Here's a couple of quick video walkthroughs of some recent books, both well reviewed by the obvious people. Both books have text, and I am willing to stipulate that the books might achieve excellence through some synergy of text and pictures. Today, I am just interested in the pictures.
Michael Ashkin Were it not for (click on the Look Inside link)
Alan Huck I walk toward the sun which is always going down
These books are, from the point of view of the pictures, utterly interchangeable. There is no kind way to say it, these are lazy, stupid, trivial pictures. Anyone with a vague eye for form can bang these out at a rate of about 1 a minute, more or less until they keel over from starvation.
I am sure that Huck, at least, slaved over an enormous pile of similar shitty, lazy, stupid pictures until reaching a hallucinatory state and seeing some kind of meaning in his essentially random sequence. Ashkin, on the other hand, has much experience in the art world, and with the critical success of his previous book, HORIZONT, I consider it possible that he's realized that he can stamp this shit out like donuts.
The point, though, is that these pictures are in my terms "dead."
It's kind of the opposite of punctum if you will. Where punctum is a largely imaginary ecstatic/emotional perception of the essential reality of not only the picture, but of the world implied by the picture, the world from which the picture is drawn, the photos of Ashkin and Huck do the exact opposite.
They are so banal and free of interest that we (well, I, anyways) simply shut down emotionally. I know, intellectually, that these pictures were drawn from some world, but I care so little about that world these might as well be cardboard models, or daubs of camel shit applied to burlap sacks. I don't care, these things do not move me. They anger me, slightly, because I know how essentially lazy they are.
When I can set aside my craftsman's hat, though, my attention simply slides off these pictures without effect. There's nothing there, or rather, what is there is so instantly recognizable as uninteresting as to be less appealing to my attention than nothing. These pictures repel my attention, my interest, in the way that a void would not.
These was a time, I am sure, when there was a sort of Duchamp move in play here. A sort of "what the fuck is this guy up to?" response to the first one or two of these things, which is pretty always productive. If you're asking that question, then you're gonna develop an answer, and then we're off to the races. It's all good, pretty much no matter what is being given to us.
At this point, though, it's pretty much all urinals all the time, and no thinking human being has that "what the fuck is this guy up to?" response any more, they have a "oh, another urinal" response, which is less productive of Art-like experiences.
I'm pretty generous with Modern Art conceits, and I don't insist that photographs be technically excellent, or "properly exposed," or any of that shit. Trash photos can be fine, and I do in fact consider it possible that they work in these books. But let us not pretend that these are masterful photographs, insightfully shot and gleaned, with the sophisticated eye of a true artist. They're just trash snaps. Bang 'em out all day every day.
See also Vernacular Enigma (although I swear the photos there are 100x as interesting as anything in the two books cited above) and of course my latest bit of genius on blurb, Deutscher Gefälschterstiermist (where, though my own horn I do toot, I do not think I accomplished the same level of sheer dreary laziness that Huck and Ashkin did, though god knows I tried.)
What makes this particularly saddening is that a guy like Huck has been through an MFA program (Colberg's natch) where he worked on this thing, and then published it presumably with a lot more work, and has all the time been surrounded by people who are pretty sure it's great stuff, and keep telling him this. Huck has been profoundly cheated, here. He has, one imagines, spent many many hours sifting through a morass of interchangeable trash pictures. No doubt he spent a lot of time with pompous dorks closely examining his sequences, saying "hmm" a lot, and then switching two pictures essentially at random. There, that's better, don't you think?
Uh huh. Sure. Way better.
Or you could just throw them all out and go take some pictures that have a bit of life to 'em.