Matt Henry, a UK based photographer wrote today’s post.
There’s an interesting précis here of photographer Paul Graham’s lecture at the first MoMA Photography Forum which took place this week. I’m gonna précis a précis here by saying that he was claiming that the art world doesn’t take photography that isn’t somehow representing art in the traditional sense at all seriously. So unless you make sets out of paper and photograph them, like Thomas Demand, dress yourself up in all sorts of elaborate costumes and take self-portraits, like Cindy Sherman, or recreate scenes that you’ve spotted out and about a la Jeff Wall, you ain’t getting written about in any high brow art journals, or splashed about the right gallery walls.
His argument was that the process of snapping ones surroundings in an instinctive fashion like William Eggleston, Gary Winogrand, Walker Evans, or Stephen Shore isn’t understood by an art world obsessed with due thought and process; unless you’ve been slumped in a chair thinking about it for at least five minutes, it somehow doesn’t count. But then he goes on to say that the ‘straight’ photography of these old guys is finally getting its recognition, and it’s more the modern straight photographers that aren’t getting their credit. Perhaps he has a few friends then frustrated that their own recognition doesn’t rival his.
But ‘straight’ photography gets more than its fair share of due; Alec Soth is the rising star of the moment after all, and there are countless others like him. Thanks to the brilliance of Eggleston and pals, most of the language of photography is couched largely in these ‘straight’ terms; if it’s not found, and it’s not real, it’s not worthy of gallery walls (unless of course it’s more recorded sculpture, in the Demand or the Sherman sense). And this is why every other photograph seems to be of an empty car park, a left-over meal in a diner, a suburban home, or an aerial shot of beach goers. Even Jeff Wall’s narratives are often recreations of real events, which is probably what made them palatable to the art world in the first instance.
Which makes me think photography as a medium is still in its infancy and some rotten doors need kicking in. Sure the documentary is a big part of cinema, but most people choose narrative fiction as means of communicating those same themes that artists touch upon; themes that we all need to explore as human beings: life, love, loss, purpose, faith, hope, friendship, ambition, desire, duty…. Yet few have used this medium in any meaningful sense in photography, mostly because those that do are allied to the commercial sector, which in many (though not all) cases is liable to dilute self-expression. Fashion photography is the one genre that openly embraces narrative, yet it’s reliance on great looking people in great looking clothes kind of guarantees a general vacuity. Aside from Crewdson, who doesn’t personally appeal, all my coffee table books are dedicated to ‘straight’ photography. I would very much like a few that explored the world through fiction.