Unreal Nature

September 13, 2017

It Returned With Scissors

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:03 am

… photography had to earn its meaning in the aggregate …

Continuing through Photography and the Art of Chance by Robin Kelsey (2015):

… In crucial respects, photography seemed neither like an art nor like a machine. Its flaw as an art was what we might term its intention deficit disorder. Wimsatt and Beardsley could judge poems like machines because the intentionality backing a poem and its structure could be assumed. The very first premise of [their essay] ‘The Intentional Fallacy’ reads: “A poem does not come into existence by accident. The words of a poem … come out of a head, not out of a hat.” No such proposition applied to photographs, which more or less came out of a box. Whereas complex structure in a poem was a reliable sign of deliberate intelligence, the same in a photograph was not.

[ … ]

… The literary approach adopted by Evans and Kirstein addressed photography’s problem of chance. Although anyone could “fluke” a compelling photograph, an arrangement of carefully selected, sized, cropped, and sequenced images submitted photography to an unmistakable and distinctive logic. No one could make American Photographs by accident. What Evans made explicit was implicit in much of the best work in photography that had preceded his.

[line break added] From Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature to Cameron’s albums, to Emerson’s books, to Stieglitz’s carefully fashioned series, the most canny practitioners had always understood, however implicitly, that photography had to earn its meaning in the aggregate, and that the traditional aesthetic processes of selection, rejection, and recombination could take a modern form after photographs were made. The play of chance might undermine the import of an individual image, but photographs embedded in a syntactical system accrued semantic weight.

[line break added] The deliberate hand, the traditional agent for producing aesthetic value, may have been withdrawn in the making of a photograph, but it returned with scissors to cut down negatives or prints, with other prints to make a sequence, and with adhesive to form an arrangement in an album or on a wall. To be sure, this hand could be directed by another, which is why the art of photography never left industry far behind. But postproduction efforts, however divided in their labor, could communicate a guiding intelligence. Many practitioners coming after Evans, including Robert Frank, would exploit this capacity.

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




Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: