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It’s difficult to write clearly about photography because you have to be specific to be clear, and that takes far too much space for most readers. Also, writing clearly requires an enormous amount of synthesis in thought which isn’t always at hand. But I’d like to enter into another of Colberg’s questions (he shifted the dialogue on the question of “trusting” photographic images by giving the word a different meaning, but there’s no point in either of us wasting time on semantics.)

I want to talk about the change in what it means to be an artist, an artist photographer, a fine-art photographer or whatever you want to call someone who uses photography to express ideas and feelings and not simply commercial or family necessities. That should mean just about anyone reading this article. It’s all of us.

There are basically two questions to understand:
1) what distinguishes a fine-art photographer from all the rest, and
2) how does the technology of image-making alter the evaluation of who takes the image.

Both are nowadays in serious questioning and Colberg is trying, I believe, to find some standards on which to distinguish both cases. He is trying to charge the questions with larger social issues in order to stimulate a debate. Once again, I am grateful to him for that. Let’s try and analyze the two questions.

What distinguishes a fine-art photographer from the rest? Is he an artist and the others mere amateurs? Are “serious” photographers somehow more worthy of our attention then fun-loving Instagram users? This mixes already the second question of technological expertise as opposed to button-pushing kids with smart-phones.

Culturally, in our technologically specialized world, it would seem that the “serious” fine-art photographer is probably better equipped both culturally and technically to create images of “value”. This appears to be at the basis of Colberg’s argument. We can immediately see, however, that many meanings in my previous synthetic phrase are up for definition. What does “seriousness” have to do with “value”? Just as, what does “cultural” have to do with “technical”? Interesting questions.

The Oxford on-line dictionary (which probably has nothing to do with the University of Oxford) describes the artist as:
1) a person who produces paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby,
2) a person who practices any of the various creative arts, such as a sculptor, novelist, poet or filmmaker,
3) a person skilled at a particular task or occupation.

Interestingly enough, there are no value judgements in question. No one asks if what you’re doing makes any sense or if it’s good. An artist is simply anyone who uses a creative art. But this is certainly not the kind of judgement very useful for understanding what is worth looking at and what is simply rubbish. What’s in question is how we make those judgements and what social habits give us the clues as to what is important art and what is not. We simply can not rely on our instincts because if we do, we are limiting our judgment quite strictly to what we know and therefore what we feel.

Feeling is not a universal language, nor is meaning. Some people feel quite embarrassed in situations in which others are at ease. Some adore rituality while others are angered by its seemingly senseless repetition. As to meaning, simply ask anyone from outside your culture to explain a symbol inside your culture, or visa versa (like Arabic calligraphy or an original base-ball used in the World Series). Meanings are subjective. Always.

So who is an artist and who isn’t depends on your surroundings, the period you are working in, the culture you live in and, especially, the culture who is judging your quality as an artist.

And this brings me to Instagram. Are Instagram photographers artists or just kids playing with their iPhone? Let me quote Ms. Mukti Khaire, an associate professor at Harvard Business School who studies the creative fields, “The fact that the Web creates opportunities for discovery and showing that nothing else could on that scale… I think it does change who gets to be an artist… it may not change the definition, but it widens the funnel.” (quote taken from the International Herald Tribune article by Melena Ryzik “Getting their names in lights”, June 20, 2012)

So some outsiders are getting into the photographic field. But there is also a question of quality which anyone who has studied photography recognizes is not necessarily inherent in the filters systematically applied to images on social platforms. Many images look alike, many filters do the same thing to anyone’s images, reducing their contribution as an artist and emphasizing the platforms codified filters: technical choices made in a bundle by some geek somewhere in the world. That’s why SX-70 Poloroids never became a serious photographic expression: they all look very much alike.

This question is inflaming many practitioners on both sides of the question. Kate Baven, on The Guardian’s web site tried too to come down on the side of “serious” photographers, deriding the filters offered by Instagram:

“For me, these filters spoil pictures: they get in the way of the image and they distort the story the picture is telling. It jars to see a picture taken a few seconds ago, in the summer of 2012, that looks like a picture from my childhood… But for me, the Instagram/Hipstamatic/Snapseed etc filters are the antithesis of creativity. They make all pictures look the same. They require no thought or creative input: one click and you’re done.”

