Monday, October 13, 2008

Ed Ruscha's Concerning Various Small Fires: Edward Ruscha Discusses His Perplexing Publications (1965)

So, it seems that the all too frequent question (Is Photography Dead?) was presciently addressed by Ed Ruscha long before the digital photography revolution was even a technological possibility. In his text "Concerning Various Small Fires: Edward Ruscha Discusses His Perplexing Publications" (1965), the artist explores whether photographic representation can ever overcome technological determinism. This text is particularly interesting in light of all the discourse that has surfaced surrounding the impact that digital media has had on the medium. Historically, photography has, and most certainly continues to wage war against the inherently mechanical and reproducible part of its nature. This conflict, or resistance to change perhaps, seems ultimately fruitless and somewhat arbitrary. To paraphrase Doug Nickel, a photography critic and historian, 'digital' has existed since the 1860's; it is only recently, however, that it has manifested itself with such sophistication. The passage below, in which Ruscha discusses the photographs from 26 Gasoline Stations, clearly outlines the artist's photographic ideology:

"Above all, the photographs I use are not 'arty' in any sense of the word. I think photography is dead as a fine art; its only place is in the commercial world, for technical or information purposes. I don't mean cinema photography, but still photography, that is, limited edition, individual, hand-processed photos. Mine are simply reproductions of photos. Thus, it is not a book to house a collection of art photographs-they are technical data like industrial photography. To me, they are nothing more than snapshots...

I have eliminated all text from my books-I want absolutely neutral material. My pictures are not that interesting, nor the subject matter. They are simply a collection of 'facts'; my book is more like a collection of Ready-mades..."

Images & Text © Ed Ruscha