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Hank Willis Thomas and Cindy Sherman

Not your typical pairing, I realize. But this week I learned more about Thomas’ long-term projects (Branded and Unbranded) and Sherman’s film stills (more specifically, her artistic practice before, during and after that work). 

First, let me just say that I think Hank Willis Thomas is a genius. In case you are unfamiliar, his work deals with race in advertising and popular culture. His project “Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America” appropriates ads targeting African American consumers from 1968-2008 and removes all logos and product references. The aim of this work is to reveal cultural stereotypes that are created and sustained by mass media. 

Basically, he takes an existing print ad and removes the logo on the coke bottle, the McDonald’s symbol off the sleeve of fries, etc. (See image below.) And as the viewer, what you are left with is the stripped-down inanity of these constructions.

Hank Willis Thomas showing an original ad and his appropriated version with the Salem logo removed.

Hank Willis Thomas showing an original ad and his appropriated version with the Salem logo removed.

It’s so smart. One of the things I read said that Thomas “wants his work to force viewers to think critically about the ways corporate and media imagery mediates and shapes our experience of the world.” The brilliance is how the work absolutely does this, without being obtuse or overly academic. But it’s also not heavy-handed. The whole concept just seems so purposeful, direct and well-thought out.

And then I was reading about Cindy Sherman’s film stills. I knew about them, of course, but I read an introduction she wrote for her book of film stills that talked about her art-making and how she ended up creating the series. Sherman is an icon and a goddess, I know this, but it was really interesting to read someone else talking about the work and then her talking about the work. 

All of the talk about the stills make note of the cataloging of different female stereotypes, like she set out to create a feminist encyclopedia of how women are portrayed in the world. She did that, and it was powerful and new and brilliant. But the way she talks about the process, it seems less proscribed than that. She says, “I know I was not consciously aware of this thing the ‘male gaze’. It was the way I was shooting, the mimicry of the style of black and white grade-Z motion pictures that produced the self-consciousness of these characters, not my knowledge of feminist theory.”

Does it matter whether you have a clear intention from the outset or whether you let the process of art-making shape the output? Honestly, I have no idea. But personally, I’m super impressed with a well-executed brilliant nut of an idea. #justsaying

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Nicholas Nixon: More Than Just A Pretty Face (or 4 Pretty Faces)

In my ongoing quest for scholarship, I often skim over people who I feel confident I know enough about. For example, Atget = Paris (but the ghosts!). Because there is so much to know, and I feel like I should focus on people I know nothing about, instead of diving deeper into semi-known territory.

So Nicholas Nixon photographed the Brown sisters - his wife and her three sisters, every year, in the same order, all looking at the camera, starting in 1975 and still going strong. I always kind of put that in the category of “wish I had thought of that”. Damn, it’s good. Simple, elegant, showing the passage of time.

I always forget that he was part of the seminal 1975 New Topographics exhibition at the George Eastman House. Shame on me. But still. Peter Galassi (he’s not John Szarkowski…) says the photographers in that exhibit went one of two ways in their (respectful) treatment of subject - they either admired the inherent beauty, at the risk of prettiness, or they represented straight facts, at the risk of banality. Galassi says Nixon’s work after this seems like an attempt to reconcile these two attitudes.

The main thing I took away from this week’s reading on Nixon was his mastery of the 8x10 camera - an unwieldy thing that takes patience I don’t have. As he moved from his topographic work toward portraits, he did not abandon the 8x10, even though this contemporaries were all jet-setting with the Leica. He began making work along the Charles River, and his landscapes gradually began to be about groups of people and their social interactions. He moved closer in, but still with the 8x10 beast. He switched out lenses, began photographing groups of people on their porches.

Galassi says his style seemed to “annex advanced hand-camera style to the old-fashioned, intractable view camera, and thus to merge the spontaneity and suppleness of the former with the deliberateness and descriptive abundance of the latter”.

Ok, ok. I’m impressed. Damn. 

