Sunday, 2 May 2010

Book Review: The Photograph as Contemporary Art – Charlotte Cotton

I feel completely unqualified to review this book in any meaningful way being, as it is, the first photography book I’ve read that isn’t about equipment or technique.
It is a quick canter through the recent history and current state of art photography. It does not attempt to define what art photography is – although it may be implicit in the text.
With hindsight I suspect I should have read the Liz Wells book, Photography - A Critical Introduction, before tackling this one. My first difficulty is the language. I now understand how someone non-technical might feel on reading some of the more technical articles I’ve written during my time in the nuclear industry.
To make matters more difficult many of the concepts are equally unfamiliar territory for someone whose photographic experience is dominated by photographic magazines and stock photography.
That said – I couldn’t help wondering sometimes if the emperor was really wearing any clothes. I’m not sure I understand why the work of some of our more famous landscape photographers or some of the outstanding product and advertising photography that can be seen all around us are not included as ‘art’, while some frankly ordinary shots – no matter how carefully conceived – apparently deserve that exulted title.
Perhaps the mistake is mine in reading the non-inclusion of some of the former as a criticism, when in reality it’s simply a categorisation.
Categorisation does seem to be one of the major purposes of the book – dividing modern art photography into eight themes. Some of these are easy to understand e.g. photographs which are simply the medium for portraying other art, tableaux photography and dead-pan photography. Others were more troubling – for example the re-presentation of others photos or concepts made the emperor look particularly poorly dressed – and that in spite of the fact the the analysis was fairly clear. I understood the concepts – I just struggled to accept them.
So – all in all – quite a challenging first pick from the list of recommended texts on the OCA website, but one I think I’ll be coming back to fairly frequently as I develop my broader understanding of the medium.
Next up – Liz Wells.

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