought of as "outmoded technologically and displaced aesthetically." (122).

August Sander
Three Peasants

Baker claims to understand photography's expanded field, we must consider the various oppositions in photography and how they have evolved over the years. Firstly, he discusses the tensions between Narrative and Stasis in photography, as seen in the work of August Sander. Photography has the power to ultimately freeze a moment in time, to capture what Barthes sees as the death of the moment. Simultaneously, the photograph is full of a whole new life, a life of social and scientific function, story telling, exploration, exploitation and confrontation. Baker sees photography's inherent "discursivity" (126) as an essential contradiction of its stillness and quietness. Baker sees contradictions too in the work of Sherman's Film Stills.

Cindy Sherman,
'Untitled Film Still'

Here, in the work of Sherman and also of James Coleman, Baker begins to trace the over-lappng of cinema and photography as an expansion of the field. He sees these images has neither fully narrative nor fully static. Sherman's photographs are 'not-stasis' therefore, narrative and Coleman's work is 'not-narrative,' therefore, stasis. Here, a formula begins to emerge. Baker sees Modernist photography as suspended between theses terms and not far from Barthes' coinage of the terms Denotation and Connotation. He begins to formulate how various big players in photography, Sherman, Coleman and Wall fit into this theory. "If Sherman claims the "film still" and Coleman the "projected image," Jeff Wall's appropriation...of the light box for his image tableaux arrives as yet another major form invested at precisely that same moment that now seems to complete our expanded field" (130).

So, a pattern is beginning to emerge. However, Baker claims it is not enough to focus on the authors of such works, but rather we should be "tracing the life and potential transformation of a former medium's expanded field" (131). What we are dealing with is "new formal and cultural possibilities."

Baker illustrates this through another diagram. Baker claims the "triumvirate" of great postmodern photographers birthed a new type of photography, that of the film still, or the still-film, the Cinematic. He claims this results in a "mad multiplication of cultural codes" (132). Baker sees this type of work as playing on narrative and not-narrative. I think there are endless examples of this type of work. There has been a trend for photographers to engage with the "in-between moment," a moment that is of not so noticeable, (at least in mainstream cinema) in the sense of on screen film, but can be employed and explored beautifully when borrowed by photography. This type of work is disregards the before and after and grips the spectator in an anxious moment of uncertainty paired with stunning visual technique and attention to detail. For example, the work of Hannah Starkey is clearly employing a cinematic aesthetic. As written by David Campany in his introduction to 'The Cinematic,' - "Still photography—cinema's ghostly parent—was eclipsed by the medium of film, but also set free. The rise of cinema obliged photography to make a virtue of its own stillness." I think Campany sums up the rise of this type of image, one that is taking advantage of its own power of narrative/non-narrative and stasis/non-stasis (I can't help but think of Fried's Theatricality/Anti-Theatricality here, also).

Hannah Starkey,

Hannah Starkey,

Baker sees it as of great importance and strengthening his theory, that this type of work is dependent on cinema, similarly to how other work is dependent on video, in order to function. Baker discusses the importance of the "talking picture" also, or the fusion of narrative and stasis. Here, Baker is discussing the a variety of work, from the "painterly depictions of digital montage" (134), (Wall, Davenport) to the Hollywood Tableaux (Crewdson), to pairing of images with sounds, text, projection, video, (Gerard Byrne, Douglas Gordon), in what he would call "narrative caption." Baker does a very admirable job in explaining to us that photography, or I would go as far to say any medium, can no longer be specifically object or aesthetically bound. Photography is a part of various movements, "genres" and art works. A telling example of this is how the Museum of Contemporary Photography just held a mainly video based exhibition, 'Mix Tapes and Mash Ups.' That the very name of that exhibition is borrowing terms from music and internet culture shows how widely spread photography is. I respect Baker's diagram, but I think Nancy Devonport who scribbled circles all over his diagram is the one who is really getting the point across best. Yes, we need maps, yes, documentation of a medium's evolution is very important, but we are moving at such a rapid rate, that it is almost impossible. It is our jobs as artists to look critically at these trends and incorporate them into our own practices. Why are we making large scale, cinematic prints? Why are we making work purely for the internet? What is causing these rifts? Mediums feed of one another and are inextricably linked. Baker makes a strong point when he states, "that this is a cultural as opposed to merely aesthetic field is something that certain recent attempts to recuperate object-bound notions of medium-specificity seem in potential danger of forgetting" (136).