Nicholas Nixon photographs the Brown Sisters every year, starting in 1975

Nicholas Nixon photographs the Brown Sisters every year, starting in 1975

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The Paris Guy (You know, Atget)

I’ve always known Eugene Atget as the early-time (that’s an official historic period) photographer who took pictures of buildings in Paris. The Paris guy. But since I’ve never been particularly drawn to that early-time aesthetic, I had not dug much deeper.

But as I was looking through the required reading (which I completed) and suggested reading (which I decided to sample from) list from class 3 of the MoMA Coursera lessons, I saw that my boyfriend, John Szarkowski, had written an Atget piece. I read it so I would be able to flatter and impress him if I am ever in one of those situations where you can select a handful of people, living or dead, to invite to a dinner party. I also did a little extra research, because hey, it’s Scholarship Tuesday.

Ok, quick summary - things were changing in photography in the early 1900s (early-time). The dry plate was invented, and people could purchase chemicals and supplies instead of cooking them up. So photographers could shoot more images and be more mobile. The barrier to entry was lower, so more people could make photos, and since it was easier and less time-consuming to create an image, any subject matter became fair game. Seems the whole “photography is going to be ruined by amateurs” (aka, the digital vs. film debate) goes way back.

Atget was a private, nearly reclusive guy who didn’t really consider himself a photographer. He supported himself by selling photographs to painters to use as studies. Over time, you can see that he takes more and more images for himself, in his own, evolving style. Most photographers of that time tried to describe a subject as clearly and precisely as possible. Atget seemed more interested in capturing moments, which is why he could return to the same subjects and places over and over and experience and capture something new.

In 1898 he began a 30-year endeavor to create “documents” of architecture and urban views of a changing Paris. He photographed storefronts and public spaces that were demolished soon after to make way for rapid urbanization. He aimed to create a visual record of a vanishing world.

He used a view camera, and the long exposures made the images wispy with a drawn-out sense of light. He took a mostly wide view that suggested atmosphere more than surface detail. He had a poetic sensibility.

Bernice Abbott (who received half of his archive when he died and devoted herself to promoting him) said, “He will be remembered as an urbanist historian, a genuine romanticist, a lover of Paris, a Balzac of the camera, from whose work we can weave a large tapestry of French civilization.” While not untrue, this seems like a bold and grand statement for a man who never called himself a photographer.

A close friend of mine is enamored with Atget, and when I was scholarshipping, I asked him what he loves about Atget’s images. He said that Atget never intended to be an artist, and yet he couldn’t help himself. His images ooze (my word, not his - he would never say “ooze”) melancholy, as Old paris was disappearing before his eyes. He was ahead of his time and the perfect mix of commercial, documentary, and fine art photographer. 

So all of this was communicated via text, so forgive my paraphrasing, but I think these are all beautiful reasons. But my favorite thing he said both in the beginning and end of this text exchange was this - Atget’s images are ghosts.

Ghosts! Damn, that’s good.

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Vik on Garry

And then! I was at the High Museum of Art today to see the Vik Muniz retrospective (swoon!), and what do I see? This Muniz piece, Couple Central Park Zoo, after Garry Winogrand from the Pictures of Paper series, 2008. Photography is everything, just saying.

And then! I was at the High Museum of Art today to see the Vik Muniz retrospective (swoon!), and what do I see? This Muniz piece, Couple Central Park Zoo, after Garry Winogrand from the Pictures of Paper series, 2008. Photography is everything, just saying.

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Documenting the American Social Landscape (alternate title: Winogrand’s Monkeys)

Documentary photography was the subject of this Scholarship Tuesday’s coursera class from MoMA. I felt like it would be repetitive of the first class, where we read the documentary photography section of Baumont Newhall’s The History of Photography. But alas, MoMA’s pretty sharp.

The bulk of the material this week (I should say the bulk of material I have read so far, which includes the required readings but not all of the secondary readings, yet) talks about the transition documentary photography saw in the 1960s. Sarah Meister (girl crush) does a really fantastic job in her piece, “They Like the Real World: Documentary Practices after The Americans”, talking about the three major transformations in photography that happened in the 1960s. As a side note, if you have not read Tod Papageorge’s essay on Walker Evans and Robert Frank, it is a must.

