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There is a bit of a debate on modernism and post modernism in photography in this discussion stream  here  at the haphazart! Contemporary Abstracts group on Flickr. I have to admit that I am taken back by the intensity of the hostility to postmodernism shown in the group  by those who identify with modernist photographic tradition.

Consider this picture by j neuberger ---it has the appearance of being an abstract  modernist photography concerned about its own form: colour,  line, frame, surface etc.  It says purity of the photography. 

alatfotonetneubergerj.jpg Look closer. Note the organic form of the trunk of the tree. A tree! Tht shouldn't be there. Abstract modernism is premised on the rejection of  naturalist representation. And there are twigs hanging down.  There is movement and flow in the picture --a form of dynamism or becoming that takes us outside the modernist frame into postmodernism. This flow or movement coupled with the representation of  objects  within an abstract photography is a transgression of modernism.

You can see the transgression when the image is compared with this one


You stated in your latest post "Consider this picture by j neuberger ---it has the appearance of being an abstract modernist photography concerned about its own form: colour, line, frame, surface etc. It says purity of the photography."

Yep! I believe that to be correct!

But then you state "Look closer. Note the organic form of the trunk of the tree. A tree! Tht shouldn't be there."

Have you considered the works of Aaron Siskind, Minor White, Carl Chiarenza, Edward Weston and Oliver Gagliani as modernist abstraction? Weston's peppers weren't organic or considered abstract? Minor's vertical surf wasn't organic or considered abstraction? Ray Moore's "Wall of Light" or "Reflective Pool" weren't considered abstract because of their contained recognizable organic matter? Not sure how the inclusion of organic recognizable form excludes the idea of abstraction in modernist photographic works. The peppers of Weston's weren't representations of peppers but of the form modernist imagery. Stieglitz's clouds weren't representations of clouds but of "equivalents." The camera is a mechanical instrument which records reflected light from a "real" object existing in three dimensional space. That being the case the camera isn't really capable of true abstraction according to your theory as stated.


You stated early on in your post: "I have to admit that I am taken back by the intensity of the hostility to postmodernism shown in the group by those who identify with modernist photographic tradition."

I'm surprised that you are suprised:

PHOTOGRAPHY VIEW; The Pendulum Swings Away From Cynicism

"In the 1980's art has seemed to suffer from a fin-de-siecle anxiety. The source of that anxiety has been a fundamental skepticism about the possibility of ''making it new.'' Instead of seeming limitless, culture and the world itself have come to be seen as finite, closed systems that have been depleted by overuse. All that is left for artists is to reflect on their own imprisonment in a universe of existing words, forms and images.
This point of view has come to be known as post-modernist, and it represents a radical departure from the spirit of boundless originality and individuality that characterizes most of the art of this century. To artists and critics of the 1980's, that optimistic spirit, identified with the rarefied and to some eyes elitist esthetic of modernism, was exhausted by the beginning of the decade. But now, at the end of the decade, it is showing signs of staging a comeback.
The cracks in the post-modern empire of skepticism and dismay are as yet minuscule, but they suggest that the precepts of modernist art are not as discredited and exhausted as many have assumed. Modernism's conception of the artist as a seer, its unabashed quest for spiritual experience and its belief in abstraction as a means of achieving this experience have caught the attention of a generation for whom post-modernism's challenges to originality and authorship seem cynical and - even worse - old hat.
That photography should be at the forefront of this revival is no small paradox."

To continue the article:

you raise good points. I was thinking more broadly than American modernist photography since modernism in the US was largely understood in terms of painting not photography. My argument is that though abstraction is no longer the cutting edge or the core of the avant-garde in American art (and that painting no longer equals art) abstraction is at the core of what can be called contemporary art photography on Flickr.

I'm not arguing against abstraction in art photography. Far from it. I embrace it. It is one of the most vital currents in the contemporary art photography groups on Flickr.

Whereas it was only a few American photographers who embraced abstraction --you rightly mention Stiglitz, Siskind, Minor White etc ---this was not the reason that photography was able to sneak into the art gallery/museum. It was formalism that opened the door for photography at MOMA eg., Eggleston.

Be that as it may. What I was trying to do was argue that there are different kinds of abstractions--in the above case a modernist one and a postmodernist ones. I then tried to different them in terms of dualities ------mechanical versus organic, stasis versus flow, straight lines versus curves. It's crude and messy, as you point out, but I was trying to point to the diversity within the contemporary abstract art photography movement, and to argue that it cannot be subsumed under modernism.

I am surprised because the hostility to postmodernism appears to be more directed at a postmodern culture than at a post modern photography, which is what I was referring to. This is the case for Andy Grundberg, a defender of modernist American photography. A postmodern culture is defined negatively----skepticism and dismay, cynical etc (, the attack on creativity, innovation, and authentic human experience) by him without any indication that a modernist culture may have become a part of history. Amercian Modernism--for that is what Grundberg is referring to in his 'Crisis of the Real: Writings on Photography, 1974-1989' may well have become just another art tradition. The “modern” aged, as its time went on, until it became, in a paradox tolerated by most, historical. Indeed, it became the name of its own period. American modernism is just that: a regional art movement.

What Grundberg is refusing to do is to evaluate--as opposed to rejecting--- the postmodern questioning of some of the assumption of his interpretation of American modernism---the spirit of boundless originality and individuality; the conception of the artist as a seer; its unabashed quest for spiritual experience; its belief in abstraction as a means of achieving this experience; the elitist aesthetic etc etc It strikes me as quite reasonable to question these assumptions.

You can question these assumptions and still practice a modernist art photography-- for instance, not all modernists held that modernism was really about spiritual experience as opposed to formalism.

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This page contains a single entry by Gary Sauer-Thompson published on March 5, 2009 1:47 AM.

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