Photography and the banal
For many contemporary artist/photographers-Thomas Demand, Jeff Wall, Andreas Gursky, Gabriel Orozco, Tacita Dean-their subject shifts between the banal and the spectacular. It is no mere coincidence that they address such extremes but rather is a result of a problem that has dogged the medium: photography's aesthetic uptake is compromised by its apparently being too closely and easily connected to empirical reality. In light of this, photographers have the choice of amplifying this connection and opening the medium to a system of affect by reveling in appearances, the ease of the spectacular photographic view and the conceptual complexity of the staged tableau. As the call for papers suggests, these artists take photography into the disciplinary structure of art through ideation and visual effects that we also know from other art forms. On the other hand, these same photographers in other works concentrate on the banality of the photograph's appearance, the acute recognisability that approaches a visual tautology that is perhaps native to photography. The latter, seemingly lamentable state is, however, what finally allows these works to achieve an immediate aesthetic effect, one that is grounded in redundancy. While both approaches arise from photography being so thoroughly of the world it responds to, I am not arguing that they evidence a binary condition between the banal and the spectacular that can define the medium. Rather, they are different aspects of the exploration of the photography's aesthetic possibilities. This photography of the banal may seem to be after conceptual art in the sense that it is anti-conceptual but this is something of a paradox. Although necessarily anti-conceptual banality provides photography with a concept of its limit as art.
Location: the Museum, the Academy and the Studio