Fotograf Magazine

Artpress – The Great Interviews series: Photography

Over the course of its 40-year history, the French monthly Artpress has published numerous interviews with artists, curators, and theorists that have expanded our understanding of contemporary art. Towards the end of last year, the magazine’s editors published a selection of interviews on the subject of photography in a series entitled Les grandes entretiens. The interviews are thematically divided into five volumes, and the individual interviews in each book are ordered chronologically by date of publication. The first volume differs from the others in the nature of the interviews, some of which take place between two theorists or historians of photography. In the other volumes, the interviews are always between an artist and an art theorist or historian – often someone directly associated with Artpress.

The first of the five books looks at the theory and history of photography. Even this early in the series, it is clear that contemporary photography can only be understood as a constantly changing and unfixed medium. Our concrete understanding of photography does not always directly depend on the historical context, although in most cases it does play an important role. For instance, in his interview with Régis Durand from the 1990s, Michel Frizot points to the significance of photography’s association not with painting but primarily with sculpture (he understands the photographic frame as analogous to a pedestal). Jeff Wall begins with a re-evaluation of the historical context as well; he places documentary photography, such as the work of Walker Evans (who never intended to make art photography), at the medium’s forefront, and considers photojournalism to be entirely outside the realm of art. Clément Chéroux emphasizes the importance of “folk” photography (la photographie vernaculaire), which has been a part of the medium since its very beginning and which plays an important role within contemporary art.

The topic of the second book of interviews is subjective photography. The twenty-year time span span covered by this volume reflects how views of photography have changed over the years. Besides important photographers such as Robert Frank and William Klein, there are also interviews with photographers whose work, though innovative, was also aesthetically dogmatic (Ralph Gibbson), as well as those who take a traditional approach to exploring contemporary contexts (Antoine d’Agata). An interesting element in this book is the combination of photography with film. All the profiled photographers share an attempt at breaking down the model of photography based on a traditional understanding of the image as a harmonic whole.

The third book of interviews, entitled “(post-)documentary strategies,” brings together such diverse artists as Allan Sekula, Gilles Saussier, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Luc Delahay, and Taryn Simon. The interviews open up a discussion of different views on contemporary photography. For instance, Taryn Simon comments on changes in political and economic practice. One approach is the simulation of archives and the use of such images in the photographer’s own work. Another important interview is with Allan Sekula, one of the few representatives of a truly functional and critical post-conceptual approach (the re-actualization of documentary photography). The reader also learns interesting details and other information (for instance, the fact that the Bechers felt that every building has its own particular sound).

The fourth book looks at the construction of the photographic image. The interview with Philip-Lorca diCorcia repeatedly touches on the question of reality and fiction, a question recently rediscovered in association with the advent of digital technology. DiCorcia combines cinematic techniques, works with chance and authenticity (his subjects often have no idea that they are being photographed), and his works transcend the category of mere construction. Andreas Serrano explores contradictions in photography, such as the contradiction between aesthetics and meaning or between abstraction and representation, with a focus on his controversial works from the 1980s. Cindy Sherman, in an interview with Catherine Francblin, recapitulates and redefines the starting points and objectives of her work. One interesting point is her response to the failure by both critics and the general public to understand or properly interpret her portrait photographs (Centerfolds) originally created for Artforum magazine.

The final volume contains interviews on the subject of experimentation. Even twenty years later, the oldest interview (with Joan Fontcuberta) has lost none of its relevance. Fontcuberta’s photographic project on the “disappearance” of cosmonaut Ivan Istochnikov touches on universal themes of manipulation, memory, and conscience. In his interview with Catherine Millet, Alain Fleischer discusses the different nature of text versus image and also photography versus film. Talking with Étienne Hatte, Wolfgang Tillmans discusses his relationship to innovative approaches and contemporary technology. Digital photography, which floods our world with an inexhaustible volume of images, is capable of showing details otherwise inaccessible to the human eye. He also says that it is an unsettling experience to be confronted with one’s own inability to understand all the things we see through these iamges. For other artists, photographic experimentation is associated with the constantly changing technology of the photographic image. For instance Thomas Ruff, in his photographic series ma.r.s., works with black-and-white satellite images that he alters using digital technology by making them look like authentic color photographs. According to Ruff, he considers the exploration of photography more important than the actual act of photographing.

This series on photography explores many issues that are definitely worth consideration.

 

Štěpán Grygar

 

 

Artpress, Les grandes entretiens / The Great Interviews series: La Photographie. Des histoires / Photography. Histories. 2016. Print.

Artpress, Les grandes entretiens / The Great Interviews series: La Photographie. Écritures subjectives / Photography. Subjective writings. 2016. Print.

Artpress, Lesgrandes entretiens / The Great Interviews series: La Photographie. (Post-)documentaires / Photography. (Post-)documentaries. 2016. Print.

Artpress, Les grandes entretiens / The Great Interviews series: La Photographie. L’image construite / Photography. The constructed image. 2016. Print.

Artpress, Les grandes entretiens / The Great Interviews series: La Photographie. Expérimentations / Photography. Experiments. 2016. Print.

#29 contemplation

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