Thoughtfactory’s large format

a minor blog about the trials and tribulations of large format, film photography in Australia

Posts for Tag: granite

turning to abstraction

In his book of essays entitled  Why People Photograph: Selected Essays and Reviews  (Aperture, 1994) Robert Adams says that  "art is too important to confuse with interior decoration or an investment opportunity.  Its real use… is to affirm meaning and thus “to keep intact an affection for life”. 

This is  a succinct and useful insight can be unpacked by referring  back to the  idea of the autonomy of art: namely, that  art was a distinct modality of making sense of things,  and that  this way of making sense was sensible: ie., a mode of non-discursive intelligibility, which does not consist in propositions, arguments, and syllogisms.  

The Jena Romantics ( eg.,Novalis, August and Frederick Schegel)  held that the autonomy of art is meant to connect the aesthetic mode of making sense of things that are deeply important to us with the highest human aspirations for self-understanding and the realization of freedom. They held that this making  sense of ourselves through  art was  more important than the conscious deliberative capacities of individual subjects. Where philosophy ends art begins for unlike philosophy art presents its ideas in sensuous form. Art,  on this account,  is an ontologically distinct object of experience. 

This continental aesthetic tradition, which  runs through Schiller, Hegel, Nietzsche, and the Frankfurt School up to the present day,  is fundamentally different from the notion of autonomy that has been properly labeled conservative; namely, the l’art pour l’art, or “art for art’s sake” eg.,through 19th century aestheticism (Baudelaire, Pater, Wilde), via the significant form of  the Bloomsbury tradition of  Roger Fry and Clive Bell, the latter Greenberg and then Hilton Kramer and the New Criterion in the US.   In this Anglo-Saxon tradition all art has to do in order to be worthy is to be beautiful. There is no purpose, function, or end served by being beautiful other than being beautiful, and one takes a certain pleasure in the irrelevant nobility of the existence of beautiful things. 

I was discovering that working with this Romantic  conception of the autonomy of art  as the creation of the new that was recognisable as being part of the tradition of art was dam difficult. Nothing positive  was happening with my large format photography.  In desperation I turned to photographing the  local granite rocks along the coast of the southern Fleurieu Peninsula. It was a turn to something simple and uncomplicated: returning to the tradition of modernist abstraction and formalism. In modernism art has become its own subject in that the various manifestos can ve interpreted as art has  in its own right become part of art's reflection upon itself.

In the first essay in his Why People Photograph  entitled  'Colleagues'  Adams advances  one reason for the above difficulty I was encountering.  He says that when "photographers get beyond copying the achievements of others, or just repeating their own accidental first successes, they learn that they do not know where in the world they will find pictures.  Nobody does.” 

For sure.