BT Robinson

Hannah Modigh: Reading #8

In Photographic Interaction on March 23, 2011 at 3:16 am

(Original Article)

The contextual conversation continues! Hannah Modigh’s work hits a more personal space for me, if only because of my mother and the direction she took her life. No, she’s not shooting up the “hillbilly heroin” but she’s lived a lifestyle similar in appearance to this one, and has associated herself with what some *cough* the artist *cough* might call “white trash.”

The pictures are brilliant portraits, the color and context giving the characters a more complex scene in which to invite the viewer. That the artist avoids the drug to which the title refers is a nice break from what could’ve been “in-your-face” and grotesque. I think of the previous article, and the photographer’s inability to see how their picture might function as exploitation. And maybe Modigh is just as keen on exploiting this people group. She is not shy about her interest in “poor white people.”

But is she not just following in the footsteps of photo history, which has been interested in “poor white people?” for quite some time? Even Stieglitz loved the juxtaposition of the rich and poor in his photograph, “The Steerage.” Of course he wanted to associate with the lesser, to belong to a group different from his own! Just look at them! And then Great Depression photographers like Dorthea Lange found success by putting the camera right in their faces, showing them off to the world… I mean, to help them, of course… right?

Modigh seems interested in neither of these choices though. Nothing in her photos suggest, “this is where I belong!” Nor do they suggest, “these people need help… will you do your part?” No, the narrative is stitched together, familiar and uncomfortable, the way good contemporary photography should be. And how do we comment? That is where the true quality lies: in our inability to comment without revealing some prejudice we carry, whether that be in regards to the people photographed, or the photographer herself.

I say, “I’m impressed,” and risk looking like a classist, and an accomplice to exploitation. Because the exploited photos always tend to be the most conversation-worthy. But maybe that’s not saying anything at all.

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David Campbell: Reading #7

In Photographic Interaction on March 23, 2011 at 2:44 am

(Original Article)

With every artistic medium, the conversation of intent vs. reception is bound to come up. I believe it started with literature, when the new schools of criticism rose up and argued (controversially) that the intention of the artist is not important in the reception of the work. Because once we receive it, how can we know the artist’s intention without the artist, in some way, ruining the piece?

We take for granted the ambiguity and multiple interpretations that result from any observation of work. To bring it closer, we can think of all the critiques in which we’ve participated. How often does a student, or the professor even, go off on what the piece says to them? What they think all of it means? It’s especially entertaining when we’ve “faked” our way through a piece just to get it done, because their bullshit smells just as fresh as ours.

Does that mean we defer responsibility? That we allow art object to be taken out of it’s context and used however the recipient chooses? Or do we tie the reins on a bit, attach pieces of text, video, other photos, refusing the single object to sit in isolation? Does a clear narrative aid the piece, or obfuscate it from a vague and relatable beginning?

The single is more difficult than the single book, or the single poem, or the single film. Even the single painting has something in the gesture that can more effectively direct the conversation. It all comes down to whether the artist believes in the truth of her or her work. It may seem naïve today to believe in the truth of a piece of art, especially the photo in the days of Photoshop. Do you see my bias coming through now? Or have you seen it from the beginning?

Even the words I write on this screen have a certain intention. It’s probably really obvious what it is… do I say it, and make it blunt? Or do I consider this “art” and wait for the viewer to decide? We wish that people were straightforward with their words. But especially when it comes to responses to certain ideas, we don’t want to land anywhere too suddenly…

Or maybe that’s just my bias again.

Meg Floryan: Reading #6

In Photographic Interaction on March 20, 2011 at 10:18 pm

“Our advanced art approaches a fragile but marvelous life, one that maintains itself by a mere thread, melting into an elusive, changeable configuration, the surroundings, the artist, his work and everyone who comes to it.” – Allan Kaprow

“…[I]t is the genius of the concept behind the art that is the true product, not whatever aspect of the visitor’s body or mind is being used to tell the story.” – Meg Floryan

The value of this article (in my opinion) is not necessarily what the author is saying, except that she aptly summarizes her perspective on social practice and contemporary art, but rather that she gives us a convenient  list of artists with whom one may want to be familiar. To understand contemporary art, one doesn’t need to know these people (believe me: given the plethora of philosophers and english majors who are partaking and participating, art history [especially more contemporary work]  is only the tiniest facet to their practice). But the history of art is rich, and for the artist an understanding can benefit their practice.

Rather than bullshit forever about these various artists, I’ll pretend that enough of the class is reading this who may or may not be familiar with the artists mentioned, and will provide a link list here so that you can at least have some sort of reference for the thinking of this article. If this is unnecessary for you, do not be offended by my offering; it is as much for my benefit as for anyone else’s: