Replacing Modernist Art Photography in the 1960s and 70s.

Photography as a medium was realised within Clement Greenberg’s formula during the 1960s and 1970s. The refocusing of criteria for the use of photography by Conceptual artists discussed in Jeff Wall’s essay “Marks of Indifference: Aspects of Photography in, or as Conceptual Art.” Wall presents a thorough account of the redefining history of photography. Most importantly he states two important directions photography takes in order to transcend the pictorial: pictorial and the deskilling of photography respectively. The work of Richard Long, Bruce Nauman, Robert Smithson and Edward Ruscha will be referred to as examples. Traces of Conceptual art upon contemporary approaches will be discussed using Joachim Schmid’s work.

Photography had adapted the traditions of modernist painting and sculpture since the 1920s with Stieglitz and the Sucessionists. Elevating photography to a fine art was seen only viable by mimicking painting and sculpture.

Abandoning Pictorialism in the 20s, and influenced by the growth of mass communications, the avant-garde experiments led to an imitation of photojournalism. “Photojournalism… elaborated a new kind of picture, utilitarian in its determination by editorial assignment and novel in its seizure of the instantaneous, of the “news event” as it happened.” (1) The notion of the unique, unspoiled integrity of photography is evident in the work of Paul Strand, Walker Evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson. This mimicry of reportage and alignment with new culture industries, enabled photography to abandon the sensuous picture surface and contrived composition in favour of what Cartier-Bresson coined as, “the decisive moment.”

henri_cartier_bresson_bicycleHenri Cartier-Bresson, The Var Department, Hyères, France, 1932.

1024px-Allie_Mae_Burroughs_printWalker Evans, Portrait of Allie Mae Burroughs, 1936.

strand_the-white-fence-1916-lrPaul Strand, The White Fence, Port Kent, New York, 1916.

Jeff Wall states, “The art concept of photojournalism began to force photography into what appears to be a modernist dialectic. By divesting itself of the encumbrances and advantages inherited from older art forms, reportage pushed toward a discovery of qualities apparently intrinsic to the medium, qualities that must necessarily distinguish the medium from others, and through the self-examination of which it can emerge as a modernist art on a plane with the others.” (2)

During the 1940s and 1950s, photography receded back into the language of Modernist Pictorialism. Artists such as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, were elevated to a heroic position. Adams trekked into the mountains, lugging large format cameras, risking life and limb in order to get the quintessential shot. the photographer this becomes revered as a genius for revealing the truths in the world. These photographers carefully considered compositions and the textural sensuousness of the picture surface.

Adams_The_Tetons_and_the_Snake_River

Ansel Adams, The Tetons – Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1936.

Weston-pepper30Edward Weston, Pepper No. 30, 1930.

Painting and sculpture, through Abstract art had abandoned depiction, and Minimalism was refocusing issues regarding the validity of the art object. “In the process of developing alternative proposals for art “beyond” depiction, art had to reply to the suspicion that, without their depictive or representational function, art objects were art in name only, not in body, form, or function.” (3)

Finding other possibilities for photography was difficult compared with painting and sculpture. “It is in the physical nature of the medium to depict things.” (4) Conceptual art’s pursuit to transcend photography’s unmitigated picture making qualities sought to reconnect the medium to the real world.

Jeff Wall examines two important directions which emerged from this process; “The first involves the rethinking and “refunctioning” of reportage, the dominant types of photography as it existed at the beginning of the 1960s.” (5) “The second is related to the fist, and to a certain extent emerges from it. This is the issue of the deskilling and re-skilling of the artist in a context defined by the culture industry, and made controversial by aspects of Pop art.” (6)

In the sixties, younger artists bored with the traditions adopted by photography from painting and sculpture agitated the medium by returning to the fundamental “auto-critique” of art associated with the tradition of the avant-garde. (7)