Texts that attempt to summarize photography in one diagram, a few buzz phrases or theory can often frustrate me for two reasons. Firstly, the author's bias always dominates, secondly, there is always picking and choosing. I was relieved to see that, although Baker did mention the usual suspects, he didn't go all Fried on me (Jeff Wall is like, sooo dreamy) but he was careful to not get stuck in this and moved onto the importance of the medium. I think this is a really interesting way to view photographic history. In fact, I like the idea of removing all names and simply focussing on trends and overlap in specific media practice, perhaps using the formula suggested by Manovich in his recent lecture, then perhaps we could begin to relate certain trends to cultural factors, political factors, etc.

Whilst reading this and thinking about overlap of mediums, stasis/non stasis, narrative, none narrative I was thinking of the photographer Ryan McGinley and how his work provides a good example of much of what Baker is discussing for various reasons:

  1. McGinley's images provide an example of media crossover, as he is originally a graphic design artist who now makes use of video also.
  2. McGinley's images rely on a structure of non-stasis/non-narrative. They are what Fried would call "theatrical."
  3. There is no real story or sequential narrative in McGinley's images, much like the cinematic images that have been sprouting up over the last decade or so. These photographs, much like the work of Sherman in the her time, chews up popular culture and spits it back out, beautifully.
  4. McGinley's systematic use of the internet to promote his work adds a whole other layer to photography's expanding field, a layer which is ignored in Baker's text.
I think his work provides an interesting and more contemporary example of photography's expanded field. But, as Monique said in her blog this week, maybe I'm just a big fan of this work and therefore am automatically placing it into the author's theory.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Photography and as/network. Lolz! Teh internetz! OMGZ!

Flicker provides, is a case study of how contemporary photography has been deeply effected by practices of online social networking. For example, Murray mentions is the idea of ones "Flickr identity" which goes hand in hand with the sense of transience that characterizes online photo sharing. She discusses how a photographer can build a sense of his or her own style by adding to "a building block of a biographical or social narrative" (161). Online photography in the context of a regularly updated Flicker is not focussed on death, loss or preservation, but rather, the fleeting moment. A sense of permanent presentness is created in this online world and the addition of the "comment" function adds to the immediacy of this practice. A photographer can receive instant validation or criticism of his or her work, if that is what they desire. Murray seems to suggest that speed is one of the founding characteristics of the online photo sharing world. This reflects the ease of use provided by the digital camera or digital film scanner.

From the group 'Polaroid Cats' on Flicker.

In addition to the new temporal speed of photography, Murray discusses the roots of online photography and its connection to past photographic methods. She mentions the ease offered to consumers by the Kodak brownie from the 1880's and traces this all the way up to the present day. Certainly, this type of photo sharing began its acceleration a long time ago. As radical as it may seems to some, this is not an entirely new practice. Murray sees the progression of the Vernacular or snap shot aesthetic into a new online world as a departure from Victorian notions of photography and preservation, or the cameras ties to death. In fact, Murray claims we have landed in a new category of photography called 'Ephemera.' Oxford English Dictionary defines this as: "One who or something which has a transitory existence." Certainly, flicker is designed to be transitory. As Murray mentions, as each new batch of photographs are uploaded, old ones fade into the background and become and archive. This is a good example of the loss of the "preciousness" of photographs in this context. I the past, photographs of the dead were kept like sacred objects in beautifully decorated books as a direct connection to the dead family member. Now, family photographs are regularly posted online and constantly transitioning into the future, making each moment temporary and focussed on the now.

Murray also discusses the fetishization inherent in certain Flicker groups in the form of preference of certain colors, styles and themes over another. If you can imagine it, there is a group for it on Flicker. For example, see the Polaroid Cats group, two of my favourite things combined. This group strictly accepts real polaroids, explicitly stating "no poladroids" (incase you're unfamiliar, a polaroid is a digital photograph photoshopped to look like a polaroid and cropped into a frame of similar style to mock the aesthetic without having to actually use a polaroid camera) and only of cats. Murray also discusses in particular how Flicker has proven that theories of a "predicted loss of difference, mistakes, 'realness' in the photograph and filmic image that would come with the widespread use of digital image technologies" is in fact, not the case at all. Murray notes that many images have been in fact "fetishized for their low end look" (160). Murray is certainly correct about this. In response to the thousands of groups that favor a sleek, digital aesthetic, boasting the use of macro lenses and photoshop filters, etc (for example: see here), many set up groups that celebrate the unpredictability of film, along with the grain, the dust and even what happens when, as Murray discusses, digital photography doesn't play by the rules (see picture below). I can think of so many examples of this for class as I am certainly guilty for having an attraction to a less sleek and clean image (I am definitely not disregarding this aesthetic though though, or aligning myself to any form of Flicker family). Take for example one of my favourite Flicker groups started by a friend of mine who tends to enjoy this aesthetic. Many images from this group illustrate Murray's point.

