Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Is Photography Over?

     So far I do not have a visual for this post because I cannot possibly think of a way to do one for a response to who I agree with in the comment thread given to us. If I come up with something later on, I shall post it. I know this is an incredibly early post, but I haven't attended most of my classes this week (I did make an attempt, I promise) thanks to illness so I had time. ANYWAYS... (sometimes I forget this is a class blog and not a "what I did today" blog.)

Re: This thread. http://www.sfmoma.org/pages/research_projects_photography_over

     Now, maybe this is my senioritis talking, or maybe it's my frustration with Columbia in general talking, or maybe this is how I've felt all along. My initial response to the question of “is photography over?” would be - “it's not that serious.”

      Honestly, I'm not enthralled about how the “legitimacy” of photography SEEMS to have diminished thanks to the digital age and the accessibility of cameras and the massive amount of images just about everywhere, ESPECIALLY the Internet which seems to be a dumping ground of sorts for it all, but, I also know how to move on with my life and keep on making work that is important to me and strive for what my idea of excellence is, photographically. Perhaps my way of thinking and photographing is just really, really simple.

      Several commenters on this San Francisco MOMA page say that it depends on what you mean by “photography” and what you mean by “over.” I have to say that I do agree with that, and that it should in fact be specified whether we are talking about commercial and/or fine art photography (or photography that can generate some kind of monetary profit in general) or any kind of image generation from a device with a lens, including cell phone pictures and Facebook snapshots done with point and shoots (which generally do not create any monetary gain...). I am assuming the question “is photography over?” to mean something along the lines of “is art photography, not including all these excessive grainy camera phone pictures and the like, discredited BECAUSE of how accessible photography is now to nearly everyone?”

      When people say “photography is over” or “photography is dead,” and talk about all I can think is STOP trying to be a hipster that is just too cool for me, because all you are doing is sounding incredibly whiny. Especially with comments like “it is subject to the product life cycle, which is to say that every new device or process reaches a zenith of popularity only to be superseded by the next invention. The seed of each innovation's demise is thus planted at its birth,” from Jennifer Blessing. This just sounds like it's trying to be way too technical and “smart sounding” for the rest of us who just like to pick up a camera (or the “next invention” of camera, if you must) and shoot and not think so hard about the particular means they are using to create an image and why or why not your chosen device is legitimately considered a camera from one group of people's point of view. I know there is a time for when your 

      As for who I agree with... I'll start with this one quote Philip-Lorca diCorcia had. “Most predictions [of the future of photography] are based on technical developments that alter the form more than the content. The delivery system is rapidly shifting but the content is little altered.” I feel like this expresses what photography has become extremely well. The devices we use to capture an image have evolved and changed over the years, but some of the outcome is still the same. Obviously we know that image manipulation – however difficult and time consuming it was before Photoshop – existed before digital cameras... I've always been in awe at this image we looked at last week by Oscar Rejlander.

People clearly still do it today, but not in a darkroom, and not with film or glass plates.

Or, let's look at a portrait by Nadar. 

Nadar's portrait of Eugene Delacroix

     I chose to imitate his style ever so slightly for a European history project final this semester:

Outcome similar, created with different cameras. (Please excuse the hideous watermark, I did it to put them on... Facebook... ugh, how embarrassing. Or not.)

      I'm not trying to say that my work in any way compares with Nadar's right now because his portraits are incredible, (and I certainly could have done BETTER at this project) but I am saying that I can get a similar outcome and quality with the way that I shoot and what I shoot with.

      Moving on, I agree the most with the first commenter, Vince Aletti. To him, photography being “over” seems “unthinkable” because of how much photography dominates our culture. And, despite “the regular disappearance of favorite photographic papers, the recent dismantling of darkrooms, and the relentless rise of digital capture and output,” old processes seem to always be revived. There has never been only one type of photography and now there are more than ever. He also argues that, if photography is discredited now because digital manipulation takes away from photography's supposed ability to capture truth, then it should have been gone a century ago because photography has never been sheerly about indexicality. Photography has always been used for artistic purposes besides just recording something.

      What IS over, according to Aletti, is “the narrow view of photography — the idea that the camera is a recording device, not a creative tool, and that its product is strictly representational — not manipulated, not fabricated, not abstract.” I certainly agree with this as well.

      Clearly there are still artists today who do darkroom work and/or use alternative processes, like Robert and Shana Parkeharrison. 

     So that certainly isn't entirely dead, just waning for now, perhaps. Maybe someday in the far off distant future those processes may not exist anymore due to no more materials, but there will still be means of taking photographs.

      I do think that anyone who says photography is strictly darkroom, and strictly representational really does have a narrow view of what photography is or always has been. That is to discredit every renown photographer who has made work that was not entirely straightforward and was even the least bit imaginative.

      I still feel like I am arguing the same point I made several weeks ago about this. If I alter or manipulate an image in Photoshop, it has the same effect as if I were to do it in the darkroom, except much easier on my terrible eyesight. I feel like this is such a merry go round of an argument and that I am just constantly repeating myself. It is not really an argument that can be won. It reminds me of when I go out and talk about Jesus on the streets of hipster neighborhoods here and nobody wants to hear about it because "we all have our own beliefs." Doesn't just about everything in this world eventually get “beaten to death” to the point where it seems like it's “over” because it's been done so much? One commenter said “God is over” to make his point, even. (Though I have to disagree with that particular statement entirely..) It is just the point that most art is done so much that it all eventually becomes old to us no matter the process. I remember my senior year of high school being in art class, and that same teacher taught AP art (the “honors” version that took two class periods instead of one) and all of a sudden everyone in AP art was doing “drip” paintings because it just looked like the cool thing to do. My teacher became irritated and forced all those students to actually do research on its origin and who the artists were who came before them who created that kind of work. Maybe he would even have gone as far as to say, “that style of painting is over.” What isn't over by now, if you put it that way?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Relational Aesthetics


     In the documentary “Relational Art: is it an Ism?”, Lewis says relational art is a new kind of art, according to Bourriaud, coming from Europe and America in the 90s.