But then again, why isn’t Ms. Baven irritated seeing a black and white photograph of an event which obviously took place in color? Her article brought on a wave of response and most readers disagreed. From almost 50 responses on the first web-page, only about 10 agreed with her.

I’ve been following Instagram for a while and I must admit, talent shows through. There is an immense difference between those who are really using the medium and those who are simply copying or taking snap-shots, no matter how well composed. The digital filters do make many images look alike, but only the more modest photographers make images that can be confused for one another. What instant digital smart-phone photography does do is allow people to play with imagery and become, little by little, more visual literate.

And then, there are the professionals who are starting to use Instagram and Hipstamatic on a very serious basis. It’s not the technique, it’s who does what with it. When Ben Lowy was commissioned by The New York Times to work in Afghanistan, he used both his professional equipment as well as his smart-phone. Guess which images The New York Times published? That’s right, the ones done with his smart-phone. Do they look like all the others on Instagram? Well, a little, yes, because they have those mottled tones and special colors, but so did Kodachrome slides, or platinum prints or Edward Weston’s prints developed in Amidolo; they all had recognizable technical traits that made them famous. Just like Instagram or Hipstamatic filters. Lowy’s images, however, go far beyond.

Lanre Bakare, writing in Wired, interviewed the war-zone photographer Michael Christopher Brown and concluded in his article,

“One advantage of using a smartphone versus a digital camera is that you won’t stand out in a crowd or to snipers… The iPhone makes no noise, so it can be used to capture sensitive situations where a camera might intrude too much.” Then, further on, Bakare discusses with Brown the question of quality while using applications like Hipstamatic; “‘Because the application is limited, you have no choice but to slow down the shooting,’ Brown says. This forces him to compose images carefully and pick the right moment, and thus create better-quality work.”

We’re beginning to see how the smart-phone as photographic instrument is allowing photographers to be even more spontaneous and invisible than the Leica did for news photographers in the mid 1920’s.

So Joerg Colberg’s provocative statement: “It might be time to turn around and reject the tyranny of consumption, to instead embrace the promise of photography. And rejecting the tyranny of consumption here explicitly includes rejecting the rapid, vapid one liners our bang-bang-bang culture has come to rely on.” is his attempt to slash out at apps and practitioners of Instagram who notoriously, as Colberg says, produce “vapid one liners” (from a) “bang-bang-bang culture”. Giving Colberg the benefit of the doubt, which I do, we should rephrase this question and leave out the confusion of mixing “consumption” with a “bang-bang-bang” culture. The second is a specific criticism of one aspect of the first, not to be confused with the insinuation that consumer culture is at the basis of the problem. Culture is at the basis of the problem and that is nothing more than the reflection of who we’ve become in our globalized post-industrial society.

As David Campbell rightly states in his web article…it’s time to move the conversation forward. Photography has changed profoundly, despite what many still believe, and its expansion in both users and techniques has opened up interesting questions. We’ll be talking about some of them very very soon.

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Edward Rozzo



{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

tve July 23, 2012 at 11:24

This is, so far, the order of the articles published in this interesting conversation

1. Colberg: http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/extended/archives/pho
2. TVE Rozzo: http://www.thevisualexperience.org/web/photograph
3. Colberg: http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/extended/archives/pho
4. TVE Rozzo: http://www.thevisualexperience.org/web/photograph

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F. M. September 19, 2012 at 00:30

