The ‘Photography’s Discursive Spaces: Landscape/View’ essay by Rosalind Krauss (1982), found at: http://dm.postmediumcritique.org/Krauss_PhotographysDiscursiveSpaces.pdf (accessed 21/11/2014), was both interesting and thought-provoking to read.
It was fascinating to see the contrast between two images that originated from the same photograph. Although the differences appeared minor to me at first glance, they became very evident upon closer inspection and ultimately offered different application usage – through these differences. In particular, the rocks in the Photolithograph (Fig. 2), by having a definite shape and uniformity, due to their shadows being depicted beside each other and adding context, became material objects rather than ethereal. This helped the eventual viewer to look at them and the rest of the image objectively and without emotion; rather observing with detachment. On the other hand, I deemed the Photograph (Fig. 1), to be subjective, aiming to show pictorial beauty or sublimity for viewing pleasure or to provoke emotion.
Thus, the two photographs were the same but were produced differently and intended for different purposes, with ultimately a different usage in mind. I found it very interesting that the same shot could produce two such visually and consequently evocatively contrasting photographs. The same shot was used as an example to cover both usage bases in different photographs. The reason I found this interesting was because if two different shots had been selected that were fairly typical of their intended usage; in the time in history, where that kind of photograph was most commonly used, then maybe the contrast between the two photographs would have been less profound. However, the fact they had both originated from the same source, kind of confirmed the notion I had that photographs could easily be seen as ‘a lie’, where how they were chosen to be represented had different effects on the viewer.
I had mostly envisaged prior to reading Krauss’ essay that in producing creative landscape shots through this course, I would be maximising a sense of depth within the landscape photographs I would be taking. I would have done this through composition and/or aperture settings. However, the reverse seemed to be true in the historical examples referenced in the essay, where in the past photographers were aiming to represent the exhibition wall in their photographs, with the rhetoric being the photographs themselves ‘belonged’ there. This was most saliently expressed by Krauss as: ‘it [the landscape painting] began to internalise the space of exhibition – the wall – and to represent it’. By compressing the photographs through techniques like ‘a diagonal reordering of the surface’, the effect of making ‘a representation of the very space of an exhibition’ could be achieved.
However, I also gathered from Krauss’ essay that photographs in relationship to the gallery wall (the photographs belonging there), was a relationship fraught with fragility. Because photographs can be somewhat of a lie, they reconstruct reality in a space that is believable and material. This is displayed in the form of on an exhibition wall – because historically this is consistent; however, this can and has been challenged. An exhibition is resolved by aesthetic discourse operating as art, which itself functions within the discursive space that grounds it institutionally – the exhibition. Therefore, photographs in an exhibition have the power to make at least a plane of the gallery wall represent history of the discursive space within which the photograph appears.
Paradoxically, the very history itself is fallible because when photography started, historically the photographs weren’t generally considered as ‘art’ but more topographical, practical tools. So while some photographs appear on gallery walls as ‘art’ – ‘with everything excluded from the space of exhibition becoming marginalised’, these pieces of ‘art’ sometimes only exist because their ‘real’ topographical counterparts helped to define what should appear on a gallery wall.
What these early topographical photographs demonstrated was that certain traits in appearance and implications related to their value as art, dictated their ‘legitimation’. The influence of 18th century painting was paramount for Galassi in the ‘legitimation’ of photography as art. Galassi calls the approach to 19th century flattening of the image ‘analytic’, which is wholly dependent upon internal sensibilities. I understood that further to this photography could be based upon these principles, so in effect Galassi is suggesting a blueprint already existed ‘within the arts’ – from which ‘legitimate’ art photography could be produced.
The ‘visual meandering experienced in the museum gallery’ differs greatly from stereoscopes, where the viewer generally tends to believe what they are seeing because of the reasons mentioned in the essay: ‘the sensation of refocusing one’s eyes’. While it’s of course possible to refocus one’e eyes among multiple images when visiting a gallery, a big difference in my opinion would be the viewer feels like they have a choice in the matter. The stereoscopic images take on a reality of their own and are singular; focusing all attention and are more involved; the viewer is almost pulled into the stereoscopic image.
Within this ‘view’, another singular object becomes evident: an object the focus of the viewer’s attention; often placed centrally and as the single focal point. This then gives precedence to the scene itself rather than the photographer. Indeed, these ‘views’ were given authorship to the eventual publishers, which suggests they ‘belong’ as part of the world and are empiricist in nature, which is in contrast to the pictorial photographs’ status as ‘art’.
‘view registers this singularity, this focal point, as one moment in the representation of the world’. This quote made an impression on me as I gathered that: it is important as a landscape photographer to realise the significant implications of recording a scene in the camera’s world – of a tiny fraction of the world – a ‘view’. While this one ‘view’ can seem massive and overwhelming in certain viewing circumstances (like stereographs for instance), it still pales in comparison to the rest of the earth’s atlas, recorded through other ‘views’. Perversely, certain ‘views’ are often photographed much more extremely than other ‘views’ as they are considered more ‘picturesque’ or photogenic than other views. However, a comprehensive atlas can be formed from various views, which provides a (somewhat biased) representation of the world. However, this collection of ‘views’ only belong within a physical space and are not likened to the discursive space of ‘art’.
The work of Atget reveals how a large volume of work possibly provides a cohesive body, whether this was intended by that artist or not. Also, how any certain oeuvre is catalogued can dictate how the work within it is seen as part of a bigger picture; that of art. The concept of oeuvre raised an interesting question for me – was an oeuvre affected by the finite nature of photographs historically (or conversely the seemingly infinite nature of digital photographs nowadays)? Because photographs were of course much less reproducible historically, as well as appearing at a time when the medium was quite new, I felt their value was greater and so bodies of work were scrutinised closely to determine their ‘author’s’ intentions and how they may or may not have fitted in with the bigger picture of art.
Maybe the point when photographs no longer ‘belong’ in a gallery as art but in a museum as history is when their purpose is undermined by their value historically. However, the line drawn between these two divides is a fine one because at what point does one view a photograph retrospectively? – this is quite subjective.
Krauss, R. (1982). Photography’s Discursive Spaces: Landscape/View. [online] Available at: http://dm.postmediumcritique.org/Krauss_PhotographysDiscursiveSpaces.pdf [Accessed 21 Nov. 2014].