“Efforts to revive the art principles of the past at best produce works of art that resemble a stillborn child.”
— Wassily Kandinsky
I have been thinking about this quote (from Concerning the Spiritual in Art) quite a bit recently. Specifically, I have been thinking about it as it pertains to photography as an artistic medium. Let’s face it—what’s generally accepted as “art photography” hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years.
This type of stagnation would be unacceptable in painting, say. So, naturally, the question is “is photography somehow a fundamentally different artistic medium (than every other stinking artistic medium which exists)?”
Let’s face it—”art photography” hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years.
While on a recent trip to Philadelphia I made sure to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA). And, while there, advertisements for its “Wild: Michael Nichols” exhibit were unavoidable. If you don’t know, Michael Nichols is award-winning photographer for National Geographic.
I must state that his work is wonderfully suited for National Geographic. For that application of photography, you will be hard-pressed to find a better photographer.
But, as I walked around the exhibit, It occurred to me—”wild” defines the subject matter, but in no way does it describe the art. No sooner did I have this revelation than I heard a young girl behind me complain to her mother, “I thought we were going to look at art, not look at pictures.”
How amazingly astute.
I thought we were going to look at art, not look at pictures.
I decided that if they could exhibit a series of tame photos and call it “Wild,” it might be prudent to turn them into wild photos and call the series “Tame.” (As always, all of my photos were created completely in-camera, on film… not that that matters.) And, while this tongue-in-cheek display may not change the face of art photography, hopefully it’s a step in the direction of “art can also be pictures.”
When I returned to take the photos, I did so with artist Richard Gabriele. Some of his ideas can be found in the following photos.
(Please infer no disrespect for Michael Nichols. I have an extreme amount of appreciation for what he does and how well he does it. If National Geographic featured my photography, I might question them much in the same way that I am questioning PMA’s decisions.)
So, please enjoy my riffing of of Nichols. And, if the curator for PMA happens to read this, PLEASE explain to me in the comments how you justified putting a straight, pretty Wild photo in the Duchamp room. Thank you.
“A painting that doesn’t shock isn’t worth painting.”
— Marcel Duchamp