But, consumer Culture IS at the base of the problem, as our global Culture has omitted almost every other fitting characterization. It is even obvious in this same article where the war-zone photographer is quoted. What he describes is nothing more than what we've heard so many times before, namely, ''the (not-so-)invisible hand of the market''. And as the story goes, an editor somewhere, is looking at some sort of statistics or even her/his gut feeling (a.k.a money-maker) acquired after X hours of browsing and she/he makes the decision that, what the "audience" wants (or identify more with) is product Y with wrapping choice Z.
Hence, X+Y+Z+…+(other quantified data represented as variables here) = N number of sales, hits, ads, etc. = I get to keep my job or maybe even get a raise!
I'm failing to see how the smart-phone as an instrument argument (which I understand and agree with) has anything to do with effects filters.
So, as I see it, the image is always going to be the image, the referent, and the effects applied on the image by necessity are also by-products of the conditions of production at that specific moment in space and time and thus exo-photographic referents of a certain location/time/event. This might work out as a bonus attribute for the photograph – or not – when the photographic and the exo-photographic referent fall into the game of complimenting each other (that is, the image's narrative). However, the tricky part is that it can only be judged whether it had worked as a bonus or not only in retrospect. And guess what, it almost always does, as nostalgia and curiosity grow in analogy with the growing temporal distance from the object's moment and place of birth.
Now, when the effects are not applied by necessity but by choice, then that's a more or less calculated intervention into the image's narrative by invoking some other era's "feeling", "vibe", "sentiment" and whatnot. That's quantification of "feelings" right there and it is also, from my perspective, a way of playing it safe. It is as if someone says: "I don't have the slightest idea how my era feels like, and I don't know how to even start feeling it as I have gone numb, so lets use what we've got and know already". Again and again and again ad infinitum. So that's not looking forward. Its not even static. Its going backwards full speed. Let alone the prospect of looking back at our own era in twenty to forty years and seeing something resembling a black hole or a distortion of other times long gone.
The whole Instagram/Hipstamatic conversation completely misses the point and it is yet another safe play zone. I think we have to stop playing it safe and just let go.

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Edward Rozzo September 20, 2012 at 08:15

Hello F.M. and thanks for your very thoughtful and interesting comment. I also thank you for bringing the question to another level. At the level on which you refer to (the original narrative of the photograph) how can you distinguish between the intrinsic technological twists that each narrative submits to as it is re-transmitted through another media? On the other hand, the whole question of the present cultural "void" giving way to a non-esistant nostalgia from a non-existant past (which resembles feeling for some) is obviously a very pertinent question. I often ask myself where to draw the line between "innovation" and "nostalgia" since almost all innovation drags along with it parts of the nostalgic past (which is not the real past). You also tie this into the question of consumer culture and I certainly agree with you on that, but even that is often an issue which lies under the discussion because no one is really informed enough to deal with it. Since you prove yourself to able to handle the question, I ask, "ok, almost ALL culture has to do with consumer culture in one way or another, depending on how wide your meaning for consumption is. I personally believe that all culture is consumer culture in one way or another. The question seems to be, what are the commodities we are consuming: anxiety, fear, truth, ideology, the past, history, religion, etc. etc.? That is the game and the actual state of "production" has finally admitted that these basic needs, feelings and opinions are the real commodities being dealt with. So getting back to the manipulation that Instagram filters effect on our vision of a real event, I could add, how much does the smart-phone format distort reality to begin with and how much does the ubiquitous distribution of Instagram images have to do with the profound changes in our sense of reality, which are taking place within our intimate sense of the present. As so many have said before, the present is becoming more and more meaningless unless it has roots attached to it to help people contexualize reality. This, I agree, has destructured and fragmented our sense of the present along with our sense of self. Is this bad? Is this something to be stopped? Or is it something to be witness to? I'm a little flexible on those last points. what do you think? What do our readers think?

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F.M. September 20, 2012 at 13:09

