You are on page 1of 6

"Getting Beyond: Is Photography a Lost Tradition?

Nudes from Thomas Ruff Getting beyond: Is Photography a Lost Tradition? By Sara L. Marion, Afterimage, May 1, 2006 Poststructuralism, postmodernism, postmorality--the question of whether "post" is an accomplishment or merely an operative word seems to be an enduring dilemma. The question for photography since World War II has been whether the medium can excel to overcome a precluding rejection of the modernist era. The 1980s exacerbated this concept through its practice and term--postmodernism. Perhaps, then, a diarrhetic generalization of Modernism's claim for medium dominance is a type of media enlightenment that might be a historical occurrence that is applicable to photography with distinction. An academic complaint in photography exists. Digitization, pixelation, and other means of capturing the imaging process and a more sculptural, three-dimensional, or "real" effect, have reduced the magician's chemicals to virtual reality. Beyond Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, and Paul Strand, another question to ask may be, "To what degree does a 'post-photography' era have the stamina to survive in a manner that can transform modernist photographic traditions and aesthetics, otherwise considered as classic?" It seems to present a practical and philosophical debate, given some current work. Perhaps the best method for response is to examine photography's parturition as a plural (meaning "photographies"), recognizing that even since photography's beginnings in 1839, there was a seventeenth-century origin that would allow photography to exist in more than one form. Inventions such as the Claude glass and the camera lucida, in conjunction with the camera obscura, are known predecessors. By 1839, William Henry Fox Talbot's invention in England proved another form of chemical process that precluded the announcement of Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre's invention by eight months. The extent to which photography (in any form) could be used, however, depended on notions of clarity, documentability, and authenticity. In England, all three were high constituents and still persist in the use and understanding of the medium. The capturing of public consciousness through photography was a main grounding point for its production and publication, mostly through newspapers and magazines. Realist aesthetics hovered mostly in English photographic styles, usually called a "documentary" aesthetic. Documentary "style" versus "practice" arose from the age of Weegee to sustain magazines such as LIFE and Look, as well as the Magnum consortium during the 1940s. Coming from Albert Renger-Patzsch and the New Objectivity movement of the late 1930s, elements of artistic design for photography established a tone that represented growth and industrial reform. Using mostly blackand-white photography and complicated Bauhausian angles, photojournalism was adorned with a designer flair to address a modernist edge by mid-century. In England, the landmark Bill Brandt retrospective presented at Hayward Gallery in London in 1969 was curated by John Szarkowski and influenced a new generation of photographers that

Already looking past two-dimensional meanings. Photographic.focused photojournalistic styles on street life and landscape views.presented in a matrix format from the 1970s. photographic role into expressionistic ambiance. affiliations. English projects such as the Mass-Observation Archive (1937-53) and Granada Television's 7-UP (1964) demonstrated that a photographic eye existed as document. "Without innocence. industrial houses. or general mood may subjectively weigh against objectivity. and attempts to shatter the two-dimensional plane of photography and painting. according to Benjamin's definition. LIFE magazine era. capturing the textural grit of life at the time. In considering the famed. empirical truth. Portraiture. Happenings. Emotions. In the name of social reform. spirit. insinuate that the repetition of these structures moves beyond the industrial eye of Renger-Patzsch to something that may be more Druid-like in total observance. but the appeal documented an overall nationalism. Bernd and Hilla Becher are usually a separate topic. Photography in this manner works much like Walter Benjamin's idea of "allegory"--where the observation of particles taken from one area combined with particles from a different area may be closer to looking at the truth than looking at the original sources. series such as "Equivalents" (1923-31) and photographs such as Sunlight and Shadows-Paula (1889) introduced an avenue for photography that implies artistry without the facade of painting aesthetics. Early morning clouds or sunlight cascading through venetian blinds--either experienced in the exterior or in the interior--may not represent those titles. Particularly in the United States. and with the "Family of Man" (1955) are a holistic testimony to the power of photography. changing a straight scientific. or moment caught in time. but the being of a place. artists after the 1950s reacted in an opposing manner. and the use of landscape that drew from the nostalgia of early English gentry. Steichen's achievements through the Pictorialist period. "All . Their analytic comparisons of communicable urban archetypeswater mills. Style morphed into abstraction through an institutional employment that was ultimately for nationalistic ends--war reportage." commented photographer Nathan Lerner of the Chicago Bauhaus School in 1974 when reflecting upon the lessons of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. exhibition "New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape" (1972). documentation of street life during a time of necessary urban renewal. the artist is only a skilled technician. were the new practices that began to shape the coming millennium by the 1970s. particularly since their reform of the Dusseldorf School. but the tendency for inspiration is a type of experimentation of ideas or concepts that may dissuade a preproduction schedule or commercialization of intent. This can also tell a story or assist in fragmenting a story for someone to better understand his or her self. geological alterations for the betterment of industrial and institutionally "protected" landscapes. meant photographing not only the person. Stieglitz is probably seen as the most hybrid. photography was to represent cultural changes and transgressed traditions. progressive advocate for photography prior to the middle of the twentieth century. Innocence is usually the last characterization discussed when approaching a photographer's oeuvre. infecting a new liberal spirit gained from the Civil Rights Era that accepted a conscious defecation of artistic mores for conceptual art. almost infamous. cooling towers. was not scientific but artistic to the point of mutation. which is essentially Steichen's contribution to the field.

