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abstraction

abstraction, critical writing, roadtrip

McCaughey on abstract photography

April 13, 2021

I came across some interesting remarks made by Patrick McCaughey in the 1970s about the relationship between photography and abstraction in Mellissa Miles’ text The Language of Light and Dark: Light and Place in Australian Photography. This was in an introduction to Aspects of Australian Photography (ed. Graham Howe, 1974) that McCaughey, a formalist art critic and art historian, wrote. His concern as a formal modernist was that photography, of it wanted to be a serious art, should work with the essential properties of photography as a medium rather than aspire to produce abstractions like painting.

McCaughey said that photographers should stop aspiring to be artists and instead embrace the essential properties of their medium: its ubiquity, accessibility and reproducibility. The more the photographer accepts his (sic) role as a photographer and the less concerned he (sic) is to prove himself as an artist, accepting the habits of artist, exhibiting as an artist and seeking a role and status akin painters sculptors, the better off photography is. Photographers should forget abstraction because it is not suited to the medium. Photography is always photography of something.

This was Greenberg’s position: photography’s essential properties were delimited according to the medium’s supposedly direct relationship to the external visual world and that what the medium is becomes defined via what it is not. The determination of any given medium is partly through negation.

sandstone abstract, Otways

However McCaughey’s modernist purity position is one that says what counts as a medium is a given with determinable criteria thereby  allowing him to identify a medium or judge its value in advance. Consequently, it dismisses abstraction in photography by definition, in spite of there being a tradition of abstract photography and that there is an expanding field in any medium.

An expanding field  in photography in the 1970s opens up the possibility of a whole range of new practices can each count as a photographic medium. It would also highlight different photographic practices moving away from traditional documentary and formalist modernism with the paradigm shift in the art world away from modernism.

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abstraction, critical writing, digital image, South Australia

the digital image: a note

December 17, 2019

In this post on the Mallee Routes blog I mentioned the lack of critical writing about local exhibitions in Adelaide and the crisis of independent writing about art in general. An associated problem emerges from the art gallery existing in a digital economy due to the gallery usually having a minimal online presence; a minimal presence that is especially noticeable with respect to their exhibitions. The current Mallee Routes exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery is a case in point.

The standard convention is that there is just the odd image from an exhibition online which is primarily used to market the exhibition to the public. This means that an online viewer, in say another state, is unable to gain a sense of, or assess, the exhibition. Secondly, there is little to no engagement, dialogue or conversation with the gallery’s online audience about their exhibitions. This, in turn, means that an exhibition has a limited reach and presence. It’s here today, seen by few, and forgotten tomorrow, unless it is reviewed or there is an exhibition catalogue. The latter only happens to the mega exhibitions of superstars or global artists working in the biennial culture. 

leaves + bark, Encounter Bay

The art gallery’s low digital presence provides an entry point into a problematic about how the nature of photography is changing and the significance of these changes. We can begin to explore this through looking at the functioning of the art gallery in a digital economy. Firstly, the gallery continues its role of curating and collecting photography; a role that is designed to sort the image s to incorporate into the canon through the separation of photography as art and not-art. However, in continuing to champion photography as an art form, the curators downplay photography’s role as a reproductive technology in order to emphasise the creative legitimacy of the photographer who pressed the shutter.

Secondly, art galleries continue to rely on foot traffic to view the staging of a contemporary photograph exhibition in the white cube, grounded in aesthetic modernism. It does appear that the curators in the art galleries currently see digital technologies as either a new tool for artists to express themselves, or as a channel for communications and marketing through which new audiences can be targeted and captured. This approach to digital technology excludes is photography’s diffusion into general computing in a digital economy.  

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abstraction, coastal, digital, exhibitions, rocks

photography and abstraction

December 21, 2018

I notice that  the Tate Modern has an exhibition entitled Shape of Light: 100 years of Photography and Abstract Art,   one whose art historical approach refers back to the Museum of Modern Art’s landmark photography exhibition, The Sense of Abstraction in 1960.   The Tate blurb states that this is the first major exhibition to explore the relationship between the photography and abstract art, spanning the century from the 1910s to the present day, and it includes some of the contemporary work by Antony Cairns, Maya Rochat and  Daisuke Yokota.

The Tate exhibition    basically re-inserts the history of photography into the well-writ narrative of art history to make a necessary point: – that photography merits serious consideration within the category of abstract art, and that the camera’s attraction to the shape of light rather than the shape of solid form as we perceive it, changed the way images of all kinds were composed. It also suggests that there has been  a fruitful dialogue between abstract painting (Miro, Riley, Braque, Mondrian, Pollock, Kandinsky)  and photography over the  last  hundred years.

