My friend Richard emailed me this Newsweek article this morning and it set my blood a boiling. You'll need to read Peter Plagens cretinous musings and come back to me but if you should feel unwilling to budge from this august blogging, I shall furnish you with an excerpt, which more or less sums it: "Yet wandering the galleries of these two shows, you can't help but wonder if the entire medium hasn't fractured itself beyond all recognition. Sculpture did the same thing a while back, so that now "sculpture" can indicate a hole in the ground as readily as a bronze statue. Digitalization has made much of art photography's vast variety possible. But it's also a major reason that, 25 years after the technology exploded what photography could do and be, the medium seems to have lost its soul. Film photography's artistic cachet was always that no matter how much darkroom fiddling someone added to a photograph, the picture was, at its core, a record of something real that occurred in front of the camera. A digital photograph, on the other hand, can be a Photoshop fairy tale, containing only a tiny trace of a small fragment of reality. By now, we've witnessed all the magical morphing and seen all the clever tricks that have turned so many photographers—formerly bearers of truth—into conjurers of fiction. It's hard to say "gee whiz" anymore. Art and truth used to be fast friends. Until the beginning of modernism, the most admired quality in Western art was mimesis—objects in painting and sculpture closely resembling things in real life."
WTF, what's wrong with this Newsweek? Hasn't he finally understood that any form of visual art will inexorably migrate from the descriptive to the imaginary, and sometimes all at once. As a new visual medium is created, most creative artists will explore its ability to record reality. It stands to reason, obviously, but shortly thereafter the artist will explore his or her inner thing thingies. That's just the way it goes.
What happened with photography is that very quickly, in the 19th and early 20th century, photographers both documented, copied other visual arts like painting but also started to explore the medium's possibilities as just another tool for self-expression. It's the critiques and some photographers who are guilty of narrowing the medium by straight jacketing what photography should and should not do, or be.
It also happened that the 20th century was so incredibly violent and momentous that documenting these epics started to overtake the more imaginative aspects of photography. I mean really, would a self respecting talent continue exploring the joys of one's imaginations when genocide and bombs are ripping the very fabric of the society he or she lived in. Probably not. Conflicts put documentarists on top of the "Photographic food chain", and from which they comfortably dictated what it was to be a photographer, what photography ought to achieve and to what aims it should point its machines.
What is happening right now is that photographers and artists from around the world are rediscovering the medium thru technology, just like the camera, itself a breakthrough technology at the time allowed artists the freedom to go nuts with possibilities. Nevertheless, art tends to migrate from the pictorial to the conceptual or the imaginary, as a matter of maturity, and by that I do not mean that it get better or worst by aging. It is just a natural peregrination from the real to the dream, much as we ourselves live as we pass from day into night, the conscious to the subconscious. None of this is new, artists generally do not make the kind's of discoveries which truly shape our societies, they generally respond to them and express them visually or conceptually, wether they know it or are unconsciously doing it. Darwin devalued the divine and Freud elaborated on the ego and the Id, Einstein equated the space time but Duchamps and Warhol only followed their lead, by sensing those earth shaking ideas and expressing them in cave paintings.
So when you try to figure out what is art or what photography is, don't bother with the minutia, just remember that there's good art and bad art only. It's hard enough to divine those two out, as it already is. Never mind if photography ought to be representative, manipulative or imaginary. Is it good or is it bad, and good luck and good night..... bitch....!