First was the publishing of The Americans (actually in 1959) by Robert Frank, which received harsh criticism for its pessimistic view of America and Frank’s sloppy style. Maybe sloppy isn’t the right word. I used sloppy in my notes to condense this quote from May 1960 Popular Photography, “so many of the prints are flawed by meaningless blur, grain, muddy exposure, drunken horizons, and general sloppiness”. But these same qualities inspired younger photographers to take more risks with their work and also to create photographs for reasons other than assignment work. The generation that came of age artistically in the 1950s or earlier began in magazines, but younger artists rejected magazine publication in principle (to protect their artistic integrity) and because other options for making a living were becoming available (for example, publishing bodies of work in book form).

Second was the introduction of the study of photography in academia, as in, you could be a photo major. And the third was when John Szarkowski, my make-believe-if-only-he-were-alive boyfriend, became Director of Photography at MoMA in 1962. If I wasn’t convinced before that John was deserving of my love, this sealed it. Susan says, “his approach to the medium had a transformative effect on the ways historical and contemporary photography was understood”. The man is a god.

Szarkowski’s 1967 exhibition, New Documents, showed the shift in documentary photography from one with social reform motives to one with more personal ends. “Their aim is not to reform life, but to know it… What they (the featured photographers - Winogrand, Arbus, Friedlander) hold in common is a belief that the commonplace is reall worth looking at, and the courage to look at it with a minimum of theorizing.” (excerpt from Szarkowski’s wall text for the exhibition)

So this set the stage for the rest of the readings (again, so far) - how documentary photography shifted from the creation of images in service to larger social issues (think: Lewis Hine, FSA, etc.) to images that document the world but are not statements of fact - they can be read and interpreted in many ways. The New Documents photographers were using the same documentary style to make pictures for no other purpose than making that picture. They were not working for a client or making a social statement. They believed the everyday had value as a subject.

At the end of this Scholarship Tuesday session, I decided to squeeze in one more reading before moving on to real life obligations, and I selected a short article Tod Papageorge wrote for Transatlantica about Garry Winogrand, called About a Photograph: New York, 1967, by Garry Winogrand. So Tod and Garry were friends, and they would walk the streets of New York and shoot together (usually about a half block away from each other, Tod says). One day Papageorge sees people with dressed up monkeys and takes a quick photo, not really thinking too much about it, until Winogrand shoves him out of the way to make the photo. And Papageorge’s point was that Winogrand saw something instantly that he didn’t. And also that Winogrand was a pure artist. Some say he was a student of America, but Papageorge says he was a student of photography. He saw puzzles and tried to solve them. Great article. Worth a quick read to get a great sense of Winogrand’s process and mindset, which are pretty remarkable.

Then, just as I finished the article, I popped onto Facebook, as one does, and saw that Blake Andrews had posted Winogrand’s photo into the Flak Photo Network group, asking if people thought it was a racist image. Mayhem ensued, apparently uninterrupted since Blake first posed the question yesterday.

If you don’t know anything about the Flak group on Facebook, here’s what I can say. It is a forum for photographers to ask questions and post articles and make comments. It can be a great resource, because someone always has an opinion to share. That said, I imagine the Flak group to be made up of a certain percentage of unknown (to me), faceless photographers wearing pajama pants in the middle of the day, just waiting to pounce on the very next post. So you can feel confident that whatever you post will get attention, but you can also count on a few pajama people to kick up the drama a few notches.

So racist? No. A candid photograph is not racist. Did Winogrand see how a photograph of a blond woman and a black man holding two well-dressed monkeys, as if they were their children, could call attention to some political, social and ethical complexities America was struggling with at the time? I’d say yes. 

Isn’t photography awesome?

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Papa and Garry

Photograph Tod Papageorge took of Garry Winogrand just after Winogrand took his famous photograph of this couple, New York, 1967

Photograph Tod Papageorge took of Garry Winogrand just after Winogrand took his famous photograph of this couple, New York, 1967

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I Love the Moon, but. . .

