It's easy to find evidence of certain cynical assertions. For instance, that the Internet is unreliable. I ran across a supposedly independent, allegedly expert article yesterday (on an unrelated topic) that was just so irresponsibly bad it almost defied belief. Yet it seemed earnest. That "the Internet is often wrong" doesn't mean "the Internet is always wrong," however—that would require a different sort of comforting certainty.
Similarly, ammunition is easy to find for people who are critical of critical verbiage. I was struck by that looking at Johnny Savage's pictures taken from inside abandoned and unfinished office buildings in Ireland, at LensCulture. The whole apparatus of meaning of these pictures seems detached from the pictures themselves. When Alexander Strecker writes, "In these twilit, reflected spaces, we come to understand the ambiguities of Ireland's boom, the shifting substance of anything that's too good to be true," that conclusion seems to me specifically and pointedly not true—there is no such understanding in these pictures; the pictures themselves mostly do not even hint that they are taken in Ireland, and they in fact say nothing at all about specific economic calamities nor any platitudes that might be derived therefrom. That's the job of the accompanying words.
But I like the pictures anyway. They do indicate ambiguity, and the delicate light of northerly summer evenings. The platitude I derive: this indicates one of the failures of the critical (and by extension, art-institutional) approach grafted on to photography to make it seem sufficiently elite and intellectual: because sometimes pictures can be better than the ideas behind them.
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Featured Comments from:
Bob Rosinsky: "The consistency of the series is top-notch. The nearly monochrome blueness of the photos, double exposures, reflections, and dusky light make for a moody and mysterious viewing experience."
Shawn McBride: "Oh, the artspeak! I had to write an 'artist statement' recently so I spent time studying other artists' biographies and project statements. What a mess! I mean, the words were clearly part of the English language, but not often structured in a way that I could decode. And like you mentioned above, what I could understand didn't usually mesh with what I saw in the images. Do you learn artspeak in art school? In the end, it was terribly difficult for me to write something that didn't sound like my introduction at a Photographers Anonymous meeting, 'Hi, my name is Shawn and I like to make pictures.'"
Mike replies: The photographer who might be the very best at talking about his work might be Garry Winogrand. He thought deeply about photography, was utterly plainspoken and unpretentious, and, as a photographer of experience, originality, and accomplishment, spoke with some authority. And he was genuinely iconoclastic, as opposed those who adopt iconoclasm as a stance. Somebody should collect his writings and interviews.
cfw: I saw those photos on LensCulture the other day. About halfway through I thought to myself, 'this just isn't doing it for me,' but wasn't sure why until I read your post. My expectations had been preset by the words accompanying the photos, and the photos failed those expectations big time."
Mike replies: Definitely one of the hazards of words that don't fit.