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The Status of Fine Art Photography in a Digital Age

Posted: 01/05/2012 21:30

How many photos have you seen today? How many did you take this week? We live in a world saturated with images, in an era where more and more cameras are being produced and streamlined into other products. Consequently photographic technology has become readily available to billions of people, discreetly slipped into our pockets and continually upgraded without the need for any conscious involvement.

Only ten years ago it was hard for many of us to imagine quite how dramatically the landscape of photography would change. The market is growing at an exponential rate and digital became an unstoppable force several years ago. The development of photographic technology is happening at such a fast pace that there little room to ponder the consequences and future impact.

It is not only access that has become easy, the modern camera and associated technology does almost everything for us. The software that emerged for editing and manipulating photographs was originally awkward and time consuming, used only by industry experts. Now it is such common practice that we hardly think of it as a form of technology anymore. Consequently, the practice of digitally manipulating images is ubiquitous.

Not only does this proliferation of cameras and access to them pose important questions about the quality of image making, it also increasingly becomes apparent that our notion of reality is shifting. The first permanent photographic images made in the first half of the nineteenth century were true marvels, understood by those lucky enough to view them as images of a mysterious, even miraculous quality. Today, not only do we encounter at least hundreds of photographic images a day, we are more than likely also taking our own snapshots. The amateur is dead and the camera is no longer something that emerges for a special occasion; it is now an intrinsic piece of our everyday apparatus and vital to social media. Stopping to pause and be overwhelmed by a photographic image has suddenly become as rare a treat as it was 150 years ago.

Thinking about the vast multitude of photographic imagery that now exists and the easy access to software challenge, what happens to the concept of artistic purity or uniqueness? What are the boundaries between intervention and interference? It took some time for photography to be considered an art form and now when very few would ever dispute its intrinsic artistic merit as a medium, these new challenges face the field. There is no shying away from the subject, The Saatchi Gallery recently opened a large photography survey show and this autumn the National Gallery will operate brilliantly out of character and also stage a large exhibition devoted to the medium and its relationship to great paintings.

It is well worth investigating ways to think differently about what photography might be, how it can stand apart from the social media masses. There exists a strong body of artists internationally that resist the normal parameters of the photographic medium by inventing their own cameras, appropriating and re-presenting photographs via an alternate process, subverting the purpose of the camera, destroying it altogether or creating unique camera-less photograms. In each of their distinctive practices, the artists experiment with the boundaries of photography and subvert the central dominance of the camera.

The Fine Art Society has selected the work of eight international museum standard artists who challenge the dominance of the camera in the modern world and seek to subvert its traditional techniques and objectives. Though their work takes a multitude of forms and feeds into a variety of wider dialogues, at the heart of their practice is a resistance to the accepted assumptions about photographic work. Between them they present a fascinating enquiry into what photograph has meant in the past, how it is continually evolving at an unprecedented rate in our contemporary world and pose interesting questions as to what the future may hold for the core values of photography.

Resistance, The Fine Art Society Contemporary, Tuesday 18 April - Saturday 26 May 2012.

 

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