'Mark watching fireworks and the sometimes beautiful limitations of digital photography.' From the DigitalFaun Flicker Group.

Murray quotes Manovich at the end of her article, "digital photography has not revolutionized has significantly altered our relationship to the practice of photography (when coupled with networking software)" (161). I agree exactly with this point. Photography is continuing along a long line of improving technology and practices and any panic about the loss of the real is rooted in incorrect notions of the photographic real. However, what is changing is our relationship to the image. A slower world of images bound up with the real, preservation and death has shifted to a more rapid world of constant interaction and transformation, depending of the presentness and newness of each image. Photographers can pull out of a huge pool of resources, viewing work from photographers from any area across the globe they desire, discussing work with those that in the past, would have been impossible. All images, wether shot on large format or a mobile phone, are viewed, criticized and discussed on an equal plane.

Moving onto Evan's text. Wow, what a seriously interesting and relevant piece. Reading this article makes me extremely excited to be apart of the generation he is discussing, but also extremely frustrated. Evans enthusiastically discusses the potentials the internet offers photographers, claiming if we want an audience, the internet is the place to be. He feels however, that photographers have not taken advantage of all the internet has to offer, "imagine Andy Warhol and the internet. (48) One replier argues, however, that the time for internet photography is simply not right. He claims that "there is very little at stake"(49) by posting work on line as the internet is a democratic space. This is a really interesting point. Anyone can be a photographer, once they have a digital camera and an internet connection. The can receive thousands of hits by falling into one of the Flicker categories discussed above, but where does the line between significant and meaningless fall? There are not established critics on the internet. However, photo critiquing via blogging is slowly becoming popular. I have my own blog, where I post work by others and discuss it, sometimes in relation to texts or photographs from the traditional photographic timeline. I highly enjoy engaging with work posted online and looking at it from a serious critical stand point. I don't think its wise to view work on the web as completely cut off from the tangible art world. Obviously my blog isn't really of any importance, more of an entertaining hobby, but think what could be possible if MOMA or the MOCP brought out a blog of this type? It would be really fascinating if these institutions, the arenas Evans sees the internet as perhaps competing with, surfed the web on sites such as Flicker and Tumblr for emerging talent and gave them a platform on a site with critical engagement from established critics. If I was John Szarkowski, people would pay a lot more attention to what I had to say about their work.

Evans touches upon something that I have been thinking about for quite sometime and I'm so relieved someone finally wrote about it and pointed out the significance. Fried hails artists who make work "for the wall" as the new revolutionary masters. What he ignores completely, to my annoyance, is that people are now also making work for the web. As horrifying as these may seem to some, I find it incredible that a whole section of photography is emerging quietly below the surface of polished, exclusive institutions of the art gallery. Its an arena where the art dealer choke hold has no power. In this vein, I can completely understand why he sees the internet as "free." The days of needing to be accepted into a bourgeois gallery to be noticed are over (take for example my presentation topic, Sandy Kim, who now has has tangible work in the form of 500 books for sale and an exhibition under her belt, thanks to the internet).


However, it is important that Evans mentions that not all work is suited for the internet and vice versa. His example of Orzoco vs Crewdson was a good illustration. Crewdson's work is one hundred percent made for the wall. All its glorious detail and production value is dulled and murdered by the internet and its rather upsetting. However, as work like Orzoco's works adequately. Some work is suited for the internet, some is not. We are now in the age of the work of art in the age of digital reproduction. The same concerns apply, I don't see how this problem is any different to choosing wether to shoot with an 8x10 or an iPhone. Artists have the advantage of producing beautiful prints for the wall and work for the web. Why not do both? Why choose? I take advantage of both, big time. I make work for my own personal pleasure that I enjoy posting online and will probably form a book out of someday. I also make work where first and foremost I am considering how it will look printed and framed. Some of my work looks awful online, so I don't post it, some of my work looks awful printed, so I don't printed. I am an avid collector of photography books and the library is one of my favourite places to be. I would never give this up. I like to get up close to a print and inspect how the photographer chose to format their book, I like to feel the print on the page, I like to sit in the gallery and soak up the marvel of the exquisite print quality of an artist's work. However, I can also sit for hours and hours searching through flicker or tumblr as the author described and experience a completely different, but just as wonderful way of viewing art. I can see the power of the internet as a research tool, but this doesn't mean I push a side tangible art work. Why anyone would see this as a disadvantage, or feel they have to side with one school, baffles me. The internet obviously has its disadvantages, but if used correctly, it can empower and promote and artist wonderfully which can lead to exhibitions and commissions.