Hello and thanks for continuing the dialog. I know that you mentioned in one of your articles your wish not to get this conversation tangled and confused into semantics, but please bear with me as I think this is quite relevant.
Nostalgia is an actual, true feeling. Its a Greek word made of the synthesis of the words nostos and algos. Nostos means “the return home” and algos means “pain”. So a literal translation of nostalgia would be “aching to return home”, or more loosely “aching for safety”. Safety here would acquire its wider possible range, from safety of the familiar to safety from actual physical harm, all the way to psychological safety. Apparently the most important aspect of all this and for the conversation we are having, is the safety of the familiar.
This then shows us that in an age where most people can't help but being nostalgic about their own past or their community's past and everything else in-between, the main issue can't be other than that we don't feel safe. Now this is a major contradiction in light of consumer culture where the main/official narrative has always seemed to be: “you have the freedom to choose among infinite choices, therefor you can have the ideal life you've imagined (and keep it quite if you don't)”. Yet, the whole thing lives on and some people feel nostalgic about times past when “things were different”. One possible answer to that would be that we do best (and therefor feel better against all odds?) when we are confronted with limited situations. This is most true in the wider art context where arts thrived under impossible conditions (and this is not a myth). Today it seems as if we can have everything within our reach, but then the doubt of our own choices, or the need to justify them concretely comes so naturally. When we can't or we don't bother justifying, insecurity kicks in. Hence, in my view, the always deeper and deeper excavation of older “truths” that no one can oppose, until…. some people are doing the obvious thing to reject the “truer” label of something which nobody claimed to be “truer” in the first place. The whole game isn't about truth.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not nostalgic here in any way. I'm just trying to show how the element of restriction as a necessary yet positive condition of creativity has been cast aside. So, I have nothing against using a smart-phone as a tool and pushing it at its limits, but I do have a problem masking its output with something irrelevant. Its like filming star wars muted in order to inject it with an “oldies” quality, or showing industrial revolution through cave paintings for the same reason (or to make a “postmodern” comment?).
So, I think one answer to your question would be that we don't consume anxiety, fear, truth etc. but we do consume safety products as a consequence of those feelings. And how could we not, since everything seems so fragmented and irrelevant, yet at the same time relevant and interwoven. This is quite a challenge in terms representation, visual or otherwise. So I'm all for witnessing it, as you said, and express the experience.

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F.M. September 20, 2012 at 13:10

(part 2)
But I for one, haven't seen a representation of the Egyptian revolution being posted by a local in Egypt, dressed up with filters. Probably it was clear that something like that would be irrelevant. Yes, the media we viewed were usually pixelated and we can't deal with it cause it displaces our established modes of perception. Yes its unsettling but isn't it also a good thing in terms of pushing our understanding forwards? Yet I haven't read that many articles referring to this as a valid representation of our fragmented-while-interwoven global culture. What I did see though was the trend going the other direction, meaning by that that nobody appropriated the mode of production of “revolutionary imagery” from its source but instead used the trending aesthetic of some other more culturally hegemonic part of the world. Thomas Ruff, for example, did that earlier in an other context (jpg's project etc.) and there are other examples as well, but that somehow did not flourish into a wide and live enough dialog. Instagram's/Hipstamatic's aesthetic did flourish because they trended in a more pervasive cultural environment. Should we bother more with a trend that promotes nostalgia instead of dealing with positive research of the past for the future? I mean look at it, I'll use the example of star wars again because its common for many people (the pervasive culture again from a different perspective where new formal visual effects are invented instead of reusing older ones). This is a contemporary cultural artifact based in part to the ancient Oedipus story (the difference being Luke did not sleep with his mother but almost slept with his sister and he did kill his father to save face as much as the day). Its almost the same old story but told in a completely groundbreaking and new visual way in order to revitalize it and make its basic points relevant again (well, and profit from it). That's innovation not nostalgia, and its intrinsic technological twists where so obvious yet masterful enough not to be forced to the viewer that bought in almost effortlessly; the story prevailed. I think this is the basic scheme of what we need to be talking about and practicing on, and there are people doing it and they need to be mentioned more.
I'm really sorry for this carpet message.

