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Friday, 7 November 2008

Collapsing Art Market Down the Toilet

picture: Colin Pantall (with thanks to Saniplus Macerators)

Over at the Magnum Blog, Alec Soth quotes Richard Lacayo and Jerry Saltz musing on what the
current economic crisis means for the art market and photography.

"Many younger artists who made a killing will be forgotten quickly," says Salts. "Others will be seen mainly as relics of a time when marketability equaled likability." Like Lacayo, he sees an upside. "The good news is that, since almost no one will be selling art, artists -- especially emerging ones -- won't have to think about turning out a consistent style or creating a brand."

Soth continues with his own take on affairs.

"A few years ago a major collector pulled me aside to offer some advice. "If you want success in the art world," he told me, "the key is to find your thing and never change." His advice almost had me vomiting on his Hirst, but he was probably right. The commerce of art isn't much different than the commerce of handbags. It is all about showing off the brand.

One wonders how the collapsing markets might affect the larger universe (or is it a ghetto?) of the photography world. Will gimmickry and branding become less prominent? Will documentation take precedence over decoration? Will people start caring less about the bag than the stuff it is carrying?"

Hopefully gimmickry will fail, new creativity will emerge and an opening up of photography beyond both the branding of the market and documentary will become apparent - and the move away from documentary in its current form can only be a good thing. Photography is incredibly constrained by academic, media and market perspectives. It is lost in its own rhetoric - the sooner it opens up the better. Perhaps we should all stop caring about what everyone else thinks and just show it how we think it is - then perhaps everything wouldn't quite look all the same.

Isn't that what Obama would do.


Anonymous said...

Colin, please could you elaborate on what you mean by 'documentary in its current form'?


colin pantall said...

Documentary that is tied to academic, art and media constraints, because it is tied in those ways and it doesn't make for effective documenting. The mix of the visual and the semi-sociological is really quite limited and dishonest in some ways.

I believe in the obvious, and the obvious being profound. I think one of the most obvious quotes on photography is Pieter Hugo saying that if he wants to learn something, he reads a book, he doesn't look at pictures.

The kind of documentary that pretends otherwise is the documentary I mean, documentary that is tied in any way!

What do you think?

Anonymous said...

I think holy-crap-I'm-more-confused-than-ever. But that's surely my fault and not yours. The part about being tied to academia, art, and media is a bit huge though - how can any photography be otherwise unless it's totally naive?

What about something like Joel Sternfeld's 'On This Site' or 'Stranger Passing'? It's in the documentary tradition (8x10, on the road, captioned), but it implicitly questions the limitations of that mode - what can this photograph actually show of this landscape where an act of violence occurred? What about this picture of a dishevelled, scruffy young man who seems to be a vagrant but whose caption reveals him as a 'website designer'?

Or, what about Pictures from Home by Larry Sultan - a seeming document of his again parents and their life stories (and consequently his own) made from family photos, his own new work, their words, and his? In the work itself 'representation' is explicity discussed by his father - the very subject of the work!

And doesn't Soth work in a documentary mode? Or is it that Soth seems to work in a factual mode in the service of making fiction? In other words, Soth doesn't even pretend to offer an objective truth.


colin pantall said...

Being tied isn't huge. It's the act of being tied, in the sense of being constrained or limited that is the key, ideas that close doors rather than open them (and by photography I include accompanying texts and commentaries - there are a lot of people around, new documentarians at the forefront, who want to limit what is being said and the way it is said).

Larry Sultan doesn't constrain anything - Pictures from Home works on so many levels it isn't true. It combines the social, family and topographic into a geo-domestic (ha ha!) masterpiece - and his images of his parents are fictional but still strike right at the heart.

I like what you say about Soth - he fictionalises fact, or is it the other way round? Is he Truman Capote or is the Coen (I almost said Farelly) "This is a True Story" brothers. But he doesn't close things, he doesn't set things in stone, that's why so many people try to copy him (and Sultan for that matter).

There is a democracy and openness about their work, which probably ties in with the nature of the people themselves - everything is fluid and that is the way it should be.

Still confused? I am, and why not? There's a lot to be confused about.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I now feel slightly less confused, which is all the more unnerving.

What would some examples of the kinds of documentary work that you're hoping get left behind?

(I'm not trying to belabour the point - just interested!)

colin pantall said...

I wouldn't want anything to get left behind, but I would favour a move towards the more aesthetic and emotional and away from the rigid, logical, constrained and "quiet".

That makes for livelier, noisier and less prescriptive photography - more work that isn't, as Soth puts it, determined by gimmickry and style.