The last text was by Lev Manovich. Luckily I saw his lecture.. This bloke has a pretty legitimate pink watch which I'm going to assume is similar to batman's utility belt or that device in Men In Black that wipes your memory. He also has a cool accent, therefore he is obviously a genius. Seriously, though. Manovich has some very forward and practical ideas about the internet and its power to organize images in relation to history. His concepts seem simple but are incredibly complex, imagining putting them into practice gives you quite the headache. His text was just as intriguing as his lecture. Manovich raises many important questions for photography in the internet era. He claims we have moved from "media to social media" (319). He discusses how the user now largely adds content to the sphere, rather than consuming content created by a higher source. However, he notes the this is simply a system of recycling of original higher source media. To explain this, he discusses de Certeau's theory of everyday life and Strageties versus tactics. What has changed is that media/commodification now depends on the habits of consumers, which really depends on what is pushed on them by the media, so both parties feed off one another. Manovich applies this to the internet, via sites such as Facebook and Flickr. He also discusses how this type of media has led to new types of conversations, for example, he discuses YouTube and how one video may be responded to with another video. Allow me to give an example (Nothing to do with art..but amazing).

And the response to this video:

What is most interesting is his comparison of conversations held through modern art, such as Jasper Johns reacting to abstract expressionism, or Fried's attack on Minimalism in "Art and Object-hood" and how this is a continuation of such practices. He notes that obviously few of these conversations have the same theoretical groundings, but do aid the shaping of professionally based media, such as video games, film companies and musicians. Manovich asks a very important question. Is art after web 2.0 still possible? I was relieved to see that wrote, "on one level, this question is meaningless" (329). The internet provides many advantages and many disadvantages for artists. As Manovich mentions, artists now now have to compete with millions of other photographers posting online, as well as popular online culture (the avoidance of people "stumbling upon" their site by accident as Evan's commenter mentions). Simultaneously, online communities strengthen are and bring artists together in a way before unimaginable. What Manovich is more concerned with, is the dynamics of Web 2.0 itself, "its constant innovation, its energy and its unpredictability" (331).

Note: Blogger seems to enjoy randomly deleting and reformatting my posts for kicks, whilst I'm not online, so, apologies for any broken links/images.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Digital (Ritchin, Ribalta and Dzenko).

This week's readings dealt with the highly contested subject of the digital image in photography. Each of the readings is rather different. Ritchin's view is the most extreme, eluding to cyborgs and a world where the supposed realism of the photograph is dissolved and replaced by something dangerous. Ribalta's is the most practical, arguing that the underlying reasons for the anxieties digital media has caused is intrinsically bound up with complex historical problems of photography's ontological make up. He also stresses the importance of the document, realism and critical institutions of photography. Finally, Dzenko's text is more concerned with how the image is perceived by the spectator and see this as the most important issue.

Kerry Sharbakka - 'The Struggle to Right Oneself.'

Lets begin with the most relaxed text, Dzenko's.. We'll save the Ritchin's, shall we say, theatrical text, for last. Dzenko's text provides an antidote to Ritchin's writing. Keep calm, digital imaging will always remain rooted in traditional photography practices, he suggests. Dzenko writes "viewers continue to read digital photographs as representative of reality, a function images maintain despite the transition from analog to digital" (19). The main example he uses to discuss this point is the work of (previous Columbia student, who started this work in the Body, Space, Image class and, in fact, badly injured himself attempting to perform this live at the college..) is Kerry Skarbakka. Dzenko sees this work as proof that highly digitally manipulated images are still perceived as truth. As he notes, the work was reproduced on the 'Epic Fail' blog, thus proving its believability to the wider public. As Dzenko claims, theoretical arguments about the loss of the real in digital "do not account for the social function of digital photographic images" (21), which is arguably the most important function of photography's wide range of capabilities.