The experimental work of Robert Smithson, Bruce Nauman and Richard Long did not derive as an antithesis of the aesthetic work of their precursors such as Adams and Weston, but rather stems from the concept of reportage as art-photography from the avant-garde of the 1920s. The criteria for art was refocused by the photo conceptualists. As Jeff Wall writes, firstly, it was legitimised by having transcended the boundaries of art, and secondly, the works produced are compelling in their superiority and yet invariably “… they seem to dissolve, abandon, or negate it.” (8)

The idiosyncrasies of reportage were altered with photo conceptualism. Reportage is directed inward and ridiculed by the artist. “The gesture of reportage is withdrawn from the social field and attached to a putative theatrical event.” (9) This was demonstrated in two ways according to Jeff Wall. Firstly, by using Long and Nauman as examples, the staged picture becomes affiliated with the new concepts of performance. Secondly, photojournalism and the photojournalist are ridiculed in the work of Smithson.

Long’s A 1/2 Mile Walk Sculpture, 1969, is an artistic gesture made specifically to be photographed. Long walks traces into the grass leaving a trace. The artist inverts the traditions of pictorial landscapes by positioning the walked track as the foreground motif. (10) The performance does not have meaning unless it is documented, thus the photograph becomes a substitute, a record for the event.

linewalking

Richard Long, A Line Made by Walking, England, 1967.

Nauman photographs in the studio which in itself contradicts the Pictorialists. Failing to Levitate in the Studio, 1966 and Self-Portrait as Fountain, 1966-67/70 are examples of Nauman’s experimental art which changed the conditions of reportage from a documented event to a staged and theatrical kind of practice which was becoming known as Performance art. Studio photography and reportage are this deconstructed. The studio literally becomes the place of truth and reality when it is reinvented during this times becomes many things including a theatre, gallery and meeting place. (11) The studio is also ridiculed as a place where the performative artist as genius creates. Undoubtedly Nauman is referencing the high seriousness of the film documentary of Jackson Pollock, where the artist can be seen in deep concentration making paintings. Self-Portrait as Fountain, is Nauman’s homage to Marcel Duchamp’s fountain. Falling to Levitate in the Studio, parodies Cartier-Bresson’s “the decisive moment,” that split second that photography is known for. This work also questions the notion that photographs are “true.”

schuster8Bruce Nauman, Failing to Levitate in the Studio, 1966.

Fountain 1917, replica 1964 by Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain 1917, replica 1964.

115602

Bruce Nauman, Self portrait as a fountain, 1967.

“This integration or fusion of reportage and performance, its manneristic introversion, can be seen as an implicitly parodic critique of the concepts of art-photography.” (12) Photojournalism combines photography with writing. Smithson’s “Mock-travelogue” (13) A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey, 1967, describes the journey he took from the Port Authority in New York to Passaic County. His tour of the monuments in New Jersey begins at a bridge over the Passaic River. When he photographed it in the midday sun, he described it like, “photographing a photograph… The sun became a monstrous light bulb that projected a detached series of “stills”… When I walked on the bridge, it was as though I was walking on an enormous photograph…” (14) The narrative is quite entertaining in its parody of photojournalism. The works duality derives from the narrative which describes the making of the photographs, “one never knew which side of the mirror one was on.” (15)

tumblr_n0ut3lpnAE1touknro1_500 tumblr_n0ut3lpnAE1touknro2_500

Robert Smithson, “The Monuments of Passaic”, Artforum, December 1967.

tumblr_m6wmkao4K31r2v7j3o2_500

Robert Smithson, The Bridge Monument Showing Wooden Sidewalks, 1967.

Photography was unable to abandon depiction entirely and thus could not reconcile to Greenberg’s reductivism. “Depiction is the only possible result of the camera system, and the kind of image formed by a lens is the only image possible in photography.” (16) With an influx of students and younger artists adopting the medium, the reduction in photography occurred with the elimination of pictorial and technical skill. By rejecting historical pictorial conventions adopted from painting, photography was now free to demonstrate Greenberg’s formula of “the effects [in each art] exclusive to itself.” (17) Joseph Beuy’s catch phrase, “every man is an artist,” (18) could now circulate within photo conceptual rhetoric with the advancement and democraticisation of photographic equipment like the Kodak Brownie.

