03 January 2008

State of the Art ~ A Lament

Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York, 1989 © Lee Friedlander

Our times are somewhat curious. Purportedly "new" work in photography generates yawns. And the big news continues to revolve around photographers like Diane Arbus (here too) and Lee Friedlander who had already "arrived" four decades ago. (Of course, the recent death of John Szarkowski focused attention on this older group too.) The point is not to deny that Arbus and Friedlander, et. al. are masterful photographers. My perplexity is why they still seemingly dominate the field so thoroughly.



Blogger Stan B. said...

Perhaps because they were true visionaries whose work broke ground that continues to inspire. And maybe, just maybe, because they were amongst the first real superstars in what was still a fairly new medium.

03 January, 2008 14:50  
Anonymous abyrd said...

One curious aspect of contemporary art photography is – what I believe to be - a reluctance to challenge the medium, there is still an emphasis on "taking" photographs rather than "making" them. There seems to be a lack of physical “artistic” engagement and consideration for the object itself. Contemporary art photography is static. Artists are using their high-tech Nikon D5503989431038471 Rebel cameras to capture “accurate” images and producing clean, colorful, large scale photographs; There is too much objectivity in supposedly non-objective objects. I guess in some cases such sterility is intended to be apart of the aesthetic, enabling the viewer to focus on the “idea.”

This seems to be (simply) the case with McFarland's “large colour photographs.” He aims to “return the image as much as possible to its original appearance, seen by the eye.” How foolish, backwards even. This approach embraces the medium's early mimetic criticism, it's irony without intrigue. It doesn't help either that he is wont to make a comparison between the subject matter and the photographic process. Do we really care that his photographs of gardens and the gardens themselves are idiosyncratically linked by there their reliance on basic elements - “light for exposure and energy and liquids for hydration and processing?” I sure as hell don't. I don't think Minor White did either, and he was a botanist!

Modernist photographers like Arbus, Friedlander, White et. al. were active during the medium's early reception as a new young art form. They played an essential role in showing the public the medium's potential beyond the snapshot. They created new ways of seeing that surpassed mere “looking.” They employed “world-reflecting” approaches to making “world-creating” images/series.

I thought Photoshop would free photography from itself, but artists are still insisting that their images are not “photoshopped,” as if mentioning so would add fifty points to the picture's worth. Good photographs are good photographs despite their origins. If a lot cropping and contrast adjustment meant that I would not have to look at another mundane, “poetic” portrait of a kook then I'm all about it. But even this horse is dead. Tanyth Berkeley needs more than “interesting” people to make her photographs interesting.

Modernist photographers still dominate contemporary photography, because photography as a form of art has not changed much. We have new technology, but we're still using it in old ways. I think artists today - just as they did four decades ago – are preoccupied with embracing the medium's “unique” realness. The modernists dominate still, because nothing has really changed.

The Met's exhibition, Depth of Field featured some really great work by contemporary artists like Uta Barth and Adam Fuss. I think Cynthia Greig has some interested work as well.

I enjoy your blog.

03 January, 2008 17:03  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you're right... but then, as in all the arts, time needs to pass before the true significance of a work or oeuvre can be judged. I'm off to see my favourite photographer Nick Waplington at the end of this month, guarantee he is worth looking up if you get the chance.

03 January, 2008 18:33  

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