While drinking my coffee this morning, I decided to read about some of the goings-on in the art world. Somehow, this caused my brain to remember that I never did get around to reading/buying Michael Fried’s most recent book, Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before. So of course, I go to Amazon to see what’s what. And I’m plunged yet again into the complete chaos that is photo-theory.
Now, I’m not going to be able to sum up my ongoing, wonderful yet frustrating experience with contemporary theory of photography, more specifically, what the heck is Photography, in one post. I somehow sense that this will be a frequent thread here. But it really struck me when I started reading the comments for Fried’s book and looking at some of the other theory books that Amazon suggested in one of my favorite features “Customers Who Bought This Also Bought,” that there is a constant battle between “art” photography and photography for the rest of “us.” And in that second category, I would include everything else – commercial, snapshot, the proliferation of mobile devise photography (a la the iPhone pics), or even just “beautiful” photographs.
I’m not saying that I buy into this distinction of art vs. the world when it comes to photography. I’m in the camp that thinks that one of the greatest aspects to the entire medium of photography is its unclassifiableness (yes, I know that isn’t even close to a word). I think that the fact that we actually have to debate what photography is, what it means, what our relationship to it is as a member of society and also our relationship to it as artists means that in and of itself, the medium can contain everything. And that it will frequently contradict itself. Which I think leaves more room for those of us who grapple with the medium to push and explore how we use this ability to render light into image to better understand the world around us, however we interpret and see. In all, the more we can’t understand photography, the more it becomes a universal tool that will help us to learn to articulate our relationship to others.
But I’ve got to say, this is not the normally held position by photographers, by theorists or critics or historians (though there are many, and this is by no means my own idea that I developed – I read a crap-ton and got most of this from all the reading I did during grad school). And reading the comments left on Amazon reminded me that people spend so much time arguing about how we should or should not talk about photography, and who’s “right,” that a lot of the time we don’t ever talk about the photographs themselves, which I think is a bummer.
It also made me think about the articles I’d read this week about the Senate, and how currently all the RepGs keep doing is prevent any kind of debate at all, which means not only are the Dems stymied in their agenda, but everyone is frozen in place, incapable of any progress at all, let alone any forward progress. Which again, I think is a bummer. I’d argue that there is a major difference between productive debate that allows for differences but engages with the heart of the matter and debate that is purely posturing, where the fundamental ideas are ignored in favor of proving that someone is right and the other person is wrong – always. This sucks, in both politics and in art.