He wrote a review of Jörg Colberg's photobook, Vaterland which if you want to buy it you should probably buy it from Colberg himself. It is at least possible that he (Colberg) is earning out a pre-payment by selling books, so you should help a brother out. If you can't work out his contact info, touch base with me. I continue to not have anything I consider a coherent position on the book, so after I make fun of Brad I'll say some stuff about Art History, stuff that talks around the book without (I hope) confessing too much of a specific position on the book.
If you read to the end you will note that this piece appears to contradict some remarks I have made in the past on the lack of "schools" in photography. Yup. It sure does. Onwards.
Here's is Brad's Review of Vaterland. It is Brad in full Bradness, an amazing wall of gibberish. Let us select a few sentences.
Fascist architecture relies on the power of ages, of great empire to act as a catalyst for which it builds its own contemporary power.
Ok, so fascist architecture relies on something, sure. The power of ages, and either the power of great empire, or great empire itself, all of which are probably intended to be the same thing said different ways. What does it rely on it for? It relies on it to act as a catalyst. But wait, for which it... etc. The architecture is building its contemporary power for, on behalf of, a catalyst? So the ages thing is acting as a catalyst, and the architecture thing is building its power for the same catalyst?
I mean, I guess I could see that the architecture is building its own contemporary power for the power of ages, somehow, but what on earth the catalyst is doing in there is anyone's guess. Nothing is ever catalyzed in this mess, that's for sure. In the end, this sentence does not appear to mean anything at all, it's just mouth noises about fascism, architecture, and power.
This sentence introduces, by my count, five objects. The rest of the paragraph uses the pronoun "it" consistently, without giving us much help on which of the five things "it" refers to. Brad's favorite device, the floating pronoun, in full and glorious display like some sort of demented linguistic Betta fish. It does become sort of clear that Brad probably means "fascist architecture" eventually, if we read on.
It is a book that points to the historical while also raises the mast of concern for our present moment in which we seem to be back pedalling towards defensiveness, xenophobia and strong arm politics.
I just want to point out the phrase raises the mast of concern which Brad is using as if it were idiomatic. It is idiomatic, but it means "to have an erection" according to google. While I am concerned about these things, I am not, in fact, having an erection of concern about them and I don't think anyone else is. He probably means "flag" but who can be sure? There are some other problems with this sentence, but let us forgive a minor proof-reading sin or two in the spirit of brotherly love.
Obsessed with immigration and the right to German-ness, the AFD like most right-wing ideologies prevaricates its position based on fear-mongering and shallow platitudes about national character.
Here I merely want to point out prevaricates which Brad is using as a transitive verb, apparently under the impression that "to prevaricate" means something like "to base" or "to support" but wobblier. I guess you could argue that he's pushing the limits of language in creative and powerful ways here, but it just comes out sounding dumb.
Now, I could go on and on, but I'll stop now. Brad comes across like a non-native speaker of English, but he's from Wisconsin. He can talk like a perfectly normal human being, I've heard him. His trouble is that he writes well past his vocabulary, his own command of language. While there are no doubt obscure syndromes and injuries that could have led him here, the most likely scenario is that he simply hasn't read a lot.
He might be able, with some slight effort, to provide the definition of "to prevaricate" but he does not instinctively know that it's an intransitive verb. He hasn't read it in-context more than a few times. Ditto his weird "mast" non-idiom, and so on. He might be a fine artist and curator, and he could probably write perfectly well if he'd stop reaching for the stars of mighty lyricism.
Given that he presents as an unlettered dope, it makes it difficult to take what he's actually saying very seriously. Some random dope's ideas about how fascism functions are, frankly, not very interesting.
In this review, in particular, he is attempting to explain Colberg's book to us in terms of a kind of secret code of fascism embedded in architecture. He starts from the notion that fascism in these modern times is Very Sneaky, it hides itself. The near-continuous outbursts of fascist/authoritarian bullshit we see across the globe are, per Brad's explanations, both anomalous and merely the tip of the iceberg.
