Art, colour, critical writing, digital

photographic gatekeeping’s framing

June 18, 2016

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.

 Today the internet is filled with photos,  the internet is the realm of every person. Photography is now a means of expression common to everyone and exclusive to no one,   and we  mostly view images on a computer screen. Self-printing (eg., Blurb) has become more viable,   but it hits the mass distribution problem in getting the book  available in  the brick and mortar retail bookstores and on Amazon. The profession/industry is smaller and poorer.bThe photographic industry is beleaguered.

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.

 However, what I also have in mind is a visual frame that takes the form of photographers  keeping their cards and contacts close to their chest,  and avoid sharing information with friends and colleagues for fear that someone else’s success might somehow come at their own expense.  By doing  this they are acting as gatekeepers within  the diffuse and informal distribution of power of  the networked and distributed nature of the photographic industry.
along Hall Creek Rd

along Hall Creek Rd

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.

 

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