Wednesday, May 02, 2007

What to do with Invidious Distinctions?

Sebastião Salgado, “Meeting for the Land’s Occupation”, 1996
Courtesy of Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas images

By Jim Johnson @ Art Signal

Critical discussion of contemporary photography is shaped by a largely unchallenged distinction between “documentary” and “art”. We expect photographers practicing the former to concentrate on the realism, veracity, and accuracy of the images they produce, while those engaged in the latter are freed from such preoccupations, and so given license to experiment stylistically and substantively. We define the poles of this distinction relative to one another. Thus, while introducing a recent issue of PRIVATE (No. 33. Summer 06), critic and curator Roberta Valtorta announces that “the strongest and truest photojournalism today is that which outlives itself without straining to be ‘beautiful’. It stays truthful to its ‘primitiveness,’ its leanness, and far from aesthetics.” Her comment perversely echos photographer Luc Delahaye who, having spent considerable energy over the course of several years justifying his distinctly not ‘primitive’ or ‘lean’ depictions of war-torn Afghanistan, felt compelled to “officially” declare himself an artist.


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