This not being a piece of rigid academic study, I am not going to carefully record when I might quote from someone or other, but what lies below is combined from - 'The Photograph as Contemporary Art' by Charlotte Cotton; 'Training Your Gaze' by Roswell Angier; 'How to Read a Photograph' by Ian Jeffrey; and 'Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before' by Michael Fried.
Joel Sternfeld - 'Stranger Passing', for example; street photography; essentially deadpan portrait photography; stop people and ask them to 'pose', in front of a large camera on a tripod; a record of their personalised uncertainties; he has 'negotiated' and their reaction becomes a 'portrayed fact'; no quick hits or instant revelations; he invites us into the portraits; and they feel less sudden than they actually were.
Luc Delahaye - 'L'Autre' - using a hidden camera on the Paris Metro (cf. Walker Evans); close range and usually just the face; achieve, as near as possible, 'zero authorial presence'; presented in a photobook, with a sense of repetitiveness; uniform determination to absent themselves; painfully aware of exposure to gaze (in a carriage with strangers, each alone, and yet all sharing the same feelings); yet, obviously, completely unaware of the camera's gaze; 'obsessively' records the 'fact' of 'faces on hold'.
Rineke Dijkstra - teenagers on beaches; ask them to be photographed, facing the camera, but with no other 'direction'; full length images; drawing attention to aspects of behaviour that escape conscious control; vulnerability, physical self-consciousness, awkwardness - but with no sense of taking advantage (cf. Diane Arbus?); at point of transition from sea to land - and from child to adult; self-revelation; awareness and unconsciousness respond to the 'problem of posing'.
Thomas Ruff - Portraits - front pose, head and shoulders, even lighting; images of 'friends' (fellow students) with a request for 'lack of expression'; camera 'captures a picture not reality'; cold clarity of a 'likeness', echoing the ID photograph; lack of emotion; playing with the apparent certainty of a frontal pose & the expectation that we can understand a subject; confound our expectations of discovering a person's character through their appearance.
These are over-simplified generalisations of the descriptions, interpretations and analysis of the work but they suffice for my purposes here. I am drawn to these pieces of work by some distinguished contemporary photographers (and I would draw a parallel with, for example, the landscape photography of Jem Southam, to which I was attracted when studying around the Landscape course. Reflecting on 'Why?':-
- I feel drawn towards an edge, towards a boundary of what contemporary photographic art is doing/can do. (One of many potential edges, I might say.)
- This work strips away and pares down towards some bare essentials; honing down towards some fundamental questions.
Some honest responses:
- because I know that someone I respect has decided to make this image;
- because I know that others I respect have written about and reviewed the outcomes;
- but also because the images record the fact of a human moment, to which I, as a fellow human, respond with fascination;
- because, in my learning and development, I am interested in the making, the negotiation (where it has happened), the planning/intent, and the decisions.