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Photography, as everyone says and everything indicates, has become accepted by the art world, and that with the exaggeration and speed that today’s artistic circles alone are capable of executing. Indeed, if photography did not exist, all indications are that they would have had to invent it. Of course, one can hardly believe that, all at once, those who paid it scant attention are now so moved as to vie with each other for dithyrambic characterizations. Not being one to readily accept conspiracy theories, I believe that most have been caught napping, and without quite realizing what has happened, have found themselves, of necessity, ardent supporters. Moreover, what has for years been happening in politics is now happening in art; those in authority, realizing belatedly that which most people have long known, try through exaggeration to make up for lost time.

In the art world, the authority is not the public nor the artists, but all those that make up the web of professions auxiliary to art itself. Journalists, art critics, gallery owners, publishers, historians, sociologists and others found themselves forced to deal with something which is generally unknown. Something which in some misty and unfocused way they liked, but which deep down they did not believe was worthy of study, because it seemed to them so obvious. Perhaps they have often felt a little guilty at having succumbed to giving it so much attention.

There are many approaches to an artistic event. However, the most important and those that perhaps justify its existence are those that relate to the actual phenomenon of its production, which is to the specific work of art by the specific artist. This can only be done by those (and this includes the artist), who are aware of the joy and excitement of the artwork’s existence. It is clear that all those who in one way or another are involved in the arts, at some point in their lives, even if only in the primary period of innocence, started off with the joy of taking pleasure in art and possibly the curiosity of creating it. All those who criticize or write about the cinema, who collect and exhibit paintings, who discuss or publish books, have enjoyed the darkness of a film theatre, have ecstatically stood in front of a painting in a museum, or have read and re-read the same poem from their favourite book. They have references of knowledge and of being moved.

Subsequently, when they embark upon a career in some specific category within the realms of art, turning their love to service, their professional course will always remain under the influence of the light that gave birth to it. In other words, hidden behind the commencement of their occupation, are the love and respect that led the way. However, the same does not always happen with photography, or it does to a much lesser degree. Perhaps one reason is that everybody “does” photography in one way or another. Besides, one might easily reach the conclusion that such a humble, and for some contemptible, medium could be dealt with easily by one who has dealt with other more serious mediums with established pedigrees of difficulty and antiquity. Thus, there are persons found in the environs of photographic art with only the slightest true and initial love for it. They are there, almost out of necessity, dealing with something which, due to the general worship of any kind of image, has become the proclivity of the age; something that the general public seems to have adopted with the ease, which the speed and intellectual indolence of the times imposes. And since photography has become, after the cinema, the primary “popular” artistic medium, it has also become worthwhile to pursue. All the more so since photography, as opposed to the cinema, with just a few contrivances and just as many inventions, can be converted into resalable goods.

Consequently, in one way, a way often encountered in life, one of the basic and positive characteristics of photography, its great popularity, which is based on its ease of production and its relationship to the mechanism of memory, has also become a reason for its distortion. Its popularity has attracted newly-minted analysts, ingenious merchants and Machiavellian opportunists all of whom have seen an opportunity to use popular photography as a tool for achieving other ends. This, of course, does not mean that these other ends are necessarily dangerous or underhand, nor that these new propagandists of the medium are wholly and without exception sinister manipulators of consciences. For the most part, what we are up against are people with a great deal of embarrassment and ignorance, rather than criminals of the intellect. Journalists, publishers, gallery owners and politicians, as I have said before, find themselves, often against their will, on the periphery of this art, which (and I do insist) they have neither practiced nor loved.

The result, issuing from the doubt, if not despair, created in them by this humble and capricious medium, is that they resort to obvious or borrowed methods of approaching and handling it. Because, really, what would be the response of someone for the first time coming across the mystery of this still and two-dimensional image clipped from a three-dimensional, moving reality? He would have two outlets: either he would be carried away by the credibility of the image and deal with the subject portrayed, its real space and real time, or if he had “higher” ambitions, he could pretend that this picture had nothing to do with reality, but that it constituted an autonomous, manufactured, visual object. A third and slyly misleading tactic is that in which each one of the two aforementioned approaches confines the image to its semiotic references and to the social function of the medium.

These approaches have the advantage of freeing those responsible (the journalist, theoretician, teacher, gallery owner, publisher etc.) and offering them a familiar environment within which to move and comment. With the first approach (beloved by journalists, politicians and publishers) the photograph is as significant as the event it refers to. Comments are directed mainly towards remarking on the tension and excitement to which the event itself gave rise, just as some bored cinema critics confine their critiques to narrating the film’s scenario. It is quite characteristic that photographs that have been considered significant and have become symbols of an age, usually not only have no true value as photographic images, but reduce the very age which they purport to encapsulate, to the level of an advertising slogan. Our memory is thus focused on a few key images that assist us in assimilating history with the ease that the “Illustrated Classics” brought us “close” to the “masterpieces of world literature”. From Capa’s dying warrior, passing through to the Ibozima flag (which, as has since been proved, was staged), to the Reichstag hammer and sickle, Riboud’s girl with a flower, the shooting of the Vietcong and coming up to the Pulitzer or World Press award winning photographs of bewailing mothers, bleeding soldiers, smiling newlyweds and galloping children, the history of mankind is squeezed into a few moments of facile and superficial emotion. Photography has become the fitting tool of a historical soap opera.

Despite all that, some wonderful photographs have been made during these years. Photographs that in a discreet and indirect way address their age by speaking through the world of the photographer. Except that in these the subject, more wisely, is concealed, in the knowledge that the obvious can never say more than it shows, nor lay claim to a time longer than that which is shown. Finally, it is something of a tragicomedy if one thinks that all the event photographs that have been lauded for the importance of the event they portray have remained as signs solely of the event itself, and furthermore, they are not autonomous but rely on the caption and the fame that accompanies them. All significant photographs, on the other hand, stand as records not only of our own present time, but also of time as a concept. Criticism of the depicted subject, however, allows for greater ease (both for the critic and his audience), while it can also become a great deal more verbose and a lot more arbitrary.

