Rentré

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010 - Nicholas Calcott


© Melanie Bonajo

It’s the rentré here in France – everyone’s getting back from vacations and jump straight into work.  So, back to the blog.

I wasn’t completely idle over the summer, though. I manage to write a short essay for Le Bal (WHICH OPENS SEPTEMBER 18th, BY THE WAY) on the New Weird.  I urge you to read it:

Obviously, this kind of work has long had a history in the art world – Art world critics, curators, and collectors have long had a much easier time with a work as an independent expression of an idea than has the photography world. The photo world has always had an implicit belief in the photograph as an authentic document that, though not necessarily a conveyer of truth, is the medium for authentic communication between creator and viewer. New Weird photography frequently claims to be nothing more than an assembly of symbols and juxtapositions and that it can be nothing more than some king of photographic Rorschach ink blot to the viewer’s predispositions and prejudices.

More here. This essay, in its current form, is unfinished – I’m interested in expanding upon it, so any comments or input is appreciated.

Others were also not idle – which I’ll get to as I catch up on my linkage.  To start, though, here’s a call for entries from 3/3.  12th Press will be submitting;  You should too.

Little big press  exhibition aims to survey the tendencies that, during the last few years, changed thoroughly the world of photobook publishings.

A more and more increasing vitality is directing photobook evolution towards an independent, self published and scale reduced position, giving life to independent photobooks or fanzines, while small publishing houses are becoming more and more active and prolific all around the world.

Apply at treterzi.org.

UPDATE: I posted the entire essay below.

We, as photographers, are still working through the effects of the digital revolution.  I suspect that this will be the case for yet a few years to come as we come to grips with how new technologies like digital cameras and digital distribution have changed how we view, approach, and create photography.  But, some of these effects have already become evident – one clear example is how you, a distant reader, have found this blog and this essay and connected to a community of photography enthusiasts interested in working through some of the problematics of the documentary image: Our project here at Le Bal.

This interconnectedness has led to interesting conglomerations of photographers and photography styles, connected only by the tenuous links of a common approach and the streams of data travelling over the internet.  A common approach to a medium is by no means nothing new – It has happened at many different moments throughout art history and finding and identifying the causes of these brief moments of synchronicity are one of the prime occupations of art historians.  But I would argue that the internet is increasing the frequency and scale of this, by its very property of making work and information widely distributed all over the world to your desktop computer.

A good contemporary example is the category of photographic work dubbed ‘New Weird‘ or, in previous writing by me, techno-spiritualist photography.  Characterized, in the most general sense, by an approach that emphasizes the visually surreal or weird in the banalities of contemporary life and a strong concern with the construction of the photographic image, New Weird photography exploded on the internet several years ago with the introduction of the blog i heart photography.  Since then it has made its way into the the most exalted of contemporary art institutions and its influence can be found, either directly or indirectly, in huge swathes of the fine-art photographic landscape.

i heart photography (which is still active) was created because Laurel Ptak, its founder, « was just seeing the same work in the same style of photography over and over again, in galleries, on the pages of magazines, everywhere in the established art world, and I just knew there was more going on than that.»  [via] Determined to find an outlet for the type of work that she enjoyed, and taking advantage of the possibilities afforded by an internet environment (which was really just starting to see huge numbers of photographers posting their own work on their personal sites), Ptak began posting on photographers that shared common concerns with her; a do-it-yourself ethos coupled with a post-modern interrogation of the nature of photography through approaches such as collagearchiving, and neo-surrealist work.

If one has to identify only one element that runs through all of this work, it was that none of it fits into the thread of photography that starts with the photojournalists of the 30s, through Cartier-BressonFrank, and WinograndArbusGoldin, etc.; so-called ‘Straight Photography.’  It has none of the faith in the socially transformative power of photography, or even in the narrative abilities of photography.  Instead, it seeks to put a question mark against the entire idea that the visual document can tell anything beyond that with which the viewer originally approaches it with.

Obviously, this kind of work has long had a history in the art world – Art world critics, curators, and collectors have long had a much easier time with a work as an independent expression of an idea than has the photography world. The photo world has always had an implicit belief in the photograph as an authentic document that, though not necessarily a conveyer of truth, is the medium for authentic communication between creator and viewer. New Weird photography frequently claims to be nothing more than an assembly of symbols and juxtapositions and that it can be nothing more than some king of photographic Rorschach ink blot to the viewer’s predispositions and prejudices.

It must be noted at this point how heavily much of New Weird photography is influenced by Surrealist photography. But Surrealism never doubted the photographic document, using it instead to suggest other meanings through association as opposed to suggesting that there may be no meaning or, at the very least, meaning is relative. For example, much of the darkness drawing its roots from the symbols of Freudian psychotherapy present in a lot of surrealist photography has been neutered in its contemporary incarnations.  We don’t really get the sense of danger and perverseness in, say, Melanie Bonajo’s ‘Furniture Bondage‘ as we do in Hans Bellmer’s ‘La Poupée‘.

New Weird photography is a direct product of the internet – a collective unconscious, sanitized and behind a screen, and frequently an easy commodity, arriving on our screens and then clicked through to the next image.  In alot of ways, it mirrors the image factory of the internet itself.  Sites like ffffound and the so-called ’surf clubs,’ results of many collective users trolling the internet for interesting images to share, are frequently eerily similar to the sites of artists who have instead created their work.  That isn’t, of course, to say that the work isn’t without merit, or even to take out the intentionality of the artist. This is instead an acknowledgement of how of-a-certain-time-and-place New Weird photography is.