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Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Photography: The Treacherous Medium

I read The Treacherous Medium by Susie Linfield again. In her 2006 article, Linfield asks why so many people who write about photography hate it so much, why even the act of looking should be so wrong, why photography should (as it is by Susan Sontag) be characterised as...“grandiose,” “treacherous,” “imperial,” “voyeuristic,” “predatory,” “addictive,” “reductive,” and “the most irresistible form of mental pollution.”

She goes on to write about the emotional element of photography as well as its multi-faceted nature, how one genre overlaps into another, how boundaries are blurred and identities mistaken - and possibly how this happens more often than we care to understand in contexts that are presented as otherwise.

I think that is one of the things that appeals so much about photography is this multi-faceted nature - the different claims people make for their work and the different claims we as viewers make for it on their and our own behalf. There are many claims but I think one of the most interesting is the normative claim - when people (who may be conceptual or art photographers more than photojournalists or documentary photographers) are presenting a world not only as it is, but how it should be, if only because that is the way it is - it could be otherwise but which do you prefer. I like to think that is what I do with my pictures as well, but how far I succeed is another question.


John Taylor said...

I always thought that Sontag had her knickers in a twist… and i've never understood how she let film off in contrast to still photography. Can't argue the seductive and illusory bits though, i guess i just don't see those as great evils.

colin pantall said...

Absolutely - I think there are greater evils and that she had a bit of a scattergun approach.

cafe selavy said...

Thanks for this and the other article on criticism. Those are all wonderfully creative critics, critical observers who craft their ideas into a creative art posing--I use the word purposefully here--for the audience. Their criticism postures before the mirror, their words reflected to the audience. Their works serve both as criticism and as portraits, but the portrait is prime. The creative observation is fascinating and gives us much to think about and work with. Iconoclasts create the new ideologues. It is always so. But I am holding forth too much here. Again, thanks. I sort of forgot about your blog after your hiatus. I'm glad you are back.

colin pantall said...

Thanks CS - the posing bit is spot on but we all do that a bit don't we - we have to manufacture our discussion and debate. Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading Susie Linfield's book.