Category Archives: Research and Reflection

Towards Assignment 4 – Martha Rosler

(Unless it is stated otherwise, all quotes in this post  come from Martha Rossler’s 1981 essay, In around and afterthoughts (on documentary photography).  The essay was written later than, but included as a third work alongside, The Bowery in two indadequate descriptive systems in Rosler’s publication, 3 Works (1981). It provides a commentary on the pictures, and can perhaps be seen as a third (inadequate) descriptive system…)


When I first read In around and afterthoughts (a couple of years ago now), I was delighted to be reading something that took me back to being my much younger self, at university in the early eighties and studying a subject that ended in ‘studies,’ a time when all this stuff seemed still to be up for grabs. The familiarity of the language, the oppositional political position, the absence of any sense that if you hadn’t seen a picture mentioned, you would just be able to find it with a couple of clicks of a keyboard, all this felt really comfortable to me.

Now of course, it also reads as a historical document.  In around and afterthoughts is a postcard from a time before the baddies won,  when ‘oppositional’ could be seen as a political and social position when neither monetarism nor post modernism had swept all obstacles from their path. But also, post-crash, there is once again a relevance to Rosler’s work. If Jeremy Corbyn is leader of the Labour Party, why shouldn’t other figures (and more importantly their ideas) from forty years ago take a step back in from the margins?


The essay opens with three numbered sections, dealing with the development of documentary photography (both in terms of the intention of the photographer, the subjects of the pictures and their expected audience)  from the end of the nineteenth century up to the mid-seventies, when Rosler took her series of pictures in the Bowery.

Section 1 looks at documentary’s tabloid/sensational beginnings, literally shining a light (or a burst of flash powder) on the dark, unseen corners of society and how this came ‘to represent the social conscience of liberal sensibility presented in visual imagery.’ The Bowery – New York’s ‘archetypal skid row’ – and the people who lived there were from documentary’s beginnings grist to photographers such as Jacob Riis’s mill. The intended audience was more privileged than the derelicts in the pictures and the expected response was charity – ‘an argument for the preservation of [the givers’] wealth’ – and limited social reform, ‘giving a little in order to mollify the dangerous classes below’. Documentary became institutionalised (you think of the work of the FSA in America during the depression) and  – even when taken by insiders – workers’ film and photo societies etc – suggested a need for reform of the existing system rather than any radical changes to it and the existing social order.

Section 2 looks at the situation at the time Rosler was writing in the early eighties. In America the response to the depression (Roosevelt’s New Deal) and the post second world war boom had run out of steam; Ronald Reagan had been elected president. ‘The War on Poverty has been called off. Utopia has been abandoned, and liberalism itself has been deserted.’ Alongside this, ‘The exposé, the compassion and outrage of documentary fueled by the dedication of reforem has shaded over into combinations of exoticism, tourism, voyeurism […] trophy hunting – and careerism.’  Even when there is still some remaining element of showing things to expose something awful, there is still only a call for the ‘us’ of the viewers to feel pity (and possibly to donate to a charity) while admiring the bravery of the photographer who has spared us the need to go and see ‘them’ (or in the case of a ‘natural’ disaster, ‘it’) for ourselves. ‘Causality is vague, blame is not assigned, fate cannot be overcome.’

Section 3 – Rosler sees documentary’s purpose as having moved from being about its subject matter to being about the heroic photographer: ‘What has ceased to be news becomes testimonial to the bearer of the news.’ Photographs are presented as the work of individuals; what they depict becomes secondary. They allow the viewer to vicariously experience things that are distasteful, dangerous, or far-flung. They become opportunities to view things seen as ‘other’ rather than as subjects for compassion or charity or reform. ‘Documentary’ pictures can act as art or as advertisement, as substitute for actual travel or as romantic depictions of other cultures, always seen from the perspective shared between the photographer and the viewer.

Along side this there was the reinvention of documentary photography as something that has changed its focus from the social causes of the first half of the twentieth century (seen in the work of Hine and the FSA and Robert Frank)  to point instead towards more personal individual ends. And so Dorothea Lange had given way to  Diane Arbus.

