Night photography lexicon III

Diving into the night -- by Joe Reifer

Diving into the night — by Joe Reifer

A few realizations came out of the previous night photography lexicon articles and ensuing discussions. Much of the Bechers work may be more removed from Abandoned Places Night Photography (APNP) than I previously thought. After revisiting the book Ed Ruscha and Photography I realized one of the differences is humor. Where the Bechers approach is cool and clinical, Ruscha is going for what he calls “huh?” and what I usually refer to as a “head scratcher.”

Ruscha’s photography books from the 1960′s mostly followed a conceptual approach where the ground rules of a photographic project were laid out before shooting. Theoretically, this could make the act of photographing almost clinical, but that’s not quite right. Again, I highly recommend the Whitney Museum’s Ed Ruscha and Photography for further ruminations on this interesting argument.

Ruscha’s work certainly had an influence on the New Topographics photographers who came to prominence in the mid-70′s. Troy Paiva clarified that his goal in APNP is to make pretty pictures first, with the documentary aspect being less overt. I would agree that this fundamental difference of intention is where the connection between APNP and Ruscha / New Topographics breaks down.

But there is another thread where the link still holds, and that is deadpan humor. Thanks to Mark Hobson for helping me clarify this undercurrent of humor in my work. Perhaps the element of deadpan can be used as a subtle strength to connect APNP to Duchamp through Ruscha, Baldessari, and other conceptual art and photography.

I’ve also been sitting down with the Hiroshi Sugimoto book recently. Sugimoto is a conceptual photographer with a large body of night and low-light work. Interestingly, Ruscha mentions in an interview that he owns prints of Sugimoto’s drive-in photos. I had an epiphany when reading through the Hiroshi Sugimoto book backwards this morning. (Looking through photography books backwards can sometimes create interesting insights into image sequencing and book layouts.)

After looking at the Sugimoto book for the fourth or fifth time, I looked at it backwards. And at the end of the book, when I got to the beginning, on page 31, I saw the footnotes for Kerry Brougher’s essay — laced with Roland Barthes and Marcel Duchamp.

And I realized that just because no influential galleries or museums have recognized the interesting work being done in the world of Abandoned Places Night Photography (APNP), doesn’t mean I can do their job for them. Someone make a David Hockney connection to the image above, I dare you.

That’s not to say that all of this intellectualizing is not good food for the brain, but ultimately my primary focus is as an image maker, not a writer. That’s why this blog is called “Words” — it’s a subtle reminder to also look at the pictures. Too much food for your brain will give your head indigestion. I’m going outside to take some photos now.

2 thoughts on “Night photography lexicon III”

  1. You mentioned that Troy Paiva said that his first goal was to make pretty pictures. We should clarify that his use of the word “pretty” may not necessary mean cute or pleasant, but may refer to the bigger concept of form.

    In “Beauty in Photography”, Robert Adams outlines his three values for measuring the success of both his and other artists’ works. The first of his three values is “Did it reveal Form, that is, Beauty?” (p.58-59). Like Adams, and Troy Paiva, I completely agree that form (or beauty, or prettiness, or whatever you want to call it), is of primary importance in a work of art. Sometimes ugly can reveal form. Even brutal photo-documentary work can reveal form (Sebastio Salgado’s work of refugee camps comes to mind). But art work that fails to reveal form, is of no interest to me. From a gallerist’s viewpoint, I would expect that in most cases, artwork that fails to reveal form would be difficult to sell.

    I’m Andy Frazer, and that’s a personal opinion*.

    * I stealing that quote from San Jose radio commentator Robert Kieve :-)

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