Saturday, March 17, 2007

So, where "are" the New Black & White photographers?

(Idris Kahn)

I've been ruminating over Charlotte Cotton's essay The New Color: The Return of Black-and-White, which I blogged about recently, as well as some of the responses to it.

(Osamu Kanemura)

One thing that has come to mind is this; whether we believe or not that black and white might be on the the rise as the new darling of the art world, who exactly is doing new, vigorous, exciting, innovative work out there in black and white?

(Jason Evans)

Cotton gave her list - some of which seem worthy, others perhaps not. But that list aside, who else is out there? Right now it actually seems a pretty sparse field. Some of the best work is still being done by the old guard from the Sixties and Seventies (okay and Eighties) - Friedlander, Gossage, Adams, the Bechers, Frank - they remain innovative. Certainly, I hope this crowd keeps going at full steam and coming up with new ideas, but who are the new generation of up-and-comers, the new guard - those with a whole career ahead of them?

(Jason Evans)

One of the most continually innovative and fresh would have to Sugimoto, but he really belongs to the group I've already mentioned. There are also Basilico and Geoffrey James for example, but they are really masters of Modern photography, probably pushing it's boundaries as far as it can go?

I've hunted my bookshelves, and magazine pile and meandered around the internet, but I'm still a little stumped (I also hunted back through the archives of some blogs like Conscientious - and discovered a surprisingly small amount of contemporary B&W there). So my question is: who is there out there?

There were a couple on Cotton's list that have caught my eye.

An-My Lê (above) for one and Jason Evans (images higher up) for another. I like the way An-My Lê's Small Wars and Vietnam work has, among other things, taken the New Topographics deadpan cynicism and put a whole new twist and take on it. (Along with Susan Lipper, who Cotton also mentioned)

Idris Khan (nice article in the Guardian here too) is one I have come across elsewhere. He seems to be doing what I feel Abelardo Morell's work could succeed in doing (but somehow, with a few exceptions, the latter never quite seems to make it out of Keith Carter territory). I find Khan's work some of the more exciting and interesting contemporary black and white I've come across recently.

Michael Wesely is another I've encountered - I thought his Potsdamer Platz work was brilliant (though he has started to become rather formulaic now, and a little bit too clever - Berlin didn't quite seem to translate to the MoMA reconstruction project)

So - here's the big question - any more good suggestions for who to watch and where to find them?

(An-My Lê)


Stan B. said...

Perhaps it is not so much who will come up with something new in B&W as to who will continue to do what B&W has always done best (eg-

tim atherton said...

I think that's at the heart of my post. I actually have a hard time accepting that.

Are we really just going to accept that there is essentially a fixed frame, a wall around black and white photography that limits what it can do and is capable of?

That there is nothing new in B&W since Evans (or Atget) and Kertesz and Sander - which is really all those pictures on the site you give are (excellent as they are) ?

Have Friedlander and Frank and Winogrand and Avedon pushed B&W as far as it can ever go? The rest is just trying to do that same stuff at least as well as them?

Essentially, B&W is essentially going to be stuck for ever in Modernism - even if it's the outer reaches of Modernism?

Is that really the case?

Stan B. said...

I have no idea. But suffice to say, we'll know it when we see it. Until this Return of B&W "movement" is more than just the nostalgia and wistful wishes of a select few, it makes no real sense looking for something that's not quite there yet...

tim atherton said...

Hmm I thought that might come up if I talked about B+W photography being stuck within the bounds of modernism...

(and then I usually rely on Paul's posts to clarify my muddy thinking...)

For one thing, I think photography has often seemed quite happy for a whole bunch of "isms" to co-exist simultaneously through much of its history.

The other is that Modern photography probably held sway for one of the most important (or at least influential) periods of photography's short history.

As for Sugimoto, although his work is highly conceptual, I suppose you could actually describe an awful lot of it as a sort of neo-modernism? (possibly even Kahn too??)

I also think I see reactions against post-modernism (along with a sort of disregard for how important it actually might have been) in various other areas of art and creative endeavours.

Not sure that answers your question though...

david bram said...

And I thought it was a very well done essay.