      In the film, Lewis sets out to find his own relational art.

      First off, He presents a minimalist series of pay phones with tapped wires - “Phone Home” by Elmgreen and Dragset. It is relational because the work requires people to come in and actually “use” what is made or presented as a work of art to give it meaning. Works like this, and these artists in particular make work that are a “step forward in art” and look like they are from minimalism. The new element is ordinary people. Relational art seeks to “link the arts into its social context and surroundings.”

      Lewis approached some artists in Bourriaud's book, but mos of them did not want to be in a documentary about “relational aesthetics.” The artists that did talk to him made his approaches seem outdated, as though he was making things too complicated. Art no longer has to “mean something,” nor does it have to be something just looked at, but something useful (Philippe Parreno's lamp, for example).

      When Lewis visits Bourriaud's gallery, he finds tons of relational art – all interactive and political. Bourriaud says the work shows human relationships, and that relational aesthetics is “ground of sensibility for today.” Lewis simplified it and said “it uses minimal forms to make political statements.”

      The “most relational” artist in the book is Rirkrit Tiravanija, whose art consists of making dinners and exhibiting dishes. He is represented by a leading New York art gallery, by the way. (I just about flipped my lid and stopped watching this film that I was trying so hard to bear for 22 minutes. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! But I guess I'll save my rant for the end...) The sense of “liberty to the work” changed the curator's mind from being irritated by the work to wanting to show it. (WHAAT THE?) “I wasn't sure if was art, but that might prove that it is,” says Lewis. (Actually, I just think it proves that people are becoming more simple minded in a bad way with each passing generation of art..) Lewis is totally right when he said people react to this kind of work by saying “that's not art!” This curator of Tiravanjia's work says that this work is made by unradical people who are afraid to live a good life. (Well, I'LL say.)

      Lewis gains a better understanding of relational aesthetics once he visits Tiravanija at his place. He says he never makes work with something new. He works with the idea of readymade, except with people interacting with it. His subject and medium is “raw life itself.” Lewis comes to the conclusion that these artists use real life in their art because of the way people are so involved in the technology of this digital age.

      On a final note in this film, Lewis says he hopes one day people will talk about relational art the same way people talk about Renaissance art. (all I can say to that is oh gosh, I really hope not...)

      So, let me talk about this quote mentioned over and over again:
"The possibility of a relational art (an art taking as its theoretical horizon the realm of human interactions and its social context, rather than the assertion of an independent and private symbolic space), points to a radical upheaval of the aesthetic, cultural and political goals introduced by modern art."

      Bourriaud seems to define modern art as art is not quite radical in terms of aesthetics, culture and politics though it introduces those things. Relational aesthetics is an extreme agitation of those things, making them more pronounced. From what I got from the film, the key components of relational art are that it utilizes people (“real life”) to give it meaning, often with them interacting with objects that are already made, or it can mean nothing at all and just be functional, and can sometimes make political statements.

      As for photographers and photographs that can be relational, well... there is Santiago Sierra mentioned in the film, and maybe you could say Philip Lorca diCorcia with his Hollywood portraits on the streets using strobe in which he paid people to be in them.... but he didn't really have people interact with “stuff” to make his work. Then again, the fact that he paid people small sums of money makes a reference to the porn industry and selling of bodies (according to the Charlotte Cotton book) so I guess that is making some kind of social statement.

      But honestly, I don't buy this relational aesthetic thing. I am not convinced that photography is REALLY related to this idea and I really had to “make it fit” when I thought of the Hollywood portraits.
During this entire documentary, I literally felt like getting up and yelling, “SIR, STOP! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!” (kind of an inside joke I have with a roommate of mine, but completely appropriate for this, considering all this art looks like one big inside joke to me too.) I have always thought that the concept of making art with readymade objects or something becoming art once people interact with it is ludicrous, and I absolutely hate it. All I can think of is how somebody is making huge bucks from something so ridiculously simple. I know, I know. Who am I to say what is or isn't art? Well, you can call it art, but I don't think it is, and I'll never like it because I do not believe any creative work is really put into it. I cannot fit any kind of photography into this “ism” because even if the photo was made through some kind of interaction, seeing the work itself is not interacting with it the way you'd get into a phone booth in a gallery and make a call. You're still just standing there looking at a picture. 
     I guess that's all I have to say, and I'm sorry if I've offended whoever reads this. I don't think you're less of a person if you like this kind of art or make it, I'm just saying I do not wish to collaborate with you or attempt to think critically about your art after I graduate. :)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Photography as Narrative

“The Photographer's Eye” by John Szarkowski
“Four Photographers” by Clement Greenburg
“Once Upon a Time” from “The Photograph as Contemporary Art” by Charlotte Cotton

      In “The Photographer's Eye,” Szarkowski begins by stating how the invention of photography created a new way of creating pictures – photographs are taken, as opposed to paintings being constructed and “made.” Therefore, there needed to be a way to create something meaningful with this new mechanical process, but it was difficult to find a way to do that with people who loved the “old forms” of art. Meaning was more likely to be created by people who started to do photography but had no training in it. Photography caused thousands of people to learn it and create a massive amount of images. (In 1853 supposedly 3 million daguerreotypes had been made.) Some had been created with a knowledge of photography, some by accident. Then, by the later 19th century, even more people – snapshooters – joined the giant mass of professionals and amateurs, especially with the invention of dry plates and and with photography becoming so much easier. So then, even more photographs were made, some deemed totally meaningless with no thought given to the principles of art and what makes an image successful. Some of this work evolved and did become important, though.

