One of the notable tendencies in contemporary photography is a closing of the ranks in responses to the digital revolution that has transformed photography’s technology, seen digital photography undeniably become the pre-eminent means of imaging and photographers as a profession feeling beleaguered. Yhje response is the deployment of the frame that separates the inside from the outside.John Szarkowski, past director of photography at MOMA, defines the photographic frame as “the central act of photography”–the line that separates in from out. Framing, according to this reading, delimits, controls, and encases meaning.
What emerges from feeling beleaguered is a tacit form of photographic gatekeeping in the form of a closing of ranks and the deployment of frames. This framing is most noticeable in the way the the art gallery encloses and displays. It cuts an inside from an outside, closing that inside on itself as pure interiority and surrounding it with value of art. The art Gallery—a museum?— as frame is thus the constitution of the space that constitutes art by excluding what remains as other, its heterogeneity reduced to the status of nonart. The canonicity of the art gallery’s collection is therefore haunted by a loss of what is excluded –the trace of its other. Art history is built on these exclusions.
You can see this gatekeeping around photographic festivals, as these are premised on inner and outer, core and fringe of photography as an art form. The competition is based on being on the inner or in the core. The means you have made it. You are successful. It’s good for your CV. Your career is on the up. The outer or the fringe is for the hacks and amateurs. This gatekeeping is understandable in the sense that art is a business and it has career potential. So you must maximise your profile and marketing brings in commissions. Gatekeeping is necessary to stay ahead of one’s competitors.
Another aspect of the photographic industry feeling beleaguered is a form of anti-intellectualism that is opposed to and rejects critical writing about both the meaning of a photograph, which is contingent, culturally-specific and reciprocal. This anti-intellectualism is even more hostile to critical writing about photography:—a theorization of photography that explores what frames photography: that is, the discourse that surrounds it and the institutions that circulate it – and which determines what counts as truth.
Frames do two things: one, they communicate the presence of a story, codifying its kind and two, they reveal an attitude toward the story, establishing a relationship between the story’s tellers and hearers.The frame tries relentlessly to control meaning, but as as the multiple layers of framing indicate, it ultimately always fails in its quest to control meaning.
This frame, which so ruthlessly determines inclusion and exclusion, visibility and invisibility, is a machinery of capture and expulsion that covers the join between images and the economy of meaning. So we need to learn how to read the frames around photography, since it is not innocent in its gesture toward delimiting inside from outside, seen from unseen.