The Photograph as Contemporary Art – Charlotte Cotton

7th July 2013 – 12th July 2013

Another book I’m reading for the second time, hopefully with a much better review this time than the last, which I made whilst undertaking The Art of Photography here.  I’m afraid my understanding of book review then was not what it is now, and what it really needs to be; what I’ve taken away from having read and understood the book.  I’ve also decided that the best way to review a book in-depth is to write a review of each section, or chapter, as it’s presented.  This way I’m not trying to remember details several days or weeks later and mixing them up with other sections or chapters.  I know I could make notes as I go along, but as many will know, I’m basically lazy at heart and making notes means you’ve got to transcribe them, doubling the effort needed, lazy or what?

If This is Art

My understanding of pre-20th century, non-photographic art is that it was dominated by oil painting, that there were very tough strictures on what was, and what was not, acceptable, that artists had to conform to get on, or, face an artistic life in the wilderness, and that there were fixed forms of what could be presented; the portrait, the landscape, the still-life and the mythological.  I’m not sure if I’m correct here, but I think it was the coming of affordable photography that changed this and led to groups of artists breaking away and rebelling against the establishment, most notably ‘The Impressionists’.   Their use of photography to capture scenes as they were, not as remembered, helped them to create the paintings that so drove the establishment to decry their work and create the title they bear.  This then fed into the art system as a whole and started the movement accelerating toward Modernism.

You might ask what on earth has that to do with photography as contemporary art?  I think that without that change in the art establishment, then the art we practice today would be as hide-bound as it was in the 19th century,  Modernism led to post-modernism which has led to………?  What we practice today?  This isn’t what Cotton is alluding to in her first chapter, but what she has written made ME think about how we’ve arrived at where we are, and that’s partly what this review is about, right?

In this first chapter, Cotton describes the many and varied ways in which photographic artists have managed to change the way they look at scenes and capture them to fulfill their expression of what they see.  This then links with what I’ve written above, as without that shift in thinking, and looking, the contemporary artist might not be as adventurous as we are today.  And it is being adventurous that leads to a new conceptualisation of what photographic art is, not the copying of styles and formats whose trails have already been blazed by previous exponents.  Certainly we have to learn how to be adventurous, and that comes from looking at the ways our predecessors have created art, trying them out and then improving, or certainly adapting them, to suit our individuality, and I think that this first chapter is setting the grounding we need to be able to appreciate the ways theses methods are put to use to form the greater genres of documentary, tableau, portrait, etc.


2 Responses to The Photograph as Contemporary Art – Charlotte Cotton

  1. Catherine says:

    I can understand your reaction to using a range of photographic conventions and languages as opposed to finding a voice’ – might be a good topic for the TV Group. What I’ve noticed is that wll-known photographers do use a range – e.g. Tom Hunter who is now doing pinhole work. Maybe it’s that it stops us going stale over time; fires up some languishing creative brain cells.

    • Eddy Lerp says:

      Sorry it’s taken so long to reply Catherine but for some reason this comment of yours ended up in the spam bin so I didn’t see it until today.

      I agree Tom is using pinhole to ‘find’ something within it to extend his range. Having found and explored one expressive idea it’s always good to look at something that fires you up a different way.

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