'deskilled’ photography

In  the 'Anti-Photography’ exhibition,  curated by Duncan Wooldridge at the Focal Point Gallery, we find an account of conceptual photography as ‘anti-aesthetic’ or ‘deskilled’ photography that refers back to, and reworks,  Nancy Foote’s 1976 Artforum text ‘The Anti-Photographers’.

This text  refers to an anti-aesthetic’ or ‘deskilled’ photography (ie., Ed Ruscha and the Bechers) that is  outside the orthodoxy of conventional photography, by which Foote means Stieglitz’s conception of modernist photography, namely the focus on ‘the unique photographic print’ and ‘abstract formal values’.    The anti-photographers set themselves 'apart from this so-called serious modernist photography through  a snapshot-like amateurism and nonchalance that would raise the hackles of any earnest professional.'

One of the defining features of the ‘anti-photographers’, argued Foote, was  the Duchampian underpinnings strip the photograph of its artistic pretensions.   Their utilitarian approach is a kind of anti-aesthetic that wrenches itself purposefully away from the glossy, good-looking gallery print, with the aim, in her words, of transforming the photograph from ‘a mirror to a window. What it reveals becomes important, not what it is.’

The Becher’s typologies are a window with  Duchampian underpinnings that have little photographic self-consciousness? The Duchampianlink is there as their  first monograph  Anonyme Skulpturen (Anonymous Sculptures),  made an implicit nod to the legacy of Duchamp’s readymade.   Surely, they are making photographic forms---typologies, series and grids-- that extend beyond documentation.  

They engaged  with the language of photography as  their work invoolved frontal views of industrial architectural forms seen from fixed vantage points against a cloudless sky and without expressive effects. this linked back to  the  German tradition  of  the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) and  the photography of August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt, and Albert Renger-Patzsch. The Bechers work was initially dismissed as completely  inartistic.  

During this period debates around the photographic, and the relation of the history of photography to the history of art intersect with the dematerialisation of the art object.  The photograph was seen to be  a way to subvert the notion of an art object by operating in the margins of documentation.

That was then. Now we can have photographers  for whom ‘what it is’ is extremely important and who also create glossy, good-looking (conceptual) work. This suggests that contemporary art photography that could be called conceptual is unlike the conceptualist photography of the 60s and 70s.

Today conceptual art  is more  about images that are preconceived and explore a pre-existing idea or plan than snapshot-like amateurism

1 response
Your post highlights the two impulses that cycle in and out of fashion on separate rhythms. "high production values" fetish with its barbarian antithesis (process), and the "high ideal values" it's not what/who/how its made but what it's trying to convey/express. At times, like the in 70s perhaps, it was the barbarian's deskills that were used to promote the high ideal, but later... It just as possible, if not more consistent, to use high production values to promote high ideals. Conspicuous labour in the form of art to wow an audience and win notice for whatever ideals one prefers, it is only natural to attack those ideals/preference by promoting the uncool less fetishistic roughly worked art.

Am I clear? Probably not, I just worked it out while reading the above post.

Reminds me that bosons can behave like fermions and vice-versa when conditions change.

[[I take a bit more economic view of conceptual art, see http://formeika.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/the-unmaking-of-conceptual-art/ ).]]