Dzenko also argues that digital images do not completely severe the indexical tie so many critics seem obsessed with. He informs us that Skarbakka was in fact present in front of the camera and therefore his body was imprinted on film before being digitally manipulated. He also tells us his works "resembles an analog photograph" (22). Is this supposed to be a comfort to us? What is more important in fact is how the image is perceived, or more so, believed. Whether it is digital or film is not really the matter at hand, but rather, how the image will be received by the spectator. That's where the power of the image lies (no pun..) The power of photography to successfully lie to the viewer has been active long before the digital era, take for example the following photograph composite of Abraham Lincoln’s head and the Southern politician John Calhoun’s body. Putting the date of this image into context, note that the first permanent photographic image was created in 1826 and the Eastman Dry Plate Company (later to become Eastman Kodak) was created in 1881 (see footnote). As Damien Sutton writes, "photography has always been dubitative...and this characteristic is not the province of the digital image alone" (21).

Ribalta seems to be thinking along similar lines. "Why do I think that there's not much gain in that post-photographic liberation? Why do I think that the post-photographic era is actually posing the same dilemmas that the photographic era used to pose?" (178). Ribalta points out the problems of calling Digital the "death" of photography. What does that really mean? If photography is dead, why is it more popular and accessible than ever? What is really at stake by thinking digitally, is the death of preconceived notions about photography's inherent realism. Ribalta claims that the real problem digital photography causes is a crisis of the real that has been bubbling underneath the surface of photography's history for years. He claims that this crisis "finds in Photoshop its last consequences" (180). Ribalta warns us that without realism, photography is irrelevant. What does this mean? If we cannot believe a photograph, it is powerless. This connects to the document in photography and its importance in historical discourse. Ribalta calls for a reinvention of the real in the contemporary art world. He discusses what Crimp called 'The Photographic Activity of Postmodernism' and how various artists such as Sekula, Rosler and Londier managed to acheive precisely this in their time period. Ribalta claims "the challenge today is...producing practices in which realism is reinvented" (181).

Jo Spence, 'How do I Begin to Take Responsibility for my Body?'

How can this be achieved? Ribalta calls for two things
  1. Molecular Realism - The overcoming of the opposition between documentary and fiction and reinventing documnetary methods based on the negotioation of the relationship between author and spectator. I cannot help but think of Azoulay's Civil Contract in this context.
  2. Alternatives to the limitations of institutional criqtique confined to the museum. Ribalta says that we need to transcend art's "cultural confinment" (182). He hopes for artistic spaces that can promote production and circulation of images, alternative to the hegemonic conditions of the artistic public sphere. By this I assume he means large scale galleries.
I think what Ribalta is touching upon here is the need to break free of crippling Modernist systems that control the display and reception of art in high end public art spaces. It is as if Ribalta is trying to set up his own kind of Civil Contract, where the artist must strive to overcome the current difficulties photography's validity as a medium is faced with. He hopes young artists will continue to aggressively challenge the high level institutions in order to "pose the question concerning the role of images in a possible emerging post-liberal public sphere" (184). For example, Ribalta discusses the work of Jo Spence, who was an extremely important advocate of self-learning, self-education and displaying the validity of showing work in alternative spaces to museums, through her employment of therapeutic art.

At the other end of the spectrum we find Ritchin. I've read this book before and I was equally as pertubed by Ritchin's sensationalism and ambigious warnings about how digital photography is part of a larger force destroy all we know and love. What irritates me most is that Ritchin has some brilliant points and really is a great writer, but he is so wrapped up in his enjoyment of warning the world of the dangers of this new era of photography that he can't come down to earth. Ritchin also makes many grandiose claims about the digital photograph which are just plain wrong and I find these statements greatly weaken his argument. It seems to me that what Ritchin fears runs much deeper than the photograph's capacity to be digitally manipulated. I see Ritchin's anxieties as rooted in the expansion and overlap of the globalized world and the Internet dominated era of the hyper real, of which photography is a factor, but not a very large one in comparison to the process of Globalization as a whole. When I read Ritchin's books, I can't help but think of the film Blade Runner, particularly when he discusses the loss of the real in family albums, I think of the scene where Rachel realises her memories are false and implanted in her head by conrtolling governing forces. As prevelent as this film is in its message about the the world we live in, I can't help but feel Ritchin takes his arguments to the brink of paranoia sometimes and I think that what he describes brings that movie to my mind illustrates that (not that this is neccessarily a bad thing.. I'm just as paranoid as Ritchin about this kind of stuff, but I also have faith that the human race is more intellegent than that..A select few, that is). I'm going to keep this short by summing up Ritchin's worst a most prevelent statements.