      Despite the problem of too much “crap photography” being made (for lack of better words), photography did do something painting could not, and that is record many many things, big and small. It could even allow “the poor man” to know what his ancestors looked like. Szarkowski said it best: “painting was difficult, expensive, and precious, and it recorded what was known to be important. Photography was easy, cheap, and ubiquitous, and it recorded anything: shop windows and sod houses and family pets and steam engines and unimportant people.” And basically, people could learn photography in two ways: trial and error, and looking at other photographs. Szarkowski then discusses five issues or problems that were unavoidable:

1. the thing itself – the photographer had to realize he was dealing with a real thing and had to accept it, and also realize that his photographs were a totally different thing from the thing itself, no matter how much the photograph resembled the subject.

2. the detail – outside of a studio, a photographer had no choice but to record things as he found them, not as a story but as “scattered clues.” and they could not be pulled into a narrative. Photographs could then be read as symbols instead of stories. Here is where Szarkowski lays down his main point – that photography can never be a narrative and tell a story even though it was used as a means to do so and “relieve” painters. He says “the heroic documentation of the American Civil War by the Brady Group, and the incomparably larger photographic record of the second World War, have this in common: neither explained, without extensive captioning, what was happening.”

3. The frame – the act of choosing a subject and eliminating other things is determined by the picture edge. This was a problem especially with the use of large plates because photos were seldom enlarged, so it was most economical to fill the entire frame as usefully as possible.

4. time – time is always present in a photo, especially with slow films and slow lenses. Moving subjects created “doubles” and blur, and made photos that were usually considered failures and ignored, yet so many of these photos were made. Faster moving subjects could be captures with the invention of better, faster photographic materials. Capturing these fast moments became very fascinating (like the “decisive moment” coined by Cartier-Bresson – yet the decisive moment not being a dramatic moment but a visual one and is not a story, but a picture).

5. vantage point – Szarkowski says photography taught us to see from the unexpected vantage point. A photographer weighs his options of every angle he could shoot from, and chooses one. And after all this time, photography still has away of making us “challenge and reject our schematized notions of reality.”

      Greenberg immediately makes his point at the beginning of “Four Photographers” and says that photography is literary before it is pictorial. It is first and foremost “historical, anecdotal, reportorial, observational.” The difference between the real-life meaning of things and their artistic meaning is especially narrow. This is why there is so much documentary photography made, and its descriptive, informative nature seems to be a threat to the artistic side, according to Greenberg. This is because, in order to be art, a photograph has to tell a story.

      Greenberg seems to then say that Eugene Atget performs all the functions of photography with his work – both the documenting and the pictorial. Atget did not intend to capture “beautiful views” but to “capture the identity of his subject.” Greenburg says Atget was pictorial as well as illustrative, but it came from “his feeling for the illustrated subject, and his "pictorialism" was largely, and properly, unconscious.

Greenburg then mentions Edward Steichen and how Steichen's painterly photographs made him famous but “have not worn well as art,” especially not as well as other photographers of that time who were working in the same style but had an inspiration Steichen was missing.

He gets even more bold when he says that anything purely formal or abstract is threatening to art in photography, and is manifested in the worst way with the “odd shot”: “the long exposure of moving objects, the reversed negative, the close-up or magnified view that brings out the curious, abstractly curious, configurations any sort of object will reveal when seen in microscopic detail.” he says these kinds of photographs are informative but are not art and is only considered are by people “whose experience of pictorial art in general is defective.” (As bold as this is and is only one person's opinion, I have to say that I agree. Anyways....) Greenburg then says that Andreas Feininger's work is a prime example of this and what is not art, except for when he photographs statues of the female nude.

      Greenburg goes on to say that Cartier-Bresson is one of the best photographers to date, and that his work shows a “frozen-ness” that looks posed. However, he has only produced some work that is “successful enough to be permanent,” but he does not set a good example because his pictures in this “Four Photographers” book are not varied enough.

     So, Szarkowski basically comes to his conclusion that a single photograph cannot tell a story because they can never really EXPLAIN what is going on except when accompanied with text. And this partially is because of all the amateur photography that has happened since the beginning of its invention and how so many people seldom tried to create meaning in their work – it was just a recording of everything an anything. Greenburg does think photos can tell stories, but fail at being pictures (or art, really) because photography is really too descriptive and informative to be pictorial. So Szarkowski does not think “narrative photos” are descriptive and informative, therefore NOT really narrative, but Greenburg thinks they ARE descriptive and informative, thus, tell a story, but perhaps a story cannot be art. I actually disagree with both in some ways. I believe a single photo can IMPLY a story and the fact that you cannot figure it out for sure actually adds the enjoyment to viewing photographs for me. I also disagree that photographs fail as pictures because obviously it's what I do. And I do not believe that painting is the only thing that can be pictorial. Just because a photograph is a representation of a real thing and is informative of that real thing does not mean it fails at being art.

      The narrative is also dealt with in the work of the photographers shown in the “Once Upon a Time” chapter in Cotton's book. Some photographs play off of myths/fairytales/fables/etc. and others show some kind of story simply by the way things are photographed. Though some works are part of a series, the narrative is mostly supposed to be shown in one photo. The staged tableau is a huge part of the narrative, and other important aspects are lighting, time of day, and setup. [ (here we go again) Jeff Wall is one of the main practitioners of this.]

      Division of space and time also contributes to the narrative in a single image (like Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler as well as Sam Taylor-Wood who I mentioned in another blog). So does referencing literature and paintings from the past. 

"The Way Home" by Tom Hunter

"Untitled" from 1998 by Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler 
from "Diary of a Victorian Dandy" by Yinka Shonibare
     Another way of making a narrative is being ambiguous of place and time, making things more open-ended and dream-like.. and even using subjects turned away from us as a way of doing all of that and creating anxiety. The use of “youthful protagonists” and digital manipulation is also used. 

from "Five People Thinking the Same Thing" by Frances Kearney

"Shelter" by Liza May Post

"Helen Backstage, Merlin Theater" by Wendy Mcmurdo
      An artist who seems to use many of the characteristics listed here so far is Gregory Crewdson, who I did my presentation on in class, so I won't go into too much detail.

      Another approach to narrative photography is photographing spaces and things without a human presence that can tell a story as well. In this kind of work, we as viewers look for signs of things that could have meaning. 

