Monday, January 17, 2005

More on Curiously Incongruous

Curiously Incongruous' awareness of photography's art world has me turning my attentions that way as well. Here's Sontag again—she draws out one thread of the comparison that I'm after:

"Photography is the only major art in which professional training and years of experience do not confer an insuperable advantage over the untrained and inexperienced—this for many reasons, among them the large role that chance (or luck) plays in the taking of pictures, and the bias toward the spontaneous, the rough, the imperfect." (p. 28, Regarding the Pain of Others).

However true this might be in principle, Sontag's point here better suits her case at hand than the de facto rules of the field at large. She is talking about the now famous post-9/11 photography show in New York called Here is New York: A Democracy of Photographs. In that show, amateur photographs hang next to commercially and artistically professional photographers' images—the various forces of professionalisation are indeed not insuperable in this specific case. But professionalisation does more subtle work that simply admit or bar the door. It colours how we see; it sets standards and modes of reception for many more than just the so-called professional images. However obscure these standards.

Curiously Incongruous, however, is neither inexperienced nor untrained. On the contrary, he spends a very serious amount of time on his photography, as do many so-called amateur photographers. There are and will be spaces where art-world photographs (photos which arrive from that vector) meet their Others. "Here is New York" is one such space; the internet is another. We can expect all of the familiar reactionary responses: *that's* not real art, *this* is real art, etc. The unique event, the one we might learn something from, will be the practices fostered in the hothouse of this encounter. Practices of image-making and practices of image-viewing. Thanks to Curiously Incongruous for helping me to see the importance of this encounter.

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