Conceptual Photography 2

In some versions of the story of conceptual photography, it is about images that are preconceived and explore a pre-existing idea or plan. Another version of the story is that conceptual photography exists in opposition to other traditions, that it is anti-humanist, anti-aesthetic or even anti- photography itself. This was in the title of an essay by Nancy Foote from 1976, 'The Anti Photographers', revived in a recent exhibition at Focal Point Gallery. The Conceptual artists are 'anti-photographers' because, as Foote puts it, they set themselves 'apart from so-called serious photography by a snapshot-like amateurism and nonchalance that would raise the hackles of any earnest professional.'

In this case the photography employed by Conceptual artists is an affront to the skill and personal investment demonstrated by 'serious photographers'. Today however, an 'artist using photography' is as likely to produce a technically excellent picture as any photographer. If there is an opposition today it could be against photography's traditional role as a representational medium – bringing an apparently unmediated view of the world. Or contra photography as a form of subjective expression as epitomized by confessional and autobiographical photography. Although they may have much overlap there remains a residue of antagonism between the world of the 'conceptual' and that of 'photography'.

In other ways contemporary art photography that could be called conceptual is unlike the conceptualist photography of the 60s and 70s. It is often ambiguous or obscure in its purpose. Unlike Conceptual artists whose photographs were generally explicit records, often with an explanatory caption, a contemporary art photograph might conceal its source material and make no effort to explain what it is about. As Lucy Soutter says, it may be that mere complexity and ambiguity have become new values in art photography.



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  1. Pingback: Source Magazine: What is Conceptual Photography? « Fotografisk Skoles Blog

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