“It became a subversive creative act for a talented and skilled artist to imitate a person of limited abilities. It was a new experience, one which ran counter to all accepted ideas and standards of art, and was one of the last gestures which could produce avant-gardist shock.” (19) In Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965, Edward Ruscha’s performance as an ordinary person photographing the apartments in a banal way combines the, “brutalism of Pop art with the low-contrast monochromaticism of the most utilitarian and perfunctory photographs.” (20) “Ruscha has treated each image in a straightforward, deliberately artless manner and ignored the… artful effects of lighting, cropping, composition, or print quality.” (21) Depiction is this finally eliminated by reducing art to an intellectual concept.

1965-2_some-los-angeles-apartments-lowEdward Ruscha, Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965.

csm_1991_504-001_50d2e0ddb2Pages from the book.

Many traces of Conceptual art are located in the work of contemporary artists such as Joachim Schmid. Since 1982, Schmid has collected over two hundred and fifty photographs discarded at photo booths and found on his travels. His Pictures from the Streets, are first, “visual artefacts and human documents,” (22) and secondly, the pictures, “aren’t really art at all and were never intended by their makers to be seen in a public exhibition.” (23) Schmid intervenes in the stories and life of the images he has found, they were created somewhere else by parties unknown. By not editing the selection according to aesthetic conventions Schmid, “instead provides an apparently unbiased, sociological sample of imagery lost or thrown away by its owners.” (24) Pictures from the Street, ultimately raises questions over Schmid’s artistic authorship. The work operates on many levels, it comments on the fetishisation of photography and visually the photographs are fascinating in regard to the mystery they possess and questions they pose in the mind of the viewer.

joachim_schmid-bild037Joachim Schmid, No.37, Berlin, August 1987.

joachim_schmid-bild083

Joachim Schmid, No.83, Berlin, July 1990.

joachim_schmid-bild830

Joachim Schmid, No.830, Madrid, February 2004.

A video of Joachim Schmid, an artist who is obsessed with finding images rather than making them.

By dismissing Stieglitz in the post-Pictorialist phase, a shift in style from the painterly to photography’s inherent directness and immediacy positions the medium within mass culture. The validity of reportage was precisely the kind of art concept photography sought to revolutionise the picture. After a mild lapse in the 1940s and 50s, Conceptual artists turned towards reviving photography’s inherent qualities according to Greenberg’s theories, photography turned to reportage. Unable to deny itself its mechanical nature based on the lens, depiction is transcended by reduction of photography to an intellectual concept.

References

1. J. Wall, “Marks of Indifference: Aspects of Photography in, or as, Conceptual Art” in Goldstein, A. and Rorimer, A. (eds.). Reconsidering the Object of Art: 1965-1975, Los Angeles, Cambridge (Mass.) and London, 1995, p. 249.

2. ibid.

3. ibid., p. 247.

4. ibid., p. 247-248.

5. ibid., p. 248.

6. ibid.

7. ibid., p. 247.

8. ibid., p. 252.

9. ibid., p. 253.

10. ibid., p. 254.

11. ibid.

12. ibid.

13. ibid., p. 255.

14. R. Smithson, “A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey” in Wallis, B. (ed.). Blasted Allegories: An Anthology of Writing by Contemporary Artists, Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1987, p. 75.

15. Wall, op. cit., p. 255.

16. ibid., p. 260.

17. ibid.

18. ibid., p. 263.

19. ibid., p. 265.

20. ibid.

21. A. Rorimer, New Art in the 60s and 70s Redefining Reality, Thames & Hudson, London, 2001, p. 114.

22. John S. Weber, “Joachim Schmid-Anti_Auteur, Photo-Flaneur” in Schmid J. Bilder von der Strasse/Pictures from the Street, Berlin, 1994, p. 11.

23. ibid.

24. ibid., p. 12.

