Dec 19, 2007

Is Photography Dead?

rip-photo.jpgSource: Newsweek
Written by Perter Plagens

How is that even remotely possible? The medium certainly looks alive, well and, if anything, overpopulated. There are hordes of photographers out there, working with back-to-basics pinhole cameras and pixeled images measured in gigabytes, with street photography taken by cell phones and massive photo “shoots” whose crews, complexity and expense resemble those of movie sets.

Step into almost any serious art gallery in Chelsea, Santa Monica or Mayfair and you’re likely to be greeted with breathtaking large-format color photographs, such as Andreas Gefeller‘s overhead views of parking lots digitally montaged from thousands of individual shots or Didier Massard‘s completely “fabricated photographs” of phantasmagoric landscapes.

And the establishment’s seal of approval for photography has been renewed in two current museum exhibitions. In “Depth of Field“— the first installation in the new contemporary-photography galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, on display through March 23—the fare includes Thomas Struth’s hyperdetailed chromogenic print of the interior of San Zaccaria in Venice and Adam Fuss’s exposure of a piece of photo paper floating in water to a simultaneous splash and strobe.

At the National Gallery of Art in Washington, “The Art of the American Snapshot, 1888–1978” (up through Dec. 31) celebrates average Americans who wielded their Brownies and Instamatics to stunning effect.

Yet wandering the galleries of these two shows, you can’t help but wonder if the entire medium hasn’t fractured itself beyond all recognition. Sculpture did the same thing a while back, so that now “sculpture” can indicate a hole in the ground as readily as a bronze statue. Digitalization has made much of art photography’s vast variety possible.

But it’s also a major reason that, 25 years after the technology exploded what photography could do and be, the medium seems to have lost its soul. Film photography’s artistic cachet was always that no matter how much darkroom fiddling someone added to a photograph, the picture was, at its core, a record of something real that occurred in front of the camera. A digital photograph, on the other hand, can be a Photoshop fairy tale, containing only a tiny trace of a small fragment of reality. By now, we’ve witnessed all the magical morphing and seen all the clever tricks that have turned so many photographers—formerly bearers of truth—into conjurers of fiction. It’s hard to say “gee whiz” anymore.

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One Response to “Is Photography Dead?”

  1. djamesnm Says:

    Tut-tut, a new tool is on the horizon, allowing more access to more people, to express themselves. The author seems to be ready to jump back to a time where the click of a lens didn’t involve checking the rear of the camera to check the image, and in every household there was that overflowing box containing a few photographic gems and all to many cropped off heads and inexplicable shots of the ground at the photographers feet. Sister Wendy said it best, “Art never improves, it just changes” Forgive a long winded response, but there can be a different, more inclusive viewpoint of the digital revolution.
    Art History showed that humanity has always created fiction with art, be it the Neolithic stone figurines of women for fertility rituals..assumed as it wasn’t likely to be a representation of women, but an ideal, to Bosch and others before and after creating terrifying worlds from their imagination, well before the Modernist era I’m sure you’d agree. Remember “The School of Athens” by Raphael? Even the dawn of photography shows that artistic fantasy was to be embraced, Oscar Rejlanders “The Two paths of Life” can be seen at the George Eastman House in Rochester the birthplace of the idea that photography was for everyone. Ansel Adams dodged and burned images into existence that, while structurally accurate, never existed in reality…that cross on the door in the New Mexico cemetery was most definitely NOT as bright as in the final print; an illusion to create an emotion?
    Technology has merely made a creative outlet more accessible to the masses, what is good, fictional or fact is still up for debate.
    So entropy has grabbed the reins of the creative impulses in all of mankind, and this is a bad thing how? Was it better to have the Big 3 Automobiles, or how well did creativity flourish with just 3 Big Networks?
    Perhaps it’s that 1000 words no longer are enough to give to a picture, just maybe we need to insert 1 more, inclusion.

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