Documentary photography had become spectacle and been severed from its earlier political purpose; viewing it had become a question of connoisseurship (in the gallery) or a test of the viewers’ courage inspiring in them  ‘anxiety and perverse fascination’ when viewed as images in the mass media, providing (in John Lydon’s words as he opened the Sex Pistols’ fourth single) ‘A cheap holiday in other people’s misery.’


The remainder of Rosler’s essay (3 much shorter sections) examines what she was trying to do with her photographing of the Bowery. She begins by examining what pictures of ‘drunken bums’ show (people ‘to be finally judged as vile’) and what they are not (‘a treatise on political economy,’ analysing the pressures which lead to members of society falling out of its bottom). It is this analysis that pictures are inadequate to provide. There will be no people ‘captured’ and displayed as trophies from Rosler’s expeditions into skid row.

The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems is made up of twenty four rectangular framed panels. All of the panels have room for two 6:4 prints mounted on a black background. All twenty four of the panels have a print of typewritten words, photographed and enlarged; twenty one of them also have a black and white photograph taken in the Bowery. None of the pictures have people in them, though they all contain evidence of human activity in the form of shop fronts, abandoned bottles and other slum-area city detritus. This is described as ‘radical metonomy’ – the street standing in for the condition of the people who live there.

Although the work does not form a typology, the installation views of the panels show them displayed in a regular grid. Rosler refers to the way there are two groups of words: ‘First the adjectives, begging with playful metaphor […] A second series begins, of nouns belonging firmly to the Bowery…’ The adjectives occupy the right-hand side of the diptyches; the nouns the left.

Neither the pictures nor the words are intended to be original or offering a new perspective. They are inadequate to the task of making ‘an argument about social relations,’ but in Rosler’s view perhaps they contain ‘the germ of another documentary’ that is not given high status by art of the media, but which instead is ‘committed to the exposure of specific abuses […] a body of documentary works about militancy or about self-organisation, or works meant to support them.’


Reference:

  • Rosler, M (1981) In around and afterthoughts (on documentary photography); essay, widely available online.
  • Edwards, S (2012) Martha Rossler, The Bowery in two indadequate descriptive systems; Afterall, London
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Towards Assignment 4 – Joel Meyerowitz: Aftermath

Joel Meyerowitz’ book Aftermath (collecting his pictures taken at the World Trade Centre site in the months following it’s destruction in September 2001) is in every sense, monumental. My copy was dropped of with one of my neighbour by Amazon logistics, and when I went to get it, she appeared from behind her door with an almost comically large parcel. I staggered up the stairs to my flat startled at how much the package actually weighed. It consists of 350 pages, most of which contain photographs. If it was an exhibition it would easily fill a whole floor of Tate Modern. In this way it mimics the enormity of what happened when two aeroplanes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York on 11th September 2001, but it is also very much a celebration of the way ‘ordinary Americans’ responded to an atrocity carried out upon them.

‘This thing’s gorgeous – absolutely gorgeous. It’s a hard thing to say when you’re dealing with this destruction, but it’s gorgeous’

– Joel Meyerowitz, in Reflections of Ground Zero (Ch4 News, 2004)

In the short (and really rather marvellous) BBC/OU animation Edmund Burke on the Sublime, ‘the sublime’ is defined in opposition to the (merely) beautiful. Beautiful objects are  ‘small, beautiful, delicate, delightful, smooth’ (and you could add, feminine and domestic or interior) while the sublime relates to things that are ‘vast, gloomy, dark and threatening’  (and male and related to the great, romantic, outdoors). ‘Beautiful things produce pleasurable feelings; sublime things overwhelm us.’ The sublime object is ‘terrifying’ but still – paradoxically – is pleasurable.

