Picture Imperfect

Photographic series or bodies of work are being explicated, explained, contextualized, rationalized, and elevated with text or verbal rationals. You’re thinking: so what? That’s no big deal. Let me start with a short history and then let’s take a look at current practice.

While a lot of art exists in context to other things - like the visuals of photography in context to any narrative attahced - I can see the concern that photography might be - to some - losing quality as it begins to depend too much on other mediums, and becomes less able to stand on its own; or, rather, the creators are taking poorer pictures, putting less effort into the craft of photography, and spreading their efforts too thinly over other other things to pad out the photography they present. I think the author of this article sees some photographers as being lazy.

A few years ago I was heavily into what I referred to abstract photography - some aspects of which others refer to as macro photography, a term I never cared for. I was very much into taking pictures of shapes, patterns, stains on pavements, cracks in things, curvature. I remember posting a photograph somewhere, a close-up of the curve of the necks of three vases of gradient hues of orange, yellow, and a pink. It was meant, as much abstract art is, to be appreciated on its own - for its shape, the curves working together - but someone asked me what it was a photograph of, and I told them it didn't matter. They disagreed. It really didn't matter, because my telling anyone what it was, would get in the way of appreciating just the visual of what was being shown to them.

It reminds me of an Ansel Adams show I went to several years back at the AGO. Rows of framed and matted photographs, a simple title, a date, that's all. Because those images could stand on their own without the audience being told what they were looking at.

Labels, as Daoists will tell you, are traps. Naming things damages the audience's relationship with what they see, because the audience then frames their perspective in terms of what someone else sees, rather than discovering their own interpretation. Some art requires labels, names, description, as part of the art; but not all art does. And, in fact, not all art should be trussed with labels.

I don't think the art of photography is in any real danger. There will always be trends that are favourable and those that are not; but the purist act of photography is never going to die off. There will always be those who will show you images and hope you will find an interpretation of your own, without them having to lead you by the hand to figure the puzzle out.

2017 08 04 - 23:33