Thursday, November 12, 2009

We Can't Paint: Interview With John Feinstein

Noel Rodo-Vankeulen posted an interview with Jon Feinstein on the We Can't Paint today. Their exchange largely centers around the ideas behind Feinstein's latest curatorial effort Still Life - an exhibition which is currently on view at the Camera Club of New York. Below is excerpt from their discussion:

"NRV: Do you feel as if we are at a shifting point in the medium where photographers are beginning to see the notions of ‘the genre’ collapsing? It’s almost as if traditional critical ideas and the complications of being a viewer have become intertwined.

JF: I don’t necessarily think that we’re at a point in which the idea of the “genre” is necessarily collapsing, but instead is shifting and morphing more rapidly than it has before. Many of the photographers in the show come from various practices that allow their work to fit into, or borrow from multiple genres at once. Ann Woo, for example, has a background as a fashion and advertising photographer, which in many ways can be seen in how she makes her personal work. While her non-commercial portraits are not necessarily “product shots”, they are often void of emotional exploration, and generally have the same aesthetic quality as her images of sunsets, and still lifes. Similarly, Lyndsy Welgos’ semi nude, often androgynous portraits borrow from fashion/lifestyle and conceptual practices.

NRV: You make an important point here. Over the last ten or so years photographers have taken on more dynamic roles both in their own practice and within the ‘art world’. It’s almost common for many artists to collectively engage in, say, the blogosphere, or as curators, commercial photographers, writers, etc. I suppose what I’m getting at more specifically is if you think these inverted conventions of portraiture could become problematic in their ‘cool’ navigation of the subject? There has always been is a certain sanctity surrounding photographic portraiture as a mediation between the viewer and subject. Are these new investigations different in relation to the negative aspects of Hutchins and Davidson’s work - or does it matter?

JF: I think there have historically been different camps of opinions regarding portraiture, ranging from the social documentary work of August Sander to the emotive, humanistic or meditative approaches of artists like Rineke Dijkstra, Amy Elkins, and Shen Wei, to the Ruff camp (a large anchor for this show) who critique and reject notions of truth in portraiture, as well as the idea of any kind of sanctity between subject and viewer.

I don’t necessarily think that the photographers inverting the conventions of portraiture are “problematic”, nor do I think that they are necessarily doing something that has not been done before. The kind of inversion that you speak about already occurred decades ago, with artists like Sherrie Levine, and Cindy Sherman and many of the other appropriation based artists included in “The Pictures Generation” show that was recently up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I think we’re at a point where we need to do more than simply cry “problematic” when looking at the work of photographers like Hutchins and Davidson, and instead look to their/ their peer’s work and its criticism, as a means of understanding contemporary work.
One of the ideas behind this show was to look at the idea of objectification from a purely literal perspective. Instead of simply saying “this work is problematic” it attempts to literally investigate the idea of intentionally making pictures of people without any intention of exploring an inner dialogue. Both these new photographers, and Hutchinson/Davidson dealing with similar ideas, but these new photographers are privileged with over 60 years of theory and academic discourse."