This is precisely the effect that is produced by Meyorowitz’s book collecting his Ground Zero photographs, Aftermath (2006). I have just weighed it on my kitchen scales and it weighs 3.8 kg (more than half a stone); it measures eleven inches by fourteen; to look at it properly, you really need to put it on a table and concentrate. It is a significant object even before you open it and look at the pictures.

And the pictures are great. The LF negatives produce incredibly detailed pictures (and some fold out to twice the size of the open book – 44″ x 14″. Like Gursky’s massive composites (recently on show at the Hayward Gallery in London) you can pore over a single image for quite some time without ever seeming quite to have exhausted it. All of the pictures seem to be striving for something of the impact of classical history painting and many of them achieve it. It is a marvellous record, but – and this is where I think Campany (writing three years before the publication of the book, of corse) gets off track a bit – of the clear up of the site rather than the destruction of the World Trade Centre itself. Destruction fulfills the role of a noun here, rather than a verbal one; the ruins stand in for the act, which is not itself examined.

(The actual collapse of the twin towers lodges in my head as an amalgam of Richard Drew’s Falling Man, the video footage of the planes hitting the towers and the picture of a group of people sitting and talking by the Brooklyn waterfront, seemingly unaware of what it going on behind them (taken by Thomas Hoepker and reproduced in Richard Salkeld’s Reading Photographs on p.91).)

The Channel 4 documentary describes the pictures that Meyerowitz is shown taking as satisfying ‘the need for remembrance of those who grieve, those traumatised by watching the towers fall, whose jobs collapsed with the towers and those who simply lost a beloved landmark‘ (my emphasis). I would place Meyerowitz firmly in that final category – the documentary references him making a series of pictures of the World Trade Centre from the window of his Manhattan studio; these pictures form a pre-credits sequence in the book – and the act of taking the pictures locates him as part of the heroic efforts of

The portraits – presumably mostly taken with the Leica you can see hanging around Meyerowitz’s neck in the Channel 4 footage  – which are interspersed with the large format panoramas of the destruction and chaos throughout the book bestow upon their subjects a heroic stature. And that, I think is what he pictures are about – it’s there in the title – the aftermath, the clear up, the restoration of some sort of order to New Yorkers’ sense of them selves. And of course, they also are about inserting Meyerowitz himself into that narrative as a participant, reconnecting himself to the city and helping it remember itself and its actions.

You can only accommodate, unmodified, the positive, wartime narrative of ‘London can take it!’ by suppressing the fact that we (and my use of ‘we’ here, cannot be totally innocent, speaking as it does of a degree of identification with my parents’ generation) went on to totally flatten cities the length and breadth of Germany and that the German’s could ‘take it’ as well); likewise Meyerowitz’s pictures cannot be reconciled with the ongoing chaos in Iraq or Afghanistan (the Channel 4 documentary was aired on the day Kabul fell) without creating a much more complicated story about who the ‘we’ in question is (in this case specifically Americans – the parallel British narrative taking in the 7/7 Tube Bombings , a point at which London once again was delighted to be able to ‘take it,’ is different although no less partial).

The BBC animation goes on to state that the idea of the sublime was a powerful influence upon ‘Romanticism – the artistic movement that extolled the untamed power of the natural world.’ By invoking this untamed, natural power, Meyerowitz neatly sidesteps any question of the (human-made) politics of 9/11. The pictures are primarily a celebration of the people who went in clear up ground zero, made heroic by their juxtaposition with the sublime chaos unleashed, not by al qaeda (political) but by the collapse of the twin towers (natural). The dead are a secondary presence here (many of the people captured in the large format pictures are of course searching for body parts among the debris); a possible way the Channel 4 footage is more informative than the stills is there in the released rushes when Snow is warned not to go down ‘there’ (into the pit at the base of one of the towers) without putting on his mask, because it stinks of the decomposing bodies buried beneath the rubble for two months by the time of filming.

When I watched two of Sam Taylor Wood’s videos – the 2001 piece Still Life (a bowl of fruit decaying in a timelapse sequence) referenced in part 5 of the course book and even more so A little death (2002) where a rabbit decays over 4 minutes of film time – I was struck by how unpleasant making these sequences must have been – Christ! the stink!

