Orange Jam and Banana Pecan Shortbread Pie and The Photograph as Contemporary Art Book Review

During my first quarter at SCAD I’ve studied Charlotte Cotton’s book The Photograph as Contemporary Art.  The classification of different types of photography helped me understand where my photography is situated, to question why and how contemporary photographs have been created and how they have been appreciated over time.

In chapter one and two, the body of work of Philip diCorcia drew my attention, mainly because I punctually identify my photographic style with the staged tableau photography technique. diCorcia’s Hollywood series are different not only because of the storytelling induced – intrigued state of mind, aspirations, personality -, but also due to the strange blend of cinematic influences. The extent of the choreographed scenes is uncertain, but is tempting the viewer to discover more. diCorcia seems to document different psychological individualities and is making use of an extreme baroque and theatrical light to set up his characters. The series as well as other photographic selections however, is not critiqued in Cotton’s writing, due to the sense of expression, making it more singular unconventional experience.

Something or Nothing chapter speaks about the everyday objects seen in a unfamiliar way, showcasing from artist to artist, either sculptural forms – David Weiss & Peter Fischli, conceptual journeys – Gabriel Orozco or particular perspective – Jennifer Bolande. The expected quotidian is changing and receiving as it is being constructed fragility, narrative and symbolism.

Cotton is bringing in front an important question, that of “how did this object come to be here?” making an antithesis with the previous chapters in which artists were creating based on the when the times is right, highlighting the dynamism of the creation.

In Orozco work, as well as in Laura Letinsky’s work, the objects make connection with the environment, the photograph and the viewer; they are creating intimate and powerful narrative thoughts of domestic life. The blurred trace of breath or the tension of the seductive perspective of Letinsky, subtly create relationships with the viewer. The unexpected proportion idea brought by Bolande, is placing weight on the narrative suggested, as we seem to look at things differently or simply pass them by.

Intimate life chapter depicts autobiographical, very sensitive stance of visual experiences into subjective photographs. One of the leading artists whose work has been a confessional exploration of life, Nan Goldin, is bring in front unusual emotion, such as sadness, illness, addiction, portraying narrative bohemian life, of which she was part. In intimate photography, the personal life tragedies affect the way these artists make photographs, inducing an even more emotionally line in the picture.

The intimate photographs in this chapter speak equally about angst, spontaneity, liberation and immediacy, as described by Cotton. The photographer’s visual diary becomes a public description of how they describe themselves and their lives.

From portrayals of lifestyle to relationships between photographer and family, intimate photography becomes a way of documenting gestures, observations, economic and social posture. Tina Barney captures subtly the physiologic nature of family relationships, bringing in front the personal identity. Through these portraits a highly dose of emotion is scattered due to the familial connection induced by the sequential moments captured. Mitch Epstein is documenting his father’s tragic transition to financial crisis on the fond of cultural and economic changes. He manages to capture a real intense expression of the outside and inside man his father was. From this liberating photographic journey we can feel the stream of photographer’s emotional state, and not only his father’s drama.

Cotton’s book helped me through the chapters not only understand and familiarize myself with the way of seeing fine art today, observing, seeing and critiquing artist’s body of work, but also put light in many contemporary questions I had. Why we end up photographing certain things, places, emotions, why and how history and cultural background plays an important role in our creation, what kind of photographic styles artists employ and how ideas and personal vision transform nothing in something.

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