Hogwash, Mr. Jones

Your recent Guardian article “Flat, soulless and stupid: why photographs don’t work in art galleries” caught my eye. As I’m a fine art photographer who strives to produce images to fulfill my creative vision and who seeks to show my art, or as you might characterize it “my pictures,” in a more formal, gallery setting, how could it not? I find it curious that you don’t believe photography has a place on gallery walls. You state,

“It just looks stupid when a photograph is framed or backlit and displayed vertically in an exhibition, in the way paintings have traditionally been shown. A photograph in a gallery is a flat, soulless, superficial substitute for painting. Putting up massive prints is a waste of space, when the curators could provide iPads and let us scroll through a digital gallery that would easily be as beautiful and compelling as the expensive prints.”

Wouldn’t displaying photographs in digital format only even lessen their soul? For example, take the recent Yousef Karsh exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. How unbelievably better the Portrait Gallery could have utilized their space had they just scanned his portraits to display them on a bank of iPads. Instead of walking right up to each print to see the intricate beauty of Karsh’s work, we could have just zoomed in on our iPads? Breathtakingly massive photos created by a light master via a large format camera printed and framed so I can walk right up to them and practically stick my nose on the glass? Pish posh. It’s all the same viewing them digital, right? Gosh, by this rationale, I think we could digitize any number of sketches or prints, as well. They really have no depth, either.

But then again, I suppose according to your argument, photography is sort of doubly-cursed, right? It’s not only “flat,” it’s “soulless.” As you state it,

“Paintings are made with time and difficulty, material complexity, textural depth, talent and craft, imagination and “mindfulness”. A good painting is a rich and vigorous thing. A photograph, however well lit, however cleverly set it up, only has one layer of content. It is all there on the surface. You see it, you’ve got it. It is absurd to claim this quick fix of light has the same depth, soul, or repays as much looking as a painting by Caravaggio – to take a painter so many photographers emulate.”

And a photograph has none of these characteristics. No time or effort is put into photography, as we photographers just point and shoot, seeing as we’re mindless drones with no imagination. It takes little skill, for example, to emulate a Gregory Crewdson work, I’d think. You could probably mimic his work in your sleep, right? It’s so awfully dull and unimaginative, not to mention completely devoid of material complexity or textural depth.

Photography is its own art form. Comparing it to paintings is like comparing apples and oranges. I think, what you’re really saying via your article, is that photography is not art. And so be it; you have a right to that opinion. But if this is the case, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.


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