BT Robinson

Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

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.


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:

Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin: Reading #5

In Photographic Interaction on March 17, 2011 at 11:21 pm

(Original Article)

“Now is a time of real re-birth [in documentary photography], in that you need to be more intelligent and more informed.”

The post-modern photograph exists in an ironic, self-referential world, in which the very thing it is trying to expose is also the object itself. Photographers like Broomberg and Chanarin place little clues in their photographs and in the way they series them, in order to let the informed viewer into the conversation. As inundated as we all are in photographs, there is still the tier above the common “exposure” to photography that must be achieved in order to view the image “properly.” And, for those who are not initiated, they are left with another image similar to those they’ve seen before, and the small hint in the back of their mind that there is nothing special about the image. Do they speak? Or do they remain silent, hoping not to reveal their status as “odd man out?”

Would you consider this work, since it is a critique of colonialism, post-colonialism? The term has been used for a few years now with very little definition around it’s edges, mostly in the contemporary Westerner’s attempt to tease out globalization and justify it’s continuing path. But one can look at it in regards to the Fig. series in that it hopes to directly comment on the ideas of European colonialism, and to act out it’s facade of collecting the “exotic” in hopes to capture it and possess it. The article is fairly clear about this idea, and I I think it may be the most relevant point made.

Yet, here exists two photographers who, because of the history of photography and colonialism, can without guilt guiltless capture, possess, and take credit for photographs that operate in an almost uncanny similarity. I wonder who is the more “mature” photographer: the one who can take the picture of the exploited tribesmen without shame, or the one who cowers away in finding a uncomfortable barrier to cross? The exploited tribesmen may say, “Yes, show the world what is happening!” but more often than not, it is the photographer inserting this speech bubble into his or her photograph. Nor are Broomberg and Chanarin interested in helping these people; they too want to collect the “exotic.”

And so I look at the quote I posted at the beginning and wonder: do we have to know the history of photography to feel welcomed in? Or do we have to know the history of photography in order to see supposed subtle image and sequence juxtaposition that both photographers hope to convey? I appreciate audacity to take difficult photographs, and perhaps I too am naive when it comes to what documentary photography should accomplish.

It may be that Broomberg and Chanarin’s re-birth is meant to be discouraging: that the photograph cannot change the world. Instead, it must play with the rules, tease them apart, and make subtle modifications in order to comment on it’s past. And if that is the future of documentary photography, I don’t know if it can be called such anymore. It may just fall into the realm of Art. Because only that world will get or care about the structures that these photographers are building.