Unreal Nature

February 14, 2018

A Medium Characterized By Slowness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:05 am

… Ceding the present tense to video, reportage photography now exploits its status as a missed encounter with the real …

Continuing through Art and Photography edited by David Campany (2003):

… This splicing of photography into art practice took place in the shadow of a largely separate boom in interest in specialist art photography. A market was being developed for fine art prints of the past and their imitations. This was accompanied by an unlimbering for the public for criteria for the aesthetic judgment of photographs — letting them know which were art and which were not.

[line break added] Big museums began to put on occasional shows of art photography, and a few dedicated galleries began to open. There was a proliferation of books on the great ‘masters’ (Henri Cartier-Bresson, Edward Weston, André Kertész and others). The leading art magazines devoted whole issues to photography and these too reflected the gap between specialist art photography and the more critical social reflection on the medium by artists.

… In some senses that wide gap between art photography and artists using photography can be read as an ideological one: aesthetic conservatism versus radical vanguardism; or formalism versus post-formalism; or a defence of the ‘soul’ of photography against the claim that it doesn’t have one; introversion versus social engagement. The gap was real in the sense that the audiences were quite split and the networks of exhibition were fairly distinct.

[line break added] To a large degree specialist art photography was bound up with an idea of both artist and medium possessed of a coherent and given core, conventionally defined. Vanguard art was destabilizing that artistic identity and this was intimately linked to its ad hoc and indirect destabilizing of photography as a distinct medium.

… Popular image culture has accelerated and become largely electronic, so that photography is now grasped as a medium characterized by slowness. Where once it might have been the pinnacle of cultural speed, it now seems a more deeply contemplative medium, detached even while it describes. This has left it with the chance to reflect at a much greater distance and with less anxiety than before. Its audiences are beginning to approach it in that way too. These are the conditions under which those older differences between specialist art photography and artists using photography have begun to dissolve.

… Whatever its indexical primacy, photography is now a secondary medium of evidence. It is no longer the sole mediator of events or the sole source of visual authority. Its slow slippage from the center of visual culture was well under way by the late 1960s. Photography was already beginning to be supplanted by other image technologies and in some respects it was this decentralizing that opened up photography to art’s investigation of it as a social medium. (Prior to television, when photography was the medium of the day, art photography aimed to distance itself from mass media.)

[line break added] This is the source of the eclipse of the realist reportage of ‘events’ and the emergence of a photography of the trace or ‘aftermath.’ Ceding the present tense to video, reportage photography now exploits its status as a missed encounter with the real by recording traces which are themselves the mark of the real. This is increasingly visible in magazine editorials in which photography returns to the sites and the people of world events.

… Here photography comes not just in the aftermath of events but in the aftermath of television. The directness of traditional reportage is replaced by indirect commentary. The trace becomes allegorical.

My previous post from Campany’s book is here.

-Julie

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