My own grandparents
Muse-ings is trying to come to terms with what he perceives as an absence of depth in contemporary work compared to historical images. Frankly, I’m inclined to agree with him, but I feel it only right to play the Devil’s advocate on this one.
To start off, it’s worth arguing that part of the reason we tend to remember things done in the past in a better light is that we only remember the good things in the past. We remember the Friedlanders, the Franks, the Winogrands, the etcs and forget all the other crap that was being produced at the time. So, when we think back to the past, it inevitably emerges in a golden light. Of course contemporary work pales in comparison – when we think of contemporary, it includes all of the crap that history has yet to filter out. As they say, only time will tell.
That being said, though, muse-ing isn’t really comparing the greats of the past with now. Instead, he’s comparing the aura of found, historical photographs with contemporary practice, and finding contemporary lacking. But these found, historical photographs get a great part of their aura from there very anonymity. There is no question that these things wouldn’t have nearly the appeal if they were exactly the same, except that they were created today.
They emerge out of time with nary a clue about their making, save for what we can gather from the photograph and perhaps something scrawled across the back. They must have meant something to someone at some point, but they no longer have that specificity. I mean- photographs of my grandfather as a young man look nothing like him now. For all I know, any photograph that seems to have been taken in the 1940s could be him. In fact, it might as well be him. These pictures are generally specific. They are, by virtue of their age, ‘secrets about secrets‘ [a dictum that should have been preceded by ‘good photographs are…’ in its original utterance].
Muse-ings may or may not be able to find these same qualities in contemporary work – I don’t know, it depends on the skill of the photographer and so many subjective things – but I warrant in 50 years time, looking back on the work produced today, someone will find these qualities in contemporary work.