Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Unreasonable Apple

So what is the issue? The broader art world has no problems with the work of Jeff Wall, or Cindy Sherman or James Casebere or Thomas Demand partly because the creative process in the work is clear and plain to see, and it can be easily articulated and understood what the artist did: Thomas Demand constructs his elaborate sculptural creations over many weeks before photographing them; Cindy Sherman develops, acts and performs in her self-portraits. In each case the handiwork of the artist is readily apparent: something was synthesized, staged, constructed or performed. The dealer can explain this to the client, the curator to the public, the art writer to their readers, etc. The problem is that whilst you can discuss what Jeff Wall did in an elaborately staged street tableaux, how do you explain what Garry Winogrand did on a real New York street when he ‘just’ took the picture? Or for that matter what Stephen Shore created with his deadpan image of a crossroads in El Paso? Anyone with an ounce of sensitivity knows they did something there, and something utterly remarkable at that, but... what? How do we articulate this uniquely photographic creative act, and express what it amounts to in terms such that the art world, highly attuned to synthetic creation -the making of something by the artist- can appreciate serious photography that engages with the world as it is?
-Paul Graham, The Unreasonable Apple
from presentation at first MoMA Photography Forum, 16th February 2010

The other night I had the honor of attending the 2nd of a series of MoMA forums on photography. The series is entitled the "Contemporary Photography Forum" and is attempting to address the state of the medium. The first session was on Feb 16th and addressed where the medium of photography was going, while the one this week explored how historical models and practices inform contemporary practice. Each forum has 6 or so presenters and then opens the discussion to the room. While the forum rehashed a lot of older arguments that have dominated the medium and just got warmed up when we ran out of time, it was nevertheless lively and interesting.

In the first session, Paul Graham argued passionately for the value of "straight photography." Graham was a presenter for the first session and has posted his written piece on his website. He has made these points before at artist talks and lectures. I've posted an excerpt above, but it is worth reading in full here.