"Lumber" by Anne Hardy

"Police Station, Insurance Building, Gas Station" by Miles Coolidge

..and, not mentioned in this book, but I felt like Sa Schloff's (one of Columbia's photo teachers, who is awesome, by the way) School Pictures series and this one in particular of a librarian at Lane Tech high school (my high school by the way.. WHAT WHAT! I mean, um, yeah). This image in particular is ambiguous of place and time and I think goes well as a narrative.
     So basically Cotton does not even argue about whether or not a photograph can be narrative, but just showcases a bunch of work that does tell a story, or is at least intended to tell a story. And I would have to agree that a story can be gathered from the work in this chapter.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Photography as System

An Archival Impulse” by Hal Foster
“Systems Everywhere: New Topographics and art of the 1970s” by Greg Foster-Rice.

Can I just start by saying this is a little awkward for me to write a blog about one of our teacher's writings for this class? Because odds are, I'm not going to make any sense as I write about it..
….. anyways.

     In “An Archival Impulse” by Hal Foster, Foster discusses an archival impulse at work in contemporary art (though it is not new by any means – active both pre-war and post-war). Artists try to make historical information present in their work, such as with "time readymades,” which uses samplings from other works, either familiar to mass culture or obscure, and really push the issues of originality to the brink.
It is thought that the best place to find stuff for archival art is the internet. Even though this article was written in 2004, I believe it still holds true today. On the internet, artists can find obscure works that are unfinished and open-ended that offer a point of takeoff for another work of art. And in turn, after utilizing the “informal archive” of the internet, the work produces another informal archive in itself. Archival art seeks to connect things together and make relevant something from the past.

      In addition, archival art has a paranoid aspect – in which it attempts to recover utopia. It has “a desire to turn belatedness into becomingness. to recoup failed visions in art. literature. philosophy and everyday life into possible scenarios of alternative kinds of social relations, to transform the no-place of the archive into the no-place of a utopia.”

      In “Systems Everywhere,” Greg Foster-Rice begins with a discussion of how the photographs in New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-altered Landscape seem to be connected with the contemporary art movement minimalism despite no exclusive mention of it by the photographers (such as Robert Adams and Bernd and Hilla Becher) or curator William Jenkins. More than one person noted that the photos had a relationship with minimalism “that was based in the “austerity” and “essential, rectilinear geometry” of the photographer’s “bare and spare documents.”” However, minimalism is a movement based on sculpture, not two-dimensional works of art like photographs. But, New Topographics can still be considered to have ”structural and strategic” aspects that are minimalistic, showing a change in contemporary art practices. This shift, this “new art,” is a system as opposed to the “old art” being an object, according to curator Willoughby Sharp in 1967. He and other artists saw art as being more connected with social life than aesthetic formalism.

"The New Jersey Turnpike with Cars Heading towards Linden with the Esso refinery in the background" by Peter Stackpole, 1951

     Here is where I try to describe system theory as first proposed by biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy: something that is complex cannot be understood by its individual parts, but by the relationships of the parts and how they create a whole. It is the organization – not the parts - that defines the system. Thus, the photographers seem to have used the system theory in New Topographics.

      The 60s and 70s was a period of “system-like” life (the system analysts in the government and protesters against “the system”, etc. ) and the artists of that time could more easily talk about it in their work by making work that showed a stray from “socially disinterested practice” and critiqued aesthetic formalism. One of the systems evident in much work from that time was the human-altered landscape. In 1966, Tony Smith wrote something that simply describes this human-altered landscape and what it does in terms of art:

The road and much of the landscape was artificial, and yet it couldn’t be
called a work of art. On the other hand, it did something for me that art had
never done. At first, I didn’t know what it was, but its effect was to liberate me
from many of the views I had had about art. It seemed that there had been a
reality there that had not had any expression in art.”

      Understanding this effect experienced by Smith apparently requires a “systemic approach” in seeing the way the parts of a landscape like this work together instead of looking at the individual parts. New Topographics photographers look at these landscapes and any socio-political issues at a distance in their work about “structures built at ground zero” replacing homes. Basically, doing it scientific more than artistic..... but not really? (that is seriously the best way I can put it.) somehow, New Topographics do acknowledge these issues of the “new systemic order” that could lead to ecological crisis. The issues stem from the U.S.'s excess wealth and the Cold War. This time period could be called “late capitalism,” characterized by the following: “the growth of multinational corporations, globalized markets, off-shore labor, and mass consumption in the United States and Western Europe.

     And this is all reflected in the photos in New Topographics, maybe not even intentionally, showing the U.S.'s “industrial production to a more consumer oriented society.” The photos are about construction/abandonment/habitation inside of the human-altered landscape. According to Smithson and Benjamin, the human-altered landscape is actually a broken system in which ruin is created for the sake of ruin; the structures built by us in them do not turn into ruin after they are built but become ruin before they are even built. (I'm thinking of pipes from factories that create serious air pollution.) This kind of industrialization can seriously harm and throw off natural ecosystems which it has already done.
      New Topographics photographs strongly oppose the technological sublime strategy in which 19th century photographers (like Carleton Watkins – image of his shown below) photographed landscapes with human alterations to make the alterations appear as though they flow well with the landscape – as if they belong there. The “natural and technological became compatible,” almost implying an infinite amount of natural resources. (But the 1970s proved that was not the case and that there is indeed NOT an infinite amount of natural resources with all the different “acts” enforced for clean air, water, etc... and this was also especially proved by the atomic bomb which threatened the entire well being of, well, humanity. There was no way THAT could be naturalized.)

by Carleton Watkins

Canon of the Rios Las Animas, by William Henry Jackson in 1882

     When it comes to photography as a system, the New Topographics exhibition seeks to show the art object as something that shows “lived experience” of viewers and the relationship between the art, viewers, and experiences of the viewers. (Again, a system as a relationship between parts, not the dissection of the parts.) Photographs themselves are usually believed to be the one medium that is closest to the real, completely different than any other. But in 1966, John Szarkowski basically said that photos should be considered a summary of a moment in time, simply ABOUT that moment, very distinct from the real event. Again, the sum of the parts. This idea isn't totally rejected by New Topographics photographers, but they worked more in these 3 systems-based strategies:

1. emphasizing serial instead of singular imagery - seriality is different from series in the way that seriality is not necessarily unifying works by exploring a consistent theme but adhering to certain rules established at the beginning of the project. Each individual part of the series is equally important. (Like scientific or vernacular photography.) For example, New Topographics photographer Robert Adams’s The New West is “a serial exploration of an ecological system in which humans play a significant role.” The photos go from east to west along the Colorado Rockies and not one photo dominates the rest. Seriality is also especially evident in the grid presentation of Bernd and Hilla Becher.

