Read Rosalind Krauss’s essay ‘Photography’s Discursive Spaces: Landscape/View’. Summarise Krauss’s key points in your learning log (in note form) and add any comments or reflections.
The course stated the link no longer worked but it could be found here
The article was written by Rosalind Krauss (an American art critic, theorist and professor.
My first thoughts of this article were that it was incredibly heavy, very detailed and challenged my knowledge of the dictionary. I realised that this wasn’t going to be the easiest article to read so split it into sections (with classical music on in the background which I’ve always found helps aid concentration and memory)
First I read the first page. Then I read it again this time much more slowly and made a list of all the words that I wasn’t familiar with or that I wanted to read the definition of (I thought my knowledge of linguistics was good before this) I also made a list of certain words of phrases that struck me. I know several other students struggled a bit with reading this but I didn’t want to just read it I wanted to understand it clearly. Even though the dictionary definitions of some words had me reaching for another dictionary to translate that.
In the end though I understood the article and what’s more enjoyed the beginning too despite how heavy and opinionated it was. It was quite an intense study session and took several hours to complete.
- At first I thought the article was purely to show the contrast of a photo and the lithograph, however it soon revealed that this analysis was merely the tip of the Tufa Dome (so to speak) It was clear this article is much more about how a photo can appear and be received differently purely by the category it is placed into.
- We were shown two images. At a glance they could seem identical. However one was an original photo taken in 1868 by the photographer Timothy O’Sullivan and the other was a Lithograph (an almost identical replica of the photo created for a Geological magazine) The images featured the Tufa Domes of Pyramid Lake. Krauss clearly has a very low opinion of the lithograph ‘the lithograph is an object of insistent visual banality.’, she believes the majesty and aethic quality is removed when science fills in the gaps that the photo hasn’t included. Suddenly this is just a photo for a Geological magazine with the air of mystery vanquished, new detail is introduced including a (painting) of water reflections which remove the imagery of the dome hovering in the air .
- This shows that the original is classed as an art where the latter is purely scientific.
- One argument could be raised that whilst the original image by Timothy O’Sullivan has captured a feeling of mystery and is evocative of a fanatical realm, the lithograph is more true to the scene O’Sullivan would have faced. One thought could be that this replica of his photo was how he would have endeavoured his original to turn out. Perhaps had he had more technologically advanced equipment he would have desired to create the technical quality as seen in the lithograph. .
- Krauss writes of the art gallery and how the wall is an extension of the art and vice versa such as Monet’s famous painting ‘Waterlillies” In her opinion there are several features in a gallery, one being the choice to include an image. Therefore paving the way for what is acceptable, for what is deemed art. Anything that is excluded automatically creates a stamp on the artist of insignificance. Also critique is one of the features. Thus landscape suddenly had it’s own depiction of what was classed as art.
- The article goes on to the debate that has been going on throughout history, is photography a science or an art? I looked at this in some detail before beginning this exercise which you can see here “The object here is to show that photography was not a bastard left by science on the doorstep of art, but a legitimate child of the Western pictorial tradition”
- The question was asked as to whether O’Sullivan’s work had intended to be seen as topographical but then was given the name of art as a way to infuse the photo into the art galleries.
- Krauss wrote opinions of whether photography belonged in an art gallery or a museum. At the time photography was not seen as an art but a means of documentation, employed by explorers (something I would like to look into further)
- The article the power of a photo blown up on a gallery wall, creating an extension of the place. “that fills the frame with a nearly uniform total continuum’
- Krauss writes that most of O’Sullivans photos were seen with a stereoscope.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes ‘a passionate advocate of stereography’ describes the process, “the mind feels its way into the very depth of the picture…like hypnotism..and dream…in which we seem to leave the body behind us and sail into one strange scene after another like disembodied spirits’
- Landscape is mostly referred to in regards to painting (an interesting fact which I learnt from another student) whereas O’Sullivan describes his photos as a ‘view’ which could be so to show photography is an art yet different to landscape. The use of the word ‘view’ was adapted by many photographers including the discourse of photographic journals. By calling it something other than a landscape does this go against them in terms of the debate of whether photography is an art. Would people at the time have thought this was admitting that photography had no place alongside landscape. However it could be looked at as the two genres rubbing shoulders, each drawing inspiration from the other and using techniques and adapting their own terminology. It could be likened to the dark ages when Christianity was spreading through Britain, the Catholic church tried to adapt existing feasts and festivals so as to make things more acceptable.
- Interesting that this course is entitled Landscape photography.
- Krauss wrote of how photography and art was used. Photos were used for cataloging and documenting so therefore were filed away however art was to be seen and enjoyed placed on gallery walls. I find myself in my mind personifying art, I feel like art is a rich families child who is automatically accepted for the revered boarding school whereas photography, the ‘bastard’ of art, fights hard to accept a place. That said I am an artist myself and live to draw. I am by no means disregarding art, merely referring to the acceptance of art in this age. Perhaps I’ve been reading this article for a bit too long.
- The article looked at how creating a piece of art takes great skill and time to perfect whereas anyone can pick up a camera. I also explored this in my earlier study of photography and art. Interesting that anyone can can pick up a pencil and draw, even if it’s poor it’s still art, a child’s hand painting is revered as art and placed on the kitchen fridge. So how is it that anyone can take a photo but if the photo is blurred or poor it is not regarded as art. There is clearly a higher superiority that the world has placed on art. I wonder how art would have been seen if photography had been created first. Whilst not possible with the first paintings going back to the dawn of time, but just in theory, would art have been seen as a way to create a photo just over a much longer period of time?
In conclusion art and photography, neither is superior to the other, all make use of science to create a piece of art. Both are unique and reflect the individual, all require a force, a mind behind it, imagination and a vision.
I have to admit reading that article was not easy, it was exhausting, reaching the last paragraph could be likened to the feeling I imagine one would have completing the London marathon. I feel very pleased to reach the end of it and to understand it. Whilst an intense first exercise it has shown me the level this course is at, much more intense than the last ones for sure, I will aim to research more articles like this, developing my own thoughts and visions and exploring deeper into the meaning of photography.