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Tuesday, 17 May 2016

They Complain, And Complain And Complain...

It's great at the moment. Everyone is having a go at the institutions of art, photography and literature. There's a whole bunch of complaining going on at the moment.

You have

Philip-Lorca diCorcia Article in ArtForum

'Artists hardly even qualify as whores. Contemporary art is a cock ring on a giant erection pumped up by capitalism and keeping the masters of that game from cumming. I think they like it. I think the artists like it, too. They get to pretend to be profound. Some are. Most are hemorrhoids waiting to happen. The blood that pumps it all up is money. Green blood.

'Who has a problem with that? We all want some of it. Just please don’t take it seriously. No, actually, do take it seriously. If you did, I would be impoverished, and maybe my life would have been worth more.'

Which is great. He does hedge his bets a little bit in there. It would be interesting if he started laying into some of the people who collect his work, but alas, that would be going too far. The sentiment he expresses is enjoyable though.

 in the same way, Jessie Crispin isn't going to cost herself her living when she describes the Paris Review as boring in the Guardian.

'It’s not that she doesn’t understand these writers’ reasoning. “Everything is so precarious, and none of us can get the work and the attention or the time that we need, and so we all have to be in job-interview mode all of the time, just in case somebody wants to hire us,” Crispin added. “So we’re not allowed to say, ‘The Paris Review is boring as fuck!’ Because what if the Paris Review is just about to call us?” The freedom from such questions is something Crispin personally cherishes.'

Teju Cole started the latest Steve McCurry hatefest. in the New York Times It's not a tricky target though.

'In McCurry’s portraits, the subject looks directly at the camera, wide-eyed and usually marked by some peculiar­ity, like pale irises, face paint or a snake around the neck. And when he shoots a wider scene, the result feels like a certain ideal of photography: the rule of thirds, a neat counterpoise of foreground and background and an obvious point of primary interest, placed just so. Here’s an old-timer with a dyed beard. Here’s a doe-eyed child in a head scarf. The pictures are staged or shot to look as if they were. They are astonishingly boring.

And then McCurry  (or one of his interns was or somebody) was caught doing bad Photoshop and so people leapt to his defence in various places including in Time
'In the criticisms of McCurry, there were a lot of loaded words like ‘truth’ and ‘objectivity’ being thrown around. I don’t really believe in these words. I’ve never met two people with the same truth, nor seen true objectivity ever demonstrably applied to anything. They are nice words, but remain aspirational and cloud a more nuanced interpretation of reality and history. We shouldn’t mistake something factual for something truthful, and we should always question which facts are employed, and how.'

Which is nice enough, but McCurry's exoticism has a market and it is not too far off that of the travel brochure and I'm not sure where truth or objectivity comes into it anyway.

It's interesting to see where all these complaints appeared - in Time, in ArtForum, in the New York Times, in the Guardian even. If you think in a particular way, these publications are the vanguard of Conservatism dressed up with liberal credentials.

Basically photography is the sugar that sweetens the bitter flavour that these essentially conservative publications might otherwise provoke. Even The Guardian fits into this category, despite its outwardly liberal status.

Here's a snippet of Chomsky on the liberal press from this interview with a very young Andrew Marr: “Well I would call the press relatively liberal. Here I agree with the right wing critics. So especially The New York Times and The Washington Post, which are called, without a trace of irony, The New York Times is called the ‘establishment left,’ in say, major foreign policy journals. And that’s correct, but what’s not recognised is that the role of the liberal intellectual establishment is to set very sharp bounds on how far you can go. This far, and no further.

There's white-washing, there's green-washing, there's blue washing, there's also arts-washing. the use of the arts and photography to gloss over your essential establishment credentials.

So maybe as well as questioning the art markets, and the 'ethics' of representation and image manipulation, we should also question the publications our work appears in. But that's difficult and besides which Brecht and Kracauer were doing that 80 years ago so it's a bit to much of a repeat of history.

And whilst we're at it, we could question the educational establishments we work for. Just don't do it too closely or again, we might hex things. Yes, let's move on from that. It's too close for comfort. Missile anyone? And don't even mention the f- word.

None of this complaining makes any differenc. It's self-contained in an insulated little critical space. Apart from the pure trading nature of social photography, pretty much all photography is compromised by its galleries, its publications, its institutions, and its lickspittling to the wealthy and the powerful, or simply serving the market by being part of the market. Most photographers are so poor that one sniff of cash and they will twist their principles up into a little knot that they can stick up their backside and sit on until such time as it is safe for it to come out.

Complaining about matters, or pointing the finger when that complaining or that pointing comes at no cost to you, is very easy. It's a kind of photographic institution. We all love doing it. It's a bad habit, like picking your nose or scratching your arse. But it doesn't really do anything except make you wan to scratch some more.

So rather than complain about things beyond our control, why not do something useful or productive or create something different that lies outside those institutions we all like to complain about. Which makes those institutions rather irrelevant.

I wonder if that isn't happening already. I've been interviewing people for a feature on workshops and education and you can feel people committed to creating something out of nothing, filling places where once there was nothing with communities of photographers, designers, artists. And these people are linking up and supporting each other and creating new outlets for ideas and work, and new networks of support. These communities (schools, galleries, publishers, workshops, networks) aren't really financially viable, and the directions they are going in are uncertain, but you can feel the energy and you can see the results. .

So there's something that's more constructive than moaning. But if you do moan, at least do it with a little bit of spark. Like Philip Lorca di-Corcia. Two thumbs up!

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