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Left: Daniel Gordon, Red Headed Woman 2008; Right: Sterling Ruby, Artaud 2007

Check out Contemporary Art Photographers Mess With the Medium by Martha Schwendener for the Village Voice and contemplate the questions she asks.  The article is largely based on a book we have been reading from this semester, Words Without Pictures.  Be sure to check out examples of the photographers’ work mentioned in the article (many linked below) and respond either to what you read, see, or what your fellow classmates have to say.

To supplement discussion, also read the short synopsis of the New Photography 2009 MOMA show at ARTABASE and check out the interactive material on the MOMA site.


Walead Beshty at the Whitney Biennial and Wall Space Gallery

CurtisMitchell at

Marco Breuer at Von Lintel

Josh Brand at Flash Art

Sara Greenberger Rafferty at The Old Gold

Daniel Gordon at

8 Comments leave one →
  1. pavloskaralis permalink
    11/09/2009 01:03

    I find myself drawn most to Daniel Gordon’s work — I guess appropriation is just my thing. His mastery of intermingling two-dimensional and three-dimensional surfaces and structures yields a powerful hypnotic effect on the viewer. Up to this point I have never really considered, or was aware of such foundational use for this technique. Definitely allows for a lot of control in composing a picture — everything being made from scratch such as with painting — as well as a clever way around working with and hiring models. “Sculptural photography” if I was to assign it a genre.

  2. rios permalink
    11/10/2009 04:19

    What we must stop asking ourselves is: “What is the future of photography?” and what we must start asking ourselves is: “What is photography now?” This article has (appropriately) narrowed the search to defining what a photograph is in 2009. Why this is important? Because 2009 has roughly two months left of life before 2010 comes, and to address the present rather than the future (or conversely to ask “What, in 2009, WAS a photograph?” i.e. the past of photography) is to meet the problem head-on. That is, if you see a problem at all (many photographers continue to make photographs unaware of the stalemate photography as a whole has reached. Technology has advanced, yet emotionally we are incapable of receiving/viewing works of art on any new level; even if we have the means to create something different). We are still in the state of the thesis, and in a frenzied reaching for the synthesis, we have forgotten the antithesis. For history to move forward, there can be no gaps; the discussion of what this ‘gap’ in photographic history is has come to surface as, that the antithesis may be a time in which photographers resort to such fleeting technologies for image-making, that this transitional period may result in a purely written history of photography, where the photographs made cannot be viewed because of the proprietary and rapidly expanding nature of photographic technologies as of late. This isn’t a bad suggestion; in fact, it’s commendable for being one of few suggestions for addressing the issue. Photographers are continuing to create based on a resurgence of historical modes(abstraction, materiality, and process) perhaps something new will come from this exploration, as opposed to results that have already taken place(the emergence digital). The only way to come up with an answer as to what photography is right now is to keep working…I suppose.

    Sorry this is so scattered…there’s a lot that can be addressed (or, ignored).

    Or, maybe, we’ve already reached the antithesis, and the problem becomes creating the synthesis… Just like history, even firsthand experience can become inaccurate without contextualizing. (us photo students experiencing firsthand the contemporary art world)

  3. nicpersinger permalink
    11/10/2009 16:35

    What is a photograph? What a question.

    It’s a tough one, and I wonder if there’s even an answer. I think like most art-concept answers, there is no wrong one.

    As for another question that was mentioned I’m not so sure about:

    “has process become the new (or revived) fetish of photography, something to occupy us now that the bickering over whether photography is art has died down?”

    It’s interesting to see this question proposed in 2009. It seems to me that 2009 doesn’t seem much more different than 1979, or 1949 to me. Artists are making art. They’re making art with anything they can get their hands on. They’re mixing and manipulating medias. It seems so strange that the art world spends so much time on questions like these, when the people who make them question it aren’t waiting around for an answer. Art changes just like the rest of the natural world and so do artists; so it’s no surprise that these photographs are in the spotlight for 2009.
    I question the world’s questioning though. Why wonder that a photograph is in this rapidly changing world? Everyday concepts, technology, and artists are changing; so why are we so stuck on what a photograph is? What will figuring out the answer to this almost unanswerable question solve?
    I think the question to ask is: What is a photographer?
    Do these artists we’ve been referenced to today actually identify as photographers? Illustrators paint in photoshop, but are they painters?
    To me, this is the real question. We get too concerned with questioning the medium when it’s the artist who is doing the things that make us wonder. Maybe when we crack that mystery, a true photograph will be revealed.