2. a procedure of making photos that emphasize visual arrangement instead of aesthetic composition - this is a process that takes place in the conceptual stage before photographs are even made. This seems to be what prevents hierarchy of parts. Photos are not created “in the whim of the moment” but are pre-thought out and settled upon beforehand. The focus of interest and excitement is this exact discovery of a process that works instead of the privilege of a part in more traditional art. (it just dawned on me that this and #1 is how I work with many of my portrait series....) in the New Topographics catalog, Joe Deal said that while the series was being thought out, the denial of any uniqueness of the subjects played a major part. Deal photographed and printed everything in basically the same way. The Bechers worked in the same way. Arrangement > composition, because composition elevates the parts over the whole.

3. making photos with an arrangement showing the system as a whole – the arrangement and framing images constantly in the same way makes these landscapes seem totally endless, showing the whole system instead of just a part of it. In the exhibition, with photos framed the same, surrounded by tons of other photos, makes it difficult to not see the relationships between them all, really showcasing the systems theory.

      So, the conclusion is that the serial order (and everything else about the system) is a method or attitude, not a style (like minimalism). The system in the New Topographics show is the human altered landscape. And this show also helped to “expand the field” of photography (as we learned about last week). It opens more possibilities, and is both art and document. 

New Topographics show

      Okay. I am not even going to try and lie an say that I understand all of this. (Guess this means I'm not taking the Cities in Crisis class next semester...) It is really hard for me to wrap my brain around the ideas presented in the archival impulse reading, but how I am going to relate it all is by coming to a conclusion that the archival impulse/archival art is a system and is to be looked at as a whole instead of as a bunch of parts, because if the parts were to take on a hierarchy it might not make any sense, especially with the mention of No Ghost in the Shell. 

     I also want to say that I honestly believe all of us use these 3 system-based strategies to some degree in our work. Like I said, I think I work that way sometimes when I make portraits and I certainly think those processes can be used even with something more like "old fashioned" art like portraits. 

     This reading made the New Topographics show and all the photographs in it somehow talk about the serious issues that come with industrialization without necessarily trying to make a very blunt, outright statement, but the large amount of images I would imagine to be necessary to create a system speaks for itself... numbers can mean something and make a point very clear. 

     Now, as for an artist that works procedurally... I think of Andrew Bush's "66 Drives" from Vector Portraits, made from 1989-1997. His description on his website (www.andrewbush.net) says "portraits made while traveling 50 to 70 mph in Los Angeles and other parts of the southwestern United States." From what I learned in my portrait photo class this semester, Bush basically just decides he is going to drive somewhere, set the camera up in a particular spot of his car, and try to drive up next to people and shoot them driving alongside him, using strobe. He has a way of shooting a certain amount of car in each shot, has the camera in basically the same position, fires a strobe, etc.. the only thing he doesn't plan ahead is exactly what kind of people he photographs. (He shoots a wide variety of races and ages, male and female - the selection I chose to include is small!) So I definitely see him having a system. He also gives each photo a very descriptive title, attempting to describe as much as possible the whereabouts and action of the person he photographed. By shooting this way, I suppose the meaning of the project could really be considered as a catalog/nonbiased vague description of the people one might see while driving at any given time in the areas he drives in. Though I suppose there is some kind of bias in every photograph seeing as he decides who to shoot in the moment, because of his wide variety of places and people, it really could be "just anybody" you see driving.

Man drifting near the shoulder at 61 mph on Interstate 405 around the Getty Drive exit at 4:01 p.m. on a Tuesday in September 1992 

Woman caught in traffic while heading southwest on U.S. Route 101 near the Topanga Canyon Boulevard exit, Woodland Hills, California, at 538 in the summer of 1989

Woman taking her time rambling south at 63 mph on the Hollywood Freeway near the Vine Street exit in Los Angeles on a Saturday afternoon in 1991

    Anyways, I am going to try to just let my visual at the beginning speak for itself... photography as a system in the grand scheme of essentially everything being a system if you think about it..... and please excuse my excessive quoting, these readings honestly were painful to get through even with as many hours as I spent on them. I hope to actually begin to grasp these concepts in class this coming week.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"Photography's Expanded Field" by George Baker

     Baker begins his argument by saying that the photographic object is currently in crisis or at least in a “severe transformation.” The photographic world now should instead be called cinematic instead of photographic because the photographic object of postmodernism has been “recoded” digitally. The problem, as Baker calls it, is not just that most things image-related can be considered photographic, but that photography itself has been foreclosed, cashiered, abandoned—outmoded technologically
and displaced aesthetically.” Photography seems to become just a portion of an artistic project, or a means or bridge to an end sometimes, not just an end product. (Baker mentions Rineke Dijkstra’s videos of her subjects alongside her portraits.)

