Flat, Soulless and Stupid - time to give up on photography?

Jonathan Jones at the Guardian may well have just upset an awful lot of people with his latest article (here), but to be fair he is entitled to his opinion, even if it's... maybe "wrong" is going too far, but I think clearly misguided, prejudiced and somewhat blinkered. The implication is that " It gives us instant visual information from all over the planet and far beyond." and is good for nothing much more than looking on an iPad or phone screen. "Who can fail to be entranced by the first-ever pictures from the surface of a comet that were taken this week?" he asks... Well, lets be straight to the point, that's not art photography. It's remote images taken with a 1MP camera by a robot that's, what, 10 years old? It's like saying that the doodles I do whilst in the hangouts (invariably colouring in the squares of my pad) is to be considered akin to a Piet Mondrian piece!

untitled-2-of-21
Mondrian's unseen work?


"It just looks stupid when a photograph is framed or backlit and displayed vertically in an exhibition." The man is, in my opinion, an idiot. and just as I defended his right (albeit briefly and in limited fashion) to his opinion, then I am entitled to this opinion too. I'll not be convinced that I'm wrong either.

"A photograph in a gallery is a flat, soulless, superficial substitute for painting." And I suppose there is no room for Bowie to sit alongside Beethoven, or pie and chips with haute cuisine? Horses for courses might be one argument, but then so is the fact that they're completely different mediums! So is sculpture, or textiles or... well, pretty much anything else you can mention! And wasn't the whole point of modernist painting (granted, not Baroque painting) to focus on the form of the work, so that would've been "flat" too in that particular form: 

"The limitations that constitute the medium of painting -- the flat surface, the shape of the support, the properties of the pigment -- were treated by the Old Masters as negative factors that could be acknowledged only implicitly or indirectly. Under Modernism these same limitations came to be regarded as positive factors, and were acknowledged openly." (Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting, page 2 - see here)

And yes, painting has considerably more history than photography; cavemen didn't have access to cameras, so that's a given, but just because it's older doesn't give it a greater right to be on a wall, in a gallery or anywhere. And let's not forget that just as painting has informed photography (and yes, the Pictorialists tried to do things to emulate painting, even those like Caravaggio), so has photography informed painting, in terms of composition (as in Degas' Ballerina), and in terms of style; photorealistic painting didn't exist before photography... Ok, maybe it did but I've no idea about that fact. It wouldn't have been called photorealistic though. So many painters use photography in their process. If you're that way inclined, they become intertwined.

I also can't help but wonder what his precious Caravaggio would have been doing if he had access to a camera? Certainly I'd like to think it would've been something Leonardo da Vinci would have embraced one. And I mean beyond the simple drafting assistance that a camera obscura might have offered. Maybe "we are encouraged to give it the same, or more, attention. Today’s glib culture endlessly flatters photography’s arty pretensions." Maybe painting is confined to the history books (ok, I doubt this), but the truth is that things do come and go and this will mean photography too. We're living in the Post-Post Modern era, the Post-Internet era, the Post-Painting era too? Possibly not, but certainly it's a Post-Baroque era and Jones needs to wake up to the modern (if ever so slightly glib) reality.

michelangelo_caravaggio_071
David with the Head of Goliath, c. 1607
Oil on wood
Dimensions 90.5 cm × 116.5 cm (35.6 in × 45.9 in)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Located at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_with_the_Head_of_Goliath_(Caravaggio),_Vienna#mediaviewer/File:Michelangelo_Caravaggio_071.jpg



Clement Greenberg, 
Modernist Painting. Located at http://cas.uchicago.edu/workshops/wittgenstein/files/2007/10/Greenbergmodpaint.pdf, accessed 13/11/2014

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