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. (
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: 

(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.

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