Saturday, December 10, 2005

Photography at the Tipping Point

In Canadian Artist, Nancy Tousley's "Photography at the Tipping Point" opens with the following sentence:
"Like painting, photography has been declared dead, but so far there has been no public fuss or outcry about the medium's demise, although the obituary was published nearly fifteen years ago."
And then ends just as strong ...

"For the Czech philosopher Vilém Flusser, who is sometimes called the philosopher of new media, the invention of photography was the most important cultural invention since linear writing in the second millennium BCE. The photograph, which Flusser theorized as the first technical image, overcame "the artificial separation of culture into science, technology, and art," as Andreas Ströhl, the editor of Flusser's book Writings, explains. In the early 1980s, Flusser proposed that the crux of photography criticism was not the relationship between an object and its representation. "Truth is a relationship between a statement and its meaning," he wrote. "Photography turns the relationship between statement and meaning completely around. The photograph does not discover meanings, but rather, it gives them. It does not matter if they are true or false—even if this could be established. The critical question is, Which meaning does it intend to give according to which criteria? The criterion 'true'—the value 'truth'—is no longer operative in photography and must be abandoned."

Many artists using photography in the early 1980s were abandoning truth in photography in different ways. But whether art photography will ever completely sever its direct connection to the world, and abandon the notion of truth or reality as something to embrace or something to work against, is debatable, although digital imaging is already doing it in the commercial world. In the meantime, at the tipping point, digital imaging has struck up a relationship with both photography and painting. Picture-theory artists and photographers in Düsseldorf and Vancouver have shown that a photograph can be an autonomous object, pure picture. The tipping point is a rich place to be for photography, filled with potential that will be worked out in the evolving practice of artists."

This notion of "true" or "truth" compounded by the velocity and volume of images leads me to one conclusion, biology will sort this out. Science will discover humans can only view a finite number of images before dying or going blind. In recent days I have felt more than half way there. I hope we haven't jumped the shark ....

Note: Just saw this on microblindness in the NY Times Magazine section, we have jumped the shark.


Blogger John said...

Ron, jgevers (John) from flickr here. I enjoyed your entry and am intrigued because I, too, have wondered about the effects of long-term exposure to the proliferation of images, especially now that websites like flickr make it so easy to post. Good and bad and mediocre . . . there are now millions of images to absorb and comment on if one chooses.

I ask myself whether all this imagery continues to be inspirational to me as a photographer (as it was when I first signed up on flickr and related sites) or is it making me a bit jaded, numb? I'm not sure. I do know that I recently attended a photograph exhibition marking the anniversary of Aperture and found myself quickly saturated by images that have been celebrated for some reason but that didn't measure up to some of what I've been seeing online from photographers all over the world. I even asked myself whether my time would have been better spent perusing work online rather than paying $15 to see a finite group of images, some good, some not so good.

I like to think that we may be at the tipping point in photography and that more and more will embrace art photography in which truth is rather unimportant. As someone who pays his bills with photography, I have to take images that represent truth (for clients), but increasingly I find myself wanting to contribute photographic art to a world overrun by images.

9:01 AM  
Anonymous Tim Connor said...

Ron, I think the unstoppable blizzard of imagery can sometimes do the opposite of inspire, as John suggests. I've recently stepped back from my intense relationship(as colorstalker)with Flickr & my head feels like it's starting to clear.I also agree with John that the best work online -- most of it by unsung photographers -- is equal to or even better than the canonical photos we all grew up with. The simple fact of how much really good work is out there today raises an embarrassing problem for critics & collectors -- but also for photographers who want to believe what they're doing is special, is important, will last. The critics & collectors mostly just don't deal with the flood of new work, often made with small, automatic cameras. If the artists are content to show it on photoblogs, garner a dozen appreciative comments & be done with it, that doesn't seem to them sufficiently serious. (In this the pros are in my opinion probably right) Anyway, they don't deal with it. Instead, they stick self-defensively to the known quantities -- the established names. As far as new work, they go for the "eye-of-god" techno wizards you & I were discussing -- Gursky, Burtsynski, Struth et al. After all, there's no question of THEIR seriousness or their skill. Or maybe they give the nod to someone like Alec Soth who, though he shoots ordinary people & scenes like, say, William Eggleston, at least uses a large format camera & lots of technique to do it.

BTW, regarding all these ideas, did you see the piece in the NY Times today by John Strausbaugh, Stalking the Crowded City, a Loner With a Lens? It's about a guy named Angelo Rizzuto, who walked around Manhattan from 1952 to 1966 taking pictures,. Judging by the pictures in the article, he was very good. When he died, he gave 60,000 negs & $50,000 to the Library of Congress with instructions to make a book of his work. They printed a "cheap, staple-bound booklet, then used the bulk of Mr. Rizzuto's money to acquire the work of more famous photographers like Diane Arbus." Well, there you have it. The work is only coming to light now because the man who did "Wisconsin Death Trip," Michael Lesy, is publishing it as a book called "Angel's World." He is quoted as follows in the piece: "The art and photography historians really do not want anyone to say that the canon is something larger and more mysterious than they are willing to accept...There are possibilities that go beyond the safe definitions of what an artist is and what a camera is used for."

I really do understand the need to somehow define & make intelligible, to edit, to limit really -- as opposed to just letting the blizzard blow over me & create a kind of aesthetic whiteout. But what do you do when there are literally thousands of Angel Rizzutos walking around shooting every day all over the world & they all want to be seen & noticed & listened to? Citizen artists, anyone?

11:43 PM  
Blogger Ron Diorio said...


I'll quote form the same NY Times article:

"The art and photography historians really do not want anyone to say that the canon is something larger and more mysterious than they are willing to accept," he says. "My whole intention is to subvert the canon. I'd like to blow the whole thing up - not to destroy it, but to open it. To say the world is a far more wondrous place, greater in extent and breadth and twisted, gnarly depth than you could ever imagine. There are possibilities that go beyond the safe definitions of what an artist is and what a camera is used for."

I think you are articulatimg something that I have had feeble attempts to get out of my brain and into my mouth. What value the work if it drowns in itself while drowning in everything else.

And yes, "Citizen artists" we have become.

5:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I fully agree with the last paragraph of your piece.
we have not touched the iceberg and its is melting all the time. keep propagating the untruths of it all and the truth of it all may appear.

3:08 PM  
Blogger alun Tipping said...

keep on asking the questions

3:25 PM  

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