I had a minor epiphany the other day about a certain source of unease I feel regarding photography.
The epiphany happened while I was mulling over the subject of video games and their relationship to art. I was listening to the Joystiq Podcast episode in which Ludwig Kietzmann talks about Bulletstorm. I forget his phrasing on the podcast, but here’s what he wrote in his preview:
> Writing about games always comes with a peculiar kind of self-defeating dissonance. This morning, I might have grabbed a metaphorical megaphone and shoved it in some ebert’s ear, right before laying out why Shadow of the Colossus is such a magnificent meditation on loss and sacrifice and etc. “Games involve and encourage and inspire!” I’d say. “It’s for grownups, you know.”
> And then, just a few hours later, I’ll write about a game that’s awesome because it lets you kick people to death.
This made something click for me: I really like video games — despite not being all that good at them, and despite not playing them all that much. But maybe even more than playing them, I like reading and listening to people share what they think and feel about video games. I like the intellectual culture surrounding gaming.
I also like TV. I like TV a lot. I think about TV a lot, and I talk about it, and good television is quite possibly my favorite sort of media to experience. And I take the idea of good television extremely seriously.
I don’t particularly like movies. I mean, some movies are excellent. But I find that, by and large, I am nowhere near as excited by a good movie as I am by a good television show. Even more so with theater. I feel out of place as a member of those audiences.
And when it comes to fiction writing, I am _strongly_ biased towards genre work.
All this, plus my enjoyment of photography — and, specifically, the aspects of the photographic world which make me _uncomfortable_ — point to a very strong, fundamental bias on my part: I prefer media that have not gained acceptance as art and, in general, legitimation.
I like stuff happening in cultural contexts where the “high” and “low” have not yet differentiated themselves into mutually exclusive markets, where the best and worst work sit side-by-side on the shelves or the walls — and where conversations about quality, taste, and worth cannot be shut down by simply pointing to the segregation of high and low markets. These are contexts which have a more democratic flavor to them, and a more diverse one — and as such, I feel more at home in them.
These are also, significantly, the contexts in which separate scales of value have not yet been created for audiences of different socioeconomic class.
This is perhaps why I’m generally drawn to photography that took place in the time prior to the ’80’s (that is, amusingly, prior to my birth), when the longtime dream of creating legitimacy for photography as an art form was more or less accomplished. And also why I’m uncomfortable with both the world of contemporary art photography and the world of contemporary commercial photography — and the communities of wannabes that orient toward either of those worlds.
I’m not sure whether that should make me optimistic or pessimistic about the future. In general, that gap gets wider as time goes on — look at theater, which is basically either highly rarefied or is Cats, and look at cinema, where it feels like more and more, every movie can be classified either as indy or blockbuster.
However, it seems like the lines in photography are getting somewhat more blurred recently — or, rather, that the contexts which are defined by those lines are overlapping more and more. I don’t think this is necessarily making photography a more democratic and diverse place than it was in the 90’s, say, but I do think it makes the direction of the medium more uncertain, and maybe more open to redirection…which is maybe enough cause for a bit of optimism. God, I certainly hope so…