Aftermath removes any idea of something outside the purely visual; the sound of digging and diggers, the smells and the taste in your mouth, the wobbliness of rubble beneath you feat, the heat that melted the soles of workers’ shoes are all missing. You are left with a pictorial vision of chaos, but one that has been ordered by the lens and the skill of the man taking the pictures into something approaching art and the eternal.


This invocation of the sublime (with its commensurate banishment of both the human causes of this horror and of much of the physicality of what was left behind) is precisely what I do not want to do with Grenfell tower for Assignment 4. While it is useful to have an ‘anti-template’, it is also a good thing to have something that may form a positive model. For that, I turned to Martha Rosler and her 1974 work, The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems and her 1981 commentary upon that work (or possibly a work in its own right), In, Around, and Afterthoughts (on Documentary Photography).


Reference:

Towards Assignment 4 – David Campany and Late Photography

Again, I am coming back to things I have looked at during earlier courses, here with the work I did around the Tate Modern exhibition Conflict-Time-Photography (Nov 2014 – Mar 2015) which fed into my final assignment for The Art of Photography. However, I think my understanding of Campany’s essay has moved on considerably since then.

(At this point I should say Campany writes well and persuasively, choosing his words carefully  and using them to powerful rhetorical effect. You can tell that – at the time of writing in 2003 – he was not a particular fan of late photography…)

What was Campany on about? To start with, I’ll  break his examination of the problems with late photography down into three sections:

1: The TV documentary about Meyorowitz.

Reflections on Ground Zero (Channel 4, 2003) discusses Meyorowitz’s photos which will go on to appear in Aftermath (Phaidon) and be shown online and as part of exhibitions around the world. Campany’s essay starts by highlighting the contrast between television’s ‘state of the art news production’ and Meyerowitz’s ’60 year-old, Deardorff plate camera,’  between events happening live, globally and on TV with the slow ritual nature of large format photography, and between the complexity of the geopolitical situation and the simplicity of both the technology used by Meyerowitz and the message it appeared to be producing..

In the Channel 4 documentary, photographs were being positioned as superior to the television programme in which they were presented, despite containing ‘video images at least as informative as the photographs.’ I have had a look at the video that prompted Campany’s article (it is there, of course, on You Tube) and there is a possible argument to be made, qualifying Campany’s statements about television’s ability to make images ‘at least as informative and descriptive as the photographs’ and so act as a better medium of record than still photography. But of course, the ability of video to capture what someone is saying, rather than simply (?) presenting a static, mute portrait of an individual, opens up all sorts of possibilities for the construction of meaning.

The sanctioned status of the images taken by Meyerowitz (he was granted access to the ground zero site by the city authorities) will determine how they are viewed (and may mean that  they continue to stand out over time). They exemplify stills photography having ‘inherited a major role as undertaker, summariser or accountant [turning] up late, [wandering] through the places where things have happened.’

2: Photographs and Memory; Photographs and Stillness.

Campany describes this as being an approach that was becoming (in 2003) ‘a commonplace use of the medium’ – depicting the aftermath of events – ‘traces of traces, fragments, empty buildings empty streets, damage… static, sombre and straight,’ it is ‘cold not hot,’ ‘it forgoes the presentation of events in progress and cedes them to other media’ Pictures of events have, since the 1970s, been provided by television rather than by the Nikon-toting press cameraman; even the stills used in the press have often been taken from video footage.

And even the concept of ‘stillness’ is different from the way the Victorians perceived images in the days before cinema, Campany argues. Then, all pictures were ‘still’; now ‘still’ (like colour) is a choice and as such has its own meaning, one that is closely linked in the popular imagination to memory, the moment and the significant detail.

