along Depledge Rd

There is an interesting issue of the journal Art History  on Photography after conceptual art (Volume 32, Issue 5),  which was then published by Wiley as a book  edited  by Diarmuid Costello and Margaret Iversen. This body of academic work emerges out of an AHRC Research Project entitled Aesthetics after Photography.

Contemporary photography (after conceptual art) can be categorised as either pictorial or conceptual. On the one hand demand,  we have  highly aestheticised pictorial image concerned to  ensure  the autonomy of photography as art.  This has already been established.

On the other hand, we have  the  purely conceptual where the photograph is incidental to the idea and disregarded as a medium via its incorporation into divergent practices. This  treats the photograph as a document of transparent information.

Herein lies a tension between photography’s aesthetic uptake as an autonomous  pictorial art being  compromised by it apparently being too closely and easily connected to empirical reality.

One interpretation of art history holds that in  the 1970s and 1980s, photography in art was aligned with a variety of radical avant-garde practices that sought to disrupt traditional modes of aesthetic appreciation.  This post conceptual strand  drew on Walter Benjamin's influential view that the mechanization of image-production undermined many of the values traditionally associated with fine art--eg., its aura.

Art photography in the early 21st century  has shifted from being  an anti-aesthetic artistic medium  to spectacular, large-scale, pictorial museum pieces, as exemplified in the work of Jeff Wall and Thomas Struth. 

This tension  or problem between the two strands opens  the door to the exploration of the photography’s aesthetic possibilities in terms of a merging of the conceptual and the pictorial.

photography after conceptual art

Ian Burn finishes his  essay 'Conceptual Art as Art' in  his book Dialogue: Writing in Art History thus:

In conclusion, one could separate the analytic or strict Conceptual Art from the work which is a conceptual appearance by stating that the intention of the former is to devise a functional change in art, whereas the latter is concerned with changes in the appearance of the art. 

Post conceptual photography  in Australia in the 1980s was deemed to be postmodern in both theory and practice.  This was the judgement of Isobel Crombie and Sandra Byron's, Twenty Contemporary Australian Photographers: From the Hallmark Cards Australian Photographic Collection at the National Gallery of Victoria (1990).  Helen Ennis in her exhibition catalogue Australian Photography: The 1980s concured.   What was unclear from thes exhibitions, and the Blair French and Daniel Palmer text, Twelve Australian Photo Artists,  was the link between the allegorical impluse and the qualities of nonidentity, rupture, disjunction, distance, and fragmentation. 

It questioned the modernist traditions and conventions that had previously come to define photography---small-scale finely worked black and white photographs. This gave way to large, colour, stage-managed studio images that were exhibited in the art gallery system. This shift  was often framed  in  terms of the  traditional  art historical explicatory device of stylistic exhaustion and Oedipal reaction.   

This Australian postmodernism  in photographic culture was part of a broader global movement of what Douglas Crimp termed oppositional postmodernism  that was interested in representation and photography's function in an image culture; photography's role in the construction of (female) subjectivity; and the questioning of the assumptions underpinning  photography's indexical relation to the world.  

It was  an oppositional postmodernism in that it was a critique of the foundations of modernist asethetics such as form, originality, authenticity, and individual creativity. It also made an analysis of the art galleries/museum as an "institution of confinement";  and a critique of high modernism's antipathy to, and eradication of,  metaphor that allowed them to assert medium against meaning, likeness or literary values.    

In the photography after conceptual art  in Australia there was some questioning  of the conservative  landscape tradition in Australian painting,  and its construction of an essential Australian aesthetic, national narratives and settler Australia's relation to the land. This Anglocentric version of the social imaginary of Australia as a nation of well-intentioned, hardworking British settlers downplayed both the colonial forms of violence and subjugation of aboriginal Australians and  the destruction of the environment. 

This questioning of this cultural expression of national identity and its mythology raised the idea of the landscape both as a site of  historical conflict  and change, and the ways that we represent our relationships to the environment. 

By and large however,  though there has been a rich history of photographing the landscape, art photography with the land, landscape, nature as its subject  has declined  in Australia  and lost its currency. It has become sidelined as sophisticated chocolate box photography.  Two exceptions that come to mind  are  Debra Phillips 2001  landscapes of Lake George in New South Wale (The world as a puzzle 1 and 11) and David Stephenson's images of environmental destruction in Tasmania.