Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Douglas Crimp's The Photographic Activity of Postmodernism

The idea of photography’s inherent postmodernism is something I have been thinking about for awhile now. Beginning with the limitations and inherent qualities of photography, a photograph tells us of a specific time, a specific place, and most of all, a specific reality. Yet ultimately, in the age of postmodernism, we realize that what we bring to a visual object, our own subjective reality and understanding of the world, is ultimately what shapes our experience of said object. For example, in Robert Frank’s photograph Indianapolis, 1956, we see a denim clad, African American couple on their motorcycle, frowning.

In this day and age, the importance of this photo is lost on us (or at least on many in my generation), as the peculiarity of the photo lies in the fact that, in the 50’s, to own a motorcycle and attire like this for a black couple was very rare. The couple in the photo must have been fairly well off, yet still they frown. Upon being told this, our perception and understanding of the photograph changes, because our understanding of reality (retrospectively) changes.

What’s more interesting is chicken and the egg activity of the publicity image. As John Berger states, “The publicity image steals her love of herself as she is, and offers it back to her at the price of the product.” Without the subject to steal from, the publicity image is nothing, yet without the publicity image, the subject has no idea upon which to base her look.

At any rate, the inherent postmodernism of photography has by now been brought fully into the light with the work of Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince and Andy Warhol, among others. These days, the appropriated image (as opposed to the artistically composed) is a common part of the artworld vernacular. Yet, these images don’t show us a ghost of reality; what we see in the appropriated image is a reflection of our understanding of the world we live in and how it has been constructed for us and by us. the appropriated photograph strips away all artistic intention and leaves only the social connotations of the image for us to view. the appropriated image shows us how powerful an image is, even without artistic intention or composition. it shows us fully the post-modern activity of photography.

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