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The Unreasonable Apple

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A succinct and thought provoking essay. [A Presentation at first MoMA Photography Forum, February 2010]

[From Paul Graham Archive, The Unreasonable Apple]

From JÖRG M. COLBERG's revamped Weblog, Conscientious

One way of beginning to look at images is to start from the commonplace understanding of images in academia. Images are understood as a kind of language, but instead of providing a transparent window on the world are now regarded as the sort of sign (a pictorial sign) that presents deceptive appearances of naturalness and transparence concealing an opaque, distorting mechanism of representation. That distortion is often understood as a process of ideological mystification.

S2artHarbourtown.jpg s2art, Harbourtown, Melbourne Victoria Australia, 2009

I say academia because many would still assume that photography provides a transparent window on the world--it is a natural sign rather than a conventional one. Photography, unlike traditional aboriginal painting, does not employ a vocabulary or language of conventional pictorial representation. So it does not need to be re-translated by those with special skills and training (not everyone has these) to yield up its information.

This is the traditional view. Photographs just look like the world. We can see what a picture is of without having to learn any pictorial codes.

'Like' here is understood as resemblance: photos are like or resemble the things they depict or represent.

In an earlier post I raised the issue of what contemporary art/photography is as distinct from modernist photography. I did so by exploring Terry Smith's Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity article in which he said that this was an art that turns on long-term, exemplary projects that discern the antinomies of the world as it is, that display the workings of globality and locality, and that imagine ways of living ethically within them.

An example of contemporary art photography is this picture by cookie poppets of a derelict, burned out cafe in an industrial area of Liverpool in Great Britain:

altfotnetcookiepoppets.jpg Smith goes to say that this consists of:

Slight gestures, feral strategies, mild subversions, small steps. To which purposes and in the names of which values? These questions can still be posed and be answered In brief, it seems to me that at least four themes course through the heterogeneity that is natural to contemporaneity. All of the artists mentioned, and the thousands more of whom they are representatives, focus their wide-ranging concerns on questions of time, place, mediation, and mood.

They make visible our sense that these fundamental, familiar constituents of being are becoming, each day, steadily more strange. The familar world that we live in is becoming

The debate over modernism/postmodernism in photography continues at haphazart! Contemporary Abstracts group on Flickr. Some middle ground has been opened up so that we can begin to consider consider contemporary at photography, such as this untitled picture by polah2006 on Flickr.

What can we say about contemporary art and photography?  What is contemporary art now? Is it possible to generalize about it?  Or is just what  is happening now?  Terry Smith in Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity says that the attempts at generalization about contemporary art:

highlight the currency of one or another aspect of current practice: new media, digital imagery, immersive cinema, national identifications, new internationalism, disidentification, neomodernism, relational aesthetics, postproduction art, remix cultures. The list keeps extending. Apologists stress the pivotal connectedness of their favored approach to at least one significant aspect of contemporary experience, but usually deny any claims to universality, sighing with relief that the bad old days of exclusionary dominance are over.
Despite this, he says, two big answers have come to figure forth about contemporary art amidst the multitude of smaller ones in the major world art distribution centers.
Okay, we are one week late,  but we've kicked off photo of the week from the altfotonet Flickr group with this picture  by barb.   It is within an abandoned soviet army  barracks near Berlin taken during a photo walk with streunerin. Streunerin is Birgit Richter and she has  more on the Soviet barracks. 

The picture appeals to me because it is both a great image and it situates itself within the modernist tradition that repudiates linear perspective and is an image/text.  Therefore,  it deconstructs the American (Greenbergian)  modernist's appeal to visual purity.

 This takes us to a space where  we can acknowledge the dialectic of image  and word and give us a perspective on our culture where can see the protracted struggle for dominance between pictorial and linguistic signs. Personally,  I am not sure why we have this history of conflict between image and word; a conflict that many see as a struggle for territory and a contest of ideologies.

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