Unreal Nature

April 19, 2017

Denatured and Parodistic Color

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… most young photographers who had come to art world notice had entered a conceptual phase that had nothing to do with the act of witness, let alone a concern with the life of their city.

Continuing through New York: Capital of Photography by Max Kozloff (2002):

… The discovery that New York indeed exists in color coincided with an apparent rise in the fortunes of photography in the cultural establishment. By the mid-1970s, dealers, collectors, museum curators, professors, and critics were belatedly realizing that the photographic image was the primary means of visual communication in the twentieth century. In the 1950s, a print, even by an acknowledged master photographer, would not have fetched more than fifty dollars.

[line break added] Now, by dint of its own substantial history, and thanks to John Szarkowski’s enlightened support for both vernacular and Modernist photography at the Museum of Modern Art, the medium came under intense, excited scrutiny in the American press as well as the academy. Within the space of only a few months, both Newsweek and Artforum devoted special issues to photography.

[line break added] How, asked academics, were groups represented by outsiders, and what were the uses of photography as an instrument of corporate or government power? What was the relation of the image to the event pictured? The undeniable function of photographs within the media, and yet their problematic artistic qualities, made them a slippery, and for that reason irresistible, subject for new study.

It turned out that photographic studies took two divergent directions. One examined photographic images from the viewpoint of formalist aesthetics. The other was more attuned with 1970s developments such as the advent of identity politics, the women’s movement, multiculturalism, and the appropriation of commercial media — above all photographic media — by artists in the gallery world.

… Photographic color was as a matter of course associated with hype. The galleries’ photo-artists had no trouble turning the luscious palette of commercial photography into something lurid or murky. This denatured and parodistic color established a distance that separated the artists from their sources, not for expressive so much as for polemical reasons. Bruce Davidson, adept in the use of glamorous color for corporate reports, employed in Subway hypersaturated, abrasive chroma that negates distance for the sake of his personal account.

… most young photographers who had come to art world notice had entered a conceptual phase that had nothing to do with the act of witness, let alone a concern with the life of their city. The immemorial New York of legend was retired without notice and not even on half-pension.

My most recent previous post from Kozloff’s book is here.

-Julie

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