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Sontag, iPhones, and Photographs.

August 7, 2007


I’VE BEEN READING A LOT OF INTERESTING things lately which are really stirring the pot between my ears. Most recently, it has been (yet another!) Susan Sontag essay that is striking me profoundly. On Photography is the 1977 collection of essays which Sontag herself says “started with one essay–about some of the problems, aesthetic and moral, posed by the omnipresence of photographed images; but the more I thought about what photographs are, the more complex and suggestive they became.” I, too, feel that photographs are complex and suggestive. I feel this way about ‘art’ at large, in all of its forms, but–because of my nature–i am most perplexed and vested in the aesthetic and moral dilemmas posed by those artforms which i participate most fully in. Photography would, obviously, be one of them. So, I am just beginning the book, but already the first essay has my head spinning with the implications of Sontag’s thought trails…especially if brought up to date. She wrote the book thirty years ago. Take this passage, for example:

“Photographs, which fiddle with the scale of the world, themselves get reduced, blown up, cropped, retouched, doctored, tricked out. They age, plagued by the usual ills of paper objects; they disappear; they become valuable, and get bought and sold; they are reproduced. Photographs, which package the world, seem to invite packaging. They are stuck in albums, framed and set on tables, tacked on walls, projected as slides. Newspapers and magazines feature them; cops alphabetize them; museums exhibit them; publishers compile them.”

Now, begin thinking of the implications of this paragraph alone, if we apply Sontag’s complex understanding of the way in which photos “package” the world and “invite packaging,” in turn, to the most up-to-date technology in such packaging:

Two major realizations hit me while reading and thinking about this bit of philosophy:
1. I realized suddenly, instantaneously, that I scarcely even regard photos as physical objects. I, like most of the modern world, deal in digital space. “Space” being a complicated word to use here because there is not much physical space required, as the iphone testifies. For me, photos do not age and brown and crease; they can still be lost. But, I can have them endlessly at my fingertips, and their modified versions too are endless. I already use two types of software to modify photos, by virtue of the fact that I have access to both a Mac and PC all the time. And this software is FREE. I become my own editor, The autonomy, and what Sontag later describes as the “democratic” property of photography is heightened immensely by this technology.
2. The photos may be reproduced anywhere. This is something that struck me as profound months ago, when I was in Paris, at the Musee d’Orsay, watching an exhibit of Samuel Becket’s works, including film pieces. I thought briefly, as I was taking my usual moleskin notes on the pieces i found particularly inspiring, that it would be cool to find one of these clips on YouTube and send it to a friend, so they could share the experience. BAM. My friend was back in Virginia. I was in Paris. And yet, I could bring her to that gallery space with me, in a sense, because Beckett’s medium has now become portable and reproducible, in the fullest sense. The moral dilemma struck me as well: if this piece of artwork is infinitely reproducible, then, where does its integrity lie? I am no longer a museum-goer looking at a rembrandt which only exists in one copy. It’s not a one-to-one correspondence.

Where is the art?

Or, where isn’t the art?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    August 8, 2007 2:10 am

    I’m going to say that the art is everywhere….call me idealist but I prefer to believe that the appreciation of art and art’s value lies beyond it’s ability or inability to be reproduced. An artist’s creation does not lose any crediblity just because there are duplicate prints or photos or youtube recreations because one is always aware that it all began with the concrete “first”. In fact, nothing pleases me more than our current ability to share art (of all kinds….music and film included) to massive groups of people at a very fast speed. It somewhat forces us to take the economic implications out of the art and appreciate it from our own living rooms. It also takes the elitism out of art wherein you don’t have to be able to or passionate enough travel to paris to see the mona lisa. I”m not arguing that there isn’t a certain irreplaceable charm to seeing the “real thing” but that so many doors are opened and still opening and it can only lead to more people being given the opportunity to develop a previously unnatainable passion….this makes me smile.

    Like I said about the Plath poem….an artist doesn’t create to have their creations shut up in some stuffy museum….they create to share their souls and we are simply aiding in that effort.

    way to be thought provoking…you really know how to reach my inner nerd 🙂
    -love you buckets
    amanda

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