Both of them are, I will argue, wrong. Both of them have a sniff at the right thing, though. They're close, or in the right neighborhood.
Before we go any further I will point you to an example. It's a horrid despicable project which you can google if you're interested, I refuse to link to it. The key words are Cannonball Kids Cancer, No More Options. The conceit of the project is that people who have recently lost someone (a friend, a child) to childhood cancer are asked to write a letter to the dead child, and to read it out loud. Then, when they're good and weepy, the aptly named Dick Johnson, no, wait, he's actually named Rich, takes a portrait of the victim. The is, ostensibly, to raise awareness, raise some money, blah blah.
You're uncomfortable with this project, but perhaps you cannot quite put your finger on why. I mean, obviously it's exploitation, but it's all voluntary and for a good cause, right? Colberg would note, surely, that it's transgressive. It's bloody well abusive.
Well, here's the thing. These portraits don't actually say anything new, there's no artlike quality to them. They say simply that childhood cancer is bad, which we knew, and maybe they raise a few dollars which, while good, could surely be done without savagely abusing the people who have recently lost a loved one.
Obviously Rich is just trotting out award-bait. He's got a history of this kind of shit, if you poke around his aptly named (I am not lying this time) Spectacle Photography web site. He likes to trot out this kind of "confronting hard truths, raising awareness" thing, and it's obviously aimed to promote Rich's brand.
The trouble with Rich, other than "he's horrible," is that he's simply repeating the Official Narrative, to borrow from my previous remarks. It's chic and populist, and it will get attention and awards, but it's not Art, and it's not particularly valuable. Exploitation of this sort without any particular value is despicable. In fact, let me remind you that the setup is explicitly designed to make people cry, so that they could be photographed in tears, and that Johnson ran some little kids through his mill of horrors, and photographed them after they read their "letter to Nolan". Hang on one sec:
Rich Johnson, you're a fucking monster and you deserve the strongest censure for executing this ghastly idea.
Let's back up a bit and find the common thread that I swear is in here someplace.
Art, if it does anything, enbiggens us. It shows us something new, it opens our brains, it makes us rethink, revisit, reevaluate. It makes us grow.
In order for a photograph or a group of photographs to accomplish this, it has to have a message of its own, a new message, a new narrative. One we have not seen, at any rate. Colberg has it partly right, in that transgression is a way to accomplish that -- by elucidating a message that is counter to the Official Narrative(s), a piece of Art has a shot at saying something new, something which enlarges the viewer. Thein also has it partly right, novelty is a route to the same, or can be.
Both miss the point. The message, the narrative merely need be its own thing, its own enlarging vision. You can take pictures of apples if you can make them speak in a new way about apples, or fruit, or capitalism.
Rich Johnson shows us that merely being transgressive does not guarantee anything new. He's simply repeating the same "cancer is awful, please give money because death makes people sad" narrative that has been with us since before recorded history. Thein's novelty often shows us much the same pictures as everything else, because what is novel to him may not be novel to anyone else. Indeed, his illustration is perfect. We have all seen, ad infinitum, photographs depicting the sensual pleasures of inhaled narcotics. The fact that his friend has taken up vaping may be novel to Ming, but it's boring as shit to everyone else. More importantly, "Inhaling Narcotics is a Sensual Pleasure" is not exactly a new and exciting message. We're been hearing this from vendors of inhaled narcotics for 100+ years.
My initial thought was that, in order to be interesting, the "Narrative" in your art had to defy the conventional, the standard, narrative(s). Upon reflection, I came to the conclusion that it need not. It need merely diverge from those Official Narratives, and find its own way. This, conveniently, allows my own pictures to be awesome, but I think also makes a logical sense. To enlarge the viewer you need not overturn the Official Narrative, although you may, you need only say something different from it.
Which doesn't exactly lead us around to the last bit, which is Colberg's weird comment on portraits.
"if you want to make portraits for an art context, there can be no collaboration when the portrait is made"
Honestly I spent some time trying to imagine some innocent typo that could have produced this, but I cannot find one. Colberg appears to genuinely think this, which makes absolutely no sense. Cindy Sherman's work consists almost entirely of collaborative portraits, and while you might not like her, it's pretty goddamned hard to deny her claim to be making Art.
I do see what he's reaching for with transgression, though.