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Author Topic: The privileged condition  (Read 52109 times)

Slobodan Blagojevic

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Re: The privileged condition
« Reply #20 on: July 16, 2015, 03:31:05 pm »

Here is my take on anti-poetry:

One guy accidentally comes across a fresh road kill. Takes a picture. Another guy accidentally comes across a not-so-fresh road kill. Takes a picture too, then he and his art critic buddy wax poetic about it in a post-conceptual orgy of piling up meaningless, cliché metaphors and pseudo-intellectual constructions.

elliot_n

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Re: The privileged condition
« Reply #21 on: July 16, 2015, 03:33:14 pm »

Oh, I'm not struggling to understand Kelsey's language. I recognize it for what it is, which is a lot of words to say not a lot, descending fairly regularly into gibberish. He's shoving in phrase after phrase that repeat the same general ideas, and occasionally one of them falls flat, or means nothing. "an island untouched by the sea" is simply an error, he wants something about an island and isolation, and winds up with this bizarre and meaningless phrase. Is the island supposed to be floating over the sea? Surrounded by a wall, perhaps? Is he referring to the parts of the island that don't touch the water? What he''s trying to say is obvious, but the metaphor falls flat because it doesn't mean anything. It's sloppy writing, in a style intended to sound smart without actually being smart.


Kelsey is only paraphrasing Sommer here ('And the sea will never wash their shores').

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amolitor

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Re: The privileged condition
« Reply #22 on: July 16, 2015, 04:42:35 pm »

I'm in favor of poetry and metaphor, in their places.

In an academic text, trying to explain something straightforward, is not the place. In that place, it is a gimmick.

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elliot_n

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Re: The privileged condition
« Reply #23 on: July 16, 2015, 05:08:34 pm »

But Sommer is not trying to explain something straightforward - he's trying to explain art. And he's saying to his students that it is not enough to photograph one subject obsessively. Indeed he's saying that the whole notion of having 'a subject' is problematic. As soon as you can name your subject, you've moved away from art. Yes, this is a mystical/poetic way of talking, but I don't think it's unintelligible or particularly obscure.

« Last Edit: July 16, 2015, 05:31:13 pm by elliot_n »
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amolitor

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Re: The privileged condition
« Reply #24 on: July 16, 2015, 05:23:47 pm »

Kelsey's paraphase (I have no idea the context, so I am taking your word for it that Kelsey is paraphrasing Sommer) could usefully clear away some poetic clutter. Perhaps it did, in which case I might speculate on why Sommer is minor.
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amolitor

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Re: The privileged condition
« Reply #25 on: July 16, 2015, 05:31:56 pm »

Full disclosure, I am philosophically very impatient with artists and critics who try to bury me in words to explain their art. It is, in general, not an act of "explanation" as it is an act of social signaling.

They may pretend to be talking to me, but in fact they are for the most part signaling within their insular community, indicating that the belong, that they are part of the group. They claim that it is a technical vocabulary, that they are simply using terms of art (Art, ha ha, good joke there!) and so on, but in fact it's mostly just slang, and a particularly meaning-free slang.

See: http://www.canopycanopycanopy.com/contents/international_art_english for instance.

Art cannot be explained in simple words. In fact, it often can't be explained in words. The best you can do is give some context (in simple, straightforward language) and then urge the viewer to look. OR you can attempt to explain it with more art, generating a dialog or whatever of art, which may indeed illuminate things. Attempting to explain Art with metaphor and technical language is a weird and non-productive middle ground at best, and dunderheaded masturbation at worst.
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elliot_n

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Re: The privileged condition
« Reply #26 on: July 16, 2015, 05:56:00 pm »

Sommer isn't speaking International Art English (he pre-dates it by about 50 years). Neither is Kelsey.
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amolitor

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Re: The privileged condition
« Reply #27 on: July 16, 2015, 06:07:01 pm »

IAE like all languages, slang or otherwise, evolves. It has roots, it has a future.

If you're getting something out of it, great. One man's blather is another's wisdom, as far as I can tell.
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elliot_n

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Re: The privileged condition
« Reply #28 on: July 16, 2015, 06:20:18 pm »

Sommer uses the plainest language.
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amolitor

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Re: The privileged condition
« Reply #29 on: July 16, 2015, 06:25:35 pm »

So it was Kelsey who muddied it all up?
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Isaac

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Re: The privileged condition
« Reply #30 on: July 16, 2015, 11:10:08 pm »

Kelsey's paraphase (I have no idea the context, so I am taking your word for it that Kelsey is paraphrasing Sommer) …

Have you not even read the context shown on the book preview?

