I attended the Blind Spot’s Collapsing Images lecture this weekend, and to be honest hearing so much talk about photography, sort of killed my enthusiasm to write about it. I think at the moment, I am trying to sort out my own definition of what photography means to me, and sometimes hearing so much from other, albeit very talented & intelligent people, is not helpful. While I have enormous respect for many of the panelists, it was disappointing to hear so much bad-mouthing and dismissal of other artists and genres of work. Perhaps it is the nature of an open-ended panel, to fill the silence by being entertaining. Nothing gets a laugh like an outrageous and negative comment. But in the end, the whole thing made me a little sad and bitter about the art world. These were all people with so much success, and they seemed to be angry and unhappy with what it currently means to be a artist. In a way, the panel seemed to reflect the current state of society. We never seem to have enough, and we are always worried that what we do have will taken away from us. That is an environment that breeds hostility, contempt and competition. Katy Grannan, mentioned during the lecture that she decided to be a photographer after seeing Robert Frank’s The Americans. Frank seems to be the one for many of the artists before and after her, myself included. His dark, grainy photographs, that captured everything that was rotten and vainglorious about our culture are just as relevant today and when he set out on the road in the 1950’s. I guess it is difficult to operate as a artist concerned with documenting or reflecting culture in a world so dismayed.

While the panels focused on more traditional forms of image making, the current issue of Blind Spot, curated by Marco Breuer focuses on art that examines process. Breuer says:

In the first place, its not the technology I am interested in so much as the idea of true investigations into photography, as opposed to illustration. I was looking for alternatives to the default of contemporary photography, which is now a 4×5 color negative, whether portrait or typology, blown up to 30×40 inches or larger and mounted behind plexi.

In some ways, I very much agree with Breuer. Chelsea is full of work that is interchangeable and without interest other than its formal or aesthetic qualities. But I think to dismiss one form of picture making as less valid can be dangerous. It is interesting to see work that breaks from this convention, but I am not convinced that breaking free from form alone can move photography into a new direction. Certainly John Baldessari, Cindy Sherman, and the rest of the seventies post-modern generation already went through this territory, and at that time, it was a image making revolution. Now, no one questions the validity of Liz Deschenes Moires, because of those pioneering artists. It seems that it would be better look at Deschenes, and Michelle Kloehn’s ambrotypes as reflections and reactions to our cultures obsession with technology. Their work becomes infinitely more relevant when it is taken out of the ‘conceptual photo’ context. If artists have become obsessed with process, whether it’s digital manipulation, new forms of making photographs, or using obsolete processes, maybe it is because we are all bombarded with so much process in our everyday lives. My boyfriend and I recently switched to DVR cable, and had to replace our box & remote. The new remote, even with a 10 page instruction book is almost incomprehensible to operate. Every moment we are confronted with new technologies to master and comprehend. This is the reality of modern live, so should art not also be challenging? Artists can choose how they wish to reflect the world. I personally am not as interested in work that is exclusively reliant on form, and at this moment, photography should concern itself more with how it can capture the enormous changes in world, and not focus so much on itself. However, being so quick to dismiss a typology of larger color prints which may indeed have something new to say, is just as wrong as those who dismissing Thomas Demand & Jeff Wall for “making” their images.

Robert Frank

Liz Deschenes