Does anyone else think this second week in the MoMA course was a bit light? After last week’s dense reading list, I didn’t mind this week being so video-heavy, but still. 

If you missed it (or want to skip it), they talked about how the moon is a universally compelling subject for photographers, whether they have artistic intentions or take vernacular images (scientists, amateurs, commercial photographers). Lots of talk of Stieglitz and his push (through the photo-secession movement) to make photographs look like drawings and paintings to distinguish them as work of art. But the Peter Galassi essay covered that last week.

Onward.

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John Szarkowski, Will You Marry Me?

this short NYTimes article

Szarkowski (pronounced Shar-COW-ski) was the curator of photography at MoMA for nearly three decades, starting in 1962. As Quentin Bajac explains in Contemporary Photography at MoMA (one of the required readings in our online course), Szarkowski loved the pure and documentary vision of the medium. He focused on contemporary work in his curation and championed many living photographers, and he was interested in exhibits that were “more about photographers than about moral or philosophical position” (as opposed to thematic exhibits). Winogrand, Arbus, Friedlander, Eggelston, Shore, Meyerwitz

Anyway, beyond his obvious good taste and incredible vision, his writing is divine. I could read him all day long. Swoon. Another required reading for the first course is Szarkowski’s The Photographer’s Eye, which he states is an investigation of what photographs look like and why they look that way. His ideas are obvious but profound, and he expresses himself clearly and beautifully. Thaddeus!

Here’s my summary, but I promise you are missing out by not reading the real thing, my plagiarism in note-taking aside.

He starts by talking a bit about how photography is different from other mediums in that it is a “picture-making process based not on synthesis but selection”. The book is divided into five characteristics and problems inherent in the medium. They are:

  1. The Thing Itself - Photography deals with the actual, but the subject and the picture aren’t the same thing, the photographer needs to see not simply the reality before him but the still invisible picture and to make choices in terms of the later. (obvious but profound, right?)
  2. The Detail - The photographer is tied to the facts. S/he can’t post the truth (he wrote this pre-photoshop), so the photographer has to isolate details and document them which implies that those selected details have greater significance. “Intuitively, he sought and found the significant detail. His work, incapable of narrative, turned toward symbol.”
  3. The Frame - “The central act of photography, the act of choosing and eliminating, forces a concentration on the picture edge - the line that separates in from out - and on the shapes that are created by it.” AND! “The photographer edits the meanings and patterns of the world through an imaginary frame.”
  4. Time - Photography describes a discrete parcel of time, and it’s the present. It can also show what the eye can’t register. The photographer could capture the pleasure and beauty in this fragmenting of time that had little to do with what was happening but with seeing what had previously been concealed within the flux of movement. (That may have been an exact quote.)
  5. Vantage Point - Photography has taught us to see from the unexpected vantage point. If a photographer couldn’t move his/her subject, s/he could move the camera. To see the subject more clearly, a normal vantage point may have to be abandoned, which gave the viewer a unique perspective.

Do you think Jennifer Szarkowski has a nice ring to it?

One might compare the art of photography to the act of pointing. It must be true that some of us point to more interesting facts, events, circumstances, and configurations than others.
— John Szarkowski

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Holy MoMA!

Dear MoMA,

Your online Coursera course, Seeing Through Photographs, is satisfying every inch of nerdiness in me. Thank you.

Sincerely, 
Jennifer

You guys! I signed up for the course, as promised, and it is the real deal - homework and quizzes and all. I thought I would be able to get through one session per week and report back here, but since I have taken it upon myself to do all of the readings, not just the required ones, we’re going to have to space it out a bit more.

The reading list each week is pretty dense, but they have scanned in the texts, which is incredible. I did feel like quite the boss when I could just pull out my own copy of Beaumont Newhall’s The History of Photography from 1839 to the Present for the first reading. Of course, I have a lot of these books, since I’m really into scholarship (and a big dork).

