Photography Criticism & Essays/Photography Reference/Digital Art.
This is an examination of photography employed as a contemporary art medium as things stood approaching 2009 (there’s an updated version from Aug 2020). There has been an ongoing discussion about the validity of photography as a means of such self-expression. Hopefully, that argument has long been won. There can be no doubt many photographs are considered works of art as opposed to the ‘record’ shots the medium was previously restricted to by the art world. Of course, in the days of the instant camera and, more recently, with advances in digital cameras and software, the whole world of photography, along with writing, and to some degree, music, has become infected with the ‘I can easy do that’ attitude held by many amateurs. That’s not to say many non-professionals lack talent, but it’s undeniable that many people believe ownership of a camera makes them a photographer or even a photographic artist, in the same way possession of a computer with keyboard apparently gifts many barely literate individuals with the title of ‘writer’, the ownership of a guitar makes them a musician. It’s wonderful that people try their hand at new skills, but I’d hope they would serve some form of unofficial apprenticeship and learn the necessary skills before imposing their efforts on the public. Rant over.
The book contains the esoteric language beloved of the contemporary art world. It’s almost as if the sector wishes to exclude ordinary humans from their conversations. I accept some specialist terminology as essential, but overuse of such language can be obstructive to many readers.
The photographic content ranges from the frankly banal through to the beautiful and inspiring. There are 248 pages of text and, I guess, well over that number of photographs, some of which are rather too small to be of value. Most, however, illustrate the various points made by the author.
The book is divided into eight chapters as follows: If This Is Art, Once Upon a Time, Deadpan, Something and Nothing, Intimate Life, Moments in History, Revived and Remade, and Physical and Material. Each section deals with the type of pictures that can be placed under such headings. Over 200 photographers are displayed here, most of whom I’d not come across until I read the book. Many of them also work in art with other media as well, using photography as only one means of self-expression.
Talking with a young woman who’d recently finished a degree course in photography and been required to read this book as part of that course, I asked for her opinion and received the dismissive reply ‘It’s bollocks!’, which I can understand. However, I did find the book instructive in various ways regarding the motivation for certain photographers, and the influences and ambitions that lay behind some of the photographs contained in the book. It is what it says on the cover; a comprehensive review of the photograph as contemporary art, and I’m glad I’ve read it and been introduced to a wide group of photographic artists I might otherwise never have encountered.
For those deeply interested in the topic, I’ve added a comprehensive list of the featured artists on my personal post of this review, as there are too many to include in a normal review.
[Any review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent the view of anyone else. The best we can manage is an honest reaction to any given book.]
For the benefit of my visitors here, I’ve listed the featured photographers below, with links to sites bearing more of their images, so those curious enough to investigate further into this world can do so with relative ease. This took quite a time, as you can imagine, with 200 links to collect. Enjoy!
Photographers appearing in ‘The Photograph as Contemporary Art’.