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Wednesday, 16 July 2014


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Thanks for this!

OMG. I hope that apug.org doesn't get wind of this. I posted a link to my blog for a little short essay on whether photography was art and the, ahem, "discussion" that followed was both hilarious and disheartening all at the same time. Most of the commenters didn't even read the blog post, just disagreed. Many of them can't imagine what art is. Can't agree on a definition, and sternly defend photography's right to NOT be art. Astonishing, to say the least.

There is are two differences between a constructed photograph and a representational one. The way we judge the end product, and the cultural relevance of that product, which are interrelated.

A photograph can be constructed before or after the event. A photograph of a carefully arranged "set" is no more realistic than a photograph which has elements added or blended. Both are done purely for artistic reasons (Cindy Sherman). However there is no premise of reality in this case, the artist wants to be judged on their personal vision, so it should be judged like any other form of constructed art (painting, sculpture etc.).

In effect it's similar to the difference between a movie and a documentary, or a fictional novel and news report. It's all about intent.

No constructed art, however convincingly realistic in appearance, will ever be judged as a photograph. Hyperrealism is assumed to be a clever illusion and we judge it on how well we are fooled. With a photograph we don't expect to be fooled unless we are told about the trick.

If we are deliberately not told, then it is fundamentally dishonest, hence the howls of protest about photojournalists who stage shots for effect.

I will admit the lines are blurred when it comes to photo-manipulation, but if you had to put a line in the sand I would say it was content driven. The depiction of a scene as found vs. the construction of a scene for effect. The rest will take care of itself.

Adding something (cut a paste a nice sky) is construction. If it is done openly as part of a construct, then fine. No-one said photography had to be entirely truthful, and photographic art should not have to be, any more than any other art form. Unless of course the artist claims otherwise.

But we are culturally conditioned to assume, unless told, that the subject matter in a photograph is real. We will criticise a photograph for NOT being colour-faithful or convincingly realistic in a way we would never criticise a painting. In other words realism is one criteria by which we judge a photograph because only a photograph is burdened with such expectations.

However, the burden of reality is also it's unique value in its cultural context. Only unconstructed photographs can provide some semblance of a historical record of our times or convincing social commentary.

Nor is there any limit to their beauty or aesthetic freedom - all of natural and human creation is there to be photographed.

Photograph can be a perfectly valid art form, but it has another role and function which no constructed art form could even hope to emulate. It is a form of documentary. I think it is wrong to forget the distinction.

I have no problem at all with that idea. My earliest recollection of a camera was when my mom would clean and dress my sister and I, age about 2 and 4 and stick us out in the bright sunlight to take pictures for the family album. That would have been about 1953 and the camera was a box Kodak, 616 roll film I think. So mom planned these photos, not snapshots at all.

I have no idea how much she paid for the little packet of glossy, deckel edged B&W prints, perhaps two or three dollars. You sure didn't want to take chances when spending that kind of money.

If Robert Hirsch's book echos the interview on Photo.net then very little of it would prevail against rigorous analysis or disciplined refutation. But I'm not sure that extending the dry scholarship of actual photography is his intent. The art-waffle that has grown up around photography is an interesting and sometimes dismaying subject in its own right and if Robert Hirsch illuminates it while adding to it that's all well and good.

Good timing for this book since I've started a couple small photo projects using Polaroid cameras and instant film in 4x5, which feels like hand made photography after shooting digital for the past 12 years. It's a nice change to get back to these messy, bulky, inconvenient cameras.

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