So I have been reading The Cruel Radiance by Susie Linfield. I won't go into much detail about it (you should read it if you have read anything by Berger, Sontag or Barthes), but I will say that it is refreshing to have a perspective that is different from that which has been most commonly put forth by theorists and critics regarding photography. I won't say I agree with everything, but I do agree with some of it, and it was almost necessary to have a voice of opposition to realize I had an opposition to some views on photography. (While I’m on this point I’ll also point out that you should check out duckrabbit blog. Again, I can’t say I agree with everything, but its so important to have different views, especially when established ones have been so monolithic in presence. While you’re at it take a look at Joerg Colberg’s blog, its one of the best and smartest in regards to photography out there) Photography has been for the most part viewed and critiqued as a medium one needs to be cautious about (which I agree with somewhat). We need to recognize in these critics’ wariness and skepticism of photography, is that photography can be powerful. It can make us numb, but it can challenge us it can bring up questions. It can also be so complete to a fault. What else can fit into something so finished? Well I think there's a few things. I think there are different approaches, different uses and more questions to ask. This led me to re-watching all 6 hours of SFMOMA "Is photography over?" panel as it was recently featured on Aphotoeditor blog.
.... In short, "No, photography is not over."
I greatly appreciate what SFMOMA was doing in terms of having a dialogue and I think there needs to be one.
I think over the course of the 3 hours though, 80% is about talking about analog vs. digital. A lot of time is spent on this, the cameras, the chemicals, the darkrooms. I think what should be raised, and I think is only mentioned in passing, is that the transition to digital is a major shift in how we distribute and consume photography. I believe this is the major transition that needs focus. It's a change in the audience/reader/viewer. If we understand the author to be dead, or at least weakened, we should pay great attention to the viewer/reader/audience. It isn't about pixels vs. grain (Thinking of this I also recently read After Photography by Fred Ritchen, if you are still reading this post, you should pick this up as well) These are tools to create images. The tools change, and I think what is fundamentally different, and what isn’t discussed in great length on the above forum is how we consume, distribute images and the pace at which we do. Think about the difference between now and 20 years ago. Remember taking a picture 20 years ago? Did you take a picture in a similar way? Ok, there's some slight changes. We look at the back of the camera now. We take more images because we can edit on the fly and be less selective with what we shoot and are required to edit more so. But we do still press a shutter, we still hold a physical camera. There's a lens, there's a body, focus is involved, exposure is involved.
Now think about how we distribute images, how we consume photography? Remember waiting a week to pick up the prints from the grocery store? Remember putting them in an album? Remember only pulling them out when family and friends were over, maybe months later? At this very moment someone is sharing pics of their vacation on Twitter/Facebook w thousands of people. You might have just looked through a friends album yourself. You might do that after reading this.
While on the topic this was over at the Guardian and I found out about it through duckrabbit blog
This is my response.
"Hey Nan, love your work. But you shouldn't talk about this stuff because you're old."
And when I say that I don't mean in terms of age, but in terms of thinking. One of the last memories I have of my late grandmother was on Wrigley Island in California. Some kids were skateboarding and had a stereo with them blasting mid 90's (current at the time) rap. Me being 13, had one of those close your eyes I'm embarrassed bc I'm with my grandmother moments (not because I was with her, but because of what her reaction would be to the music, kinda like watching a movie w your parents with a lot of swearing). She turned to me and said, "You know what? This music isn't my taste, but I get why they like it." In that moment, I felt like my grandmother accepted things of my generation. That it was ok to be different. It was also ok that she didn't like it, because she still acknowledges it as valid. Now when Nan Goldin says "It's depressing." My response is "No Nan, your response to it is." If you don't like it, fine. To say that you love film and you will continue with film, fine. But to dismiss it all? Based on Nan's quotes and logic I could say "Boomers are depressing."
I'm sure if my grandmother was around today, she might view digital photography in a similar light as she did about rap. I think if you ask record companies they might agree in hindsight, that instead of holding on to something that is passing, you might need to embrace the change and learn to understand it. Value the past and let it help you navigate the future. In the article Goldin talks about the process being gone. What she means to say is her process is gone, but really where did it go? You can still shoot film Nan, no one is stopping you. You just have to compete with digital, you have to make your images worth looking at amongst the vast number that's out there now thanks to digital.
Disliking that which you don't understand is criticized when applied to most everything else. Maybe its photography critiques self hatred or I don't know what, but I think its important to remember one of the aspects that makes photography great, its the precise thing that makes it different from all other mediums. The democracy. The competition. A child could pick up a camera for the first time and take a photograph (a digital one no less) that is better than anything I've ever done and I've dedicated the better part of my life to studying and working at this. This is a real possibility. And that's what makes it great. As a photographer and as someone who loves photography, my response to digital or any of it shouldn't be ..."Well this has ruined the medium, this makes it more widespread, more images, more amateurs." Go read photography forums and you will no doubt find a posting blasting Flickr photographers, Terry Richardson, Ryan McGinley, amateur photographers, snapshots, etc.. My question to people denouncing digital and its further democratization of the medium is,
"What are you afraid of?"
Someone discovering photography and being better at than you? More images? More photography? Huh, that's funny, coming from Nan fucking Goldin, who brought amateurish snapshot photography to the art world. Again, it can't be stated enough how much I enjoy and respect Nan’s work. What blows me away though, is that this is a debate that has happened repeatedly throughout history. Painting was declared dead/over with the advent of the photograph, yet somehow people like Picasso went on and decided to paint little things like Guernica. The argument that its harder to get noticed, because there is more, is an argument for people who are afraid of competition and lazy to not sift through it all. And well if you are afraid of competition and don't like editing, photography is probably not the best area to be involved in. And here's a thought, maybe it will bring about something new, maybe this reaction to alls this will have an artsitc reaction.
And lastly/finally/thank god... While discussing the medium that ushered in mechanical reproduction of imagery, if you are not comfortable with technological change then photography is probably not suited to your tastes. Too many times these arguments comes off as "Gee wilkers sonny, back in my day a cup of coffee was a nickel and you didn't have all this cafeuccino blah blah blah." Which is fine, you like the old days. I understand, simpler times. But you have to understand that these things are going to happen. Change is inevitable, but the best change is one that draws wisdom from the past and looks to the future of what could be. If you're fascinated by the democracy of the medium, the evolution of technology and how we as human beings interact with it, if it amazes you that someone with little training/knowledge can do amazing work, that that miracle still exists where the entry point to get involved is quite low, then I would expect the next 20 years will be astonishing. And it will most definitely be different than anything I've described above.
Sorry for the grammatical errors. And if you think I'm way off base, by all means get in touch.