I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means, what I want and what I fear
We write to taste life twice…
Today, as a friend was showing me some overly processed photographs of some random landscapes I inadvertently blurted out,
“Urgh, these overly processed images give me a headache. My interests in photography are strictly conceptual anyway.”
Uh-oh. Did I just say that..?
To which my friend promptly asked, in a bemused, almost suspicious way,
“Ermmm.. meaning my interests in a photograph go beyond what is shown in the photo…?" (digging myself a grave here)
At which point it struck me that I couldn’t really explain, at least not in a concise and eloquent way, what exactly it was that interested me about photography. I mean, did I really say that, conceptual?? Oo-er.
Lets start with what doesn’t interest me about photography. Surprisingly, after giving it a bit of thought, very little disinterests me about photography. I’m likely to find even the most banal of snapshots interesting. In fact, even those overly processed images are interesting to me, because I find it interesting why anyone would bother to make such uninteresting images and why so many people are still interested in them (I think I’ve just answered my own question there but whatever). But as I said, my interest in them is purely conceptualjhbfdjkfbas. Just because I find them “interesting”, doesn’t mean I want to look at the damn things.
I’d have liked to tell my friend to look at the work of say, John Baldessari and how he uses photography to impart conceptualajklfdbg ideas about errmm stuff. Or how people like John Divola or John Hilliard (why are they all called John?) use photography to achieve aims that aren’t just purely about depicting subject-matter or which call attention to themselves as an end in themselves (“hey, look at me, aren’t I an interesting photograph because what I’m showing you is so interesting?”). Such photographs remind me of people with more money than taste, who deck themselves from head to toe in haute couture but in a really mismatched, distasteful, and show-offy way.
Maybe conceptualaknklng photography is this: Photography that transcends mere subject, a photograph that imparts an idea, a thought, a konxept, that isn’t so much concerned with what the photograph contains or even how the photograph looks but rather how it triggers questions or forces a different way of looking at a photograph, in the process challenging our notions of what photography is or what it could be for.
I can’t speak for others, but I find that photographs that do this are much more memorable and worthy of repeated visits, as opposed to the overly processed, hi-dynamic pukefests that are interesting only because of how terribly bland they are. The world is splendid and wondrous enough to reward those that look with patience and observation, regardless of what camera you use or how many hours you’ve spent staring at the post-processing screen. Use that time to read some books instead. Really.
John Baldessari, “Wrong" series, 1967
John Divola, from “Dogs Chasing My Car in The Desert”, 1995 - 1998.
John Hilliard, “Camera Recording its Own Condition (7 Apertures, 10 Speeds, 2 Mirrors)”, 1971
I think Divola’s statement on his series of desperate desert dogs sums up neatly what conceptualpoiABNcv photography is:
“From 1995 to 1998, I worked on a series of photographs of isolated houses in the desert at the east-end of the Morongo Valley in Southern California. As I meandered through the desert, a dog would occasionally chase my car. Sometime in 1996 I began to bring along a 35mm camera equipped with a motor drive and loaded with a fast and grainy black-and-white film. The process was simple; when I saw a dog coming toward the car I would pre-focus the camera and set the exposure. With one hand on the steering wheel, I would hold the camera out the window and expose anywhere from a few frames to a complete roll of film. I’ll admit that I was not above turning around and taking a second pass in front of a house with an enthusiastic dog. Contemplating a dog chasing a car invites any number of metaphors and juxtapositions: culture and nature, the domestic and the wild, love and hate, joy and fear, the heroic and the idiotic. It could be viewed as a visceral and kinetic dance. Here we have two vectors and velocities, that of a dog and that of a car and, seeing that a camera will never capture reality and that a dog will never catch a car, evidence of devotion to a hopeless enterprise.”
Staring at Kandinsky,
akin to bed, biscuits, and tea.
Dear old Wassily,
you paint symphonies,
with colours for melodies.