The habit of tracking and panning over still images (so prevalent it even was given its own name – the Ken Burns effect  – in iPhoto) is repeated in the original television footage of the documentary; it is very difficult to get a television camera pointed at an object or scene to maintain a static frame for any length of time, whereas with stills in a book or framed on a wall, or in a pile on a table in front of you, you can spend as much time looking as you wish, at whichever part you choose. This is, I think, significant. Confronted by a static image (be it a painting or a photograph) television’s preferred position is to act as a stand-in for the viewer, attempting to simulate the way we (the viewer) might look at a picture, reading it in sections as we move from detail to detail.

3: The late photograph and contemporary art.

While acknowledging and disparaging the existence of ‘ruin porn’ – photographs of crumbling grandeur in Detroit or any number of abandoned asylums, anyone? – in passing, Campany finds interest in work by other photographers working with the ‘traces of traces’. Sophie Ristelheuber’s pictures of the abandoned Iraqi defences from the first Gulf War or Paul Seawright’s series Sectarian Murders (or possibly his photographs taken in Afghanistan, after the campaign to dislodge the Taliban as part of the response to the attack on the twin towers – his picture Valley directly quotes Roger Fenton’s Valley of the Shadow of Death, from his pictures of the Crimean War which are also referenced in Campany’s essay). Generally he can find both ‘a certain modernist reflection on the indexicality of the medium [of photography]’ and also reflection on the idea of photographs as evidence and documentary truth.

The best of these pictures are all authored by someone who has chosen and shaped what it is that they depict. Despite Meyerowitz’s claims that his pictures are the result of his being ‘there as a witness…without trying to put some formal idea of how to photograph it [the destruction]’  the pictures still display evidence of his accumulated ‘photographic skills, honed over several decades.’ The pictures become aesthetic objects and as such – and Campany invokes Allan Sekula here – run the risk of  being decontextualised ‘in order to make it enigmatic or melancholic or merely beautiful.’ In this way, what may appear to be a vehicle for mourning can at the same time ‘foster an indifference and political withdrawal that masquerades as concern.’

Rather than offering mute (unmediatied) witness to the events of the age, the late photograph can ‘leave us in permanent limbo, obliterating even the need [Campany’s emphasis] for analysis and bolstering a kind of liberal melancholy that shuns political explanation like a vampire shuns garlic.’


I will discuss Meyerowitz’s Ground Zero photographs in more detail in the post that follows this, but  – while I acknowledge their imperfection as a memory of the destruction of the twin towers itself –   I must say that it is much easier to track them down in a complete, high quality form (I simply ordered a copy of the book from Amazon) than it is to find the transmission details (or a high resolution copy of the full video) of the Channel 4 documentary. Possibly this means simply that time has moved on again and network television is no longer the primary way we experience (and remember) major events.

The internet has become our repository for the images (still or moving) that we use to make our memories of public (and increasingly of private) events. Instead of the official channels of information (newspapers; television; wedding photographs taken by a ‘proper’ wedding photographer) we use search engines to piece together our own chosen version of the events from fragments stored in a server farm somewhere ‘on the web’ . We may still pick and choose which links we follow according to what we think about the trustworthiness of the information to be found there (I’ll go for the Guardian or the BBC over Fox or the Daily Mail for news) but the idea of a single, official, authoritative source for images about major events like the one created by the city of New York and Meyerowitz seems to be a thing of the past.


Reference:

  • Campany, D (2003) Safety in numbness: some remarks on the problems of ‘Late Photography’ accessed on Campany’s site (http://davidcampany.com/safety-in-numbness/) 01-v-18
  • Channel 4 News, London (2001) Reflections of ground zero; accessed (in 3 parts) on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0E496C00306D0177 01/5/18

nftu #11 – where you draw the boundaries

‘The sorts of doors to knowledge we find in universities are based on exclusions. A subject is made up by teaching this and not that, about space (geography) not time (history), about collectives (sociology) and not about individuals (psychology), and so on. Of course there are leakages and these are often where the most interesting thinking happens…’

Parker, M Bulldoze the business school! Guardian, London 27/04/18

Last Friday.  It set me thinking (typologies of people relating to sociology; while portraits are closer to psychology, say or identity as psychology – or politics -and place as geography?) but not as yet to any definite end…

 

 

research point – barthes’ ‘the rhetoric of the image’

Read ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ and write a reflection in your learning log.
• How does Barthes define anchorage and relay?
• What is the difference between them?
• Can you come up with some examples of each?
• How might this help your own creative approaches to working with text and image?

