At one point in a haphazart discussion about modernism vs. post-modernism I summarised a set of questions that were posed but still remain unanswered:
- Where in the scheme of post-modern practice do abstraction works fit?
- Does our abstraction work do what Stafford argues: disparate or fragmentary images in coherent compositions to produce larger coherent meanings.'?
- Does anybody still agree with Greenberg that 'the judgment of beauty is (tacitly) universal and incompatible with interest and practicality'.?
- Do any haphazartists [abstract photographers] question the formalist tenets of modernist abstraction?
I would like to try and begin to address the last question. Before doing so, I'll outline what I understand to be key elements / criteria of modernist photography - bearing in mind that there will be divergent views on the matter. Mine derives essentially from one that is linked to its European origins via the Bauhaus movement, etc.
CHARACTERISTICS OF MODERNIST PHOTOGRAPHY
Essentially a dynamic mode of photography celebrating the man-made rather than
the natural world.
- the use of unconventional viewpoints such as worm's and bird's-eye views,
- sudden changes in scale,
- tendency towards dramatic tonal contrasts
- radical cropping
- a predilection for geometrical abstraction and flattening of form/ shapes
- preference for urban/modern materials: steel, concrete, reflective surfaces such as:-
- glass and chromium
- tendency toward dramatic expression
- adherence to compositional rules
Haphazartists are a diverse group of photographers and there is considerable diversity within the body of their work. So far, modernist tenets have not overtly been challenged in any of the discussions. However, I would say that a post-modern aesthetic can be found in many images not only posted to the group but also selected in the special themed shows. Modernist photography was/is basically done in black and white. One could argue that any colour image is already post-modern. But there are other factors.
Just a few examples:
pete pick - a fine use of abstraction within a rural setting rather than a man-made environment.
Likewise htakat's image has a landscape setting, but the blur in the image renders it one that has more to do with subtle changes in tone and colour than with form or subject matter.
Christian's (tossthecam) image also has no obvious compositional lines / structure, instead it features some very delicate textural details....the importance given to 'almost nothing' here hints at an influence of Eastern philosophy and aesthetics. It seems concerned more with the creation of 'visual poetry' than about ideas or dramatic form.I do not think that this aligns the image with the more rational and concept driven post-modern concerns though.
Christian (delay tactics) - stretches the abstraction to its limits in a more 'dead pan' post-modernist fashion.....at least on this occasion
Paul Glazier's image is about an interior scene, soft fabric on a soft couch - it seems quite removed from modernism in terms of subject matter and form.
I picked this image by Paul Glazier since in my view, it illustrates perfectly how many disparate elements can be pulled together into a cohesive abstracted whole....providing the viewer with a cohesive meaning perhaps, although to me it is more likely to be a poetic and an elusive one.