Clement Greenburg, “Avant Garde as Kitsch”
Rosalind Krauss, “Reinventing the Medium”
Guy Debord, excerpts from the “Society as Spectacle”
Richard Hamilton; “For the Finest Art, Try Pop,”
This week’s readings were interesting because, first and foremost there was new material to acquire, but secondly it was interesting to see how other theorists, such as Krauss, is reacting to theory that I am now becoming familiar with. Also in Greenburg’s essay it is interesting to hear another theorist take on mass culture, what Adorno referred to as the culture industry, being that of Kitsch.
Krauss started off her essay referring to the three strands of thought that when pulled together convey how photography can be reinvented as a medium. The first being photography as a theoretical object. Krauss explains how Benjamin used photography as a theoretical object in his writings in the 1930’s. Benjamin believed the “genius of the medium is the rendering of the human subject woven into a network of its social relations”. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction made photography a theoretical object when Benjamin starts referring to an aura that a photograph contains. The portraits made by early photographers as amateurs contained an aura of human nature, and intimate relationships that’s indicative to photography prior to its commoditization. Photography being a commodity wasn’t the issue, it was the fact that commodity was overtaken by Kitsch. Greenburg explains Kitsch as a universal literacy that came from urbanized the masses of Western Europe and America as a product of the industrial revolution. This could also be understood as the culture industry. When photography got into the hands of the culture industry it destroyed the “aura of this humanity and its possessor’s authority.”
The second strand Krauss mentioned which leads to how photography can be reinvented as a medium is identified with photography’s destruction of the conditions of the aesthetic medium that would affect all arts. Benjamin did make photography a theoretical object in his essays by describing the aura a photograph holds, but there is a flipside to this point because though photography creates an aura it also destroys it. Since photography in its essence is designed for reproducibility, the aura of the unique and authentic dissolves. When photography made the merge into the art world in the 60’s, the artist was using their practice of photography as a theoretical object which is a tool for deconstructing that practice. Since conceptual art was questioning the very nature of artistic practice, photography was used because art photography was new and didn’t refer to a specific medium. Photography could comment on the art world without being specific to painting, sculpture, etc... In the not too distant future the deconstructive force of photography falls into obsolescence due to social use.
The Third strand that leads up to the reinvention of the medium of photography is the “relationship between obsolescence and the redemptive possibilities enfolded in the outmoded itself.” The conventions of photography as a medium need to develop a form of expressiveness that is both projective and mnemonic. The obsolescence of this medium played a redemptive role by its reinvention. Krauss uses artist James Coleman as an example of someone who reinvented the use of photography as an art form. Coleman displayed his photographs using slide projectors which seemed to mimic that of a cinema. The actors in the photographs are connected to theatre due to elaborate staging. But ultimately he was elaborating on the paradoxical collision of stillness and movement. Krauss then mentions Barthes “third meaning” because it too is a collision of stillness and movement. These examples can be described as counter-narratives. Coleman’s work has been shaped by the narrative vehicle of the photonovel. He develops what is seen in photonovels, or comic books for adults, called the double face out. This can be seen below in my examples of a double face out in Alan Moore's "The Watchmen". During a conversation between characters in a frame, the static image can’t rely on time based editing to show an instigator and a reaction. The instigation and the reaction shot of the characters must be in the same frame. The double face out shows both faces of the characters in a two-shot, one being the instigator and the other being a reaction while not looking at each other. He found a way to “unroll the density of life onto a flat plane”. This is an artist that found a way to reinvent photography. Using the technical aspect of photography, Coleman was able to portray narrative drama which became a “paradoxical collision of stillness and movement.”