Time for a ramble...
There's a great interview by Daniel Shea with Alec Soth on Too Much Chocolate.
Perhaps most interesting is Alec Soth becoming 'nihilistic about photography' and its failure to tell stories. He says,
"I also just think photography was much more interesting 50 plus years ago, and now there is just this overabundance of photography. It’s like saying “What type of art do you do?” “Oh, I do Twitter.” I just put these little fragments out in the world, but I would rather call myself a novelist than a Twitterist. And I sometimes feel photography is that."
I don't know if photography was more interesting 50 years ago - but we would certainly have viewed it differently. Robert Frank's and William Klein's work (just to mention two I like from 50 years ago) wouldn't have been remotely as well exposed as it is now. If The Americans was published now, it would have had its flash in the pan and then we'd all be waiting for what Frank was going to do next - which ( in terms of photography on a par with The Americans) is absolutely nothing.
But Frank has been parlayed up into a Great Photographer. Klein is a Great Photographer, all these people from the past whose work has been condensed into those defining images, are now Great Photographers.
The Great Photographer is as much a myth as the Great Writer with his Great Life that Coetzee writes about in Summertime. He doesn't (and sorry, but except for Diane Arbus, it is always a He) exist, He is not that interesting and his life is not that great. But distance, a lack of information and the blurring of time makes him seem so much more interesting.
What also makes him and his work so much more interesting is the lack of easily accessible pictures available to us. Even 10 years ago, if you wanted to see somebody's work, you had to buy the book or look in a magazine - which made buying a book or looking in a magazine that much more exciting and attractive. Now you just link to it and see it twittered and facebooked and blogged in a random stream of pictures that you have neither the time nor the will to linger on or contemplate. You can pretend viewing pictures like this is worthwhile in some way, but it's not and it doesn't allow for intelligent comment or insight to appear.
And if you want to buy a book, well everyone can make a book and we all know that buying a Blurb book is not an attractive thing in the slightest.
This doesn't mean that photography is any less interesting than it used to be. I think it is much more interesting, with a greater variety of techniques, voices and media employed across a wider area (in all kinds of ways). However, where photography is interesting is still unclear - it's not in the traditional areas of media, art, academia or fashion - in all these areas photography is pretty much dead and buried. So where is this latent burst of artistic blossoming of a hundred flowers going to come from.
Who knows? The problem is if the primary way of accessing that work is through a computer, then those pictures, that art is corrupted by the means by which we view it. And because there is so much of this new work, and publicity ( ie money, hype and sychophancy) is the means of getting your work shown, that corruption of what we see is exaggerated to the extent that we no longer really know what we see.
How photography is seen is in a virtual crisis - a crisis which makes it unclear exactly what we are seeing, a crisis that blurs what the distinction between what is great, what used to be great, what should be great and what someone else tells us is great.
Photography itself is healthy and thriving. And photography is still as interesting, nay is much more interesting (even though I'm not that old but come on, was the Family of Man that good) than it was 50 years ago. It's just not that interesting in the places it used to be interesting, and nobody quite knows where it's going to be interesting in the future - or how it's going to be interesting.
Mmm, better stop there. What do you, Dear Readers, think?