Photographic Document in Contemporary Art

Photographic Document in Contemporary Art

The boundary between photography and other media like painting, or performance has become increasingly porous. It would seem that each medium has absorbed the other, leaving the photographic residing everywhere, but nowhere in particular. A number of critics have also lamented the loss of photography’s „truth effect‘‘ under the pressure of new photographic simulation technologies. William J. Mitchell in “The Reconfigured Eye” (1992) has asserted that “ from the moment of its sesquicentennial in 1989 photography was dead or, more precisely, radically and permanently displaced.“ The anxieties are an effect of the widespread introduction of computer driven imaging processes that allow „fake“ photos to be passes off as real ones. Viewers – unable to spot the „fake“ from the „real“- will discard their faith in the photograph’s ability to delivery objective truth. Perhaps, we are entering a time when it will no longer be possible to tell any original from its simulations. Photography is faced with crises of computerized images and changes in culture…

foto.1 "Marta" foto.2 "Allegory on the Truth"

Recently, I came across Andrew Dragan portraits. At first, I was terrified how extremely, realistic the images are. Portrait of a young ballerina, suffering from anorexia, and man with thorns on his head, and marks on his body recalls Christ. The strength of detail, color purity and crystallinity, and dark light highlights the ugliness even more. In my opinion, that type of photography has no  aesthetic values, but definetly , may draws the attention of others. Developments in computer based image production and the possibilities of digitization and reworking of the photographic image have increasingly called into question the idea of documentary realism. In everyday parlance, photographs are still viewed as realistic. Photographers of modern masters of the document talk about reality in a completely different way than those documentaries printed in newspapers. Artists are not looking for exotic themes in distant corners of the world, they avoid a major political events. Usually their works focus on the banal and trivial situations, common objects.

As we search for a definition as to what photography actually is and the varied ways in which it has become accepted as art, we repeatedly see a collapsing of boundaries that may seem rather at odds with the more traditional genre-based way in which this book is structured. As with any project that aims to bring together a diversity of artists, some kind of categorization is needed. The decision to use traditional genres – document, narrative, landscape, etc. – was, on the one hand, a pragmatic one.

Robert Adams is the representative of the so-called. New Topographic, a group of photographers who resigned in his paintings of expression for the distance and objectification, and in the seventies led to the convergence of photography and art, like Bernd and Hill in Europe. Their artistic strategy, which consists of a maximum withdrawal of his paintings in order to let the object speak with a strong formalize the composition, became a turning point in thinking about documentary photography. Contemporary photography comments the reality through the game, parody.

Turning Back – A Photographic Journal of Re-exploration

Inspired by the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Robert Adams’s most recent work presents a new look at the territory these explorers covered and the results of their effort. Titled Turning Back: A Photographic Journal of Re-exploration, the project considers the explorers’ historic journey as they returned to the East. Starting at the Pacific, Adams traveled along the Columbia River, recording the geography and how the land has been used. His photographs show the coastal tourist areas, the vast acreage of timber cultivation and clear cutting farther inland, and the small family farms of eastern Oregon. The pictures offer a reflection on the promise described by Lewis and Clark — a meditation on what was lost and what is retained, what we value regionally and as a people with a common history. Small, black-and-white photographs from the series Turning Back show the impact of wasteful forest management at the landscape northwestern United States, as well as the devastation that this kind of approach to the environment wreaks in people’s minds. Adams Photographs can also be read allegorically. Context Discovery Corps, which became a symbol of the coming greatness of the United States and its associated sense of unlimited possibilities, makes us think about what today remains of this romantic myth. Turning Back The cycle then becomes a much broader dimension – it emerges from the vision of the United States as a desolate land.

Marika Asatiani (Georgia) With her works she combines the goal not only of documenting time and the passage of time in space with the aid of photography, but also of always questioning and processing what she sees and photographic documentary practice. Marika Asatiani presents documentaries as a construction beyond the traditional conception of the document as transparent reality. In her pictures of everyday life she demonstrates that reality is a construct in time and a temporary construct – that is felt to be and indeed is deeply real. Marika Asatiani shows everyday life as the result of social and economic circumstances that are unstable and constantly changing. As such, her work can be seen in the tradition of photographers who shaped and established the image of everyday life as a place of hidden poetry and tensions. At the same time she wants her work to be seen as political and interpreted against the backdrop of the specific history of Georgia. For this purpose, Marika Asatiani deploys a global rhetoric of images to direct our gaze at specific local conditions, while at the same time questioning them.

For Sanja Iveković, one of the most important artists from former Yugoslavia and Croatia, the photography medium is an integral part of her critical conceptual approach. She shows how codes produced and standardized in the visual media − in advertising, newspaper reports, on television and in political propaganda − become ingrained in our collective social behavior. In so doing, she makes differentiated statements on the relationship between image and body politics. Iveković takes photography back to simple materials in order to visualize power structures – always also gender-specific – that define the practice of everyday life in the constantly shifting spheres between “public” and “private”. Her explicitly sociopolitical commitment is clearly evident here too: the social and political field that Iveković explores addresses the role of women in the context of society. In her joint “Women’s House” projects with women living in shelters; for example, she convincingly ties artistic intervention back to specific living conditions.

Above all else, photography is a tool for communication, and understanding how meanings are constructed and expressed using photographs can open-up ideas about how we perceive our surroundings, our environment, each other and ourselves.

Photography of XXI century

Batchen, G., 2001. Each Wild Idea: Writing, Photography, History,p 109 ,The MIT Press

Mitchell, 1992. The Reconfigured Eye- Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era, The MIT Press

Edwards, S., 2004. Photography Out of Conceptual Art. In: G. Perry and P. Wood Eds. Themes in Contemporary Art. New Haven and London: Yale University Press


About Martyna

An Artist, a student- again,
This entry was posted in Martynka, photographic document in contemporary art and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Photographic Document in Contemporary Art

  1. paula roush says:

    Martina you are dealing here with an interesting topic. Reading the following statement i’ m left wondering whose book are you referring to? “As we search for a definition as to what photography actually is and the varied ways in which it has become accepted as art, we repeatedly see a collapsing of boundaries that may seem rather at odds with the more traditional genre-based way in which this book is structured. ”
    If this post is based on yr review of a particular photography publication, then include references so we know who the authors are, date of publication, etc. This is crucial both in blog and print, so us the reader can find out more about the projects

    • Martyna says:

      here you are:
      Batchen, G., 2001. Each Wild Idea: Writing, Photography, History,p 109 ,The MIT Press

      Mitchell, 1992. The Reconfigured Eye- Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era, The MIT Press

  2. Alexa says:

    Thanks for the post. I think the points you make about digital imaging software and the ability to ‘create or change reality’ through programs such as photoshop are very relevant to this topic. This kind of trickery had been going on for years before this software, especially in the political sphere but I think technology has made it a much easier process. Linking back to spectatorship, just think about how many women in advertising are air brushed to within an inch of perfection.
    I include some examples below

    In the arts sphere it is interesting that some artists have decided to make use of technologies, not to try and deceive the viewer or to enhance the real (as with advertising) but to deliberately create images where the reality is clearly questionable.

    Take Peter Kennard’s photomontage work, although seamless much of it is clearly ‘put together’ so there is no question as to the reality of the pieces, yet the statement the work makes poses a new kind of reality. The image is a signifier for something else – the political meaning.

  3. sirwan says:

    Sanja Iveković, first woman artist who called herself a feminist artist and a founder of Electra – The Women Arts centre in Zagreb, Croatia. In her photography she demonstrate her political and critical view and pulling out the stress,instability of government to be seen clearly.

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