realism/irrealism

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One of the themes that run through the pictures in  altfotonet.org Flicker group is the realism versus irrealism difference.   Aesthetically speaking,  realism (as in Edward Hooper's mimetic realism) is seen as historically obsolete (consigned to the dustbin of art history)  and is deemed to have been supplanted by irrealism. 

AltefotnetInterface.jpg

This picture by InterfacePublications would be commonly understood as a realist representation of a street in Melbourne in the sense of resembles, is similar to, a copy of,  this  particular urbanscape, even if it could be interpreted as an abstract image.

In this sense realism is the standard mode of representation of photographers and it has become historically become understood as an equivalent for universal or "natural" visual experience. It---perspectival realism---- has been underpinned by  traditional practices, customs and habits that reach back to Alberti's 1453 text De Pictura -----and is the key mode of representation of the mass global visual communication networks (film photography and television).

Should photographers question perspectival realisms that is assumed to be natural ---we have invented and built a  a machine (the camera)  to produce this conventional or historical  sort of image and this has  reinforced the conviction that this is the natural mode of representation as opposed to a historical way of looking or seeing.
The attack on realism has been  directed at the copy theory of knowledge, resemblance or likeness (imitation) as  the window on the world conception of pictures in representational painting  and Alberti perspectivalism. These are some of the conventions of the standard belief systems attached to the realist  form of representation  ----denotation (or using things to refer to other things: ie this photo refers to that part of Melbourne). These are the icons that need to be critiqued  to make for irrealism, antirealism, and abstraction. So the argument goes.

Many of the images in altfotonet work within the abstract mode of representation and they often go beyond pure formal concerns  to refer to, or  express, feeling or mood. Few  of the abstract photographers would accept that their image, no matter how abstract,  is wholly decorative . To say that it is contentless abstraction, without a subject matter, would be interpreted as a slur on their work.

4 Comments

I tend to vacillate, between, 'straight' photography, and it's antithesis. I feel many people, see nothing new in a straight photograph such as this:-image.

Let alone appreciate the 'photographic' qualities of it. For me these kinds of images, have a mixture of reasons for existence, some, metaphorical, some personal, some an amplification of the myopic view of the world the camera presents.

I agree. One of the strengths of camera based photography is its study realism. That realism is an interpretation of the world we find ourselves in---we select the bits we want to photograph, we give that a particular meaning through the designed photographic qualities and its location in a body of other images in some kind of project. The camera does this kind of work well.

it also seems there have been different tendencies
in "realism", and that it is not a monolithic tendency.
There are practices that reveal something unsuspected
or concealed about reality, and other practices seem
predicated on disguising or creating a usual "illusion"
using reality - both are often called realism.

Mark---

agreed. The different understandings of realism do come into the foreground once we move beyond the modernist duality of realism v abstraction. Your two versions are often coded as art versus the culture industry.

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This page contains a single entry by Gary Sauer-Thompson published on January 28, 2009 5:16 PM.

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