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off-topic: Re: "historical distancing", was: Re: to mat or not..
>I too believe that the whole piece of paper is the photograph. With time
>the meaning of virtually all photographs change by a process I will call
>historial distancing. The ocassion for the creative act with time becomes
>unrecognizable and we accept the photograph as an artifact, a relic of
>time. Susan Sontag wrote something about this in her book Susan Sontag on
>Photography. She said, "The particular qualities and intentions of
>photographs tend to be swallowed up in the generalized pathos of times
the issue of "historical distancing" is interesting, and I think it has
more implicatons than those immediately visible.
I gently disagree with this proposal, or rather I think it is not
particular to photography, although many people think so.
Let me explain: While I am writing this, I have taken a exhibition
catalogue of the Preraffaelites in my hands to find examples for what I
want to say. The pictures of Dante Gabriel Rosetti, for instance, show
women in dresses, hair styles, gestures, beauty ideals, which are every bit
as outmoded as those of photographs of the same time. Actually, one reason
I have taken this catalogue is that just before the section on Rosetti, a
photograph by Julia Margareth Cameron is reproduced: very bad reproduction,
the authors of the catalogue, which was made in the seventies, did not even
care to give her name with the picture (it is given in the end of the book).
While this indicates that the makers of the catalogue clearly did not think
of photographs as art, Cameron's pictures are very much comparable to the
paintings of the same epoch, and particularly to the preraffaelites.
One could make similar points about other photographers. Let me take one
other: Baron von Gloeden. His (later) Cicily pictures certainly are
reminiscent of the orientalist style prevalent in 19th century: they
certainly look antiquated, but is not their subtle, painterly homoeroticism
as touching as ever - or the young girls, the street boys smoking cigars?
What I am heading at is: the perception of every piece of art, it seems to
me, changes with time, and it takes an effort of the modern spectator to
find out how it was intended. On the other hand, even if the meaning of
pictures of other times gets reinterpreted, why not? A great picture, a
great poem, does typically not enforce only one interpretation on the
spectator/reader, but a whole range of emotions, like you are hearing a
But concerning photography: I have recently read a paper by Roger Scruton,
in which he says photography is not a representational art, and this echoes
Sonntag. His point in a nutshell: Scruton argues that this is a main and
principal point which distinguishes it from painting. "Not
representational" means: to appreciate a photograph, say, of a girl, is to
appreciate the girl and not the picture itself. The camera, as Scruton puts
it, is comparable to a mirror, and who would appreciate the mirror itself
when he looks at a reflection?
I find myself unwilling to dismiss this argument just out of hand, if only
because it seems to reverberate a common attitude of people towards
photographic pictures. It would deserve a much longer discussion, but very
shortly, the moot point I find is in his juxtaposition of the "ideal"
photograph with the "ideal" painting: I would rather try a historical
comparison between different arts, of the kind I have hinted at above. Then
it may turn out that while photography certainly has different weaknesses
and possibilities as painting, the two art forms have influenced each other
(witness Aaron Scharf's "photography and art), and have undergone common as
well as complementory developments.