such as Thomas Demand. Larger than neon and as hauntingly glamorous as film noir. It's more my personal idea of photography that is accentuated in my portraits. The ability to look. and the project "Substratum" (2001-2003). His cityscapes of China. Ultimately. (8) Haus Nr. (5) For Struth. more coherent to residents than the traveling photographer. His photographs of housing developments and urban feats are meant to present the strangeness of these places rather than the undertone of the perspective that the photographs present. Japan. . Ruff's frame of reference stems from a principle of uncertainty where the closer one looks at an object. 71 (1988). in particular as applied to his series of houses.S. and the U. The same applies to a portrait." is a main point of observation. the houses are more like projects rather than homes that read similarly in geometry and architectural construction. Ruff and Struth. are clear depictions of a stationed eye that looks longingly at a local intellect. but the perspectives do not insinuate poetic expression. it was decided that nature is not decodable by analysis and that the ability to finitely see the electron or the essence of matter is actually skewed by the desires that promote its viewing. This philosophy results from Werner Heisenberg's teachings on quantum mechanics where it is believed that a particle is only observable within a range of variables that are reached through means of microscopic analysis." and perhaps captured as continuous. Supposedly acknowledging a greater German tradition in photography. The expressionistic quality that Struth gives to his printing and the perspective that he uses surpass a journalistic style or a postwar street photography aesthetic and imply the distance of the interjected viewer assuming a location. Thomas Ruff. Ruff's photographic methodology. I believe that photography can only reproduce the surface of things. The views are angular and direct. and Haus Nr. the Becher's theoretical approach surpasses archetypes to become indicators. their photographs capture another form of portraiture. I'm not interested in making a copy of my own interpretation of a person. are two photographers from the Dusseldorf School who focus on urban buildings. 91 (1989) are photographs that linguistically translate to "house. buildings and architecture are inherent to the cultural site. is reflective of the ultimate view of the principle of indetermination. nudes. In his series. view. angle. and Thomas Struth. spiritual configurations. Andreas Gursky. for example. Ruff has an opposing view. clear depiction is negotiated through lighting effects upon color film to include a form of visual interpretation that is not transparent through its printed surface: I don't think my portraits can present actual personalities." but upon inspection. portraits. 31 (1988). and read information is actually an oblique possession that is as complicated and as mystifying as physical vision. and the photograph is not simply an image but a tangible site to become familiar with. "to see. after disputes over certainty.things wonderful. the less recognizable it becomes. The draw to look and travel. Haus Nr. their photography is a powerful inspiration influencing the work of the school's students. I take photos of people the same way I would take photos of a plaster bust. Struth is particularly known for cityscapes taken in the manner of a flaneur.

If Ruff is presenting a closer definition of photography as a stimulus.The photographs are primarily flat and do not offer a humanistic view except for the fact that they are recognizable as housing projects that seem somewhat desolate." Ruff is observably commenting on surface. Technical video equipment proved that light stimulus can be reduced to various wave patterns that are signals dependent upon movement. they are overcast by the available light and suggest the possibilities for varying accommodations that are somewhat the same. The Internet also presents this conception that pixelized viewing offers an enhanced view that is closer to a sculptural or atomized awareness of representation. suggesting that aura is another manifestation of representation. As a group. People walking under a scaffold or along street corners were selected based upon their accoutrements. Philip-Lorca diCorcia's New York photographic project in 2000-2001 is another series dependent upon the semiology and technical affluence of photography's lighting effects. make similar suggestions. Physical presence and locales are translated as fluid patterns that interlock and interchange to present an abstracted realism that may be closer to the truth of what we see and how we belong in spatial planes. which captures a fast-moving landscape through a slower shutter speed. Renowned for making paintings of photographs. a strobe flashed. nudes ma 21 (2001). Richter is an interesting inclusion with Ruff because paintings such as Lesende (1994) and Kerze (1982) do not fall into the category of photorealism. but in turn may actually depict the affluence of a region or a person of a particular life condition. Jan Van Eyck's dense symbolism in The Arnolfini Wedding (1434). are not necessarily akin to "ceci n'est pas une pipe" but are perhaps similar to Ruff's d. and somewhat without authorship. (10) A Dutch or Spanish still life or portrait may seem banal. Fuck Contemporary Art (1998). After reaching a determined point. and photographic--if not filmic--way of seeing." Downloaded images were electronically reduced to phosphorescent light permutations and emanating fields of energy for a single image." such as nudes pi 08 (2001). Without the clarity of vision and textural opticality that linseed oil offered. Videos by Woody and Steina Vasulka and innovations during the 1970s come to mind. 08 (2000). In more recently exhibited series. The prints are blurred or presented with an analog vision that alters photography's reputation for clarity. Berger described the introduction of linseed oil as a painting material that better encapsulated light and portrayed cultural production during the 1400s with scrupulous detail. treats photography almost as a means of discussion about abject appropriation but within a scenic proportion that reverently treats photography's ability to skew technical affinities.p. such as "Nudes" (1999-2004) and "Substratum. in comparison. would carry the opaque expression of a Titian painting. Richter carries a similar affinity in his work that is understated. such as Betty (1988). Other projects by Ruff. Ruff. (9) Ruff's "Nudes. such as Zeitungsfotos (199192). Gerhard Richter is a favored inclusion in this forum for the manner in which he breaks down painting by fusing it with photographic approaches. Video offered an alternative. for example. Other . The result is a small series of inkjet prints that depict the aura of and energy released from the act of sex. causing a blackened background that isolated the person from the waist up as a cultural character. commented as cool. his work is understood more along the lines of John Berger's lecture series and publication Ways of Seeing (1977). but the surfaces of his paintings are almost void of a painterly signature and faintly suggest the power of optometric interpretation that is photographic but vague to its particular medium. and Plakate (1996-98). Source material for "Substratum" was taken from the Internet while photographing "Nudes.b. Richter is exhibiting painting as an interfused medium without autonomy. and nudes an 40 (2000).

