Saturday, August 04, 2007

Contemporary American Color Photography Pt.II

I've had a a few responses to the original post Contemporary American Color Photography which seem to have been missing the point of what I was trying to make. Now, this is probably down to my poor writings, but I wanted to try and pick up on what they said

I wasn't talking about B&W vs. Colour (although I used that as an illustration)

nor about tradition versus non-tradition

nor about the need (or not) of being uniquely "original"

It was simpler (I think) than that - the problem is more like working within a tradition when you either don't realise it, or you don't have a very good idea of where that tradition stands right now.

I'm not saying working within a tradition is a problem (and I don't think Christian was saying that either?) - far from it.

Rather, it can become problematic to be "working within a tradition" while not recognizing that the tradition has perhaps become moribund and rather hidebound and possibly reached something of a dead while at the same time thinking - and to some extent being encouraged to think - that it is still new and fresh and cutting edge.

Which I am starting to feel is the case with a lot of what Christian broadly labeled as Contemporary American Color Photography. A lot of what is currently Top of the Pops in galleries and museums and the latest monographs and certainly on the internet (and yes, on blogs like this) is in many cases now some fairly limited variations on a theme whereby "Most photographers working in this genre are pursuing aesthetics and concerns that were initiated in the 1970s, and have changed very little over the past thirty years."

Sometimes (though not always by any means) as you look around at it, it's become almost as formulaic as a Zone aficionado's photos of Half-Dome. In a way the New Color has actually become Old Color, but nobody really wants to say that too loudly - rather like ageing rock and rollers.

So, I think it's very much about awareness of where one stands in relation to the work that's gone before - and your own context within that.

Now, when it came back to my own work that I cited as a personal example - Traces - my decision to use black and white rather than color wasn't based on trying to somehow step outside the current tradition and avoid it, but rather that in retrospect, part of what went into making that decision (and only one part of it) was probably the realization that among lots of other things, the colour experiments I did resembled an awful lot of what I see in the galleries, museums, monographs and especially what crosses my screen here - some of it hyped as the next great thing - yet with not an awful lot to distinguish it from what has gone before since Eggleston and Shore and Ghirri in the early 70's.

Yes, there is lots of very good work among it - and it's exciting to find it. But in the end, I didn’t feel what I could do in colour in seeing this place would be able to measure up to that (and I very much do enjoy doing colour work). I felt that I could certainly do more in B&W - but whether that's ultimately the case isn't my call though.

(Photos from Immersive Landscapes and The Yellowknife Project)


Charity Vargas said...

This is an interesting conversational line. I think allot about personalization in work. How do you make look like your own when we are all so influenced but the sheer volume of images surrounding everyday life. I do think that there is a lot of color (and some black and white for that matter, although it is less represented right now) work out there that suffers from sameness. I really like a quote from Chuck Close interviewed with Charlie Rose, " that photography was the easiest medium to in which to be competent... it is the hardest medium to have personal vision... "

There is also a lot of discussion about personalization and trends in the art world.

Anonymous said...

Appreciate the clarification.

When I said "choosing materials and techniques that are most appropriate...blah,blah", in my mind, this also implied that a photographer would take into account the connotations of those choices with regard to the history of the medium and the work of predecessors and contemporaries.

I guess you could call this an understanding of "tradition" (although I'm a bit fuzzy about what that term means exactly and I look forward to reading CP's explanation).

I like the pragmatic point about distinguishing your work.

nars said...

can you see as well in color as you see in black and white?

it is something that has been on my mind for a while, i think some people might be better at one or the other and that the photographer should find this strength and focus on it. i don't know how true that is...


i am currently working on a little project about the suburbs i live in at dusk, and i think only color could capture the sometimes blue-green, sometimes purple-red light that conveys what i feel about what i am photographing.

i don't know how much a photographer should care about the history of the art (important to know, but actually take into account is a different matter) because i think someone could spend their whole lives avoiding "cliches" and never end up taking a picture...