Photography, I’m a believer

Having spent a little time reading Charlotte Cotton‘s Nine Years, A Million Conceptual Miles written for Aperture and published on page 34 of the Spring 2013 issue #210*  (if your copy isn’t to hand you can read it on line here) I decided that she and I have such different perceptions of the medium that there is probably no way we could engage. But I think that the paragraph in which she writes:

“… the very mechanisms of the medium’s dissemination—publishing houses, museums, commercial galleries, and art schools—that could be seen as having won the good fight to legitimize photography as a contemporary art form with its own medium-specific history are becoming part of the problem. These structures, with their gamut of agendas, unwittingly risk placing a stranglehold upon the evolution of the medium.”

is truly a key one. The things that she names are truly “placing a stranglehold upon the evolution of the medium“, and that stranglehold is exactly what she goes on to describe as “something magical beginning to happen“. To me the work that she describes lacks real photographic interest, although sometimes it may be mildly amusing. And it is cluttering up galleries that could be exploring the great and still developing wealth of photography.

For me that “medium-specific history” – what I prefer to call a tradition (history relegates it to the past) – is still a thriving and growing one, and growing to some extent through some of the mechanisms she goes on to describes, including the ease with which any photographer can now self-publish. Blurb (and others) has perhaps done more for photography over the last decade than a MoMA which lost any direction after Szarkowski (and almost any direction is better than none for an institution.)

But “the very mechanisms of the medium’s dissemination” have been even more radically changed by the growth of the web. It’s something I deliberately set out to play with in my own primitive way  in 2002 when I began ‘My London Diary’ though I make no great claims for the result. Like Cotton I think we have a “beautifully complex medium …” which “has been since its conception, a fabulously broad church” but unlike her I don’t feel its story has already been told.

Photography, I’m a believer.

* You might also like to read photographer Thomas Ruff’s Photograms for the New Age in the current Summer 2013 issue.

On a two-year subscription Aperture costs under £15 per quarterly issue – about the same per year as the British Journal of Photography, although that does come out monthly. But you also want to factor in the cost of the bookshelves, as you won’t want to throw Aperture away. My copies take up around a yard now.

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