Images

Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Var Department, Hyères, France, 1932. http://www.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&ALID=29YL53KGUTK

Walker Evans, Portrait of Allie Mae Burroughs, 1936. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walker_Evans

Paul Strand, The White Fence, Port Kent, New York, 1916. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O93493/the-white-fence-port-kent-photograph-strand-paul/

Ansel Adams, The Tetons – Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1936. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ansel_Adams

Edward Weston, Pepper No. 30, 1930. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Weston

Richard Long, A Line Made by Walking, England, 1967. http://www.richardlong.org/Sculptures/2011sculptures/linewalking.html

Bruce Nauman, Failing to Levitate in the Studio, 1966. http://cabinetmagazine.org/issues/32/schuster.php 

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain 1917, replica 1964. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/duchamp-fountain-t07573

Bruce Nauman, Self portrait as a fountain, 1967. http://cs.nga.gov.au/Detail-LRG.cfm?IRN=115602 

Robert Smithson, “The Monuments of Passaic”, Artforum, December 1967. http://openstacks.tumblr.com/post/76365278353/robert-smithson-the-monuments-of

Robert Smithson, The Bridge Monument Showing Wooden Sidewalks, 1967. http://absolumentmoderne.tumblr.com/post/26841593431/robert-smithson-monuments-of-passaic-artforum

Edward Ruscha, Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965. http://daskunstbuch.at/2013/02/11/kunstlerbuch-artists-book-ed-ruscha-some-los-angeles-apartments-1965/

Edward Ruscha, a page from the book. http://mmk-frankfurt.de/de/sammlung/werkdetailseite/?werk=1991%2F504

Joachim Schmid, No.37, Berlin, August 1987. https://schmid.wordpress.com/works/1982-bilder-von-der-strase/

Joachim Schmid, No.83, Berlin, July 1990. https://schmid.wordpress.com/works/1982-bilder-von-der-strase/

Joachim Schmid, No.830, Madrid, February 2004. https://schmid.wordpress.com/works/1982-bilder-von-der-strase/

Joachim Schmid video http://petapixel.com/2014/09/24/joachim-schmid-artist-finds-publishes-peoples-photos/

Cubism and Photography – More than Squares.

Between 1907 and 1914 Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque collaborated to create Cubism. The work of Paul Cézanne and tribal art are considered the major influences of the movement.

Cubism rejected traditional modes of representation, these included emulating nature, creating a three dimensional picture plane using perspective and foreshortening and other inherited modelling techniques. The Cubist’s in fact wanted to accentuate the two-dimensionality of the canvas. (1)

The Cubist’s reduced and fractured objects into geometric forms, they used multiple and contrasting viewpoints to capture the essence of an object or scene and they realigned these components within a shallow and relief-like space upon the canvas. (2)

Both artist’s greatly admired the work of Cézanne and in 1908 Braque imitated Cézanne’s landscapes of L’Estaque in Southern France. Cézanne painted the town often and Braque was immensely influenced by his work when he saw it in a memorial exhibition in Paris in 1907. (3)

1280px-Paul_Cézanne_-_Houses_in_Provence-_The_Riaux_Valley_near_L'Estaque_-_Google_Art_Project

Paul Cézanne, The Riaux Valley near L’Estaque, 1883.

CRI_150945

Georges Braque, Road near L’Estaque, 1908.

The impact of Picasso’s avant-garde painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907 was immense. Picasso’s stylized and distorted forms were drawn from Iberian sculpture and African masks. Picasso first saw African art earlier that year in Paris at the Ethnographic Museum in the Palais du Trocadero.

CRI_151271

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907.

2

Picasso in his studio with his collection of African art, 1908.

In 1982, an exhibition called “Cubism and American Photography, 1910-30” opened at the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House in Rochester. The curators asserted that Cubism in painting promoted the formation of a truly modern photographic style. (4)

The curators, John Pultz and Catherine B. Scallen, suggested that the Armory Show of 1913, which brought modern French painting and sculpture, including Cubist works to the United States significantly influenced Paul Strand. Alfred Stieglitz considered Strand’s work avant-garde. Strand’s “close up photographs were crispy lit, dynamically composed and superficially abstract.” (5)

CRI_140531

Paul Strand, Abstraction, Porch Shadows, Connecticut, 1916.