– IaP coursebook – p.79

My final assignment for Context and Narrative drew heavily on Barthes’ essay by using it to provide a model for a ‘made up’ image in the form of the pasta advertisement, juxtaposed with a poem. In planning the image I engaged quite closely with the text, but I shall try to recap here. It is certainly a text that warrants careful re-reading.

Anchor and Relay:

Both are terms relating to text associated with images, a practice so widespread that it is difficult to find ‘pure’ uncaptioned images anywhere. Images are viewed as ‘polysemous’ with a huge range of possible interpretations and meanings. Text can dominate this plurality of meanings when the image ‘duplicate[s] certain of the text by a phenomenon of redundancy’ (anchorage) or else the text can be used to ‘add fresh information’ to that contained within the picture (relay).

So:

  • Anchorage – Text answers the question ‘What am I looking at?’, narrowing down a number of possibilities to that expressed in the associated text. The image becomes a single thing, with an approved reading supplied by the words. In other words the text dominates the process of producing meaning for the viewer. This is the most common way that text is used with images (in newspaper captions, advertisements etc) and represents a reduction of the possibilities of the image.
  • Relay – new, extra information is provided by text (or speech in the case of comic books or films) which augments and moves on the content available in the image itself. Instead of dominating the image, text works in a complementary way to the content of the image.  Image and Text play equal parts in a narration, organised as a series of syntagms (ie in a sequential, progressive way).

Anchors lend themselves to certainty, shutting down options and seem directly related to an indexical reading of the photograph as a direct objective trace of a real object; they specify which set of connotations are sanctioned for the use of the viewer. Relays offer more scope for interpretation and work on the part of the viewer, expanding the possibilities for both connotation and more complex narratives. Relays also  – at least tacitly – acknowledge the possibility of the existance of a narrator, telling the story, while anchors present a story as existing, a latent presence within the image.

Some Anchors – Labels on pictures of food in menus or above the service area in take aways; newspaper captions; labels in family albums; simple descriptive titles.

Some Relays -Dialogue in films (or caption cards in silent films for that matter); Allusive titles relying on knowledge not contained in the image (classical painting based on Greek or Roman myths, say); captions where the information relayed is not present in the image.


I could use this, immediately, in revisiting my (superceded) early idea for assignment three. I had hoped to be able to show my thought processes as I chose where to be at set points in my journey to work in order to be able to make the simplest transition to the next stage.

Starting at Walthamstow Central, sitting in the 3rd coach from the rear of the train allows me to step straight into the way out at Oxford Circus, where – after I go up one level on the escalator – I can then get the easiest, least congested path to the Westbound Central Line Platform. Then if I wait by the waste bin, opposite the peeling paint, I can get on the next train after arriving at White City, disembark and go straight up the stairs.

There was way too much information to get across here, to leave it entirely to the pictures. There is a lot of discussion online about the limitations of the philosophy of ‘show – don’t tell’ in visual story telling; indeed Barthes questioned the idea that we are becoming a more visual/less verbal culture in the original essay in 1964. If I could have added text in some way – sometimes anchoring by reducing the chaos of what you were looking at to a manageable chunk of information; in others adding relays such as recordings of (or the script for) announcements about the next station – I maybe could have got it to work.