Anyway, this reading focused on documentary photography, mostly it’s origins with Lewis Hine and the FSA photographers. I have learned about these photographers before, but I had not considered some of the things he talks about in terms of what it means for a photograph to be a document - used as evidence or proof. He says that before a photograph can be considered a document, it needs to be placed in time and space to give it context and an explanation, but that photographs also assert their independence - they are not illustrations - they carry the message together with the text. He describes documentary photography as having a “deep respect for fact coupled with the desire to create the basically subjective interpretation of the world we live in.”

Let that sink in while I show off my book.

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Portraits and Essays

I love photographic portraits. LOVE. But as a former gallerist and as someone who is all about getting new people to buy art and become collectors, I know that for the most part, portraits are not an entry-level collecting choice. Most people do not want a picture - especially a realistic photograph - of someone they don’t know hanging on their wall.

That being said, I own a lot of portraits. Sure, my husband has politely suggested I move all of the especially creepy ones to my office, but I love them all. So when I had the opportunity to co-curate an exhibition recently, I went for the faces.

As far as scholarship goes, I had not given a lot of thought to what draws me to portraits, or even how they fit in with art and photography in general. But as luck would have it, I was asked to write a curatorial statement that at least sounded like I had explored those issues, so boom - it’s Scholarship Tuesday.

This is what I came up with - 

Curatorial statement for the exhibition, Making Muses:

Anyone can photograph a person, but it takes a special gift to create a portrait. Most don’t even try. It takes guts to engage with and confront a subject and even more guts to take what you see and turn it into your reflection. 

Photographic portraits conflate the motivations and desires of the photographer and sitter into a complex output for the viewer to wrestle. In the final phase of engagement, the photographer is removed, and the sitter faces the spectator, alone and together, known and unknown. The response can be tender, charged, vulnerable, sensual, uncomfortable – these tensions and contrasts are what make portraiture so compelling. 

A muse is a person or a personified force that acts as the source of creative inspiration for an artist. In an active form, to muse means to consider something thoughtfully and often inconclusively. The title Making Muses refers to the photographic subject but also to the ambiguous engagement between the photographer, sitter and audience of a photographic portrait. 

One segment of photographers in this exhibition photograph immediate family members and close friends as a way to anchor themselves to a specific place and explore the meaning of home. Rachael Banks’ intimate portraits extract the beauty of her hometown, its people, her people, and allow her to take them with her when she goes. Aaron Blum uses portraiture to capture the magic of his native Appalachia and explore what it means to be Appalachian. Nathan Pearce left the small Midwest town where he grew up and then returned. His photographs explore how those close to him changed but also stayed the same. 

Another segment of images show how portraiture allows a photographer to explore his or her own identity and self-concept. Liz Arenberg looks at her own anxieties and body image by turning an envious and critical camera eye on her sister. Kurt Simonson photographs his close, male friends to explore his desire and longing for intimacy in friendships between men in the face of cultural expectations. 

Making Muses also shows how a charged moment between strangers can spark a deeper exploration of a subject, like in Matthew Conboy’s portrait of Elijah, a skater in an anarchist commune. In contrast, a long-term photographer-subject relationship can create an intimacy that allows for vulnerability in front of the camera, like in Honey Lazar’s portrait of Tanya, her subject for over eight years. 

In each of the photographs in Making Muses, we, the audience, are thrust into a complex interpersonal encounter, where the photographer and subject are strangers to us, familiar to each other. Suddenly, we are a witness to this private affair, asked to engage, to think, to feel.

So. . .

What do you think of photographic portraits? Share your scholarship, or just your opinion.

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Narrative Photography = Contemporary Photography

I was planning to skim the Narrative Photography section of the Susan Bright book, since I already know about Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson (+ others) but damn if she didn’t hook me in. 

In the intro, she says that staged photography - photography which relies on a narrative for its reading - is probably the genre most synonymous with contemporary art photography. Still thinking Crewdson and the large productions, big budgets and crews and extensive post-production, I wasn’t convinced. But then again, boiled down to the wide definition of photography which relies on a narrative for its reading - wasn’t this exactly what I’m always asking photographers about? 

Obnoxious me: What are you trying to say with your work? What is the story you’re trying to tell? What do you want the viewer to think or feel or know that they wouldn’t otherwise?

