Wednesday, 3 December 2008

It's all been done before

Eggleston's guide - I really like this one

Just got my copy of William Eggleston's guide, after 6 months on back-order. Had chance to quickly go through the photographs to get a first impression. (This is the way I like to deal with photo books - a first quick flip through every page to gather a first impression, before spending time delving in and absorbing the details.)

Several things have struck me immediately. First is how many photographs of people there are. This somewhat surprised me, as I wasn't previously familiar with the content. It is also surprising how much photographs of people date (as in "give a date to" rather than "make obsolete") the image due to clothing, hairstyles etc.

A second point is that there are many similarities between these photographs and other contemporary"street" photography. 2 photographers I follow along these lines are Tyler Monson and Harvey Benge.

Which leads to the main point, and the title of the post: Eggleston's work makes everything that comes after seem derivative. While all the images have a consistent style to them, they also cover quite a wide variety of subjects, locality and framing. Suddenly every photograph of urban scenes seems derivative. I think back to the images I made in Norway and India this summer, long before I had seen this book, and they all seem to rehash the same material.

I'm sure I've said similar before. It is the double-edged sword wielded by photobooks. On the one hand they serve as a great education into the possibilities of photography, history of art etc. On the other, they can really drive home the idea that it has really all be done before and we are merely imitators.

And that's the problem. The Art world seems too obsessed with new, different. Why can't good work stand on it's own merits? Derivative or imitative is fine, if there is something worthwhile being said. If the message is different, need the form be also?

UPDATE: spello corrected

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