On the one hand we have what we might call "organic" instances of some art. Let us imagine, perhaps, the traditional dances of a people. These arose in some kind of isolation and were refined and developed over long periods of time. They are at the same time a distinctive and interesting marker of the people, a product of that culture, and a thing those people own, a possession. We tend to value these things, because of their deep connection to a specific culture, a specific people. We value what we might refer to as these tribes and we value their artifacts.
Sometimes these organically arising arts are fantastically difficult for an outsider to master, other times they are quite easy. We seem to value them the same either way, I think.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have something else, let us call it constructed instances of some art. One imagines, say, landscape photography of a particularly purist stripe: No evidence of the hand of man, black and white only. This is also a cultural artifact, but not of a people or tribe that arose out of anything except the art in question. While there is certainly a group of people that do this, which identifies itself collectively, they have joined together specifically because of the art they share. They are not family, they do not share a religion. The art they share is not an artifact of their other, deeper, connections, it is their connection. At any rate, the initial point of connection, they may have later learned that they share the same politics or love of beer.
These things we don't particularly value. There is no larger cultural heritage which it marks, to which it hews. It's just a style, really.
And then, at least occasionally, we have a sort of hybrid object: a constructed art, designed and built to be a marker for a people. We have certainly seen, for instance, "African American" painting, which may or may not derive some ideas from something or other. While successful in museums, its not clear to me that it's made any kind of mark in the real world. I suppose I might recognize Basquiat? Is the rest of it just imitation?
There are, I think, a few "organic" bits and pieces in here, or at any rate I am willing in my state of relative ignorance to believe it.
Somewhere in here we have "urban" stylings, derived from spray-paint graffiti art, which is arguably something of an organic thing.
But what I really want to talk about is "female gaze" photography, which as nearly as I can tell is in the first place purely a construct, and in the second place being pitched as purely organic.
What I see is a bunch of tics, derived from nothing except, possibly, Cindy Sherman's oeuvre. The selfies in costumes and sets intended to evoke some vague indicators of feminine stereotyping, and the 1000 yard stare of women in.. thought? difficulty? pain?
Modern criticism of this sort of work would like to see it as an organically occurring, inherently female, style. It is intended, as I see it, to be placed beside Japanese sword making, inherently Japanese (female), deeply rooted in Japanese-ness (the feminine), and essentially impossible for the anyone outside of Japan (men) to master (these are all ideas about Japanese sword making which are "well understood" and completely false, by the way.)
But it's not. It's a construct. It did not exist 20 years ago, except as Cindy Sherman, and it's a relatively straightforward collection of tics and style notes. It is being sold as organic I believe because of the value we imbue these things with. If it were a mere construct it would not have much value, it would just be like the b&w landscape guys. No, it has to be sold as organic, even though it's not.
With the rise of identity based politics in the academy, I assume we're going to see more and more of these things getting rolled out. Can constructed genres of gay, asian, non-neurotypical photography be far behind? Are they already here?
As noted in my previous essay, there is essentially no way for an organic branch of photography to arise. The mechanisms, and sheer amount of time, necessary to create these things simply are not present. It follows then that any branch of photography, in particular as identity-group branded branch, is a construct, and that the only way it remains distinctive and unique to the identity-group will, in the end, be due simply to vigorous social pressure.
Organically arising art styles/forms are easy enough to borrow, the constructed kind are in general trivial to steal. Having been built once, the instructions for building a copy of it are pretty obvious, it can be constructed again. More importantly, the pieces of it can re-tasked, re-used, re-cycled into something new.
And they should be!