Thursday, August 2, 2012

A New Thing?

Consider the following, which can be taken as a thought experiment or as an actual idea for something one might do. Either viewpoint should be interesting.

Select some source of snapshots. Say, flickr, for now, but any large and active archive of people's snapshots on the internet. A large, publicly viewable archive, ideally with some sort of button that makes it easy to look at one image after another more or less at random. Ideally most or all of the images in the archive should be snapshots, little slices of life made by people who do not identify as artists, particularly.

Flip through images at a fairly brisk pace. When you stumble across one that's good, save it away, or mark it, or something. Do whatever you need to do to make sure you can find it again. There will be good ones every 1000 or 10,000 photos, or something. There's a rate. Continue until you have accumulated a few hundred or a few thousand good images. Now edit this down to a small collection, say a dozen of so. You should be able to pull together a collection of a couple dozen excellent images, eventually. My thesis here is that I, or anyone else, could pull together a modest portfolio of outstanding images in this way in a reasonable period of time, a matter of some weeks.

So what?

First, this activity I have describes resembles photography itself in an interesting way. You look, you see, and you record. What makes it different from photography, other than the superficial lack of equipment, is that there is no pre-visualization, there is no opportunity for composition (which is really an aspect of pre-visualization). This truth makes the activity of curating flickr fundamentally different from photography; nonetheless I think it can be argued convincingly that this activity is close kin to photography.

We can consider this in the light of the issue of intent. Consider a snapshot which happens to be an outstanding image, selected by a curator. The image was most likely shot with no artistic intent whatsoever (perhaps it was, but most pictures simply are not so taken, so statistics are on our side here). If intent is a necessary component of art, it was not art. It was selected by our curator, with artistic intent, however. That selection resembles in important ways the act of photography, and we agree, I trust, that an outstanding photograph, taken with artistic intent, can be art. Has this snapshot been mystically imbued with art-ness by our curator? Surely it is art, now? I think it is absurd to imagine this, but opinions vary. The conceptual art people would likely argue that the "art" is in the idea and the execution of the curation process, and that the outstanding image itself is irrelevant.

I, on the other hand, think that this experiment (thought or real) gives convincing evidence that the "art" of a photograph, if any, resides in the piece itself.

Enough nerding out about the semantics of "art". For now.

Secondly, is this proposed curation activity itself a new form? I think it would be interesting to see a show or a book of material curated from flickr or instagram. Most emphatically I don't want to do this myself, it sounds fiendishly dull. Perhaps someone else would find it less so. Our brave new world with its massive river of images produced second by second by billions of people opens up new possibilities. Like all new opportunities, there are surely horrible options. I am sure that for every book of material I liked there would be 100 books full of the most incredible garbage.

So be it. Most of what is made as art is garbage. If a new way of working produces a small sediment of gold in the bottom of the pan, then it's working as designed, and I approve.

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