July 19, 2012
I joined the University of South Australia's library as a community member this afternoon. I was tired of trying to access books on photography online. There is not that much.
I was wanting to read Hilde Van Gelder and Helen W. Westgeest Photography Theory in Historical Perspective after reading Representation in Photography The Competition with Painting online some time ago.
The text was not on the shelves. I didn't have much time to explore the library but I noticed that there were lots books on individual photographers but few on critical writing about photographic culture. Maybe I wasn't looking in the right place.
Jeff Wall, The Stumbling Block,1991. Transparency in lightbox.
In that first chapter Van Gelder and Westgeest explored both the extent to which photography and painting are capable of representing reality and the differences in character and origin of the two modes of representation. In the first section of the chapter they introduce the question of whether photography represents reality in a more objective and truthful way than painting, and, if so, how this is played out in particular contexts.
In the second section of the chapter they develop a comparative analysis of straight and composed photographs, emphasizing the importance of staging and perspective choices made by the artists discussed and the relationship with these characteristics of paintings. In this section they are exploring the impact of digital against he background of modernist photography.
They refer to this as straight photography by which they mean a specific aesthetic, which was:
was typified by higher contrast, sharper focus, aversion to cropping, and emphasis on the underlying abstract geometric structure of subjects. Combination prints were eschewed as much as staging pictures. This emphasis on the non-manipulated silver print dominated modernist photographic aesthetics well into the 1970s...the aesthetics of straight photography introduced aspects of formalist photography to America...In order for a photograph to obtain artistic acclaim, it had to stay true to a “straight approach to life”
This is in contrast to the work of Jeff Wall, which are “reenactments,” multi-layered combinations of an extensive range of shots, taken over a certain period of time “with a single camera position and with the camera set almost the same for every shot.
Some have argued that digital interventions undermine photography’s supposed inherently truthful status, and have thus come to herald the death of analog photography’s most specific hallmark As there are no original negatives to verify the truth of the image, the challenging idea of a photographic copy that has no original has circulated widely over the past decades.