“all the artistic preparations of the photographer and the design of in the positioning of the model to the contrary, the viewer feels an irresistible compulsion to seek the tiny spark of accident, the here and now. in such a picture, that spark has, as it were, burned through the person in the image with reality, finding the indiscernible place in the condition of that long past minute where the future is nesting, even today, so eloquently that we looking back can discover it.” – walter benjamin [1]

20/07/2012 § Leave a comment

photography by joann verburg
top to bottom:
secrets: iraq (1991)
petty rivalries (1991)
secrets: south bronx (1991)

 

this approach, this diverse investigation of different series over long periods of time, defines a way of working that, while uncommon, is consonant with verburg’s ultimate subject: the creation of nontheatrical space that functions as a threshold to experience.  as john szarkowski wrote in 1990, “her pictures describe spaces and moments suspended in the reverie that precedes action.  like a leyden jar, they are containers of potential.” [2]

verburg learned this balancing act in the 1970’s an exciting time for photographers with artistic ambitions.  in 1976 she graduated with a master’s degree from the rochester institute of technology, a school known for its brilliant technical training in photography, and entered an art world rife with energy and promise, bursting with new forms.  at long last the institution of the traditional fine arts – the museums, galleries, and private collectors that had been flirting with photography as a collectible art since its invention but had been deterred by the promiscuity of the machine-made medium – were embracing photography with fervor.

the uncollectible and unsalable nature of then-contemporary practices of performance, installation art, and conceptual art had led galleries and collectors and soon after, museums to prints and photographs.  from the 1960s onward many of the artists making work that challenged the traditional modes of production and reception of art began to rely on photography to document their performances; site-specific piece-they took pictures of themselves or employed photographers to document their performances and installations according to specific instructions.  others, including william wegman, vito acconci, robert cumming, and dan graham, used photography to investigate the meanings of the medium, often calling into question the veracity of the photograph as a document; john baldessari’s ‘choosing: green beans’ (1972) is one such work, an unnecessary photographic documentation of a ridiculous game involving fresh green beans, as is william anastasi’s ‘nine polaroid photographs of a mirror’ (1967), in which photography is reduced to its most basic operations, recording and embodying its own processes.

the publication, in 1977, of susan sontag’s ‘on photography’, previously published in serial form in the new york review of books, clinched an audience of american intellectuals for the medium and instigated a vein of photographic criticism rooted in the critical writings of roland barthes and walter benjamin, who regarded the medium less as an art form or medium of individual expression than as a purveyor of cultural values.  this brand of critique prevailed in american academic circles for the next twenty years, throughly integrating itself into contemporary photographic practice and thought, and has only recently receded as the dominant critical mode.  the other highly influential voice was that of szarkowski, at the time the director of the department of photography at the museum of modern art, whose beautifully written and utterly accessible ‘looking at photographs’ (1977), a selection of one hundred photographs from the museum’s collection, each picture accompanied by a short analysis and appreciation, stimulated interest in photography outside academic circles and commanded a review by sontag in the january 20, 1977 issue of the new york review of books.  in opposition to benjamin and barthes, szarkowski regarded photography primarily as an expressive picture-making process based on the act of selection.  although these two positions represented differences of emphasis rather than opposite poles, since neither completely denied the ideas in the other.  sontag and szarkowski became for the american photographic audience the figureheads for these two views of photography.  proponents of each camp regarded each other with mutual suspicion, if not hostility, generating a dichotomy of thought that stimulated more debate about the varieties of creative photographic work than had happened at any time in the medium’s history since its invention.

present tense by susan kismaric [3]

 

the image contains time

a young hare

 

 

notes:

[1]     today’s walter benjamin quote comes from the always inspirational and informative american suburban x post of alan trachtenberg’s essay ‘through a glass, darkly: photography and cultural memory’.

[2]     susan’s footnote reads: John Szarkowski, wall text for New Photography 6: Paul D’Amato, Carl Pope, JoAnn Verburg at The Musuem of Modern Art, New York, October 18, 1990 – January 8, 1991.

[3]     Kismaric, Susan, and JoAnn Verburg. Present Tense: Photographs by JoAnn Verburg. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2007. P: 12 – 14. Print.

[more present tenses]     today’s post was inspired by recent ayh posts namely one on paola di pietri and michael wesely.

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You are currently reading “all the artistic preparations of the photographer and the design of in the positioning of the model to the contrary, the viewer feels an irresistible compulsion to seek the tiny spark of accident, the here and now. in such a picture, that spark has, as it were, burned through the person in the image with reality, finding the indiscernible place in the condition of that long past minute where the future is nesting, even today, so eloquently that we looking back can discover it.” – walter benjamin [1] at a young hare.

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