Photography, by Stephen Bull, published by Routledge.
I have just finished reading this book as part of the required reading for my course and I found it inspirational for my current exercise Image and text as part of project 2, Part Two – Narrative. It has also provided me with ideas for my next Assignment. This book helps to tell the history of photography, explaining what and how modernity, modernism and postmodernism is and influenced photography. It helps explain for photography can and has been used to communicate ideas and how photography has developed in both the professional world and in the hands of the non-professional amateur / general-public with snap-shot photography which has gone full circle with snap-shop style photography adopted by the professionals.
A good book and with a useful guide to further reading in the back.
Postmodernism: The Artist as Photographer and ‘The Death of the Author’ by Stephen Bull (Bull, 2010, pp.137-141).
A Synopsis in Quotations.
It is possible to identify major cultural changes happening from the 1960s onwards where ideas associated with modernity such as progression and fixed individual identity are turned on their head. For example, instead of progressive new ideas, in postmodernity old ideas are constantly revived and the concept of a fluid, fragmented self that is performed replaces that of a single unified identity. Postmodernism, as the representation of postmodernity, constantly recycles recognisable (or figurative) imagery from mass culture rather than the abstract expression of an artist’s mind. (pp. 137).
Following the legacy of Pop Art’s return to the figurative and art’s reengagement with society through Conceptualism, Krauss introduced the semiotic term ‘indexicality’ to the analysis of visual art to argue that many of the new artists were making work that had direct links to the real world via the use go photographs and other media….Solomon-Godeau identified a return in the early 1980s to what she refers to as ‘pseudo-expressionist’ painting during an era of burgeoning capitalism – and so promoted the postmodernist as an alternative to this, both in their techniques and in what she interpreted as their critique of capitalist ideology….Many of these writers were inspired by the Situationist Guy Debard’s idea of the ‘society of the spectacle’ developed a decade earlier. Debard argued that contemporary society was dominated by spectacular images of entertainment and capitalist products (on billboards, magazine pages, and cinema and television screens). These distracted people from the real world, transforming them into numbed consumers. One reaction to this was to use Debord’s technique of ‘detournement’, where mass reproduction images that are part of the spectacle (and which might otherwise be hardly looked at) are appropriated in order for their meanings to be playfully and subversively redirected by artist: a move the Solomon-Gadeau characterises as shifting photographic practice ‘from production to reproduction’. An engagement with culture and social issues, the use of a range of media, and the appropriation of existing popular imagery from what Campany calls ‘the domains in which values, opinions and identities are formed’ was detected by postmodernist critics in the work of artists including Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Richard Prince and Sherrie Levine. (pp.138).
In a partial continuation of the Conceptualist use of the camera to record performances, Sherman’s series of Untitled Film Stills (1977-1980) where she acts out characters from a range of cinematic genres from earlier decades (familiar to audiences from watching old films on television) were seen as a critique of female stereotypes in the media, a feminist celebration of the different roles a women can have and even as an act of art criticism itself. Kruger’s addition of words to 1940’s and 1950’s image bank photographs in photo-text pieces such as You Are Not Yourself (1981) were interpreted as subverting the address to the consumer found in advertising. Prince’s series where cowboys were directly cropped from Marlboro cigarette advertisements were regarded as exposing the macho myths of Ronald Reagan-era America….Levin simply re-photographed pictures by canonised modernist photographers, such as Evans’ image of a farmhouse interior taken in Hale County, Alabama in 1936…In her 1981 essay ‘The Originality of the Avant-Garde‘, Krauss not only suggested that the avant-garde idea of art moving forward through creation of new work was at an end, but also that originality in modernism itself was being simultaneously exposed as a myth…The practice of these artists also seems to visualise ideas put forward in Roland Barthes’ ‘Death of the Author‘, a founding essay of postmodern theory written in 1968. Although Barthes focusses on writing in this essay, his ideas can be applied to work made in any media. However,Barthes uses the word ‘text’ instead of ‘work’. A work, he argues in another essay, is seen as something fixed in meaning and created by a single author, while a ‘text’ is never fixed in its meaning – its content relating to other texts through ‘intertextuality’. For example, a photograph analysed as a text (by examining the elements within it through techniques such as semiotics) can be seen as intertextually connected to other texts such as films, painting, other photographs, etc….This goes against the idea of authorship associated with modernism – where a work is isolated as original and unique, with all its influences deriving from the life of the creator. Barthes contends that authority of the text’s meaning does not lie with the its creator (the ‘author-God’) and their life. Instead, a text is ‘a tissue of quotations’ from cultural context in which it is created, where ‘a variety of writings, none of them original blend and clash’. The single meaning of a piece of work cannot therefore be discovered and fixed by examining the biographical details of the person that made it. Rather, the meaning of the text remain polysemous and depend on its interpretation by the viewer. …’The death of the Author’, Barthes argues leads to ‘the birth of the reader’. Although, as Carol Mavor has argued, Barthes’ use of a capital ‘A’ for the ‘dead’ Author suggests that the author’s own interpretation has not disappeared, but is a voice among many others. Prince seemed to sum up the adoption of this idea by postmodern artists that appropriated photographs with his remark, ‘I think the audience has always been the author of an artis’s work. What’s different now is that the artist can become the author of someone else’s work. (pp.138-140).