On Being Nervous About Not Being Interested in Photography Anymore

June 5, 2012

I spent part of the morning at the local large public university library, where I have borrowing privileges, and I was on the lookout for both some art books, some literary stuff too complex to get into here, and maybe for some photography books.  I say “maybe” because I couldn’t really find any photographers I could think of so I was just looking for recent anthologies, stuff I haven’t seen before.  And it’s worth noting the layout of this library: art has it’s own specific enclosed library on the second floor near the central staircase, and it’s a sizable library, encompassing art, architecture and design.  Photography, meanwhile, is located in the basement on a single shelf at the end of a long hallway and amidst technical and computer science books because the camera is, after all, a machine.

So first I hit art and didn’t want to overload myself but came away with great Ken Lum and Glenn Ligon books.  I also looked for anthologies, and encountered the Younger Than Jesus catalog again, and paged through it, and both my eyes and my stomach rolled and I decided not to look at any “new” work right now because if that’s representative of what my generation is doing even in the most circumscribed way then I don’t want to be a part of my generation, because when what you’re doing is just decoration but you’re afraid to embrace the potential interest of the decorative because you want to be taken seriously and seen as someone who’s read Ranciere, come on already.  Plus I saw a big Dash Snow book and just shuddered.

When I went down to the photo ghetto, though, I couldn’t find anything.  It was the same old names, and anything new was either flimsy vernacular photography or why-even-bother stuff like Andreas Gefeller.  And there were some documentary books, but nothing that looked illuminative.  It just underscored, though, where we’re at with photography in 2012: 1) theory-heavy snapshots, 2) empty technology-fetishism, and 3) documentary photography that picks a safe subject and then just explores its surface in a conventional way.

I’m not interested in any of that.  Looking at it or producing it.

What I am interested in, increasingly, is the ability of the artist to use photographs in “art” projects ranging from Gordon Matta-Clark and Jan Dibbets to the aforementioned Lum.  Photos here get liberated from their significance as windows and become objects instead.  And what I want to do is make something, not record something.  It’s an alteration of Huebler’s famous statement: there are so many photographs in the world, I do not wish to add any more.  I don’t want windows, I want the bricks that go through them.

The obvious problem is that I’m nominally a photographer and unskilled in all of the following: drawing, painting, screen printing, carpentry, welding, and film and video.  What that leaves me with is where I’m at right now: installation and language.  Those are locations I’ve always explored, but right now they seem like the only current options.  And they’re good options, but what I’m facing now is the problem of inexpensively liberating myself from language confined to photographic prints and the even harder problem of having plenty of installation ideas in my head (most incorporating photos somehow) but nowhere to realize any, especially the bigger more expensive ones.

So where I go from here I’m not sure, but what makes me nervous is that wherever I do go I probably won’t be holding a camera.  The only photos I want to take right now are photos of palm trees, and only to print them as 4×6″ prints and staple them to small pieces of lumber.

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