The second approach (preferred by art critics and gallery owners) projects onto the photograph the idiosyncrasies and manners of the world of visual art. In this method, the criticism and discussion of photography have clear pathways, well defined by the practices of the world of art publishing and exhibiting. The photograph is no longer interesting for the subject matter portrayed, but for its artistic composition or its placement within some artistic movement. The photographic ‘voice’ gives way to the well-tested terminology and arguments of the visual arts. This approach underestimates the singular nature of photography, but also its inadequacy in playing the artistic ‘game’, offering at best the image of the poor relation. In reality photography is a poor relation, and one exposed to ridicule, since it is unwilling to realize the virtues of its poverty. This poverty cannot easily come to terms with the use made of it through this approach. Neither can it come to terms with long drawn out viewings, nor with the underhanded and commercially discriminatory printings, arranged chronologically or whichever other way may be arrived at, nor with disproportionate prices, nor with the theoretical method of analysis which underestimates the excitement of the event with the same frivolity that the previous approach underestimated the visual qualities of the events composition. Nor, finally, can it come to terms with the annihilating, for photography, cohabitation of artistic and photographic works through parallel analysis and combined exhibitions.

The third approach (favoured by theoreticians) uses criteria unconnected with art, both in relation to the pictured subject and to the created object. These criteria are to do with social, psychoanalytical or semiological comment or else with something of a similar cast and content. Here the work is no longer of interest as art, nor the creator as an artist. Nor is there interest in the photograph as an object, nor in the pictured subject for its emotional references. In the light of this approach, the photograph becomes as a corpse in a mortuary. Its function is of greater interest than its presence. There is no doubt whatsoever that all clinical and analytical comment about the corpse has value and truth, only that it has absolutely no relation to the living presence of the person.

Any quasi-scientific, quasi-sociological and quasi-philosophical comments are easy to express and to communicate in as much as photography has obvious thematic interest, is directly linked with reality and is deeply rooted in our social habits. Thus, this fertile terrain contributes to the displacement of the significance of photographic comment from the area of art (with which photography continues to have an ambivalent relationship) to the area of symbolism and sociology in reference to its function as a communication medium.

Both photography’s outside commentators and its intrinsic features gain all the more power the feebler it appears to photographers themselves and to the public. Truly, in the case of photography, the insecurity that characterizes all those who create and all the uncertain admirers of their work, reaches schizophrenic proportions. Thus the ground is left wide open to theorizing and allows for all manner of external factors, whose actions and opinions finally end up directing both the artist and the public.

These three, aforementioned, basic approaches, despite being oversimplifications, are presented as being pioneering outlooks with the accompanying intellectual oppression that must of necessity follow such a stance. Besides these, other approaches have been adopted that augment this intellectual terrorism. These are tactics on loan from the world of art that on the one hand over-stress the importance of originality and on the other hand raise to the level of virtue the ignorance of and defiance of the history of the medium. First of all, the combination of these two characteristics is an oxymoron, since, logically, the meaning of innovation is directly linked with a deep knowledge of some past one is attempting to surpass. However, while in the history of art innovation was the fruit of a process of maturation which of necessity demanded a rather significant amount of time to develop, in today’s artistic world, with particular emphasis on the somewhat uncontrolled sphere of photography, innovation is called upon to overturn and to reject whatever has appeared in the previous five years. So we no longer talk about the Eighties or the Nineties, but the Early and Late Eighties and Nineties. Indeed, it is preferable to accept something that successfully occurred two or three decades ago and is being repeated today, than something that was happening ten years ago. It is better for something to be characterized as a revival rather than for it to be passé.

This point automatically gives rise to three questions. Firstly, why does this demand not exist to the same degree and at the same frequency in the other arts, for example in poetry or the cinema? Secondly, why cannot we accept the speed of changing styles and the ease of communication that characterizes our age as elements that liberate art, and more especially fine art, from the tyranny of clashing and interchanging artistic movements? And thirdly, for what reason should we deny history, whether we want to imitate it or rival it, except if through this act of ours we only wish to make things easier for ourselves, putting ourselves thus beyond comparisons and criticisms?

These thoughts easily lead us to the suspicion that this emphasis on innovation, especially in the field of Fine Art, must have something to do with the work of art in its capacity as an object of commerce. In accordance with the demands of advertising, but also with the principles of the essential and all-powerful communications media, the product must be in constant flux, so as to renew the interest of both the ‘customer’ and the public and so that the product acquires a distinct identity. The demands of marketing are faithfully followed and these dictate frequent, even minute changes, despite the previous product being absolutely satisfactory. On the contrary, poetry patiently awaits the emergence of new content, which will be due, naturally and essentially, to the uniqueness of the individual artist and not the ingenious contrivance of the technician. Indeed, to borrow the terminology of literature, we could say that in the one case innovation is attempted through the use of nouns while in the other through the use of adjectives.

The plethora of alternatives, and indeed coming with the smallest of time gaps between them, should constitute the ideal motivation and the most effective lesson in the acceptance of all, so to speak, innovations as exploratory expressions of a unified art. In this way the artist would realize (and this does not imply ease but on the contrary creates pressure) that since every style is initially acceptable, then any criticism focuses on the innovation his own presence brings into the world of art and on the artistic excitement both that he feels and that he is able to evoke. Within this framework, the knowledge and respect of history, will be a companion and an inspiration for the artist and not an adversary, which moreover he is afraid to confront.