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Edward Rozzo September 20, 2012 at 18:20

Just to start, I enjoy the conversation because it's not based simply on semantics but on meanings, which are far more important. I also think we're getting to the point; that is how we deal with anxiety and fragmentation in today's glocal world. I believe you put three points into focus. First, the question of dealing with anxiety through the consumption of nostalgia; and for that we're pretty much saying the same thing. Second, what the consumer culture was supposed to do was satisfy our wildest dreams by offering anything and everything (anywhere and everywhere, with credit to boost), but as your thoughts reveal, it really didn't do that. What it did do was put us into a continual dilemma of choice. Choice to the point of loosing the roots of meaning, choice which becomes an abstract anxiety which drags us into a kind of nightmare and leads to a sense of loss, but we're all getting over that (I hope) and we're in the middle of flux. Consumer culture is becoming much deeper and more complex than simply buying what you want or getting it now (we can talk about that later, maybe on some other blog). The third point you make is about "trending aesthetic" which has everything to do with Thomas Ruff and Instagram. The interesting question, I believe, is why did they become aesthetic trends? Instagram is clear, it instantly makes any visual event into an historic one by slapping on nostalgia in many ways, shapes and forms. I'm a bit more undecided as to why Thomas Ruff became trendy. Was it simply market tactics of the German coalition of collectors from the Dusseldorf School? After the empty faced portraits… what? To conclude I agree with your premise, we've got to look towards the past in order to construct the future but, as we both say, nostalgia isn't really about the past, but about a false perception of the past, so it has more to do with psychology than history. Innovating, instead, is telling the same old story in a new way. Star Wars. Let me know if you're seeing that happen anywhere. I'm having a tough time finding examples. I personally feel that Doug Rickard's work from Google's Street Views is just that kind of looking back and forward at the same time. Putting the small talk aside, he's taking a typical photo-journalistic approach but applying it through new technology to give us new perspectives on identity. It's all easily criticized, but the images do portray a very different America than what we've been used to seeing.

To conclude, just to keep the ideas coming, Instagram, in my opinion, does potentially more than simply nostalgify anyone's images. It's also a way of shooting, a way of considering subject matter within the limits of iPhone squares. Like you say, F.M., we all need restraints, otherwise we are truly lost.

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F.M. September 21, 2012 at 18:13

Thank you for summing things up, it went a bit chaotic up there in my previous comment. What we say does converge. However, unfortunately, I have to stress my slightly more pessimistic view.
Firstly, consuming nostalgia (or safe-products as I kind-of explained above) is merely a placebo for our anxieties, and a really bad one at that. And what we repress eventually explodes. Historically speaking, consuming the past uncritically leads societies into deep, void-deep trouble. But yes, I think we are more or less saying the same thing here.
On the second point I agree with you all the way. I too hope that we are getting over it, even though we occasionally witness things that make us lose hope.
On the third point my divergence is that I am sure Instagram's popularity is primarily based in purely exo-photographic conditions, namely its integration into the telecommunications and internet revolution. And that's for me where its innovation lays.The nostalgia aspect of it is/was its means of exploiting the currently strong retro-mania we see around us for some time now. I hope this side of the equation will fade away sooner or later. On a second note, and in order to appear softer while talking about it, maybe there is some positive element in rapidly playing with filters and effects, as this might add into making clear to most people that photography has nothing to do with reality even though it does affect it profoundly. This is -stubbornly- still a BIG issue and I think both you and Jim Colberg touched it a bit in your conversation about the faith value of photography. I always think about it in terms of how religion functions today. For example, many people will still go through many rituals of their religion, almost mechanically, without really believing in it or thinking whether they believe in it. They either do it out of habit or "just in case" or in "better safe than sorry" mode, if you know what I mean. Photography is in a similar place where we've acknowledged its distance from reality, we some times express out loud this particular understanding, we even consciously say to ourselves we know its game all too well, but yet in our everyday lives we subconsciously act as if we believe in it blindly. I'm leaning towards thinking that this has mostly to do with the fact that fiction and reality were always difficult to supposedly tell apart, and for some time now the whole endeavour has been shacked all together. Maybe rightly so too.
Thomas Ruff, in most of his projects, has explored this particular issue of what we've "agreed" to believe in and what happens when this belief is challenged (again, jpg's project, nudes, night-vision etc.). And I'm saying this even though I'm no big fan of his work, because it feels a bit shallow and too artificial/detached. But maybe its my own beliefs that are shallow and problematic rather than his work.
I can't really say anything about Doug Rickard's work as I am still processing it, but from the top of my head Cedric Delsaux's "Dark Lens" project, Idris Khan's work, Nadav Kander's "Yangtzee, the Long River" and Paul Graham's "a shimmer of possibility", make me feel as if I've been told something new, or in a new way.

