the photograph as contemporary art

Reading the photograph as contemporary art by Charlotte Cotton (Thames and Hudson world of art 2012). There is a lot to say about this book and on a physical level it is a joy to read. The excellent glossy paper on which it is printed means that the photographs are clear and crisp with good contrasts on black and white and vibrant colour. While I have been aware of the quality of paper in large format art books, it was a pleasant surprise to find this in a paperback.

One of the chapters that I have learned most from is Deadpan. I can see the development of the Topographic photographers in some way, as the purpose of the deadpan artists appears to be taking photographs with a neutrality and objectivity.

I notice my own discomfort at the idea of objectifying a person when taking a portrait in this way. I wonder if my response to this sort of photography of people is also to objectify, to not relate to the individual but to be more interested in the symmetry of the face or colour of the eyes, for example.

The more architectural images appeal to me, particularly Leipzig 47 by Matthias Hoch ( p 90). With the interesting effects of light that flatten rounded objects, and the open, yet to be used space.

These photographs invite the viewer to look closely at objects, spaces and landscapes that could easily be over-looked, and to view without the photographer’s influence. Although the photographer has chosen the subject matter, the deadpan image limits the emotional input.

Chapter 7, Revived and Remade, links to previous work on this course with appropriation of images, semiotics and communication. In a unique twist, Gillian Wearing’s series of images based around her family are a creative way of seeing the re-appropriated genes passed down through the portraits.

I am intrigued by photographers who place themselves in their photographs, either dressed as someone else ( Wearing as her father) , or both naked and then dressed as themselves ( Jemima Stehli). Does the act of being the other side of the lens in some way isolate the photographer and is this an attempt to be both remote from the image and also to be part of the image? Whereas some of these images may be deadpan, they are filled with emotional content. Some photographers have created narratives around themselves such as Aleksandra Mir with The First Woman on the Moon., which then creates extremely dramatic imagery.

Joachim Schmidt’s Pictures from the Street project featuring found photographs creates a lot of discomfort in me. The image on page 212 of a torn photograph of a young woman feels like a violation. The photograph was torn into four pieces and discarded. Is it reasonable for someone else to retrieve it and display the image of this woman, presumably without her permission? Or am I too moulded by conventional privacy laws and the sense again of the objectifying of a human being?


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