      A “photographic effect” still remains in today’s art, but it does not look the same to him. The photograph has been “reconstructed” beginning 25 years ago when postmodern photography opened onto an “expanded field of practice,” or even fields, meaning multiple “sets of oppositions and conjugations,“ which Baker says needs to be defined more clearly. In order to map this expanded field or fields, we have to consider oppositional things in photography. He uses the exampless of  index and icon, sequence and series, archive and art photograph, etc. Baker refers to his own opposition from a previous essay - that of photographic history and practice, which have “been suspended since the medium’s invention.” He also mentions how the photograph can be torn between narrative and stasis. The stillness of a photo is what the medium is known for, yet it is not possible to escape a narrative aspect while looking at it with its “referential grip on real conditions of history and everyday life.”

like this photo by August Sander that we've all seen...
The “movement of a narrative and stoppage of stasis” is a huge part of modernist photography according to Baker, and can be applied to every artist, no matter how hard they may try to remove any referentiality in their work. But the problem is that a photo can never be fully narrative or fully static. Baker is basing his expanded field idea on the writings of Rosalind Krauss, and therefore comes up with the terms not-narrative and not-stasis, and to explain this, paraphrases Krauss and says, “the [not-narrative] is, according to the logic of a certain kind of expansion, just another way of expressing the term [stasis], and the [not-stasis] is, simply, [narrative].”
So when thinking of this, Baker came up with this chart of the expanded field a few years before this essay:

And now, he fills in the structure of the expanded field with specific artists that illustrate his point:

Jeff Wall seems to be the person who uses narrative and stasis at the same time.  But Baker realizes that this expanded field is not about specific artists, but about “new formal and cultural possibilities” of photography.

Narrative and stasis can come together in the “talking picture,” in forms such as digital montage (think Jeff Wall) and large-scale tableau (think Gregory Crewdson). Even more new forms of this talking picture may be invented; Baker thinks along the lines of Five Revolutionary Seconds or Soliloquy by Sam Taylor-Wood. She makes photographs that are panoramic, done by a camera that rotates. When exhibited, they are often displayed with a soundtrack coming from speakers, taking the “talking” aspect quite literally.
Soliloquy I, 1998
Soliloquy VI, 1999
Five Revolutionary Seconds X, 1997
 (Obviously I like this work a little too much, apparently... sorry for posting 3!)

This expanded field of photography is not just aesthetic, but cultural. It is not a place where “anything goes” but where photography really is just expanded. If the photographic object appears to be in crisis, it is not because photography has come to and end but it is just that the terminology involved in this expanded field becomes more complicated and the possibilities need to be addressed -  just like we had to address the way we talk about things in the digital age in class this past week. For example, maybe we cannot just say “this is a photographic exhibition” when it includes digitally manipulated work as well as video and sound… but right now I really cannot think of what you would even call that without it sounding redundant. So I suppose this is where the problem lies - when we cannot really figure out how to describe all of this.  

I would say “I’m going to try to not be biased in my choosing of artists to discuss” but I’m picking Joey Lawrence because I love his work and it‘s pretty much everything I wish I could be, sorry. Lawrence is a young fine art and commercial portrait artist who mostly photographs celebrities and musical artists. (www.joeyl.com)
I do not think all of his work fits into the category of cinematic film still photograph, but these images certainly do. (I cannot include the titles because the text on his website on my computer screen is so small I can barely make it out, sorry.)

G Unit

     These images are very highly produced in every way… The cost of props, the “value” of the celebrities photographed, the Photoshop post production and even the very costly digital camera equipment used.  Though they are still images, one might argue that these images are even more highly produced than some movies.  In these images the subjects are not looking at us and are quite absorbed in whatever they are doing (though of course they are aware of being photographed), giving it a more cinematic feel. Though artificial light is used, in some images it is used to imitate natural light like in movies (like Underoath, G Unit and the man at the bar) and sometimes natural light is combined with artificial, also like movies. His work reminds me of Gregory Crewdson’s work, who Baker also mentioned, though I imagine Lawrence to work with a slightly smaller crew than Crewdson. I think Lawrence’s excellent understanding of light, angle and posing contributes to his work fitting into this particular category of the expanded field of photography.  Everything he does is extremely intentional, not only like Crewdson but like Cindy Take a look at Lawrence’s personal work on his site as well - even that has a cinematic feel to it. It just does not illustrate my point quite as much for me to post it. I really do think it is all in the lighting.

     The next artist I want to talk about is “very contemporary,” as Katie from class called Sandy Kim during her presentation. Her name is Miss Aniela, and that is pretty much all I know in terms of her name. Aniela is her middle name, and I have never been able to find her first or last name. all I know is that I found her on Flickr a few years ago and since then she’s become quite popular, had many gallery exhibitions, books, etc.. she is from London and works with models and her self, inspired by “dreams, paintings and literature” and I believe she fits into the “digital montage” talking picture category, even without audio at her exhibitions.

Basically I cannot save images from her website or Flickr just like Joey Lawrence, so I totally butchered these with screen capture cropping. PLEASE look at the originals on her website: www.missaniela.com 

(remind anyone of Skarbakka?)

 Miss Aniela is obvious about using digital manipulation in her self portraits to tell a story. Maybe this is pushing the "talking picture" thing too far, but her characters often do look like they are actually engaging in some kind of conversation with each other. Though the images are static, they really do seem narrative at the same time and her manipulation and doubling of herself pushes that... in fact, on Baker's expanded field scale I might even say she lies somewhere in the middle between the digital montage talking picture and the cinematic film still despite the fact that all of the characters are her (and if her images were a movie, a lot of extra editing might be involved...) I do not believe that a photographer needs to use projection, video or sound to fit into this expanded field of photography, but new innovative ways of digital manipulation may suffice, like this photographer.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Photography and/as network

"Digital Images, Photo-Sharing, and Our Shifting Notions of Everyday Aesthetics" by Susan Murray,
"Online Photographic Thinking" by Jason Evans, &
"The Practice of Everyday (Media) Life: From Mass Consumption to Mass Cultural Production?" by Lev Manovich

    In "Digital Images, Photo-Sharing, and Our Shifting Notions of Everyday Aesthetics" by Susan Murray, Murray begins her discussion by talking about the free popular photo-sharing website Flickr, which allows people to view thousands of images by  using groups, tags, keywords, batches, etc. Flickr has more functions than commercial photo sites. With Flickr, not only can you upload images but you can interact with tags, notes, a contact list, and groups with discussion boards. It is a social networking site that can be shared between professionals and amateurs alike. Murray basically argues about how the use of things like this allows more people to engage in “the everyday” and photography is no longer just about family portraits on holidays, but everyday objects that can be made to look interesting even by amateur photographers. This changes our relationships to the everyday.