One of the highlighted photographers in this narrative section is Collier Schorr. The name sounded very familiar, but other than that, I knew nothing. Case in point, I thought “Collier” was a man. Nope.

But here’s the part that got me to dig deeper: the first sentence describing her work is this, “The narratives in Schorr’s work are subtle and buried in complex histories and connections between the past and present, fantasy and memory.” I think I could say that about 90% of the projects by photographers I work with. So maybe there is some truth to this assertion that narrative photography is what contemporary photography most looks like.

I read some more about Collier Schorr and watched most of this PBS segment on her (worth a look). Her series deal a lot with gender and nationality and sexuality and how they influence identity. 

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Uta Barth and Panties

Last Tuesday I was reading about landscape photography as a genre in Susan Bright’s book, Art Photography Now. In looking through the photographers she highlights in the contemporary landscape section, I stopped on Uta Barth and Justine Kurland.

Uta Barth is one of those photographers I know, but I don’t really “know”. I know she’s a big deal, and I know her images are of ordinary things. I also know tons of photographers site her as an inspiration, so I decided to gather some more info. Wiki wasn’t much help on this one - born in Germany, lives and works in LA, 2012 MacArthur Fellow and a Guggenheim in 2004-5, 11 monographs (see? a big deal). 

Her website is pretty terrific. Not only does she show installation images of her bodies of work along with the photographs, she has a page that hyperlinks to interviews with and articles about her. If you want the whole story, listen to this podcast lecture she gave at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

Basically, after grad school she did a lot of soul-searching about what she wanted her work to be about. She studied visual art (emphasis on the visual), and she was not interested in narrative, metaphor or symbolism. She was interested in not what we see but how we see. Her work never directly addresses the literal subject matter of the photograph but is instead about vision itself and perception. Her work is not a product of the history of photography (artists in other mediums whose work dealt with duration, minimalism, the Light and Sound movement were her inspiration), but because the lens functions like a human eye, photography seemed like the best medium to make work about looking.

I knew Justine Kurland came out of Yale in the ‘90s, where she studied with Gregory Crewdson and Philip-Lorca diCorcia and has been associated with a narrative trend of that time that often featured women in evocative, ambiguous scenarios. Kurland was part of the show Crewdson co-curated in 1999 called “Another Girl, Another Planet”, which some said was incestuous, since six of the 13 (12 female) photographers had graduated from Yale’s MFA program within three years of the show.

Anyway, seeing Justine Kurland in the Art Photography Now book reminded me of a really interesting article I read a couple of years ago called “Dial P for Panties: Narrative Photography in the 1990s by Lucy Souter. You can read an excerpt here. (Oh. Justine Kurland. She photographs females - often nude - in natural, but not traditionally beautiful, post-paradise settings where strange and erotic things seem to be taking place. In some of her work she visited hippie communes which she feels are a continuation/remnant of the pioneer dream and that her photographs operate inside the American tradition of picturing a more perfect world. That last part was mostly in her own words.)

Back to the Panties. The article is pretty long, but this is the part I thought was really interesting. Souter says that “Like all contemporary art, the 1990s wave of narrative photography is given its meaning by the institutions and rhetorical framework in which it appears. This context is in turn shaped by decades of artistic activity and critical debate.” (Side-note: I am really interested in how artistic movements and the works of certain artists fit together - the context is what helps me wrap it all together in my head.) She says that for the most part, they (the ‘90s narrative photographers, like the ladies in the Crewdson exhibition) draw from three different strands of post-war photographic practice.

1. the subjectivized approach to the documentary tradition (embodied by the 1967 “New Documents” show of work by Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and Gary Winogrand and championed by MoMA under John Szarkowski) - I’ve already looked at this a lot, but feel free to venture down that scholarship path on your own

2. the conceptual photographic activities of artist like Eleanor Antin, Robert Barry and Ed Ruscha 

3. the postmodern appropriation and staging by artists like Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman and Jeff Wall

Basically, they are pulling a bit from each of these genres to create images that are a bit documentary in style, definitely subjective, have a conceptual theme but more mundane imagery, and are staged. This is just one small part of a fairly dense but interesting article. 

