Monday, April 1, 2019


Jörg is at it again over here, in his most recent, Merit and Exclusion.

He wrings his hands about meritocracy comma lack of, and wishes out loud that artistic merit should be more front and center in critical reviews.

Yes, yes it should be, Jörg.

He asks but how do you evaluate whether someone is a good photographer? To which I respond: this is literally your job, Jörg, and the fact that you, with 100% consistency, are unable to provide even a glimmer of insight into your methods is, well, it's interesting, isn't it?

You, Jörg, simply write week after week what amounts to a blurb for some terrible book or another, without a hint of why we, you, or anyone else might evaluate it. You simply declare things good or, occasionally, bad. The only criterion you will admit to, Jörg, is the membership of the author in some marginalized group or another. Which would, for reference, not be "meritocracy."

He then goes on to declare, in classic unsupported fashion, that three photographers he names are good, and that one is bad.

I don't have a magical solution either, but I feel like it could not hurt for guys like Jörg to actually start doing their job.

Define some sort of yardstick by which you evaluate work beyond I get lost in the book and then apply it.

I'm not gonna say that it's easy to whip up a yardstick. There are many yardsticks, in fact. The history of photography is a history of photographers thundering at one another about what is the proper set of criteria by which to judge a photograph. The history is full of this, the present day is not. The present is full of Colbergs who refuse to back their judgements up, and artists who refuse to talk about their photographs or their methods in any meaningful way.

The very idea of a yardstick, or of many yardsticks, by which we might judge a photograph or a book of them appears to be dead. Now it is, if we are honest with ourselves, entirely about whether the artist is "in" or "out", the same names keep popping up, showing us work that is usually uninteresting, and often indistinguishable from lots of other work we see. Work that is distinguishable from the rest is, as often as not, distinguishable only because the artist has become a parody of themselves.

An artist being "in" appears to be some sort of emergent property. It's not that Herr So-And-So anoints Mme. Whotsit, who them takes her place in the pantheon. It is that Mme. Whotsit hangs about a while, helps some people out and becomes well liked, talks a good political game, and raises enough money to publish a book or two on a definitely-not a vanity press. She curates shows, calibrating her sycophancy well, and at some point she is simply declared "good" and a maker of "necessary" art.

Usually, the consequence for Mme. Whotist isn't much more than further opportunities to fundraise to pay for books or shows, so accusations of sour grapes on my part might be misplaced. I might aspire to be Alex Soth, but I do not want to be Laia Abril. My desire to starve gracefully while busting my ass is fairly low.

I cannot understand how people like Colberg, or the monkeys writing at ASX, or 1000 words, or any of these other places get along. How on earth are they justifying the offering of judgement without any philosophical basis? When you say something is "good" but are unable (or unwilling) to explain what that might even mean, does the word "good" even mean anything?

Are they even aware of how thoroughly they have been co-opted by the social aspects of their community?


  1. Although, arguably Jorg's job (and this applies also to most of the others) is teaching, the photobook-crit blog thing is a hobby, albeit one he/they takes very seriously. And yes, the social dimension is paramount, for better or worse (mostly worse, as it happens). I seriously doubt they accrue much notice outside their own little bubble... rave on, dude.