Weeks 10 and 11: Reflections

Weeks 10 and 11 shot by and were much taken up with preparing my portfolio of work in progress and my research project proposal. The result is that I have not been able to spend as much time on an introduction to critical theory as I would like.

I liked the Preface by Mark Durden to Fifty Key Writers on Photography (Durden 2013: xviii-xxii) in the week’s readings. It has given me a good place to start, a book to read and the beginnings of a map to guide me. I also warmed to his awareness of the issues and ideas now thrown up by the digital age: “there is the sense of a growing new body of writing attentive to the ways in which photography becomes integral to the global flow of digital information” (Durden 2013: xxi). This sounds much more interesting to me than having to plough through what I suspect may be but hope won’t be the rather turgid writings of dry and dusty academics. It is where we are today and may be going tomorrow that fire me up even though, of course, we also need to understand how we got here.

The articles on Tierney Gearon (Gearon, 2001) and Sally Mann (Mann, 2015) were sad, in a word. The issue seems the same in both cases: consent. They were making their children the centre of a very public photographic practice, but children cannot give informed consent. This is bound to run into difficult ethical issues which remain whether one likes or dislikes the images and subject-matter. More interesting to me were the dates – this was something from the 1990s mostly. I wonder whether society had got slightly ahead of many artists at that time. The artists were still embedded in a traditional fine arts world, but in society at large there was a general but semi-conscious awareness that huge changes were coming as the result of the internet and, now with hindsight, the social media tsunami that rolled in less than a decade later. New and much more careful ethical considerations were going to be needed.

The last of the week’s readings, the interview with Laura Letinsky, is full of ideas and connections (Farstad, 2004). I found it fascinating and l hope I’ll re-read it a few times. What emerges for me is the importance of a healthy interest in lots of different things, not just in a single pursuit – lateral thinking needs variety, and in fact that can come from a plate of leftover food (in Letinsky’s own example) just as much as from a Caravaggio. And also that like others, Letinsky found using a 4×5 field camera changed her practice by forcing her to slow down and take a different approach. I have never used such a camera but I am noticing more and more references to large-format film photography in my reading at the moment. Perhaps someone is trying to tell me something …

DURDEN, M. (2013) Fifty key writers on photography. London: Routledge (Routledge key guides).

FARSTAD, J. (2004) ‘Interview with Laura Letinsky’ in Mouth to Mouth. Available at: http://www.mouthtomouthmag.com/letinsky.html (Accessed: 1 December 2019).

GEARON, T. (2001) ‘Where is the sex?’ Available at: https://www.theguardian.com… (Accessed: 1 December 2019).

MANN, S. (2015) ‘Sally Mann’s Exposure in The New York Times’. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com… (Accessed: 2 December 2019).