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Edward Rozzo September 23, 2012 at 11:30

Certainly this has become an interesting conversation. The consumption of nostalgia has, I believe, another aspect to it which demands our attention. Since it is the way we've said it is (with all the criticism and bewilderment), one must ask, is this really a placebo solution or is it the construction of a new sense of the present? Let me put it this way, all the things any of us can criticize are valid criticisms on our part because we're not complete idiots or fools. Therefore, there is always some basis for an opinion. But if we turn the tables upside down, I've found it useful to think that maybe something, or some social practice, I find obviously flawed might (I just say "might") be a new way of interpreting what I already know in such a way as to seem foolish to me, but apparently it works for millions of other people. Example (otherwise we're really going into deep waters), the superficiality with which people gather and throw out information today is in sharp contrast with the more in-depth way of treating knowledge that we learned in High School or college (I'm old, so I'm talking about college 40 years ago). Are today's teen-agers simply superficial and stupid OR are they forced to keep things shallow in order to keep gathering the tons of information thrown at them every second of their lives? This, by the way, is the kind of theme that photography deals with very well. Which brings me to your interesting examples of photographers you feel are telling you something new. Actually, they're often telling us things we already know but in a fresh and new way. We all know about poverty, but Paul Graham's way of investigating the psychic and social fall-out of poverty is certainly not your typical news photo. So we're seeing an age-old theme with new eyes and, therefore, we see new aspects of the same old problem. Different are Idris Khan's and Nadav Kander's work. Khan's work, which is similar to many ways of seeing of Michael Najjar's work, is dealing with layers of information seen as one image. That is not necessarily a new idea, Virginia Wolf dealt with it about 85 years ago in Mrs. Dalloway, but it certainly has been emphasized by the introduction of layers in Photoshop which have percolated into many other ways of thinking and seeing. Just like the Gestalt theories which originally dealt with physiology and ended up invading philosophy, sociology etc. etc. The only criticism I have is about Delsaux's work which, being mixed up with the new mythologies of blockbuster movies, leaves me quite indifferent. But thanks for the suggestions because I found them very rewarding on many levels.
So is Instagram telling us that people "need" new roots and, for the moment, they're finding them in nostalgia? Or, more deeply and unsettling, is this need for roots behind most if not all the revivals in religious fundamentalism? So Instagram's nostalgia is the "watered-down" version of religious fundamentalism? It's like the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, that iceberg is very very deep and way to large. So possibly, making people feel rooted is at the basis of many of the world's problems since the globalized economy has often swept away people's traditional roots in exchange for shinier and more dazzling kinds of superficial bling. Fundamentalism is one answer because it declares quite clearly who is "one of us" and who isn't, making identity a very clear question. To overcome that kind of simplification we certainly need more photographs to spread the word that life is complex and the photographic image can help us understand those complexities. Why photography? Because images are more immediate than words and concepts and we really don't have the time to educate the whole world.
Now just to leave you an a provocative note: maybe we've got to change the concept of consumption in order to realign our sense of identity. And images are part of that consumption. So where does that bring us?

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F.M. September 26, 2012 at 13:58

