Monday, March 14, 2022

Photoland Talks

There was a series of Zoom talks moderated by Paul Halliday with his former students, each covering one would-be artist's project. I poked my nose in while they were going on, to see what was the deal was. Now you can check it out too!

There are four videos, which basically nobody has watched. One of them is Paul's standard presentation on his go-nowhere London project, complete if memory serves with "later, I saw the Nazi-skinhead eating a bagel, which as you may know is a Jewish thing" line. Paul's talk here is essentially a carbon copy of his talk for Chitr Sanstha and as such is a rambling litany of his "good" pictures from his long project of wandering around London with a Leica. Paul is the "programme convenor" for the Goldsmiths MA program in Photography & Urban Cultures, whatever that means. The program currently runs £11,200 for locals, £20,250 for foreigners.

Two more of the videos are talks from Kali McMillan and from Orly Zailer.

The first is starting with the archive from her iPhone. A mass of various photos, some snaps, some record shots, some attempts at serious photography, and so on. A fairly large, fairly raw, archive that represents something of a life. It's a potentially interesting starting point, and Ms. McMillan seems to be a perfect nice intelligent person. Having gotten an MA from Goldsmiths you'd think she would have developed some approach to going forward here, but it becomes depressingly clear that this is not the case.

Orly Zailer has a completely different set of photos, these laboriously constructed diptychs. This is an essentially textbook case of a rigorous process which the artist seems to hope will produce some kind of meaning. Again, we learn that the Goldsmiths MA seems to give her no tools whatever to work with here, and she is essentially lost.

McMillan and Zailer are both clearly interested, intelligent, people with interesting raw material to work with, who have somehow never been given any direction on how to make something of this material.

Zailer's project is almost a carbon copy of David Killeen's project which you can watch yet another video about here. Killeen doesn't seem to have worked out where to go with it any more than Zailer has. Killeen went through the same program within a couple years of Zailer, I think. I worked it out once but have forgotten the details. They were close, in time, but not exactly overlapping.

Maybe the Goldsmiths MA isn't what I think it is? I have always imagined it as a sort of MFA, but perhaps it's something else. I mean, I dunno, this is supposed to be the end result:

The Dissertation can comprise two parts: a portfolio and a 5-6,000-word Dissertation, or you may submit a 10-12,000-word written Dissertation. The Dissertation will consist of: an account of the rationale of the photographic project; a critical evaluation of photographic practice and issues of reflectivity and knowledge production. In combination with the written part, you will be expected to provide evidence of a sustained and coherent body of photographic work focusing on an aspect of urban culture for assessment. Previously, work from Final Visual Projects has been shown on a virtual gallery space linked to the CUCR website.

That feels pretty MFA to me? Surely a "coherent body of photographic work" is more than just a pile of thematically linked photographs?

This brings us to the last talk, from Bas Losekoot, which is a different animal indeed. Losekoot has a well defined concept, or set of interlocking ideas, and a bunch of photos that relate to that concept, which has indeed turned into a book which indeed found a publisher. The concept is not very profound but honestly I'm not convinced that profound or complex concepts are really a thing for photography. Keep it blunt, almost dumb, because photography kind of sucks. If you need nuance, use words, I guess. I don't know where Losekoot developed this skill of discovering a concept, but I suspect that it wasn't Goldsmiths. He has a fairly deep background, or maybe he's a natural.

What makes this particularly interesting to me is that, unlike the others, Losekoot's pictures are totally uninteresting. Don't get me wrong, they're well made, thoughtful, and so on. They fit the concept like a glove (or possibly the other way around.) What they are not is interesting.

They look exactly like every other contemporary street photographer's output. There's the endlessly repeated faces/bodies pointed in opposite directions as they pass, endless shallow DoF face-in-the-crowd, endless lone figure lost among the buildings. Losekoot more or less calls these three categories out, he's aware of what he's shot here. What he seems less aware of is how completely this characterizes a specific, common, and thoroughly overworked genre of peculiarly empty photography. Losekoot has some interesting things to say about lighting, and so on, but so what? In the end it looks exactly like someone who took a workshop from Eric Kim or any number of interchangeable other "street togs" and really mastered a particular slick, well-made, kind of contemporary street.

I am torn here, because every project presented looks like it could be something real, but three of them are potentially interesting masses of work with no concept, and the other is a sound and well-worked-out concept fitted to a profoundly empty body of work.

All of the players come across to be quite likable and competent, they just... don't seem to have developed any ideas. I find it kind of funny that easily the least interesting pictures are the only ones that seem to have been developed into something.

This says something about something, I think? Whatever it says, I cannot recommend the Goldsmiths program.

1 comment: