Discussion is in the air. Is photography dead? What is the state of photography today? Where have we been and where are we going? I had the opportunity to attend 2 of the 3 fairly recent, behind-closed-doors panel discussions about photography today at the Museum of Modern Art. The topics were the Definitions of Photography in the 21st Century and Influence. The third, which I did not attend, was Globalism. There were high points in the two I attended, but I largely felt like the panels in general seemed a bit choppy, as the participants didn’t seem to be speaking about enmeshed enough topics, or willing enough to open up to differing points-of-view, for a natural flow of discussion to really evolve and stay on point.
The first presentation by Paul Graham delved into how “straight” photography is very often misunderstood as “documentary” photography by many in the art historical and curatorial fields today. If your photograph is not manipulated or appropriated, or taken of a scene you build yourself, some in the art world have a lot of trouble “getting” it. But think back to the “New Documents” show at Moma. The work of Arbus, Friedlander and Winogrand was not really documentary, though it was, indeed, straight photography. They presented these new sorts of documents that are actually evidence of an artist’s personal vision, not an accurate description of truth or reality. The work was an example of Evans’ “Lyric Documentary,” a thing closer to poetry than to journalism. Philip Lorca diCorcia seconded that motion in the second event, at which he labeled himself “old school,” which I was happy to hear.
The text of Graham’s statement, titled “The Unreasonable Apple,” is no secret, and is posted on his website: http://www.paulgrahamarchive.com/writings_by.html
It begins by his having been taken aback at a critic’s suggestion that what he does, what many of us do, as merely “snapping.” He goes on to explain that photographing is a creative act, even if the artist’s handiwork is not evident.
Last month on the West Coast, SF Moma hosted a major symposium, titled “Is Photography Over?” It was organized by Corey Keller, associate curator there who I met over a decade ago when we were assistants working on the Nan Goldin Retrospective – she as a curatorial assistant at the Whitney, and me as Nan’s personal assistant. Without even going out there to hear the presentations, I take the bait and cried an emphatic, “No!” to my computer screen. My colleague, Joshua Chuang, assistant curator at the Yale Art Gallery, did participate and was asked to write an account of the events. It begins here:
But be sure you also read the addendums he posted later on:
One of my favorite parts is when he recounts the story about Friedlander’s purposely, tight-lipped slide presentation at one such event, many years ago.