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Re: Rodchenko at the Hayward

From:     Eva
Category: Art
Date:     25 March 2008
Time:     10:10 AM


How can you say “the photograph becomes, hey, just a way of recording information, honest”? I know
you’re being sarcastic, obviously, so what I mean is how can you say you think that other people
(contemporary society, critical theory, whatever) say that? All that’s happened is that the means by
which the constructions of photography are understood and communicated have changed – the
conversation’s moved on. That’s not to say that some people don’t still believe that a photograph is
a carrier of some inherent ‘Truth’ but less people are of that belief now than when Ryman or Goddard
were active. That’s exactly the point. To show the camera tracking an actress at the beginning of a
movie, to show the stretcher supporting the canvas – it’s not a gestalt shift anymore. An
acknowledgement of the death of the author, of subjective positioning in relation to fiction is a
blink away – so obvious it’s boring to keep saying it. It’s permeated the medium good and proper,
fetishised even through 80s postmodernism, and 90s movies by Lars Von Triers et al (hey, Dogma, not
ideology). As for Tillmans, he’s a static Von Triers suggesting that Kate Moss is more ‘real’ for
being snapped with a disposable camera. The artifice of the shaky camera school of realism is as
discussed and acknowledged as Rodchenko or Vertov’s work. 

Conceptualism, that’s another kettle of fish. Related, sure, but a different strand of the argument.
You say “conceptual photography, which was always supposed to just represent the idea”. I’m not sure
this is the case. ‘The idea’ exists visually and conceptual art that is visual is working in the
entire terrain of the visual otherwise it’s an essay. But even if it was ‘supposed to just represent
the idea’ (as if an idea does not represent the world), how does that relate to Tillmans? He’s not a
conceptual artist. Or are you saying because Conceptual art used a lot of photography all
photography subsequently was conceptual art? Obviously that’s bad logic. 

Finally, you say “the whole trajectory of this photographic history”. What photographic history? The
Conceptualism one that you think begins with Rodchenko and ends with Tillmans (I don’t agree) or do
you think there’s one history? 

Maybe I'm being pedantic. I get your overriding point, it’s just I can’t agree with the
generalisations it requires. I can’t agree with the initial premise of “the loss of the acknowledged
absence of truth”, “this idea of the photographic object not mattering”. I don’t like Tillmans' work
either but my reasons are not because he is the end point of a process that somehow started with
Stalin. I have to go shopping now but maybe later I’ll try to pin down an alternative reason why
Tillmans is rubbish.  Although ultimately why I think he's rubbish has little to do with this

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