Monday, 2 June 2008

Stuck in the middle

Waterside blooms, Oslo, May 2008

Matt Alof's posted on the place of photography in Art yesterday, which echoed some thoughts I've been having on the subject the past couple of days (another of my aeroplane ruminations).

I'm not sure that i entirely agree with him but don't totally disagree either. The problem I see with photography is it is stuck in the middle. On the one hand we having writing, literature, which is mass-produced where the value derives from the content. On the other we have painting and sculpture, the traditional comparators for photography, where value seems to be judged on technique, uniqueness and other qualities besides content.

this is where the Art Establishment has trouble with photography as a whole. Value is placed to much on uniqueness, thus an inkjet print must be lower value due to its reproducibility. That's hokum. Judge on content and artistic intent, please.

I note the interesting response Colin Jago got from Noble Fine Art about the method of printing, as if that was the true measure of the value of photography as Art (go read their website, this attitude pervades).

Presently I'm reading the "History of Japanese Photography" (University Press, Houston Museum of Fine Arts). This same debate was being had in Japan at the turn of the 20th century. A clear and useful point was made at the time:
This and only this is the true meaning of photography. It can be used in producing art, it can be used in medicine, it can be used for military purposes, it can be used for commerce, at the pleasure of one who uses it. Its use is not related to photography in itself.

Egashira Haruki, September 1904
It is all about where we think "photography" is when we consider it as a unified branch of Art. Then it is too easy to start comparing with gallery painting, valuing uniqueness almost over all else. I think that is the wrong attitude to take with Art in general and photography in particular. It should be about content. Production methods can be a part of that content, or a means to develop it in the appropriate manner. I think the literary world has got it right, let's not worry if it's written by hand on velum with a quill. It is content that matters an getting that content to an appreciative audience.

More please for the other visual Arts. I have a van Gogh and a Picasso on my walls here at home. Cheap poster reproductions but pretty good, nonetheless. I've seen the museum originals but am quite that I can enjoy the work every day. The value is in the content, I don't care what paints were used or the techniques or the fact that the originals are priceless. Likewise I enjoy photographs for their content, well displayed. If a book is the suitable means, so be it. If it needs large prints, fine. But don't tell me that a large print is inherently more valuable than a great book collection.

Maybe we need to reject the Art Establishment and move beyond sales room valuations and get back to what it should be all about, the content.

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