Fascists and fascism are many things, but sneaky is not one of them. Yes, some authoritarians do look like yoga teachers, but she tops the leggings and cozy sweater with a red hat and she posts videos on Facebook in which she rants QAnon theories. She's not hiding. Fascists are loud and proud, that's their whole deal.
Brad's ahistorical and slightly bonkers theory is offered as an explanation for Vaterland which is, we are to understand, revealing to us the secret codes of modern fascism as hidden in architecture. I guess? The only reason he postulates a secret code of fascism is so that Colberg's book can provide a key to it.
This is where we finally get around to Art as Art History.
Colberg's photographs, to my eye, say nothing — directly — whatever about fascism. What they are is fairly well-made tracings of other pictures from a school I have called "I hate Germany" which includes the Mahlers, Michael Schmidt, a tranche of the Düsseldorf school, and so on. Glum, flat, black and white pictures of distinctly European stuff and people. This is very chic in Art Photo circles. It has the singular advantage of being trivially easy to bang out.
(Note that this isn't a "my kid could do that," my kids most assuredly could not do that. But any competent technician with an eye for form, and an eye for tonal placement, can do it more or less on demand and in industrial quantities.)
Insofar as Vaterland's photos mean anything, they mean it because they refer to other photographs. There is a distinct tradition that Colberg is working in here, and this is how at least some Art is made these days. The meaning of this piece of Art is mainly derived from the references to Other Art. This mechanic is, I believe, explicitly taught in Art School.
The Mahlers made a bunch of pictures about how shitty German small cities are, so if you make a bunch of pictures that look kinda like that, you get a "Germany sucks" subtext for free. At least the vanishingly small population of cognoscenti that are the only people you care about will get it.
This is the construction of Art as Art History. Rather than messing about actually representing things or inventing things or whatever, and leaving it to Art Historians to work out where you ripped off all the ideas, you just make work that's entirely, explicitly, ripped off. The work itself is essentially an empty cipher, with just enough content to position it Art Historically, and most of that positioning is in the artist's bio and statement. You can tell who they're ripping off by reading all their "texts" (he said, bitterly) and you don't really even have to look at the pictures.
The only substantive part of Brad's review, therefore, is when he cites Arendt and Schmidt. The reference to Sander is absurd, and was stuck in there only out of some combination of ignorance and a desire to stroke Colberg's ego. However, Arendt and Schmidt are indeed influences that matter to Vaterland. I know this because I have read a lot of Colberg's "texts" (he said, bitterly.) The references are the meaning of the book, at least in large strokes.
This is, ultimately, why I don't care all that much about Vaterland itself (though I am apparently endlessly fascinated by what surrounds it.) I like photographs whose meaning is rooted mostly in their content. This excludes a surprising amount of photography, but among the genres are abstract photography, and photography of this sort. Photos which are not defined substantially by the real, recognizable, objects in the frame strike me as anti-photographic, as a re-interation of the Pictorialist Sin.
The business where Brad tries to connect the actual content of the pictures to something in the real world is not merely wrong, badly written, and idiotic, it is to completely misunderstand how this sort of project functions. It's not Art, it's Art History.
I think this disconnect is quite broad. It seems to me that photography, at least, is infested with people who simply don't have any notion of the many ways the medium works. These guys are analyzing it in terms of "leading lines" and these other guys in terms of content, and on and on. Sometimes the analysis aligns with the work, and other times it doesn't, but it seems pretty random.
It's like we've got diesel mechanics, watchmakers, and plumbers all running around. There's diesel engines, watches, and plumbing, but the diesel guy just uses his diesel knowledge no matter what he's working on, and doesn't even seem to know it's a watch, or plumbing. Ditto the plumbers and watchmakers.
From the outside, watching some guy trying to bleed the injectors of a watch, or calibrate the complications on a toilet, is both weird and kind of entertaining.