    To make her point, Murray gives a brief history of amateur photography, which seems to have spread with the invention of Kodak’s roll film camera invention in the late 1880s which was very easy to use. This made photography more than just a “leisure/consumer activity” but a social one that was liked for its artistic qualities. of This birthed two kinds of amateurs: ones that photographed for fun and ones that considered themselves artists but not professionals (which were photographers working in a studio). Through Kodak’s advertising, amateur photography became defined as something to be used for artistic purposes and for capturing special moments of life. Snapshot photography was popularized and the division between the artistic photographers and the ones who took pictures for fun or at events.
    The next shift in popularizing photography was in the 1950s in which people were not just encouraged to take pictures of everyday life postwar, but it also could be used to make money and create an even better life, when photography magazines offered money for specific types of pictures.
    The next biggest shift in photography was the use of the digital camera. The shift was huge - by 2004, 28 billion digital photos had been made - 6 billion more than film photos made in that year. But instead of talking about the social function and aesthetics of digital photography, the issue at hand was of indexicality, as we learned a few weeks ago from the last few readings. The 1990s became “post-photographic” with digital. Some people were unsure of the uses of digital (like Don Slater in 1995 who noticed that private images were not really mainstream yet) and some people believed it would revolutionize photography (like Lev Manovich in 1995).

    Murray goes on to say that photography  has usually been talked about in regards to “history, memory, absence, and loss.” She notes, using quotes from other authors, that photography has been used to preserve a moment in time, and people like Barthes and Bazin say that photography records death or “embalms” something since the moment captured no longer exists, and that is a main aspect of photography. But the use of digital and sites like Flickr add more functions, more to do with transience than loss. The way Flickr functions is with the promise of new photos always being added, adding contacts, constantly returning to photo streams to look for new work (in which the most recent always shows up first). Old work is moved to the end of the stream, making it temporary in a sense and making the Flickr into a sort of diary for the user. However, groups tend to not tell a story but hold photos that all share some main characteristics. It has been noticed that the most popular content on Flickr revolves around this new category, called “ephemera” in this reading and mainly has to do with finding beauty in the everyday, encouraged by digital technology and social networking. The disposability of digital images and there not being a need for film allows a person to photograph whenever they want, and not just save expensive film for “special moments.” The idea that photography “embalms” a moment of death is no more, since there is already a temporary aspect of digital. The “everyday aesthetic is fleeting.” Again, this brings up the argument of indexicality and whether or not digital images can be indexical because of their temporary nature and how they can be manipulated. However, Murray does not care too much about the issue of indexicality and does not think that the “lack of the indexical” is what makes digital photos more temporary. (I’m on her side here.)  Though plenty of amateurs see how easy it is to manipulate images, that does not  necessarily make them question the truth of digital photography constantly.

    Murray also explores the idea of  being able to comment on photos on sites like Flickr. Such a large community of uses, and subcommunities within that make it difficult to distinguish professional from amateur on comments. She says “the hierarchical relationship between hobbyist, serious amateur, and professional does not really exist on these sites.” however, “good” photos are rewarded for composition, color, lighting, etc. The “ideal” flickr photo is influenced by the Flickr blog where work is posted. But photos taken with a camera phone can be just as valuable as those taken with a high-end SLR - for abstractness, simplicity, etc. in fact, many images are well-liked for their “low-end” look. There is space for “perfect and imperfect” images, though it must be taken into account that there is degradation of image quality that comes with digital when images are scaled down.(The fact that images of all kinds on Flickr can be found valuable in some way is similar to the kinds of photos taken with film cameras in the 1950s for events and enjoyment.. not all those images may have been "perfect" by everyone's standards but a blurry picture of grandma at a birthday party could be valued once she is gone..)

    Overall, Murray makes a main point at the end when she says that  digital has not created revolution with a “loss of authenticity” as predicted, but has changed the way people interact with photography.

    “Online Photographic Thinking” by Jason Evans opens up with how he is “under whelmed” by the lack of advantage taken of the internet and its possibilities by photographers. The most striking thing he says in the first few pages, to me, is “If an audience is what you prefer (as opposed to a physical thing like a book or a show as the testimony to your photographic talent), then the Internet is for you.” But he does say that it is not for everyone.

    When it comes to digital vs. analog, Evans sees it as “two sides of the same coin,” which I totally agree with. He goes on to say that photography is full of mechanical revolutions, and digital is just the most recent of those. And to say that no images can possibly work well on the internet would be a lie considering the outrageous number of porn sites on the web the year before this essay was written, according to Evans (and I would imagine by now that the number has gone even higher a few years later).

    Evans then describes a variety of websites with photography projects that  make him enjoy photography online. But he does not mean to say that only the internet should be used for photography or that someone should choose either analog or digital, but they can even be combined.

by Christophe Agou from in-public.com

by Kevin Beck, from kevinbeckphotography.com

from squareamerica.com

    Included in this reading are a few letters written in response to him. One writer, Amir Zaki, responded saying that more professionals do not make use of the internet as much because it is not time yet and these kinds of things happen slowly. With the internet, failure and rejection is not really at stake, and in that case, it may not always be taken seriously.  There is not as much structure on the internet as in “real life,” for lack of better terms. Nicholas Grider replies by saying that the internet distribution of photos will not replace the current art market because the art market thrives off of selling the artist; with the internet, viewers see the work but have little connection to the artist. The audience does not know where to look or what name to remember. David Weiner says, “Without much ef-fort I can go from the temporality of TheDailyNice to Evans’s portfolio site and make a connection from there to “this guy also shot Radiohead,” and from there all kinds of context can be added in. The “risk” of this is that Jason Evans no longer really controls the context and I’m free to make all kinds of associations that may or may not be productive to appreciating his work.” I feel like this can also be applied to all the sites Evans mentioned that he liked; in all those sites, the authors of the site and even the photographs have no control over context anymore and anyone can make any kind of assumptions they want, some of which may never have been intended. On usefulphotography.com, a gallery showcases a man posing with a different girlfriend in a different picture - and there are many pictures. What kind of assumption can we make about this man? Not everyone thinks it's a good idea to have one significant other after another after another...

from usefulphotography.com, and yes, I did have to make a screencapture of this to get it..

