Gary Sauer-Thompson: January 2009 Archives

pictures + music

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One stand of contemporary photographic practice  is  photography as the expression of emotion or feeling, both individual and public .  A good example is through a broken lens by floebee. Is this interesting picture  just an expression of the photographer's feelings?  Or is something more happening here? If so, what?


The 19th century  Romantics interpreted 'art as expression'  in terms of images expressing the artist's feelings or subjectivity (dreams imagination, horror); and this was then reworked by the New York based abstract expressionists in the 20th century who had close contact with composers such as John Cage and Morton Feldman.    Feldman spoke about sound as if it were something physical, malleable, something to be shaped, like pigment.

What  does this disclose?


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One of the themes that run through the pictures in 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. 


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.
W.J.T. Mitchell  has long argued that there has been a visual turn, or what he calls a "pictorial turn," in contemporary culture and theory in which images, pictures and the realm of the visual have been recognized as being as important and worthy of intense scrutiny as the realm of language. While the "linguistic turn" (Richard Rorty) in the 1960s called attention to the role of language in culture, theory, and everyday life the notion of a "pictorial turn" signals the importance of pictures and images, and challenges us to be observant and informed critics of visual culture. W.J.T. Mitchell grasps the importance of the visual and the need to take pictures seriously.

The title of Mitchell's new  book, What do Pictures Want?  strikes me as odd. Pictures don't have desires. They are objects that convey meaning not animated beings with desires, needs, appetites, demands, and drives of their own like dogs. Pictured are not alive like dogs. They do not act in the world like dogs. Images are not living creatures.

image + text

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I'm reading W.J.T. Mitchell's Picture Theory. It's central concern is the image/text relationship,  which Mitchell interprets as a site or a force-field of historical tension and conflict. The history of culture is in part the  story of a protracted struggle for dominance between pictorial and linguistic signs, each claiming for itself certain proprietary rights on a "nature" to which only it has access.


This wonderful image by casually, krystina  in the Flickr group incorporates text within the image. So  it is a rupture from both those in the literary culture who reject the image within the literary text (English Romantic poets) and those in the visual culture (modernists)  who repudiate text in the picture. It transgresses the the tradition that conceives of the relation between words and images in political terms, as a struggle for territory, 

What we have with this particular picture here is an image/text. Michell says that:
language and imagery are no longer what they promised to be for critics and philosophers of the Enlightenment-perfect, transparent media through which reality may be represented to the understanding. For modern criticism, language and imagery have become enigmas, problems to be explained, prison houses which lock the understanding away from the world. The commonplace of modern studies of images, in fact, is that they must be understood as a kind of language;  instead of providing a transparent window on the world, images are  now regarded as the sort of sign that presents a deceptive appearance of naturalness and transparence concealing an opaque, distorting, arbitrary mechanism of representation, a process of ideological mystification
The  image here in this post is a graphic, a  pictorial representation, a concrete, material object. It  suggests a middle  ground between the mutual resistance of photography and writing; a ground that mixes media  It is in Mitchell's words an image text 

It  transgresses the modernist ut pictura theoria with its concern for purity, flatness and anti-illusionism without embracing kitsch that modernists like Clement Greenberg had banished from serious art. This decentering  of modernist abstraction opens up the alternative modernist traditions---surrealism, dadaism and constructivism.

I've always had a soft spot for early nineteenth century photography, a fascination with the technology  and an interest in the way they approached their picture making.

This  picture is by Carlo Ponti, a photographic chroniclers of Venice's  tourist sights.  It is of the Palazzo Contarini della Scala or Dai Bovolo circa 1850's,  and it is from the National Galleries of Scotland's  newly formed  Flickr stream

The architecture is a mixture of early Venetian Renaissance and Gothic-Byzantine building techniques, with its main feature the arches and railing that follow the winding staircase to the top of the building.

One of the traditional  strengths of photography has been its realism or truth value. In photojournalism this has been interpreted in terms of  depicting events and giving us information. Though this documentary style of photography has been deeply questioned by art photographers since the 1980s its value can be seen when we look at images from the Gaza Strip:


This picture by Zoriah is an apartment complex on Rafah, Gaza that is riddled with bullet holes from Israeli fire. Thanks to this picture we can now see why the civilian causalities amongst the Palestinian people has been so high. More here.
In this cross post from junk for code the British conceptual artist/photographer Victor Burgin comments on the way that  art curators are caught up in fashion, rather than fostering a critical and curatorial climate in which long-term critical projects in art can be sustained and flourish.

The quote  is from an "interview" of Victor Burgin in the 1990s in the Journal of Contemporary Art.  by Laura Cottingham. Burgin is asked: If you were in a position to navigate the course of contemporary Western art, what would you chart for the next thirty years? What would you like to see happening in art- making? Or in art's reception? His reply is:
 If you'd asked me that question twenty or more years ago I would have found it much easier to answer. Back then, I wanted to see a dissolution of the hegemony of modernism and an expansion of art-making to include considerations of content that, you may remember, Greenberg defined as "something to be avoided like a plague." I wanted content to be defined not solely in terms of "personal expression" but in terms of critical social and political issues -- considerations that Greenbergian modernism defined as improper to art. I wanted an end to the definition of visual art in terms of the traditional media alone. I wanted to see a use of contemporary technologies and forms that would make a link between what was on the gallery walls and what was in the world outside.
He adds that today most of that seems to have happened, but what didn't happen, or at least didn't happen very widely, was the element of critique.
The title of the picture gives the intention of the photographer. But how can we detect precisely what the photographer intended? All we have is this image and a link to the photographer's Flickr stream and two words that refer to art history.

Gary Sauer-Thompson, subverting modernism  

The intentional fallacy in aesthetics questions the assumption often made that the meaning intended by the author of a visual  work is of primary importance. It is argued that the meaning of the image does  not belong to its producer, but rather, once it is published,  it is detached from the picture maker, and is beyond  their power to control its meaning. 

As each picture contains multiple layers and meanings, with  the context of the picture being crucial to the interpretation of the image, the intention of the photographer is neither available nor desirable as a criteria for judging image whether a photograph is a  good work of art. 

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