This raises a question: has this kind of dialogue come to an end in the 21st century rather than being  continued?

King’s Head abstraction

The curators place the 20th century’s avant-garde’s  photographic experimentations (ie., abstraction) in the context of wider developments in art, with examples of cubism, abstract expressionism, Bauhaus and op art providing benchmarks.  The  curatorial argument  is that abstract photography  has evolved in step with painting and that there is  a shared history.  The relationship between painting and photography has  been a symbiotic one, a close mutualist relationship that has benefited both art forms.

An alternative interpretation is that  abstract photography  followed behind abstract painting,  in that abstract  painters influenced the way photographic artists understood image and  that the photos are the  monochrome equivalents of paintings.  This  interpretation  reinforces the culturally conservative position of the supremacy of painting. This conservative  interpretation  overlooks the way that both Rodchenko and Lazlo Moholy-Nagy challenged the supremacy of painting by refusing to see any medium as more important than another and by working in fields as diverse as film, graphic and theatre design, sculpture, painting and light shows. The common tendency in the Australian art institution is to adopt the conservative interpretation. Continue Reading…

abstraction, coastal, critical writing, digital, publishing

towards a photobook as photo-text

September 3, 2017

I have taken the plunge and started selecting the images  I have made whilst on my coastal poodlewalks   and putting them into a Lightroom  folder as the next step towards constructing a photobook.   I have been publishing some of these images on my  Littoral Zone weblog, which I had set up in order to help me figure out what I am doing with the photographs that have been made almost on a daily basis.   These are  simple, low key photographs of humble things and fleeting moments encountered  on my  various poodle walks.

Venus Bay, Eyre Peninsula, SA, 2013

Since the photos in the poodlewalks blog were images-in-text, the concept behind the  photobook is a visual  poetics,  or more accurately  a photo-poetics; one that explores word image (textual-pictorial)  relations.  The book as a photo-text   breaks with both the idea of the photographic image as a record of objects or events in the real world as in photojournalism’s narratives,    and the standard conception of  the  photobook being images with minimal or no  text. It is part of what   Liliane Louvel, the French theoriest, calls  an iconotext in which  text and image merge in a pluriform fusion.

Such an approach breaks with a formalist modernism, as that held   held  that the literary  and visual arts are substantially different and mutually exclusive; a view that reaches back to Lessing’s Laocoon  with its distinction between the literature  as a temporal art and the visual as a spatial art. With the  decay of formalist modernism these rigid boundaries were breached with many theorists and artists  positioning themselves against Lessing’s  rigid borders.  The mutual interdependence of images and words and the impure and mixed mediality of visual as well as verbal artifacts are  now widely accepted in our visual culture.  Photography-in-text is  a hybrid product that gives rise to a hybrid textual genre–an intermedial photo-text.   Continue Reading…

abstraction, critical writing, Melbourne

Unless You Will, 2017

February 20, 2017

I was unable to participate in the Unless You Will conference or symposium  at RMIT in  Melbourne that  took place during 17-19th February 2017. This was unfortunate  for me,  since the symposium was designed as a physical meeting place for art photographers, but it was one  without an online conversational dimension. So I am currently in the dark about what took place or what the key ideas that were presented and debated.

Though I know that Unless You Will was founded by Heidi Romano, who also directed the inaugural Photobook Melbourne festival, I am out of the loop.  For example, I failed to submit my Abstract Photography: re-evaluating visual poetics in Australian modernism and contemporary practice   book  for the 2017 Australian Photobook of the Year Award.  I just didn’t know about the award. I felt that I should have, given my shift away from exhibitions towards producing photobooks.

Lyonville abstract

Lyonville abstract, 2016

 

The blurb  for the Unless You Will  conference  says that this symposium seeks to cultivate interaction and connection within photography:

As  a kind of visual meeting place or think-tank it provides  is an opportunity for the photographic community to share different practices, gain insights into other artists’ work and inspire critical discussion around emerging trends and ideas in photography and visual culture….The aim of the symposium is  to search for avenues beyond the traditional in presenting photography.

The central aim  of the  Unless You Will project is to connect Australian photo creatives with their overseas counterparts around visual storytelling. That suggests  that the photographers involved with, or connected to  Unless You Will, are working within the tradition of long-form documentary storytelling.  Continue Reading…

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