I agree on what you said at all levels. In my eyes, fundamentalism does grow in analogy with the growing complexity of everything around us. Meaning by this that certain groups, unable to deal with what feels like moving sand under their feet, agree to hold on to something arbitrarily chosen as the specter of truth. So the characterization of Instagram's nostalgia as a watered-down fundamentalism of sorts might actually hold water. And as I previously said, this has nothing to do with Instagram per se, but with nostalgia. Instagram currently being the louder outlet of it.
I see in your two points, (a) needing more photographs(images) to educate the world and (b) changing the concept of consumption, an age old narrative within all art in general. Namely, the narrative that art can change the lives of people. Among various sources concerned with this particular matter, Robert Hughes' tv documentary series "The Shock Of The New" is a good example of what I mean, as the issue is brought up in almost every episode. In Hughes' realistic and at times cynical view (as in most other art historians of the 20th century), this need to change the lives of people trough art started breaking apart during and after the Great War. Eventually it washed off almost completely after the second World War when it became apparent that affecting people's lives through art works both ways for good as for extreme evil. And there is no way of telling which way it will go beforehand.
This dialog here might be spinning around photography and a subplot about something as indifferent as Instagram's formalistic filtration, but its underlying core is about this turning point today were we either come up with some new, grand positive fantasy (or narrative if you like) about the future, or we fall into same-old-shit-all-hell-brakes-loose kind of situation. In my view art has a very small role in all this and photography a fragment of it (if it actually has any) and only in conjunction with other tools at that. Instead of such a (still vague) orientation, what we mostly see or talk about is some deeper and deeper subjective iconography driven by free market's doctrine of "seeking your own place within the market", thus fragmenting more and more into an indifferent pile of subjectivities. And by that I don't mean subjective in form, but subjective (and dangerously naive) in its narrative as in its association with "adjacent" images. Yes, everybody is unique, but why don't we all start relating to more than a few people that might indulge our uniqueness.
Along these lines, I think we can't change the concept of consumption but we can use it by flooding it with more unifying stories. Doing this without being (dangerously) naive yet not being afraid to fail is the hard thing to do.

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Edward Rozzo September 26, 2012 at 17:10

Well F.M. (I'd really like to know where you're coming from and who you are, do you have a name or have you abandoned that for a more complete sense of self? Just kidding!) we're getting into the real questions. First, and probably foremost, I would twist your argument a little. I don't think Robert Hughes was saying that art can change the lives of people (we both agree that it can't) but that art reflects the changes going on under the surface in society already. The reflexion can gain mass support because it rings true with most people, hence the success of some art movements until the digital age. Certainly, photography standing where it does today isn't influencing practically anybody except a small fist-full of photograph lovers with a large dose of nostalgia. I think you'll agree, if you change technologies, you have to change the narrative, otherwise you're wallowing in the past (which is what most photographers are now doing). This doesn't really apply to photo-journalism in as much as it does not pretend to change forms, it simply tries to narrate someone's truth, and that it sometimes does extremely well. The problem today is the lack of "medium" on which to see good photo-journalism. Twitter, Facebook and SmartPhones have pretty much done away with the elegance of the photo-story. I could cry about that, but I just don't have the time. So by changing technologies, we're forced to change narrative and that's where today's "visual" confusion lies. I think Instagram has a lot to think about in this sense because it IS a different technology. It's format, speed, limits and ubiquity have changed immensely "what" gets photographed and "why".
Your idea of "more unifying stories" is an intriguing one which I'll think about. I don't know if we need more unifying stories as much as more unifying values, but as we've both clarified, in times of trouble (like today) the weak run to mystifying beliefs that make it clear that the "problem" is the other guy. A very dangerous and sad state of affairs. How can you open the minds of people who have closed their minds on purpose? Certainly, if we could massify open values on a platform that becomes "popular" or "successful" or whatever, than maybe some of those frightened (and very angry) people can stop shouting and start believing in themselves. A Messiah wouldn't be a bad idea but Messiahs are never recognized in their life-times (usually), so I guess we'll have to wade through this one and try and pass on the positive ideas to whoever is willing to listen. That's why I believe that photography is a perfect means to self-expression and self-discovery and it brings with it the potential of visual knowledge which leads you to understand the relativeness of anyone's world. That's what I teach in my University courses and that's what we try and teach here at The Visual Experience. We could have called it The Visual Enlightenment, but it sounded a bit over the top. Cheers and thanks very much for your wonderful contributions to this dialogue.

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tve September 26, 2012 at 18:17

Fotis & Edward, first of all thank you both for the wonderful conversation. As a moderator here at @visexp I enjoyed reading your writings and had the privilege to read them in advance to the rest of the readers. Ed: have a look to Fotis website here – http://www.fotis-milionis.com/.
Fotis: we're going to have a new course, with the formula of "conversation" in Milan about these topics in November (more to come). If you manage to come to Milan it will be our pleasure to have you with us.

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