Ideas and Thoughts
Photo Mail focuses on contemporary photography practitioners, their works, and its aesthetics in the broader context of photographic theory and philosophy.
Photography, after the Second World War and McCarthyism, was consciously pushed into the sanitised spaces of Art galleries and Museums away from its past as a concerned, conscience-pricking tool. We were told by institutional gatekeepers like the Museum of Modern Art in New York that Photography was only about Itself. It was an Art form that was about navel-gazing photographers and about flattened formalist fields. Photography was not supposed to exist outside its own frame.
The realist discourse of photography believes that photographs capture the world as it is. As scientific, empirical knowledge. It is the Camera’s mechanical nature, which is supposed to give us the unchallenged, unassailable ‘reality’ of photography. It presents us with the image of photography as a mechanized form of perception.
The idea of ‘documentary’ goes to the heart of the invention of photography. Historically distinct from painting, the iconic-index-symbol structure of photographs quickly impressed with its capacity to ‘document’ things, a function which today, in an age of photo-copiers and electronic machines that reproduce instantly, is so obvious that it seems banal to even mention it here.
Right from the invention of photography there has been a common understanding that it reflected the world as such or more exactly it was taken to be so intimately associated with the object depicted. The fin de siècle avant-gardism in art was, among a lot of other things, a reaction to this notion of the ‘photographed reality’. But at the same time one could also remonstrate against this by accentuating the ‘pictorialism vs. straight photography episode’ from the history of photography.
That said it should be acknowledged that the art projected in the biennials is informed by a particular historical rupture with the art of modernity which, in spite of its radical breaks, “manifests the hegemony of a geopolitical region and thus establishes political boundaries in culture as well. Global art, by contrast negates, ignores and destabilizes boundaries drawn by the state …” (Vogel, ibid) There is in principle a focus on the local life, history and culture, going by the paradigm of the local/global, which is expressed through on-site works that are commissioned around themes bearing on those aspects. However, the question remains as to how far these visiting artists can either identify the broad themes or understand the intrinsic ebb and flow of the life-world of the host country/society.