Thursday 21 November 2013

Documentary - 2

The ongoing debate about whether photography can be considered art has never been resolved. Perhaps it is best seen as a subset of a 'what is art' discussion.

One definition that Suki quoted in a comment to my last post is that art is what you find in art galleries. You do often see photography in art galleries. There are galleries devoted to photography. My favourite is The Photographers' Gallery in London. Suki quoted Grayson Perry from his recent Leith Lectures where he claimed you could tell a photograph was art if the subject wasn't smiling. Another definition is that photography is art if it is black and white. Sadly one wonders if it really does come down to this in the eyes of some. Loizart in her comment to my last post suggests that photography is best avoiding getting caught up in the 'art' debate at all and be confident in what it does best.

I saw a wonderful exhibition some months ago at The Photographers' Gallery by Laura Letinsky called 
Ill Form and Void Full. This exhibition was clearly art. It was just that the medium was photography rather than paint, clay, movement, sounds or words. It might have more in common with abstract art. Does not documentary photography have then much in common with representational art? Are they not both interpretations of what is seen? A good photograph is not just a record. It interprets. It asks questions.

I am unclear why documentary photographs should be excluded from being art or even 'fine art' just because it is documentary.A friend recently gave me a book of photographs from Life magazine. You would recognise many of the photographs in it. Life is a photo-journalist magazine and has published many wonderful photographs over the decades. Are they excluded as art because they are documentary?

Before photography much drawing, etching and painting was documentary. If a photographic portrait is documentary then is not a drawn or painted portrait? No? What if the representation was very realistic as in photo-realism? If it is hard to see quickly whether a picture is photographed or painted then why should it be denied the possibility of being art through being photographed but not if it was painted?

Is there really a line between 'documentary' and 'art'. If so how is it drawn? Who draws it? Why?

 ~ ~ ~

Saturday 9 November 2013

Documentary - 1


That's what they said,


I'd scattered the photographs large and bold across the floor.


I've spent the last few years trying to escape from documentary. It was what I did. Now I don't. Or so I thought.

There were reasons for my escape from that harsh world of reality. Perhaps it wasn't reality. That harshness and suffering, even misery. Not real at all for those who looked in magazines, newspapers, colour supplements, books and galleries. Perhaps it was all a different kind of fantasy and artifice for them. If it had clearly showed the reality they would look away. Perhaps some did look away from the more powerful ones. I do now. In fact I no longer even try to look at them.

The Life Room project with Suki was so much safer it seemed to me.

It was about art, not reality. A place of gentleness and quiet, intense concentration. People creating not destroying. Growth rather than decay. Promise not despair.

But there too there is a power struggle. Who is in control? The artist or the model? Who is dominant and who submissive? They all give different answers. Suki has documented it and curated discussion on her blog. Do read some of the issues here, here, here and here. There was also an interesting Radio 4 programme relating to it the other day, Behind the Looking Glass.

So perhaps I am still involved in conflict and documenting it.


I'd tried so hard to escape from it but failed.

Must try harder.