Stieglitz renounced Pictorialism’s painterly aesthetic and photographer’s began engaging with the medium’s “unique properties and capabilities.” (6)

In Grundberg’s article about the 1982 exhibition, he claims that the curators have failed to recognize the impact of other art movements such as Suprematism, Constructivism and Surrealism upon photography. Figures such as Aleksandr Rodchenko and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy also contributed to the new style that was appearing in photography. “Straight photography” was sharply focused, unmanipulated and unsentimental. (7)

CRI_75628

Aleksandr Rodchenko, Composition, 1918.

CRI_61831-1

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Untitled, 1923.

More recently, in terms of Cubism and photography, David Hockney’s experiments are of interest. Hockney created a new way of making photographs more akin to that of a painting or drawing in terms of time. He writes, “A photograph is… a fraction of a second, frozen. So, the moment you’ve looked at it for even four seconds, you’re looking at it far more than the camera did. It dawned on me this was visible, actually, it is visible, and the more you become aware of it, the more this is a terrible weakness; drawings and paintings do not have this.” (8) Hockney stands in place and photographs a scene as it unfolds before him. He then joins the photographs together to create one picture.

10_markoncain1

David Hockney, “Joiner” Self Portrait.

davidhockney-gregoryreadinginkyoto-photocollage-1983

David Hockney, “Joiner” Gregory and David.

In 1983, Melvyn Bragg’s art series, The South Bank Show, visited Hockney at his home in LA. Hockney was filmed as he created a “Joiner” portrait especially for the documentary of two women drinking tea. (9)

Watch on Youtube David Hockney “Joiners”

References 

1. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/cube/hd_cube.htm

2. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/cube/hd_cube.htm

3. http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=78787

4. http://www.nytimes.com/1981/12/13/arts/photography-view-what-was-cubism-s-impact.html?pagewanted=2

5. http://www.nytimes.com/1981/12/13/arts/photography-view-what-was-cubism-s-impact.html?pagewanted=2

6. http://www.nytimes.com/1981/12/13/arts/photography-view-what-was-cubism-s-impact.html?pagewanted=2

7. http://www.nytimes.com/1981/12/13/arts/photography-view-what-was-cubism-s-impact.html?pagewanted=2

8. http://dangerousminds.net/comments/david_hockneys_cubist_photography

9. http://dangerousminds.net/comments/david_hockneys_cubist_photography

Images

Paul Cézanne, The Riaux Valley near L’Estaque, 1883. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paul_C%C3%A9zanne_-_Houses_in_Provence-_The_Riaux_Valley_near_L’Estaque_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Georges Braque, Road near L’Estaque, 1908.  http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=78787

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907. http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=79766

Picasso in his studio at the Bateau-Lavoir, Paris, 1908, Musée Picasso, Paris.               Photo Credit: Réunion des Musées Nationaux.                 https://uncrated.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/picasso-and-african-art/

Paul Strand, Abstraction, Porch Shadows, Connecticut, 1916. http://www.moma.org/collection//browse_results.php?criteria=O%3AAD%3AE%3A5685&page_number=12&template_id=1&sort_order=1

Aleksandr Rodchenko, Composition, 1918. http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?criteria=O%3AAD%3AE%3A4975&page_number=2&template_id=1&sort_order=1

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Untitled, 1923. http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?criteria=O%3AAD%3AE%3A4048&page_number=1&template_id=1&sort_order=1

David Hockney, “Joiner” Self Portrait. http://dangerousminds.net/comments/david_hockneys_cubist_photography

David Hockney, “Joiner” Gregory and David. http://dangerousminds.net/comments/david_hockneys_cubist_photography

Youtube “David Hockney Joiners.”                                     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGtraVb_0vY#t=265