Photography after art photography

Liz Wells (2003): The Photography Reader: London:Routledge

Abigail Solomon-Godeau ,  in her essay “Photography after art photography” (Wells,2003:205) argues that what is (or was at the time she wrote this in 1991) regarded as “art photography” is too tied into a tradition that has evolved from modernism onwards.  She describes how photography and photographers are only evaluated in the context of what has gone before. By this she means specifically the idea that the photographer’s intention is paramount and the idea of ‘authorship’ is the primary concern of art photography criticism and evaluation. The effect she describes is as if an industry has sprung up around photography that is too concerned with the perpetuation of existing rules. This is not to say there is just down to a desire on the part of art critics to continually justify their own position, but rather that the nature of any kind of  establishment will allow this kind of situation to arise.

She is clear in her distinction between the aims and achievements of the early modernist photographers but is equally clear that there has subsequently been a great deal of repetition.  She contrasts this with the works of artists who are not photographers but use photography as part of their art. This post-modern approach to art is very different from what is regarded as true ‘art photography.

Given the amount of time that has passed since this essay was first published, it is not really surprising that the art world consensus has moved on since then. What she regarded as ‘outside’ photography is now largely acceptable within the field. Indeed many of the artists she regards as outside traditional art photography are explicitly referred to in this course material. One of the major characteristics of the work she considers is the use of appropriation, something that has very much become part of the mainstream art world now. Now that Richard Prince works can sell for millions of dollars, it is clear that post-modernism is no longer outside at all.


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