A short chronicle and a controversy.

Barely 3 weeks from now I will be in Cologne for the grand opening of the PhotoBookMuseum, an initiative by Markus Schaden and his team, that is destined to be one of the most significant events related to the photobook culture. “The Pigs” will be exhibited in a container, along with David Alan harvey’s “Based in true facts”, De Middel’s “Afronauts” and many other great books and photographers. There are going to be workshops, talks, a bookshop, and most importantly, this great exhibition is going to start a World Tour for the next two years. Will the PhotoBook Museum become a reference for the coming photographers, designers, publishers and everyone involved in the peculiar business of photo book making? It looks like this could be the natural development of events. 

Earlier this summer I went to Dublin to attend the PhotoIreland Festival, which I found very nice in all aspects. Nice exhibitions, very nice talks, and interesting open debates. Of course, as usual, a lot happens too after the formal talks, around a Guinness. I felt like in a cozy, privileged insider's meeting.

Right after that, my family and I went to Arles, where I met most of the people I wanted to meet, and saw some interesting things. The one I liked best was the the exhibition of chinese books curated by Martin Parr. The use of  torches to see in the darkened building was particularly nice for my 5 years old child, who otherwise wouldn’t have endured such a thoughful activity. For me it was a needless sophistication, but all in all it was good.

As everyone has already said, the Cosmos meeting point was the place to be, and the Archive of Modern Conflict had the most trendy display, with those old suitcases. And I liked their book “The night climbers of Cambridge".

If I am forced to say what's the one thing I would save in an earthquake, I would say Patrick Willocq amazing photos.

From a personal point of view, It was great. I was awarded the lacritique.org - Voies Off Award, and that makes me clearly happy.

Ok, but where is the controversy?

Calm. Here it goes.

During this summer I have been asked 4 times wether I had taken the photos in The Pigs, or they were collected from Internet. The first time I was asked this question, I looked at the young girl like “Wtf are you talking about?, are you serious?”. Yes, she was serious as a brain tumor. My first reaction was a bit like: “you see, I’m very old fashion, and I love to take my own photos. The love of shooting is the root of me being a photographer. Otherwise, I could go back to my old advertising agency job and get a salary for picking other people’s photographs”.

In Lausanne, Dublin and Arles I have seen really many books made out of photos taken by others. Something that used to be a taboo, like taking other people’s work and present it like yours, is now not only well accepted, but encouraged and super trendy. The idea that taking photos is no longer needed nor necessary, because photography has become a commodity lies in the base of the principle that promotes this trend. The idea of remix vs the idea of creation from draft is clear, and easy to understand. Somehow, it has been around for more than 100 years, when Duchamp first declared that everything can be art, if we all accept it is. So, nothing really new. Just a new way of avoiding one of the most difficult tasks for a photographer: go out and make damned good photos. Making good photos (relevant, pertinent, well crafted) has always been extremely difficult. Contrary to the popular belief, today is not easier than it used to be. Today is a lot more difficult, because the average standard has risen so high, that for photographers, to do something that makes sense, they really need to squeeze their brains a lot harder than they used to. 

I’m a big fan of conceptual works. I love projects when they have really deep conceptual foundings. But that said, I don’t remember any experience similar to knowing that you have just captured in a frame exactly what you were expecting to capture. This is no conceptual matter. This is like going downhill on a bike, or drinking cold beer in summer. This is epidermic pleasure. Almost animal, primitive. 

Does that mean I don't like Andrea Botto's 19-06_26-08-1945? No. First, because it's a very nice book. Then, because he is a very nice guy, and then because he also has Ka-Boom, which is an explosion of photography.

It’s great that art directors, designers, critics, theorists, curators and teachers play with photography. But guys, try to go out and shoot. Try until you make one photo that makes you thrill. There is nothing like that. And there is also no shortcut, no way around. There’s only you and the world in front of you. No intro text will replace the power of a perfect (to you) image, the same way no DJ will ever feel like a piano player.

Also, consider this: when you are about to die, you may remember some of your great shots. I seriously doubt that you will remember your artist statement that explains why and how you didn’t take a photo of something.

Comments

To do a work with others people photos can be interesting even if you only select them and don't intervene manipulating them, I've seen some interesting works in that way and I think is a new respected concept wich works, but I'm more participant of the DIY at least in the subject to take your own pictures and then get help to put the final touches.

Yes, it's at least a 100 years old new concept. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ready_mades

Hi Carlos...

I understand your shock at being asked whether you had taken the PIGS photos yourself. I can't imagine a more cohesive, personal body of work. To me it is obvious it was made by one, unique person.

Tocapelotas as always, I'm not sure how your comparison really applies to this trend. In the extreme, Duchamp's statement was challenging the notion of the artist as a "maker" of artifacts, pretending that anything an artist does is art. That really catched on, giving us the likes of Piero Manzoni's Merde d'artiste. Manzoni went as far as signing human beings and pretending they were sculptures made by him. He made some money with his canned shit, but galleries and collectors really made a killing: the last time one of his cans changed hands it traded for 125.000 US $, so maybe he was right.

I think there's precious work done by artists who collect, re frame, and re think existing photographs. Joachim Schmidt is a good example. Jon Rafman did something similar with Google Street views. Then there are also appropiation artists, like Sherry Levine, who famously re photographed and showed Walker Evans pics. I think these are closer to Duchamp.

The problem starts when you describe all of this as photography and mix it all on specialized events, such as Arles. It's confusing. To me, there are "photographers" who take photographs & then there are artists who use photography in their work. Two different breeds. But it even gets more confusing when some of them take photographs while ALSO collecting and reusing other people's pics. The modern world is really taunting... ;-)

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In 2008 I started to write a weekly post about people and issues related to photography, with a wide range of subjects.

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