Monday, November 13, 2017

Capitalist Realism!

Jörg Colberg surprised me today. He hinted that he had queued up a piece on Annie Leibovitz and Gregory Crewdson, and I assumed it was going to be a tedious snorefest of how much they both suck.

But it's not.

I wouldn't say it's Colberg at his very best but at least he's thinking biggish thoughts again.

What struck me, though, was that after talking about how Annie portrays all these rich assholes as noble heros, in the Riefenstahl mode, he singles out this picture:

Which certainly deploys the relevant tropes. However, it enobles nobody. I find it remarkably subversive. It's the sort of picture that pretty much only Donald Trump would think flatters Donald Trump. It's Crewdsonesque in its suggestion of the imploding relationship. And, mostly, it's pretty much just this picture:

Annie doesn't like Trump one goddamned bit, and she's not afraid to show it to anyone who's willing to look.

Anyways. Jörg is engaged here in the trendy business of pointing out that Art works as propaganda, and then bitching about how the opposing team is doing a better job of it than his team. That's very sad, but Jörg and his crew are complicit.

They bitch about and sneer at Annie and Gregory, because successful populist Art sucks. They promote tedious "my-sad-project" Art, they promote "OMG dictators are terrible" projects. They get behind exhibitions that boil down to "Trump is a doodoohead." And so on.

What they, the leftist anti-neoliberal Art community are failing to do is find any kind of a goddamned voice of their own. You know what works? Propaganda, which is an unkind way of saying "messaging that is clear, accessible, and persuasive" which of course they cannot get behind because they're too precious. What is maddening is that they can see it working for the other side, but refuse to take up the same tools themselves.

Instead they bury themselves in self-reference, post-modern "symbols can only refer to other symbols dontchaknow" blather, dense incomprehensible work about nothing, and self-indulgent displays of childish temper.

Stop bitching about how Annie makes rich people look good, find an alternative narrative, and start pushing the shit out of it using Annie's toolbox. And while you're at it, tone down the sneering at Annie, because she's already doing just that.


  1. I am much troubled by the Riefenstahl - Leibovitz comparison. Part of that comes from my belief that commercial photography pretty much crosses over into to the realm of propaganda a lot of times. Wikipedia partly defines propaganda as "...information that is not objective and is used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda.." Ya, that covers advertising and much or all of editorial photography. Other definitions include the caveat that propaganda has to have a political connection. So, my question to Colberg is, 'What else is new?' Mostly I worry about why he even dragged Riefenstahl and the Nazis into this piece about Leibovitz's work? To me, it smells like a cheap smear tactic. I think Annie Leibovitz's body of photography is pretty impressive, and if you don't like it or want to comment on its commercial bent, feel free to do so, but surely, leave out the Third Reich.

    1. Yeah, me too ;)

      I read it, perhaps too generously, as a simple impression, perhaps a fleeting moment of "Great Scott! It looks like Riefenstahl!" which, once imagined, is hard to shake.

      I am loath to deny a fellow his impressions, but I do think the connection could have been a little more carefully couched, and should perhaps have been jettisoned entirely. He hits all the same points with his references to Socialist Realism anyways, and that's where he's headed. Why not start there?

  2. You, I think have missed the point of Colberg's piece. It seems to me that he is not so much criticizing Liebovitz' photography as commenting on the manner in which photography is used and perceived.
    He writes in the next to last paragraph "... seeing the same aesthetics applied to Donald Trump and, for example, Lin-Manuel Miranada that makes it clear that those who commissioned these pictures (as part of the larger corporate interests they serve) have little, if any, interest in these two men as anything other than being beautiful illustrations to bolster the status quo."
    Colberg in citing the picture of the open belly of a very large airplane, is using it as a an example of a photograph wonderfully crafted to project the desired image she was commissioned to produce.

    1. Certainly. In fact, Colberg's take on the Trump picture appears to be quite muddled. He claims that Leibovitz's skills are used to direct us toward simple readings, that the pregnancy obscures and prevents criticism, but he declines to get specific about what the simple read that is beyond criticism might *be*.

      We are left to infer that it enobles.. someone. Melania? He says that much. Trump? Unclear.

      Colberg is unwilling to say out loud at any rate that Leibovitz appears in this picture to have basically taken a big steaming shit directly on The Donald's head. Unless this thing was commissioned to illustrate a hit piece on The Donald, (possible) I think it possible Annie exceeded her brief a trifle.

      And does it really enoble Melania? Colberg points out that she's also a sex object, manifestly owned by the ugly little troll hiding in the car.

      Is it really as simply read as he suggests?

      While Colberg is certainly on target, that magazine covers are generally designed to support the status quo, except when they are not, he's chosen a wretched example.

      My main point, though, is that Colberg and his ilk point out the obvious (propaganda, i.e. clear, accessible messaging) is ubiquitous and effective while simultaneously refusing to take up those same tools in the name of causes they approve of.