Happy Tuesday.

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Contemporary Landscape - What Came Before and How We Got Here

Since I’ve been doing Scholarship Tuesday for a while, you’re just going to have to jump in where I am. There’s not really a methodology to how I choose what I want to learn about. It’s not chronological, and often one thing leads to another. I go through books I bought for this purpose. I also write down names of photographers as I hear of them - some I already know things about but want to get a more complete picture, and others are new to me.

Right now I’m part-way through the Susan Bright book, Art Photography Now. The book is divided into thematic sections with an intro to that genre, followed by short examples of contemporary photographers of note (some familiar, others more obscure - to me, at least) that work in that genre. The second section is about landscape, and at first I was going to skip the intro, because I feel I have a good grasp on what landscape is about. But then I decided to read it anyway, and it was really interesting.

Susan talked about how photography emerged as a medium during a period of expanding exploration and travel. It was used as a way to document these new places, but with a certain bent that coincided with the “picturesque” period in British painting where the goal was to shape the landscape into a frame that represented a rural idyll, so people taking photographs were likely trying to do the same - creating “picture perfect” representations of the landscape. Also, in addition to taking their Western visual tastes with them, traveling Europeans also had imperial anxieties, so while the photos were exotic, they were stripped of much of their foreignness to make them safe for Victorian viewers.

Over in America, the scale of the land and its extreme nature made depicting it in a genteel, quaint way impossible. Photographers like Timothy O’Sullivan, William Henry Jackson and, to a certain extent, Carlton Watkins used photography to supplement geological surveys and document man-made developments. Then came Alfred Stieglitz and the group f/64 folks.

Here’s a great paragraph:

“Alfred Stieglitz, and then later Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, took American landscape photography to its formal conclusions. Technically outstanding, the modernist works of Adams and more specifically Weston are self-consciously photographic and self-assuredly declare themselves as art. They dazzle and seduce with technical and sensual qualities that aesthetically idealize the landscape.”

By the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, many artists were uncomfortable with this straightforward objectification of the land and started exploring and representing the human presence and its impact on the land. Hello, New Topographics. (So I’ve already studied this, but in case you haven’t - this was a west coast movement that signaled a new approach - clinical, conceptual - to the landscape, a paradigm shift. William Jenkins, the curator at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography, created an exhibition in 1975 of this type of work and called it “New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape” and thus coined the term for the photographic style.)

Another great paragraph from Susan Bright:

“Work by artists such as Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz and Stephen Shore flattened out the landscape so that the viewer was invited to see how changes were not necessarily for the good and that it was now impossible to look at landscape in a romantic and subjective way that did not engage critically with postmodern concerns and critiques.”

And there you have it. I learned something. You feel good?

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What are we doing here?

The super short-ish version of my professional story is that I used to own a fine art photography gallery in Atlanta where I showed the work of emerging photographers - photographers who were just starting to make a name for themselves but didn’t already have a large audience or sales record. I became really interested in building an audience for these photographers and for photography in general and did a lot of cool and crazy things (including this) to get people to engage with art. I closed the gallery after five years to start and run the non-profit, Crusade for Art, whose mission is to engage new audiences with art (more on that here).

My personal story is that I have no formal education in art and photography. A lot of people feel intimidated by art and think they don’t know enough to enjoy it or buy it. What I do know about photography, I have learned from looking, reading, listening and exploring. Several years ago, I decided to do a bit of a deeper dive into my personal photographic education and started setting aside time each week to read (and take notes on) photo history textbooks, artist monographs, books and articles about art and individual photographers, wikipedia entries… I affectionately call this Scholarship Tuesday. It doesn’t always happen on Tuesday, but Tuesday is the day (well, a couple of hours in the morning) I set aside for this self-educating.

Because I want people to engage with art and not be intimidated by it, and because I know (from personal experience as well as professional experience) that education is a way to get past that perceptual barrier to art, I am starting this tumblr to share my scholarship. Since the Tuesdays can sometimes get away from me, I’m hoping this forum will give me some accountability and keep me on track. And maybe we’ll both learn something.

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