A recent article by Vince Aletti in the Village Voice talked about the resurgence of realism in photography and observed that "genuine innovation in conceptual, constructed, abstract, and digitally generated photography has come to a virtual standstill".
This got me to thinking about why this is and wondered if it had something to do with the traditional notion of what makes a photograph a photograph.
Further I wondered whether there are inherent criteria that make a photograph a work of art separate from criteria in other artistic mediums. Or should all art in all mediums be evaluated by the same criteria?
I tend to think that there are some criteria (whether explicitly statable or not) that apply to all mediums and others that that apply to a particular medium uniquely.
And even further into the worm hole: when does a photograph stray so far from its traditional basis that the special criteria that apply only to photographs no longer serve as a useful evaluation tool?
Three examples explain this better:
1. Jeff Wall: Jeff Wall creates photographs (The Flooded Grave here) that he refers to as "near realism" where multiple photographs are composited together to form a seamless and sometimes completely realistic image. Certainly Wall has abandoned Bresson's notion of the "decisive moment" a criteria that is a crucial evaluation tool for many photos. Further, the pride that many photographers take in composing the image completely within the viewfinder is of little concern to Wall either. I would imagine that he composes his images even before he starts.
2. Anthony Goicolea: Goicolea works in the same fashion as Wall, but abandons the idea of "near realism" in favor of a highly cinematic image that usually features his own image repeated several times throughout the picture. In several of his photos, the digital manipulation is apparent. I wonder if a more appropriate criteria to evaluate Goicolea's work is that applied to Raushenberg's collage pieces or Picasso's synthetic cubism....Goicolea's pictures seem more similar to that work than to Walker Evans or William Eggleston.
3. Craig Kalpakjian: Kalpakjian's images are completely computer generated and then printed using a traditional photographic process. There is no camera used. The end result though, is a highly realistic looking image. But how can these be photos? Perhaps that is the art itself: an image that is so realistic that the viewer must confront it as a photo even though it is not.
In the end, none of this may matter. But I believe that the notion that a photograph sometimes is not a photograph may be a core reason that the conceptualists Aletti refers to have hit a dead end.