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Monday, 6 May 2013

Susan Sontag Scares Photographers


I talked to David Goldblatt a couple of weeks ago for an article on the BJP on age, creativity, developing a voice and going stale.

Goldblatt's photography attaches to the politics of South Africa and it was interesting that he thinks that it hasn't changed throughout his career.

I like the way the best photographers don't stay the same, but change in tune with politics or people or places. I spoke to Alec Soth who doesn't go stale simply because he keeps on doing different thing ( that's why we haven't had Mississippi 3, 4 and 5) , or Anouk Kruithof whose work emerges through the energy of the people she meets  and places she lives; Duane Michals continually reinvents himself and  just never does anything twice and Max Pinckers is starting out on his career but is already discovering that he always wants to do something new.

Allied to this doing of something new is a contempt for those who churn out the same formula. Duane Michals wrote a book on this, and Alec Soth called that kind of regurgitation of the same old stuff to fulfil marker demands 'obnoxious'. Which I really liked.

I also liked this video of David Goldblatt in coversation with Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin in which he says Susan Sontage scares people off photography.

Which I think is true. I don't think Goldblatt would have made anything if he had stuck to the edicts of Sontag and others ( I don't think Annie Liebovitz would have either). I wonder how many photographers now have been scared off making something substantial and topical because of the agonizing over what it is suitable and not suitable to portray - an agonizing that is almost entirely negative in its outlook. The agonizing should rather be over how something can be portrayed, a positive agonizing that gets the story told to its best effect (which is something Goldblatt, Soth, Kruithof, Michals and Pinckers were all very concerned with despite their hugely different approaches).

I was going to have a little series here on people who were working on work that dealt with the current financial crisis in the UK and the effect it is having on communities and organisations but after Jim Mortram and Molly Lansman I ran out of steam.

Perhaps it's just me, but aren't the shocks of the biggest economic crisis in 80 years, and the effective dismantling of the welfare state something worth photographing? Am I being ignorant - or is it the case that so few people are photographing these radical changes in UK society? And if they are not photographing it, what is the reason. Back in the 1980s, people photographed it? What's the difference? Maybe photographers today are just too distant from economic crises ( perhaps they fund their photography through property development like Freddie here ) but somehow I don't think so. But Goldblatt's explanation, that they have been scared off somehow - that rings true.

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