Wednesday, December 07, 2016

In the Age of Post-Photography - where are we now?

We have entered the age of Post-Photography.

Post-Photography means having gone beyond traditional photographic image making.  It means the apparatus of photo creation has been subsumed and integrated into technologies in a way that the complexities of its use have been eliminated.  It means that the purpose of images in our lives has evolved to inhabit a new place.  We no longer see "cameras" as tools.  We see image making as part of a much broader, more highly integrated social experience.  We love to see ourselves.

A few days after I posted my initial thoughts on finding myself living in the age of post-photography, my wife, Judith, pointed me to a series of articles which feel directly related to the topic.  Following the links and references in the first article led me down an interesting rabbit hole of thought, analysis and critique.

The article that started the descent into the rabbit hole is a review of Sally Mann's book titled "Hold Still" where she writes "... Whatever of my memories hadn’t crumbled into dust must surely by now have been altered by the passage of time..."  I read this in Proust (who is mentioned in the article).  There is a hazy, golden, glowing feeling about the past that very likely does not match the facts of the experiences at the time people lived them.  Time reliably changes what's in our unreliable minds.  Unless, that is, we find something, somewhere that acts as a repository into which we place our memories.

An idea occurred to me that is best illustrated in the form of two examples.  Romans carved statues of their leaders and sent them around their empire so their subjects could see who ruled their lives.  Some of these still exist and we can know with a fair amount of clarity and certainty what someone like Julius Caesar looked like.

Similarly, painters were called upon to make records of important events.  David's Coronation of Napoleon is one rather minor physically enormous example.  In fact, our museums are littered with painted representations of people, places, things, and events.

We tend to call these works, these statues, these paintings art.  For us, culturally, the word "art" is loaded and charged.  It has a certain weight.  So it may be hard to see what I'm talking about, unless I tilt the discussion at just the right angle.  Could it be that what we call "art" started out as little more than repositories of memory?    Aren't museums places filled with memories, or more properly, repositories of memory?  Is "art", therefore, an expression of man's battle against our reliably changing unreliable memory?

It should be obvious that this has been the primary purpose of photographic image making.  Starting in the early to mid-1800's *click* snapped the shutter  *slosh* went the chemicals *et voila!* we had a record, a representation of an actual person, place, or event.  Not unsurprisingly traditional artists were nearly instantly put out of work.  Cameras and photographers took over from paints, brushes, chisels, and artists.

Entering the age of Post-Photography it's easy with the simple gesture of a digit to point a device, capture, and share.  With this simple gesture we can see ourselves.  We can recall our experiences.  We might even sense the ghost of our feelings at the time of making the gesture.  Suddenly photographers, too, have been put out of work.

This has caused all manner of trouble in the public discourse around photography.  The loudest voices have traditionally been the "straight out of the camera" photographers.  They've demanded that "true" photography is an unaltered image.  Anything else, anything even slightly altered, to their way of thinking, could not be considered "true" nor "accurate."  In other words, only the "unaltered" could be a proper and correct repository of memory.  They felt themselves to be guardians of reality unvarnished and to be protectors of untainted truth.

I find this particularly fun and interesting.  The Guardians of True Photography, the creators of our memory repositories, they themselves have been found guilty of the very thing they publicly despised.  The problem was found to be so pervasive that the major image distributors (Magnum, AP, etc) have declared that henceforth the only images they will accept shall be in jpg format "straight out of the camera."

Some of us have always the need to push against something, even if it's a straw man of our own creation.  For this I will never forgive St. Ansel of his diatribes against William Mortensen.  Adam's letter wishing Mortensen dead is particularly foul.  While the self-appointed Guardians of Truth can't/won't see it, the old photography edifice of truth and accuracy has collapsed.  Image making has evolved to serve a different purpose, thus rendering their old arguments about what is true and real quite irrelevant.

Susan Sontag wrote "... Photographs, which cannot themselves explain anything, are inexhaustible invitations to deduction, speculation, and fantasy..."  Perhaps she uncovered an important truth.  Look at the most common use of images today.  People create themselves, their persona, not as they are (the true, the real), but as they wish to be (the fantastic, the desired).

Narcissus' Mirror is used to engender a strong emotional response to something we want to see.  We want to see and to have the world respond to us.  Social media has revealed a great many humans to be in love with themselves.  Such is the power of the phenomenon of the "selfie."

Surely that is not all that's left of the old craft of photography.

To find the part that remains less overtly narcissistic I turn to the very area of the craft that the Old Guardians of photographic truth and accuracy hated to the point of wishing it to die.  It is that part of the craft that attempts to connect us, however mysteriously or not, with our hidden worlds, our hidden thoughts, our hidden emotions, our hidden ideals, and our hidden currents of being.  In the Post-Photographic world it is not the taking of an image, it is the creation of one that interests me most.

Catwoman ~ Paris, France

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