Winning the game when the rules have changed

Liz Wells (2003): The Photography Reader: London:Routledge
Susan Bright(2005):Art Photography Now:United Kingdom:Thames and Hudson

Abigail Solomon-Godeau ,  in her essay “Winning the game when the rules have changed” (Wells,2003:152), discusses how post-modern photography has diverged from traditional art photography and is now more commonly placed in other artistic practices rather than photography itself. This divergence she traces to the point at which modernism lost momentum, “a period whose simultaneous apogee and rupture might be located in the work of Robert Frank” (Wells,2003:159).  She writes – with a slightly disparaging tone – of how traditional art photography is still heavily associated with many of the technical aspects of photography. Given that this essay dates from 1984 it seems fairly clear that this perceived split is no longer true. Indeed Susan Bright, in the introduction to “Art photography now” makes explicit mention of many of the same post-modern artists that Solomon-Godeau goes on to discuss.

Further to her point Solomon-Godeau says “….certain correspondences between the art photography scene of the period of the Photo-Secession and that of the past fifteen years” (Wells,2003:58) (“the last fifteen years” being taken to mean last sixties to mid-eighties”). She then suggests that ‘cutting edge’ art photography has always been driven by technological innovations; the wider availability of improved facilities has and will lead to artistic innovation.

She discusses the work of Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince, Silvia Kolbowski and Vikky Alexander, and how they have moved away from the previous orthodoxy surrounding art photography. These artists are now strongly associated with the idea of appropriation, reusing previous work by other photographers with some or no adjustment. She regards these as moving away from the “hermetic enclave” of art photography.

In a previous blog post for this course ( I tried to get my thoughts straight about just how comfortable I felt about the whole idea of appropriation and at the time came to the conclusion it depended entirely on the degree of repurposing. It did seem too me that just reusing Google Street View images without any further specific repurpose was not valid. It now seems clear to me that it cannot be that straightforward; is there any real difference between Jon Rafman reproducing Streetview images and Sherrie Levine reproducing works by Walker Evans? It would seem that the deliberate lack of repurposing is repurposing anyway. The viewer’s perception changes because of the knowledge that this has been done.

It does seem to me that Solomon-Godeau’s essay  rather loses focus when discussing these photographers in detail, and that the analysis of their work might be better placed in a separate essay. The point has been made and there is perhaps too   much emphasis on the individuality of these artists rather than the overall break from traditional art photography.

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