The poet and occasional art critic Herbert Read, under the influence of the philosopher Max Stirner, wrote about the “idiotic prejudice” which wrongly considers photography as a purely objective means of reproduction, and always at the service of a “point of view”. In essence, I agree, even if I might desire to redact the word “idiotic” in good faith (which is not to sound too pious, I am just as capable of saying “raca” (or idiot). I should point to myself and say oh vain man… I am ashamed to say that for me, at least, that takes work…)
Following an English churchman from the 17th century, I feel like all bodies of knowledge, points of view, subjectivity in general, share the common fortune of being “that amphibious piece between a corporal and spiritual essence,” i.e. Stuck smack dab in the middle of a process. So, when confronted with art that I don’t like, or don’t understand, what can I do? Maybe art is general, speculative, subjective, eye-of-the-beholder stuff?
2015 Scotiabank Photography Award winning photographer Angela Graurholz’ book has an essay by professor Eduardo Ralickas that begins with an epigraph from a letter between idealist philosopher Johann Gottfried Fichte and Johann Erich von Berger: “The aesthetic mind and the philosophical mind both occupy the transcendental point-of-view: the former without knowing it, for this viewpoint occurs naturally to it and such a mind is acquainted with no other with which to compare it; the latter fully knowing it, and this is the great difference between them.” Grauerholz’ work has a linguistically intensive dimension to it, no doubt, and I appreciate that habit of mind. The book has a hieroglyphic print on the back cover, bringing to mind for me how Moses knew Pharaoh’s language… There is no ontological difference between photographs, if Angela Graurholz’s work is indelibly and formally aesthetic, it does not mean that philosophically idealist work, like Chris Killip’s recently re-printed book In Flagrante Two, is necessarily anti-aesthetic. In fact, I’d argue that Graurholz is pre-occupied with the document; it has an archive fever, so to speak. While Killip’s work suddenly breaks free of the tacit social conditions of its creation (Margaret Thatcher’s working-class England) as his images become startling for their evocation, (take two of my favourite photos ever, “Cookie in the Snow, Lynemouth, Northumberland” or “Boo on a Horse, Lynemouth, Northumberland”).
This is another one of my reviews for The Camera Store that starts out in a patently literary or philosophical way, but I wanted to make this practical. The great advantage, to anyone, in looking at photobooks, is that when they’re made with vision they blur seemingly non-divided lines. I think this is useful at any stage of art appreciation, and even in the conduct of life. I recently heard a talk with a documentary photographer; he spoke about cultivating equanimity, and keeping oneself neutral while working with a camera. At the extremes, Killip and Graurholz work is very different, and yet there is a deep similarity inasmuch as the viewer has aesthetic expectations that are reified by the work, or turned upside down, in turns. This is worthwhile to remember without reference to photography, or philosophy.