Tuesday, March 24, 2009

a paul graham interview over at PDN worth reading

PDN: In your 2008 essay on Tod Papageorge's book Passing Through Eden, you wrote that art made from “life as it happens… is regrettably viewed with suspicion in the art world. Misunderstood as a collection of lucky moments, fortuitous observations, or simply 'documentary', it has been bypassed or overlooked by many curators, writers and collectors who muddle it up with photojournalism, and are attuned mostly to assessing what the artist created.” Given that your work is currently hung in MoMA, and that you are having a mid-career survey as well, are you satisfied that the art world now appreciates work made directly from “life as it happens” and has realized its errors?

PG: Well, it's not a question of "errors." Of course Cindy Sherman's Film Stills, or Mapplethorpe's portraits, are stunning bodies of work. So is much of Jeff Wall or Thomas Demand or... My point is simply that the art world is traditionally attuned to perceiving what the artist “created,” which in photography usually means that they pick up more on work with a synthetic quality—constructed scenes, Tableaux Vivants, staged pieces—these fit neater into this expectation and fit into the broader art world model of “what artists do” much easier. However, the great photography which operates at the core of the medium—from Frank to Eggleston to Shore to Winogrand—doesn't fit that model, as it is taken from life directly, unscripted and unforced. That creates problems and is often misunderstood or marginalized as 'documentary' or 'observational.' Now nobody in their right mind can deny the power of what Frank did, or the best of Eggleston, or Robert Adams, but sadly there's a lot of folks that don't get it, and prefer the traditional model.

Having said that... there's a lot of blame to lay in the photography community itself, for the plain dumbness and lack of discrimination that burdens the medium. We should fight that and be smarter and more discriminating in what we do, say and promote. It's an incredible medium, alive and direct, but we need to engage our hearts and minds in aspiring to make truly great work, that put any doubts beyond reach.

read the whole interview here