is it art?
[26Sep21] I have toyed with this question since the outset. I started a page on it during C&N and added a gnomic note during I&P (10Jan21),
Delacroix and Salkeld A done deal through venal galleries but Coleman offers a fascinating insight and quote extensively
is it art?, C&N
I have not added to it since and will have to refind the Coleman quote.
My conclusion to that point rested on Salkeld's, — if photographs are displayed in institutional galleries and sold in commercial galleries and auction houses, then they are de facto art and any intellectual tugs-of-war are moot.
There is another point to be made though and this arrived with a reading of Douglas Crimp's 1981 essay published in Bolton (1992, pp.3-12), see below.
A precondition for photography to become gallery art is that some of the photographers themselves become known, named artists and that is what Szarkowski was working towards at MoMA.
There is another point to be made though and this arrived with a reading of Douglas Crimp's 1981 essay published in Bolton (1992, pp.3-12). Crimp tells the story of Julia van Haaften who worked at the New York Public Library and became aware that the Library held many C19th photographs, but they were filed by subject matter in the various (presumably Dewey) sections throughout the library. She resolved to organise an exhibition bringing some of the photographs together for the first time. This was "[s]everal years ago" (ibid p.6) counting from the 1981 essay, and coincided with the rise in the value (or at least the price) of photographs as art with the result that the books never returned to their original shelves but were rehoused in a new Art, Prints and Photographs division, run by a promoted van Haaften who is now described on LinkedIn (2021) as, "Consultant, Author and Independent curator". In some cases, the photographs were not returned to the books as tipped-in prints were permanently removed.
Crimp goes on to say,
What Julia van Haaften is doing at the New York Public Library is just one example of what is occurring throughout our culture on a massive scale. And thus the list goes on, as urban poverty becomes Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine; portraits of Delacroix and Manet become portraits by Nadar and Carjat; Dior's New Look becomes Irving Penn; and World War II becomes Robert Capa; for if photography was invented in 1839, it was only discovered in the 1960s and 1970s — photography, that is, as an essence, photography itself.
Books about Egypt will literally be torn apart so that photographs by Francis Frith may be framed and placed on the walls of museums. Once there, photographs will never look the same. Whereas we may have looked at Cartier-Bressons photographs for the information they conveyed about the revolution in China or the Civil War in Spain, we will now look at them for what they tell us about the artist's style of expression.
Bolton, 1992, pp.7-8
And that raises the point that brought me here. Photography cannot be art until some of the photographers themselves become known, named artists and that is what Szarkowski was working towards at MoMA.
The Julia van Haaften story is also in the HuffPost here (Van Haaften, 2017).
[24Jan22] Notes for Brian Smith, my NZ mentor.
The is it art debate has always fascinated me. Here's my view -
C19th It started at the beginning of the medium with the Victorian salons rejecting photography because it was automatic and reproducible, to which some photographers responded by inventing hand-crafted negative and print manipulations to make each print unique - the Pictorialists. Others such as Peter Henry Emerson stuck with straight photography.
Early C20th Stieglitz opened gallery 291 in NY in 1905 to sell "real" art and photographs, he began as a pictorialist, helped found the American branch, the Photo Secessionists, and later began the move away from Pictorialism to Straight Photography, which Ansel Adams and Edward Weston etc. picked up with the f/64 group.
1960s The debate continued until Szarkowski took over at MoMA and started his campaign on two strands, firstly by exhibiting photographs as though they were art and then, realising that it would not happen until there were some Big Name photographers to generate a market, went about making some.
Antonioni's Blow Up and some real life stars (David Bailey etc.) made photography cool.
1970s At the same time, photographs were being used to document art outside the galleries - the happenings of my youth and such things as Earth Art. In this way, artists relied on and became photographers while photographers were becoming artists.
1980s-90s The Young British Artists stirred up the gallery scene and Sattchi saw how to make another fortune. Photographers were tugged along, notably Gursky and the other Düsseldorfers.
As I have written elsewhere, if photographs are displayed in institutional galleries and sold in commercial galleries and auction houses, then they are de facto art and any intellectual and theoretical tugs-of-war are moot.
There is a great book on the subject, Andy Grudberg's How photography became contemporary art (2021).
[spellchecked to here 24Jan22]
I&P Part nReferences
Bloomfield, R (2017) Expressing your vision [EyV]. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.
Bolton, R. (1992) The contest of meaning. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Boothroyd, S. and Roberts, K. (2019) Identity and place [I&P]. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.
Van Haaften, J. (2017) A Picture Of Persistence: How a Photography Collection Was Born [online]. huffpost.com. Available from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/a-picture-of-persistence_b_747187 [Accessed 26 September 2021].
Van Haaften, J. (2021) Julia Van Haaften [online]. linkedin.com. Available from https://www.linkedin.com/in/julia-van-haaften-94174797 [Accessed 26 September 2021].
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Page created 26-sep-2021 | Page updated 26-Jan-2022