I think I will try this, using a mixture of new pictures and audio recordings to augment the slideshow version of that assignment for exercise 4.5…

Reference:

  • Barthes, R (1964) Rhetoric of the Image from trans. Heath, S. (1977) Image Music Text (Fontana Press, London

I have spent a fair amount of time working through the search results produced by using the search string  – Barthes Anchor Relay – on google. It is interesting how everyone seems quite certain of what an anchor is; thinking on relay – mostly still centred around Barthes’ identification of it as a feature of cinematic or comic strip narrative –  is much more diffuse.

nftu #10 – a further thought on August Sander

Reading Max Kozloff’s essay, New Documents Revisited (part of the introduction to Meister, S. H. (2017) Arbus, Friedlander, Winogrand – New documents, 1967.  Museum of Modern Art, New York) the following sentence jumped out at me from the section on Diane Arbus (p.24):

‘Growing out of that tradition [commercial studio practice…based on deference to the sitter’s performance] Sander came to visualize pictures that were about personal performance, not an endorsement of them.’

This seems to me as good a way as any of describing the effect of pictures like that of the Pastry Cook in Face of Our Time (1929, plate 16) as he stands there in his kitchen,  spoon and bowl in hand, hidden behind his moustache in his white coat. There is an implied distance between Sander and his subjects that is vital, I think and that lack of endorsement is at the heart of it…

nftu #9 – personal narrative and a question of curation

Now, I’ve taken all the pictures for Assignment 3 on the underground, I’ve got time to read during my commute again. This morning I read the interview with Sonia Boyce in the Guardian, which (besides the obvious relevance of the furore about the – temporary – removal of Hylas and the Nymphs from Manchester Art Gallery to stuff I had been thinking about the male gaze and the representation of women in art – there’s even reference to Berger’s Ways of Seeing) fired off two quick bursts of associative thought.

1: How my identity as a white, straight man has simplified my ability to inhabit various narratives through my life.

“Even though there were a lot of female students, they were thought about as though they were being trained to become the wives of artists, not artists themselves. As a black person, there wasn’t a narrative at all.” – Sonia Boyce, quoted in the Guardian

(Like Chris Huhne in Grayson Perry’s Ch4 series about Identity, but hopefully less complacently)  I have never really had to consider what I am doing inhabiting any of the roles I’ve played in my life, as they all have seemed a natural result of stuff that I haven’t had to think about, like “being clever” or “being male” or “white” or “middle class”. Sonia Boyce on the other hand has had to write her own story to explain herself (“…she was the first black female artist to enter the collection and, she later discovered to her shock, only the fifth woman. In 2016, she became the first black woman to be elected a Royal Academician...” – Guardian). I wonder how I would turned out with a less friction-free path through life.

2: The extent to which curation is a process of constant, conscious construction (which is also a major strand in all the discussion of the BBC’s plural re-make of Kenneth Clarke’s Civilization)

“Nor do paintings arrive on museum walls by magic. Someone decides to put them up – and, later, to take them down or move them around, which is the job of a curator. This might happen for all kinds of reasons, including the changing of taste or, indeed, a shift in the limits of acceptability.  Hylas and the Nymphs was removed through an impulse to reveal normally hidden institutional machinery to the public, and to invite them to take a stake in it.” – Charlotte Higgins, author of the Guardian article

This set me thinking about the extent to which the various curators – John Szarkowski in particular – of the photography department at MOMA in New York had shaped the general idea of what photography is , not just in America, but here as well.

Where would a British Eggleston have been able to buttonhole a curator like Szarkowski who would have had the clout to catapult him into the art world stratosphere? Of course it is possible that there could never have been a British Eggleston. And there is also the question of whether the art world embracing photography is a good thing in the first place.

I am capable of tracing multiple, parallel paths through American 20th Century Photography (and beyond); I can even name a string of specific canonical exhibitions; but my knowledge of British photography over the same period is much more patchy with plenty of gaps that are filled in my US canon. I know much more about the FSA’s work in the US during the 30s than I do of Mass Observation’s here for example. MOMA has carried out a task to place photography and photographers at the heart of “the culture”  that the great institutions in UK have barely started on. even now.

But there is still scope to dig  here, I think…

(This is not to belittle the stuff that is done by the V&A or The Photographers’ Gallery or even the Johnny-come-lately-to-the-photography-party that is the Tate collossus; but it is striking how much more visible the US photographers are over here.)