but perhaps with a more comedic and translucent eye. or the famed Insomnia (1994) are demonstrative of the waking observer in an unlikely situation that is otherwise common. Instead of looking to dissolve the lens' frame or the two-dimensional plane. some of the major streams in current photography openly discuss "surface" as a means to better present photography in a "post" discourse. Invisible Man (1999-2000). Untangling (1994). and the need to journey and walk past a scene that might inspire. Ultimately. but perhaps clearer view. but also enhance unpredictable aspects of the overall scene. which is what dealing with a surface as content may primarily imply. Representation was applied to the genesis of the performed moment or the flight of the idea rather than to an object. "Street-work" (1993-97). draws from England's history of mass observation surveys. Her color portraits and still images of people whose faces are obscured by oppressive. The effect shifts from Strand's use of black contrasts to cast a scale of white light effects that outline not just forms and figures. An earlier "post" attempt. a lust and longing for artists like Anselmo. but also from character to character--creates causal behavior under unusually casual circumstances shown in familiar environments. (12) Wall's A Fight on the Sidewalk (1994) or Gabriel Orozco's work in his monograph Trabajo (2003) are still exemplary of the surveyor. In a similar manner to diCorcia. read graphically. and Charles Ray--tried to abolish the high resolution practice of modernist photography by focusing on concept and performance rather than the camera's ability and printing aesthetics. another contemporary photographer. mainly optometrics. Wall offers commentary on the spaces the photograph presents. DiCorcia. Wearing expressionistically connotes the facade or face of a person to suggest that the epidermal mask--like diCorcia's investigation of accoutrements and appearances--is closer to representation than the naked realist depiction. suspect skin are existential expressions. encumbered character within those spaces." (11) Giovanni Anselmo's Entering the Work (1971). Gillian Wearing.photographs from an earlier series. The street scenes." Not necessarily scientific. is closer to ascertaining photography as a current foray. and frames the contained. but with a dimension that suggests a layering of facades and unusual backlighting. The amount of emotional tension presented in A Fight on the Sidewalk. re-enters current discussions in another fashion that still moves past a brick wall. Ruff. photography is also freed from "realism. Wall's work speculates that dealing with spatial relationships--not only from photograph to viewer. are not excluded instincts in current practices as well. the tension of vision and the technical ability to refract light and penetrate a less focused. . and Wearing are examples of artists examining the skins through which people see as well as exploring photography's ability to print those layers of vision that allow for another lean toward interpreting "ways of seeing. or chemical--and perhaps more printerly in the liquidation by digitization-photography presents itself within another vein. Bruce Nauman. diCorcia's portraits used a strobe to reverse the effect of translating typical signs and symbols to comment on an outer ritual of culture. particularly as described by photographer Jeff Wall. presented a strong light with graphic effects that newly animated average-day street dynamics. When the photographer is freed from photography. Perhaps this describes a "post" for photography's previous positivist applications. implying yet another type of surface. Hybridity. Rather than an individual portrait with nostalgic ideals. expressed or felt from behind the camera's shutter. itinerancy gives way to process. conceptual photography--which included the work of Yves Klein. in particular. In contemporary photography.

.Determinate markers to bracket a photographic currency seem equally unnecessary when photography's vitality is the main quest. This is the post-realism in which photography seems to be. video. it is neither a place of stasis nor of flux. and digital art--photography has reopened its eyes. As experimental as its historical traditions. It seems that with digitization and the breakdown of photography into theoretical use--which allows for innovations in painting. In the twenty-first century. relearning a new distinct place for itself that is undefined because prior roles have been appendaged. realism can be found in color and is printed in large scale for a Gurskian awakening. The technological developments that have fostered greater emphasis on the photographic surface filter a newer clarity that the illusion of raw or even translated sight can offer--an accomplishment that photography can bear. experimental self. photography remains true to its amorphous. if not revise.