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Monday, 23 February 2015

Sunset Pictures: For or Against?

Sunset Stencil: "It's not a Banksy, is it!"

Jesse Alexander got a great audience at IC Visual Labs for the launch of his new book on landscapes, Perspectives on Place. I chaired the panel discussion (with Celia Jackson and Gawain Barnard) and the temptation for my simple brainwas basically to reduce everything to a series of for or against questions.

We did have one yes or no question - on Salgado. And the audience was, on the whole, for, which is nice to know.

It's terribly stupid and binary, but sometimes the for and against format nails things, especially in the field of landscape - the exhausted field. And the challenge is how you can reinvigorate that 'medium'.

So if there had been other for and against questions, these might have been some of them, al connecting in to the chapters in Jesse's book. I think they might be a simple way of summarising people's approach to landscape - a kind of landscape compatibility questionnaire.

So what are you for and what are you against? And where (on postcards, biscuit tins, white cubes etc)

Sunsets? (for, but only for personal use)

Pastoral Landscapes? (for - but only for jigsaws and biscuit tins)

Travel Landscapes? (against)

Ansel Adams? (against, no for, no against, no for, no against, no for...)

Robert Adams? (for, no against, no for, no against, no for, no against...)

Macho Landscapes (High Viewpoint, Big Camera) (against - it's travel landscapes)

The Engendered Landscape (is it an idea worth exploring)? (for)

The Psychological landscape? (against, it does get tiresome most of the time)

Edgelands? (against. Boring!)

Technological Landscapes (made from your desktop, /GSV stuff)? (against. Boring!)

I'm pretty much for all of this stuff, except for when I'm against it, but then it's only because it's been done too much or done too badly. There are great GSV projects and great psychological projects. It's never clear cut. That's the problem with for and against questions.

And then I saw the piece on Peter Lik in the New York Times. And there could be a whole for and against section on him - but here it would be against all the way. The piece covers how he sells his pictures in Caesars Palace and gives a particular perspective on him as a (ten-thousand) pound-shop photographer.

My first thought was at the absurdity of it all, and the smoke and mirrors of his sales technique, a technique where nothing is quite as it seems. We can all get terribly snotty about it, but ultimately isn't he just doing what many, many galleries do; sell atrocious work at absurd prices to ridiculously wealthy patrons with no taste. Isn't that the art market in general, and if we substitute Chelsea or Mayfair for Caesar's Palace, aren't we left with the same thing as Peter Lik's Gallery, albeit with a better secondary market and clients, gallerists, publicists and critics who fancy themselves as operating at a higher level of cultural sophistication.

Except of course, Peter Lik's pictures are truly dreadful, a reminder of what landscape really shouldn't be.

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