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Thursday, 2 May 2019

What is the photography of now?

So I have been working on a couple of interviews today and these two passages popped up.

Cristina de Middel for this series for Magnum

“It’s quite a new thing to assign veracity and truth to things. We’re right at the moment where we are going back to  a more creative understanding of what truth is. It should open up the debate between truth and reality and what is the link between them. And I don’t think photographers can answer that question because it’s a huge problem and essentially it’s metaphysics. And photographers aren’t metaphysicians.”

Aaron Schuman for the BJP

“Slant is about telling the story gradually, revealing the truth gradually in a manner that doesn’t shock or overwhelm people. It’s the idea that truth is malleable, ever-changing and diffused in a way. There are truths on the surface but there are other truths that lie behind that and beyond that.”

They made me think about a couple of things that came out of the excellent talks at the Martin Parr Foundation on British 1980s photography last week. These talks by Anna Fox, Karen Knorr, Paul Graham, Jem Southam and Chris Killip were super interesting. They talked about the shared interests, backgrounds and ways of seeing of the photographers, their different roots in photography, the struggle to get paid, published and generally make a living. 

They also talked about what changed their way of seeing, from the straight documentary and photojournalistic approach of the 1970s to something freer and more creative. And it was American photography. If you want to simplify things not too greatly, the 1980s saw the Americanisation of British photography through the work of Bill Owens and Robert Adams in particular. 

It's an unfair simplification but then again why not? Simplifying anything down inevitably involves creating a myth, a myth that serves a particular agenda.  The agenda is Parr's and it is to elevate a particular way of thinking about photography. That's not a bad thing. It's how myths are made. 

The question that lots of people were asking is if  the day encapsulated the essence of what 1980s photography, what would encapsulate British photography today?

I'm not even sure British photography can be so clearly delineated anymore. 

So we can extend it out, to what encapsulates photography today. And perhaps, just perhaps, contemporary photography in the present day can be summed up by those two quotes. Multiple truths, multiple layers, multiple meanings, multiple voices. It's just what you do with it that matters.