  • Ritchin claims a digital photograph is indistinguishable so that the "original" loses its meaning. Wrong. As photopraphs get passed around the internet, printed out, resaved, re-edited, etc, they lose their original format and centex just as much as a mechanically reproduced image in a book does.
  • Ritchin claims the photographic act once required "the presence of a seer and the seen" and the "distillation and creation of aura". This is where I get rather annoyed. What does that even mean? The distillation and creation of aura? People have been manipulating images since photograpy's creation. Ritchin is pushing aside a huge portion of photographic history here.
  • In addition, Ritchin's metaphor of the horseless carriage doesn't really work for me. He discusses the rise of the automobile and how this has affected the planet in many detrimental ways, wheras the horse was much more effective and less envornmentally damaging. That's all very true, Fred, but we're not taking about cars here, we're talking about the digital image. Ritchin ignores that with widespead use of digital cameras, the use of film and the chemicals has been significantly reduced. The production of film and developing chemicals is an extremely damaging process (as an animal rights activist, I know that it goes as far as farm animals being fed certain types of food in order to produce certain quality gelatin for the film). Obviously film is still being widely used, as are such chemicals, but with the "everyday" person now using a digital camera instead of a film and a chemical process, that has to make a difference. Therefore, his comparison of the digital image to the modern automobile doesn't make any sense to me.
  • Ritchin's "God built the world in seven days.." analogies really make me want to throw his book out the window. Grandiose statements like that make me want to pull my hair out and personally I find that this type of writing does nothing but to weaken the argument at hand. Statments like this suggest to me that Ritchin's theories are rooted in outdated Modernist beliefs of the photograph's legitimacty as a truthful document.
  • Ritchin talks a great deal about how YouTube and the Macintosh has led us astray from what is real and has placed us in a struggle to discover what the truth is. I feel like Ritchin is a bit behind the times here. Ritchin sees the digital as a "revolution" (20). As Kevin Robins claims, “the question of technology… is not at all a technological question” (1991: 55). In my opinion, the distress Ritchin associates with digital photography has very little to do with the technical workings of the camera, but more with the technicalities of thinking. What Ritchin ignores is that the seemingly natural aura of analog photography is deeply rooted within Positivism, Euclidean geometry and Cartesian thinking. I would go into this, but we would be here all day. Ritchin claims this is the end of photography as a we know it. The word "end" is a very powerful word and I think he uses it poorly. Nothing is ending, only progressing.
Personally, I feel the rise of the digital image is only a worrying prospect if your beliefs about photography are bound up with false notions of truth and evidence in connection to the camera. I still shoot film and for the most part what I shoot is "real." Digital technology has helped photographic practice to become more convenient for all its participants. I think if your main concern is whether an image is "real" or not, unless in specific contexts, you're missing the point.

I'll leave you with some pictures to consider, from Photoshop People, forget the loss of the indexical, the death of photographic realism.. Allow me to show you the TRUE horror of digital imaging.. A horror so sick, so cruel, you may never sleep again.. This is something out of our hands. You have been warned:

Put your arm between your knees.. No not your huge arm, your tiny arm!

Never did want that garage anyway..

Anatomy!? Pah!

I knew we shouldn't have settled down beside that nuclear waste disposal unit..

Mixing line work and photography is a difficult task graphically. It requires excellent judgement and carefully feathered masking to.. SCREW IT, JUST USE A CLIPPING PATH, ITS ONLY THE COVER!

Lovely darlings, lovely, Emma can you awkwardly move your leg behind his leg so it looks as though it's been amputated? You can't? Don't worry darling we'll fix it later.

You're right. LSD on a Sunday night before my first big magazine job really was a poor choice.

Arguably this is a Photoshop Triumph (if you are Liza Minelli.) For everyone else it's a bit of a stretch.

Its called Vitamin D.. It isn't expensive.


To be fair, this book is about hideous decapitated women with wigs put on top of the stumps, so maybe it isn't that much of a disaster.

Wait for it. You'll see it. And life will never be the same again.


Abe Lincoln photograph and information:

Thanks to these guys for the hilarious PS disasters: