December 25, 2012
I've always found the end of photography thesis puzzling. It implies that photography is over at a time when it is both more popular than ever with digital technology and it dominates every aspect of popular visual culture. It's a lament.
The end of photography thesis implies the fear that photography as we have known it disappearing in the sense of being eroded. What is that fear or anxiety grounded on? A sense of crisis presumably. Does the crisis refer to the art institutions and how they treat photography?
In this Symposium at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art ---there is more material on their blog--- we find some participants arguing that a shift is taking place in photography. But what kind of shift?
Blake Stimson argues that photography as a social medium now might mean in the context of Facebook is unsatisfying:
There’s a way in which it sort of feels like a consumer experience. Right? It doesn’t quite feel like a family photo album. Right? It doesn’t have that same kind of social life to it, quite in the same way. It feels a little bit more like shopping. Or it feels a little bit more like a Hallmark card version, where you have a prefab card that you write your personal note in, but it’s still a Hallmark card. Right?
There's no takers. Joel Synder argues that the sense of a photographic tradition as art has died---it’s defunct, it’s exhausted. Contemporary practitioners are not interested in the old.
Maybe it is the tradition of the canon of art photography---photography as a culturally institutionalised, ghettoised, and, frankly, dull and acquiescent, photo-art-market-serving "discipline"---that is over. This is photography as an artistic medium. After all, photography outside the art world --on Flickr and Facebook---is very active and vital.
The fear and anxiety is that of the art institution's relevance. There was always lots of different versions of photography going on, we live in a visual world in which photography is all around us all the time, being used for all kinds of different purposes (predator drones, surveillance cameras, astronomy) and you can’t readily divorce it from power.