  4. sjwinston permalink
    11/10/2009 16:59

    “Why are artists working with photography obsessed with abstraction, materiality and process?” Obsession seems like a strong word to use here. They’re all interesting approaches. As 2009 comes to an end, according to Martha Schwendener, these three characteristics will define what photography WAS in 2009, at least according to the artists she sites as examples. As we have been told over and over by many, this is the best time to be a photographer. We have passed the argument of photography’s validity as Art and now we are able to dissect the medium as its “obsessions” and technologies progress. These three themes are being returned to, or in other words, resurfacing in the contemporary world of 2009. Are they accessible? Considering the stalemate that Dan has identified, is it important to be mindful of how photography will be received on an emotional level upon the initial conception of an idea? How are ideas effected by abstraction, materiality and process? How are they received? Questions create more questions and it is dificult to quit pondering photography’s next destination. The only way to find answers on a personal level, i agree, is to keep working and keep making decisions. (My head is spinning.)

  5. Cortlandt Glover permalink
    11/10/2009 17:06

    Ray Kurzweil posits that technology expands exponentially instead of linearly. While this may seem obvious, it implies that our view of the future is much more obstructed than we can imagine. To elaborate, he says “30 steps linearly is 30 steps, but 30 steps exponentially is a billion.” As with the future of photography, I find the view disorientating, at least from a technological perspective. Martha Schwendener writes that possibly the current escalation of abstraction and materiality is in response to “a moment when technology, politics, and culture [is] rapidly shifting.” I find this idea plausible and likely, but I’m more drawn to the idea that there simply appears to be an upsurge because that is what is currently marketable. What I agree with wholeheartedly though is the idea that a dialogue dependent on “criticality” is flawed. The critic’s vocabulary limits and stagnates discussion through the fluctuating standards of success and failure. I don’t have the answers, but I would like to see a new discourse as well.

  6. arisslater permalink
    11/10/2009 17:35

    I love the fact that we need something to “bicker over” when addressing photography. I guess that can be attributed to the birth of photography into the art world. It came in kicking and screaming, knocking everybody’s ladders out from under them. And now, despite everything we, as photographers, have reached a place of importance in the art world today that was never thought to be so.

    To ask such fundamental questions is a practice that all art mediums should do more. A painter asking him or herself “what is this canvas with paint placed on it in my own fashion?” “What is a painting?” These fundamental ideas need to be challenged more. Photography is always being questioned and pushed to come to some sort of absolute idea or definition. It doesn’t need to be though, none of this art needs to be categorized and defined into some theroyretical box or card cataloged.
    Its limiting.
    Having a tangible definition to something so anamorphic is counter productive. People get so hung up on placing things where they should go, where it makes sense to put it. My roommate gets worked up about the placement of the pots and pans in the kitchen. These extremes of qualification and categorizations is effort not vary well spent. The artist makes art. Keep it simple. It can be a painting, or a photograph or both or neither or only hint at what it really is.

    Processes is what the artist does, processes is my yesterday, today and tomorrow. To ask questions of processes and what photography fundamentally is, is to ask me what I am. The ideas and questions posed about what photography is in 2009, in the past or the future is asking me what I am this year, last year, in 5 years. I cannot un-marry myself from photography and I do not want to.

    The ability to answer, even swim in the waters that these questions inhabit is daunting and something that I am not ready for. I want no answers, only exploration

  7. dsutherland permalink
    11/10/2009 17:45

    I think everyone has made interesting remarks regarding Martha Schwendener article. I find her questioning contemporary photographic style a little strong. She says, “So why, at this moment, when the world is awash in vernacular images and consumed by geopolitical, eco, and economic crises, are artist-photographers holed up in their studios and darkrooms, interrogating the medium? Why not pick up a camera and document the collapse?” People are documenting this, photojournalist all over are, if we all did this then she would be questioning why everyone in 2009 focuses on ‘real life’ and its documentation (and perhaps try exploring a more abstract take). I agree with Dan, it is a stalemate. I liked how she gave examples of numerous contemporary artist to support her opinion, maybe she is asking the wrong question though.

  8. esthermeenayi permalink
    11/10/2009 18:18

    In the beginning, Schwedener asks about contemporary photographers (artists) and why they choose to work the way they do. Art is an ever-changing practice, this includes many other aspects of life as well. I feel that as an art critique or artist, understanding that there will always be new art, new processes, new mediums is important to fully try and grasp what the artist is communicating. Artists choose their processes (hopefully) because they feel it is most effective in what they are producing. I don’t always particularly enjoy all art work, or I am not drawn to it, but I try to understand why the artist chose to create an image the way they did. To criticize and not accept new processes and new mediums in photography is something I do not agree with. That’s why I feel like art is such a great expressive, communicative means, there are no limits.

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