Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Photography as Art

I admit it. I am fascinated by Ming Thein's blog. Well, more by his legion of fanboys. Mr. Thein is just chugging along thinking about stuff and writing about it. Obviously I have no particular problem with blogs that contain half-formed thoughts, or poorly assembled ideas, and so on (e.g. this blog).

His fanboys seem to think that he is issuing wisdom from the mount, however, which can be pretty entertaining. See, for instance, this thing which is about equal parts gibberish, incomplete statements, and perfectly correct statements. But the comments, my word. You'd think someone would step up and point out some of the dumb.

Anyways. That's not what I'm writing about today, not mostly. It's this other thing Mr. Thein wrote. I think it's sort of silly, but that's just me. More to the point, it's an interesting thing to ponder, and opens up some questions, and so I thought about them a bit.

I've actually written about this a bit, right here, and I managed to get it at least partly wrong. I'd like to spend 1000 words trying to rationalize why my wrongness is actually rightness in disguise but.. meh. I dropped the ball.

Mr. Thein's assertions include, as I read it, that photography is unique in that it is a direct representation of a real thing, unlike, say, painting, and unlike all other art. I have said essentially the same thing, and we're both wrong. Duchamp's readymades (and legions of more recent artists doing essentially the same thing) do photography one better. They're not a representation of a real thing, they are the real thing. Don't photograph the urinal, pry the urinal off the wall and declare it to be art. Go in any modern art museum and you'll see similar pieces.

But more than that, Mr. Thein (and perhaps this author) seem to assert that because photography is of real things, this separates it from the rest of Art. It does not.

Sculpture creates a real thing. A piece of music performed is another real thing, albeit not usually one you can kick. A painting is (sometimes) a visual representation of a thing, as interpreted in paint by a painter. A readymade is a real thing. And a photograph is a.. photographic copy of a real thing. And so on.

It's not as if all of Art is huddled in one corner, and photography huddled in the opposite one, because it dares to begin as a literal representation of the real.

They're all huddled together, partaking of reality in different ways. From their individual characteristics, they derive their strength.

Obviously a photograph derives its power from the fact that it is -- or at least began as -- a representation of a real thing. It is the nature of photographs. If a photograph is to have power, strength, where else shall it derive this from, except from its own nature? It is almost silly to say it.

Photography can certainly be Art, this isn't even a question any more.

But also, it's not a special category of Art. It's just Art.

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