Question The Medium
Other interests and a cold has kept me away for a bit. As I lay on my couch recuperating, surrounded by my Photo Book collection, the latest copy of Photograph magazine and a copy of Michael Fried’s Why Photography Matters As Art As Never Before ( a rather overly dramatic title I must say), I started to contemplate the state of photography (mostly in America ) at this moment in time. Mainly to figure out what relation my photography has to the whole of the field of Photography today. The first thing I did was to create a list of descriptive words and phrases that reflect what I think are the major attitudes of contemporary photography.
2. Self Referential
3. Process Oriented
4. Conceptually Oriented
There are many more phrases and words one can put up for photography is a very diverse medium but I think this captures the uber-flavor of what I see in galleries. The digital medium itself has become the subject of photographer’s work (Thomas Ruff) and the photographic medium as a whole seems obsessed with itself. The concept of meta-photography being the subject of shows and magazine issues. I also see many young photographers documenting their lives and friends but it seems never to the point where it becomes challenging. There is always a bit of a distance. There are no Nan Goldins or Larry Clarks or for that matter the likes of Emmet Gowin who has intimately photographed his wife and family for decades. Now artists like Loretta Lux create portraits that are at times strangely disturbing and unreal and wear the digital process like a badge.
The landscape is no longer just beautiful. It is a battleground between Man and Nature or between Corporations and Humanity. The spiritual and the reflection of the human soul in the landscape has disappeared. The spirit Minor White is dead. The landscape is now political. Urban is the preferred landscape.
For many artists like Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewsdon photography is about photography and it’s supremacy over the other arts, especially painting. It’s nemesis from the very beginning. Photographs are now commonly (and many times unnecessarily) huge. The photographs are measured in feet not inches. The better to usurp the place of painting. A viewer today has to have a solid background in Art History or else the full meaning of a photograph might elude him. Many times for these artists the subject of a photograph is an allusion to a painting done hundreds of years ago.
In general, the immediacy of photography has almost disappeared. Things like craft and beauty take a back seat to ideas, and political messages. Photographers would rather question the medium instead of themselves.