    In The Practice of Everyday (Media) Life: FromMass Consumption to Mass Cultural Production?”, Lev Manovich says that a new universe has been created due to the web and the ability to share things on it. Media has become social media. This is related to the term “web 2.0” and there are 2 relevant points he wants to make about this term and how it relates to social media: 1. There was a slow shift in the 2000s of more people accessing content produced by nonprofessionals instead of professionals and (but that does not mean the web only consisted of amateurs making and accessing content) 2. The internet shifted from being a publishing medium in the 1990s to a communication one in the 2000s. (what constitutes “communication” is discussion through comments, posts, ratings , reviews, photos, videos, etc - all “user generated content.”)

    He then goes on to talk about how much content is created by taking from professional content already existing, for example, anime music videos. (As much as I loved anime in my pre-teen years and even a little while after, I can’t find it in me to post one of these as an example. They made me cringe even when I was 14.) This is somehow related to the fact that the objects people in society use are mass-produced and are often “remixed”/customized/mixed and matched with various parts from different sources, like clothing (very rarely does someone wear every piece of clothing from one designer shown in one outfit in a fashion show). Digital products and web interfaces are often designed with the intention of the user customizing them. Websites like MySpace, Flickr, Livejournal, Facebook, etc. were designed to accommodate the explosion of user-generated content and to let it all be “remixed.”

    Manovich then discusses communication through media and how oftentimes, factual content, opinion, and conversation often can’t be clearly separated,” for example, in blogs: with so much reblogged content and discussion in comments, the original thing posted may eventually be forgotten. The interesting thing about the conversations is that anyone can take part in them at anytime from all over the world and theoretically the conversation could never end. And some kind of media can also be replied to with another - for example, video replies to videos on YouTube.

    The exchange of “tokens” in conversation is important as well - giving “facebook gifts” and things of that nature to signify an interest in someone. Gift-giving and the “exchange of tokens” is an aspect of all cultures and this social media culture is no exception. But the meaning behind the token may not always be clear.

    He then asks the question, “can professional art survive the extreme democratization of media production and access?” but it may be a silly question since modern art has never before been as successful as it is now. All over the world more and more spaces are being used to showcase contemporary art.

     I can completely relate to this whole communication thing via sites like Flickr, but I would have to say that the readings for this week left me with this huge impression of digital social media and digital photos and videos and websites are so temporary that they make you forget the past and everything posted in the past... I would have to disagree in this case. Just this week my friend Jennifer Avello went back on her Flickr and tagged a photo she took of me in fall 2008 for studio I - her first photo taken in a studio setting. I looked at the photo and remembered the whole experience and my learning of lighting in photography since then and related it to myself right now... and with the mention of Livejournal in these readings, I suddenly felt like going back to my journal from when I was 13, then 14 and just entering high school (somehow I remembered the password) and I completely had this super vivid flashback of the past (one I didn't really want to have, but it makes my point)... so I can't say that all this user generated content is all that fleeting and disposable, but I guess not everyone is like me and would choose to go backwards every now and then and look at "old stuff."

     All of these readings made me really feel like some people (like these writers) analyze all this stuff way too seriously. But it did make me really think about the evolution of websites and interaction on the web from when I first started using it till now. I actually use it less now for communication than I did when I first got online, but I think that might not be the case for everyone. I use facebook just like "everybody else," but I can stand to be away from the internet long enough to interact with art and people in the physical.

     Evans feels like the internet should be taken more advantage of by photographers. Professional photographers, that is. But I also agree with the response that it is not time for it yet. I share my fine art photography online in order to get it seen, but somewhere down the line, I would like it to be in books, in galleries, purchased by people, etc. and the "lack of structure" on the internet may be very harmful for people who want their work taken seriously. What if the internet was around when Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa? I do not think he would be all that flattered by all the parodies and manipulations one can find just by typing "Mona Lisa" into Google and pulling up all the images.

     Also, when Evans says "If an audience is what you prefer, then the Internet is for you," I feel like that is exactly what people have in mind when using www.deviantart.com. I once was sort of active on that site and I am pretty sure that literally thousands of images are uploaded every hour, and even tens of thousands per day, if not more. So much of it is work appropriated from other work (like wallpapers using other peoples' photos, other peoples' photoshop brushes, etc.) Among the VAST sea of artists and works of art on the site, not that many gain an audience, but the ones that do certainly get very LARGE ones.. similar to flickr. This site definitely changes the way we interact with photos and art in general because you can really get stuck here looking at everything for HOURS, and no matter how much "crappy" art and pictures you look at, you just can't seem to pull yourself away and you just sit at your computer and don't even talk to anyone during the whole time you're there. Maybe I'm just speaking from my past experience, but I don't think these kinds of sites help advance photography in any way or help people get "real" "good" interaction with art because oftentimes you're not even posting anything, just browsing... and browsing... and browsing. And when people actually do receive comments on their work, those are kind of like "tokens" of encouragement for the artist to keep posting work.

     Manovich asks, “can professional art survive the extreme democratization of media production and access?” and I would have to say that this "extreme democratization of media production and access" does help in some cases. As we learned from Joanna for her artist presentation, Lauren Simonutti was rejected by the Edelman gallery but kept posting on her blog and on her Flickr and eventually she was contacted by that very gallery because her work finally reached their standards and they most likely saw it on the places she was posting it.

 ...And now I'd like to apologize for my very opinionated reflection - sorry!