Friday, November 27, 2009

Two Snapshots of Two Objects

Click either image for a larger view.

WHAT QUALITIES MAKE A PHOTOGRAPH ABOVE AVERAGE? TO THAT POINT, WHAT MAKES A PHOTOGRAPH GREAT? Well, scholars and collectors have been mulling over that question for a century or so. Every time “the heads” think they have that question figured out, an artist comes along to turn that definition on it’s ear. Maybe that’s the answer then.

These two photographs I spotted on eBay are stunning examples of pictures that perhaps, and most likely, were never meant to be exceptional. More than likely they were made simply to document the objects in the photographs above. But something happened along the way in this anonymous person’s effort. They bumped into the extraordinary. Or, maybe extraordinary found them.

Photograph the new chairs and table! Easy enough. “Ah-h darn, the chairs are all leaning against the table, oh well, I’m not going down there to set them up.” Click. Done.

Or, maybe not. Did the photographer actually see the fact that the table and chairs had been arranged to now resemble a big white multi-legged bug sitting there in the diagonal shadow? Probably not. But maybe! Naa-aaaa. And that is where the fun starts in collecting vernacular photography. You, the collector becomes the photographer, a curator within a sea of bad photographs, searching for the images YOU say are worthy.

The photograph of the tent-like house is, like the table and chairs, exceptional in the presentation of iconic objects seen in a new way. With the table and chairs—they are no longer table and chairs. The photograph (from the high vantage point) has presented these utilitarian objects in such a way as to transform them. And the house—we are looking at an archetypal house shape, but there is no way in or out. No windows. No door. The covering hides the real house underneath. Or is it a house? As an image, it is simply planes of light and dark, photographed from slightly above. It is a strong image, in your face and slightly disturbing.

This is why vernacular photography is exciting. You, the viewer, have the opportunity to be the juror of the show, to award first prize to any image you think is worthy. You are the curator too, because you can select any image you think should be in your museum.

And if you do a great job in selecting the images for your “museum,” people will come.


Christopher Paquette said...

Brilliant synopsis of why vernacular photography is so fascinating, and the reason why I keep returning to your "museum".

Great work as usual!

Larry the Artist said...

We choose to see what we want to see. I see two stills from the set of Lost in Space. Danger, Will Robinson!

zatopa said...

God forbid we should imagine that someone we don't know anything about could possibly have known what they were doing. (Academics in cultural studies catch a lot of sh*t for this kind of thing, and rightly so.)

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