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Saturday, 14 July 2018


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An interview with Kate Daloz, along with another great snapshot of her grandmother, can be found here.

Thank you for this post, Mike. One of the reasons I keep returning to this blog is because of your work connecting photography to the broader world. Photography (like all the other arts) does not live in isolation from everyday life, and is often at its most powerful when those connections are seen. The obvious ones are easy to see; the less overt ones sometimes are helped with a little push...

I saw the Janet Malcolm piece in NYRev and thought of sending you a link, but "naah, he's seen it by now." If you subscribe to the New Yorker, the original first article from Diana and Nikon is viewable online in a small not easy to read scan from the magazine pages in which it occurred. Without the G. Botsford snapshot. A nice story, but not as timely as the Kate Daloz piece.

Memorably beautiful, achingly sad -- indeed.

-Thank you, from one of your 70 million served.

What the Janet Malcolm piece reminds us, as far as I can tell, is that Art is often Art because someone in authority says it is. Good Art is something, arguably, that has not only been anointed by someone like Janet Malcolm or Duchamp, but which also behaves like Art when we look at it. It makes us, perhaps, think, or feel.

The fact that someone else decreed it to be a bad snapshot, or merely a urinal, is actually irrelevant here.

I am deeply skeptical of, and seriously dislike, most minimalist sculpture -- so much so that in one of my recent thriller novels I staged a gunfight in the Donald Judd museum in Marfa Texas, in which several of his sculptures were shot up. In this scene, one of my fictional museum ladies has a screaming fit after seeing the damage, and a Texas highway patrolman says something like, "Shoot, I could get a load of them up at Home Depot. In a range of decorator colors."

My dislike for minimalism was crystalized for me one day at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. My wife and I were there for a Gauguin show. The National's first floor has a cut-through to the lower level where a large Richard Serra cor-ten steel piece had been erected not far from the restrooms. I was leaning on the railing around the cut-through, waiting for my wife, who tends to los track of time in museums, when I began noticing people coming and going from the restrooms. In the time I watched, perhaps a half hour, not a single person (not one!) seemed to recognize that they were walking past what was probably the largest work of art in the museum. Not only didn't they not examine it, they didn't even seem to see it or be aware of it; it was a though the piece actually seemed to repel interest or attention. I think I have a copy of Diana & Nikon somewhere, and though I don't really remember finishing it, or even being particularly interested in it, I do think we have had several species of art among us for the last sixty years or so that is distinguishable as such only by its price.

Re: the absurd: Long ago, I was helping repaint a small photography studio where I was working for the summer during college. We were painting trim in red and black, washing our brushes in mineral spirits, and then wiping them against a broken piece of ceiling tile to dry them. When we finished the job, I looked at the piece of tile and allowed that you could cut out a rectangle of it, frame it, and it would look good on the wall. Then I went back to college.

A year later, I came back to find that my co-workers had followed up on my suggestion. They had framed a piece of the tile and entered it into the art exhibit at the local fair. It won first prize.

I'd love to read what's your take in the artsy snapshot issue Mike, and also about photography as contemporary art.

The urinal comment reminded me of this New Yorker Cartoon.

Because someone else was doing it, and because at the time it sounded like a good idea, many years ago I did an entry-a-day blog for 365 daus. It was a cross between a photo-a-day site and a series of essays. (And...what a chore it quickly became! Hats off to Mike, beyond his expertise and his humanity, for his persistence.) The discussion of old snapshots--found art and otherwise--reminded me of one that captured my attention. Here it is, from a post made on May 31, 2006:


G. Botsford: Untitled, 1971, says a lot to me. No contrived "scare the old lady with a flash set-off in her face" BS.

I'm a big fan of "show me something I haven't seen before." This purloined masterpiece fits the description.

If I ever had the chance to photograph Catherine Popper http://www1.pictures.zimbio.com/gi/7th+Annual+Mountain+Jam+Day+4+xAua3gr8zycx.jpg I'd shoot it from the back, 'cause most of the time she doesn't look at the audience https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOxwveMaaZA

I pulled out my copy and re-read Nikon and Diana and found it quite interesting, although I remember reaching the opposite conclusion the last time I read it. With the passage of time, I think Malcolm's argument in opposition to Szarkowski has fared pretty well and I think Szarkowski's foibles are maybe easier to see with the hindsight of subsequent history.

Although it's hard to over-estimate Szarkowski positive impact on photography, he also left behind a problematic legacy of the curator-as-artist. Malcolm correctly ascertained that the logical conclusion of his Photographer's Eye was the promotion of the artless snapshot as a Duchampian dictate.

Szarkowski's project was part of the larger trend of "democratizing Art." The leveling of artistic hierarchies has been going on for decades, demolishing traditional categories, even questioning the very veracity of the concept of Art. Yet, hid from view has been a more subtle stratagem - to elevate the position and power of the curator who, amidst the anxiety caused by this destruction, has created a greater need for its authority as arbiter. The curator thus, like a great con artist, creates his own demand. It is probably not a coincidence that this occured during a time of inflationary pricing of artworks. Today we live in the shallow tidal pool left over from this tsunami.

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