Monday, December 04, 2006

urban ku # 9 and a commentary for your consideration


Another Rt. 9 roadside attraction.

Last night I was re-reading bits and pieces of The Photograph As Contemporary Art. The book is as readable a piece as I have found that deals with the topic of "...the ideas that underpin contemporary art photography before going on to consider their visual outcome."

Illustrated with 217 photographs - I find most to be "beautiful" although there is no classic "beauty" to be found here, the book does a very credible job of meeting its stated goal of being "...a survey (of motivations and expressions that currently exist in the field), the kind of overview you might experience if you visited exhibitions in a range of venues...independent art spaces, public art institutions, museums, commercial galleries...in major art centers such as New York, Berlin, Tokyo, or London." The photography is divided into 7 chapters/categories, not by style or subject matter, but by "...grouping photographers who share a common ground in terms of their motivations and working practices.

The reproduction of the photographs in the relatively small (6"x8.5") soft-cover book is excellent and there seems to be just right number of words to get the job done without becoming tiresome, obtuse or opaque. The book is also very afforable at only $19.95US (list price - it can be had for substantially less from online vendors).

That said, and in no way diminishing my recommendation that this is a must-have must-read book, I was reminded as I read last night of my recent Tidbit - Interpretation is the revenge of the intellectual upon art (Susan Sontag).

The "Intellectual" in this case is Charlotte Cotton, the author/photo editor of The Photograph As Contemporary Art. As near as I can tell from a Google search, Cotton is Head of Cultural Programmes at Art + Commerce in New York. Previously, she was Head of Programming at The Photographers' Gallery in London and a Curator of Photographs at the Victoria and Albert Museum from 1993to 2004.

As mentioned, I think CC has done an admirable job with this book and she has managed to pull together a group of photographs that appeals very much to my eye and sensibilities - amazingly, for a collection this diverse, nearly every single photograph in the book gives me cause to stop and consider. Most are a visual treat to my eye and they all are capable of engaging my intellect and emotions all well.

OK, so where's the rub/revenge?

I have been oft accused of being a pointy-headed pin head. In some quarters I am known as "Blovius" (from to bloviate - orate verbosely and windily), and, I've have made it well-known that a photograph must engage my intellect as well as my visual sense, so this might sound a little odd to some, but, when CC writes about specific photographs, her words - though they be right in number and not tiresome, obtuse or opaque, - seem to suck the life out of the photographs she is writing about.

It seems to me that CC, in perfect concert with most of her "high-art" brothers and sisters, needs to sublimate emotion to intellect. It is as if she (they) needs to don a mantle of cool intellectual detachment from the photography (art) lest she be tarred and feathered with an emotional (unprofessional?) attachment to her subject. The writing is all so academic, clinical and cold.

While much of the writing is instructive, eventually, I start to long for a simple and direct, "I love this photograph. It reaches me where I live." kind of thing. I need a little emotional foreplay with my mental constructs, otherwise I might foresake the arts and sit around reading the dictionary. Know what I mean?

Perhaps, the problem I have with this book - which I find representative of much writing about photography as art - is found in the first paragraph of this commentary (from the second paragraph in the book), wherein CC (in concert with most of her peers) puts ideas before going on to consider their visual outcome.

That's butt-assbackwards in my book.

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