Part 4 – Project 2: Exercise 4

Conclude your work on photography and time by reflecting on the role of photography in the work you’ve just looked at – and similar projects.

In the photography section of the course, we have looked at the following photos/artworks:

It’s About Time

– Photographs from the 1800s that required several minutes exposure time
– Cousin Bichonnade In Flight by Jacques-Henri Lartigue
– Passing Place by Derek Trillo (2006)
– Bullet and Apple by Harold Edgerton (c.1964)
– Multiflash Tennis Serve by Harold Edgerton (1949)
– Jockey on a Galloping Horse by Eadweard Muybridge (1887)
– Benzie Building by Derek Trillo (2013)

Images as Documents

– Free Photographic Omnibus Project by Daniel Meadows (1970s)
– Our own family photos

Documenting Journeys

– A1 Project by Paul Graham (1980s)
– American Surfaces by Stephen Shore (1970s)
– Sleeping by the Mississippi by Alec Soth (2000s)
– The Americans by Robert Frank (1950s)
– A Myth of Two Souls by Vasantha Yogananthan (2010s)
– A Breast Cancer Journey by The RathKopf Family (2010s)
– Past Present Project by Cristian Carollo (2010s)
– Camera In Motion: From Chur to Tirano by Rolph Sachs (2010s)

Photography and Land Art

– Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson (1970)
– Works by Hamish Fulton
– Works by Richard Long
– Works by Andy Goldsworthy
– First Woman on the Moon by Aleksandra Mir (1999)
– Wrapping Works by Christo and Jeanne-Claude (1958 onwards)
– Self-burial by Keith Arnatt (1969)

In some of these works, the photograph is the artwork – Derek Trillo’s pictures, for example. Daniel Meadow’s Omnibus project produced nearly 1000 photographs, but he seems to consider much of his work documentary photography, rather than art. Despite this, it his ‘documentary’ photographs have been displayed in art galleries and are considered art by many.

In the ‘Documented Journeys’ works, the art is the photography. Again, it mostly social documentary photography of people and places (some works were staged), but I would consider them art. There are plenty of debates out there on whether documentary photography is art (here‘s one, for instance), but, as always, it’s subjective. If you think it’s art, then it is.

All of these documented journeys would be just that – journeys – without the photographs. The people involved would just be travelling from place to place and observing the people and places they come across, which is basically just tourism. Carollo’s ‘Past Present’ project captured the public’s interest and became something of an art project purely because he recorded it on camera and shared it with the world. It could have easily just been a nostalgic road trip where he visited the places his grandfather had been and taken photographs of, had a look around and left. Or recreated the photos and kept them to himself as snapshots. By including the originals photos in the new photos, to me anyway, it has become an art project.

Is the photography simply providing an authentic record of the artwork – photography as evidence – or is it part of the artwork itself? You might argue that the photograph is the artwork for a viewer who has never actually seen Richard Long’s wayside sculptures, for example.

In the last section, we looked at land art, and of course the works were all viewed via photographs (and video, in some cases).

The question posed here is difficult to answer. Some land art is almost incidental – the art was produced in order to become a photograph/s, much like you might stage, dress up, and pose a group of people in order to take the specific ‘artistic’ photograph that you are after.

Much land art though is the art. Photographs may only be taken of it in order to preserve it , and/or to allow those who cannot visit the actual site to experience it via photobooks, magazine articles, exhibitions/galleries, and websites.

Are these photographs a primary part of the artwork though? Are they secondary artworks – originally produced to document the land art’s existence, but then becoming artworks in their own right? If this is the case, do we even consider the physical earthwork to be the artwork if it’s never going to be seen in real life? On the other hand, are these photographs purely evidential, in the way you might take photos of an expensive piece of art in your home for insurance purposes – literally just to prove that it actually existed?

I suppose the answer is, once again, subjective. The artist themselves may start out with the intention to produce the land art and then to take photographs of it to display in a book, on a website, in a magazine, or in a show at a later date. They make make these photos artistic and works of art on their own, or they make be purely documentary for people who can’t see the original, or they might perhaps depict the process – the stages the artist went through to make the piece – a ‘behind the scenes’ if you will. They may have no official photographs of the piece taken, preferring for it to exist entirely in-situ, and/or through unnoficial pictures taken by visitors.

I suspect that for many land artists, the photographs are a planned part of the artwork. A lot of them seem to make photo books and/or art exhibitions based on their earthworks, with the only physical evidence being photographic (and sometimes film). Many photographers making journey documentary photographs are the same – producing their photos in an artistic manner for display or print later on. Some documentary photographers have intentions other than art such as political or news messages. Having said this, some photos taken as part of news stories in do end up winning photography awards and being viewed as artworks  later on (Dorothea Lange or Arthur Rothstein, for example).

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