"In a talk [Sommer] gave at Princeton, he described this [privileged condition] and its shortcomings: Suppose you were going out with your camera…"


… impatient with artists and critics who try to bury me in words to explain their art.

Bury me in words? You are now up to 977 words across 9 comments. Have you really not even read what's shown on the book preview?
« Last Edit: July 17, 2015, 12:35:26 pm by Isaac »
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elliot_n

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Re: The privileged condition
« Reply #31 on: July 17, 2015, 07:11:37 am »

Here's an interesting essay about Sommer (warning - it's written by an academic):

http://dspace1.isd.glam.ac.uk/dspace/bitstream/10265/723/1/Walker_eyelids_2009.pdf

It locates Sommer's work between the dark visions of the French surrealists, and the mythologising of the American West by the likes of Edward Weston and Ansel Adams:

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Sommer’s Arizona Landscapes decisively cut through any simple opposition of “straight” and “surrealist” photography. These photographs, we might say, are almost “straighter than straight,” or hyper-straight. Yet at the same time, Sommer would probably have argued that they were also profoundly subjective images: “Reality is greater than our dreams,” he wrote, “yet it is within ourselves that we find the clues to reality.” Moreover, in these pictures, Sommer’s directness is at the service of a vision of the landscape that is at odds with the fundamentally positive view of the American West of many other photographers. Sommer’s work represents, as it were, the dark underbelly of American landscape photography. Where Ansel Adams, for example, was concerned with the sublime beauty of the places he photographed, Sommer, as we have seen, perceived a situation where “all those plants were dry and dead and dying ... Even the rocks were struggling.”


Regarding Sommer being a 'minor' figure, the essay argues that Sommer was excluded from photographic history by Nancy and Beaumont Newhall, as they found his work too depressing. He was rediscovered in the 1970s when more critical views of the American landscape were in vogue (New Topograhics):

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Rather than the sublimities depicted by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, these photographers flattened both the space and the affect of the landscape. In this, as Jonathan Green explained, Sommer’s photographs were an important influence: “Sommer uses the camera as an objectifying, levelling device that transforms the land into a uniform flat surface.”


Regarding Slobodan's suggestion that talk of death and dissolution is simply theoretical waffle tacked on to a fortuitous one-off snapshot, we can see that Sommer pursued this subject consistently:

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The sense of death implicit in the Arizona Landscapes and explicit in his photographs of animal corpses was not, Sommer would have insisted, a negative force. Already the horse, coyote and jackrabbit seem to be merging back into the earth, part of an endless and natural cycle of life into death and death into life.... As Sommer told an interviewer in 1981, “I have never been interested in the disposing of life.” Rather, he seems to have been concerned with a steady state where life and death merge; and his attitude was one of acceptance: “Those things exist and you might say this was homage to existence as it is.” “If you walk round the desert or drive around certain areas of Arizona or the West,” said Sommer, “you run into the kinds of things I photograph—that’s natural.”



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amolitor

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Re: The privileged condition
« Reply #32 on: July 17, 2015, 09:58:50 am »

An aside, notice the trick I mentioned earlier. The author of that paper makes the absurd statement that one cannot separate the experience of the desert from the experience of Sommer's photos of the desert. Then he shows us artists meeting Sommer and seeing the desert. Finally, he concludes that any influence from this event is due to Sommer, not the desert. It's quite a clever way to argue for a greater influence, but it's fallacious.

I thought Nancy Newhall's remarks were spot on.

That said, Beaumont was quite a bad historian. His efforts to make Emerson out to be important are misplaced. Also, it is worth noting, ineffective. Nobody thinks Emerson was particularly important, because he didn't actually influence anyone. Given that Newhall was unable to raise a minor figure up, I am doubtful about an argument that he cast a major one down.

Otherwise, I quite liked the paper.
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Slobodan Blagojevic

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Re: The privileged condition
« Reply #33 on: July 17, 2015, 01:16:48 pm »

... Regarding Slobodan's suggestion that talk of death and dissolution is simply theoretical waffle tacked on to a fortuitous one-off snapshot, we can see that Sommer pursued this subject consistently:

Artists fascination with death and carcasses is hardly new: Charles Baudelaire's poem A Carcass, for instance.

elliot_n

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Re: The privileged condition
« Reply #34 on: July 17, 2015, 02:32:59 pm »

Yes. Shakespeare too.

What's new in Sommer's work is his exploration of the horizonless desert landscape, overflowing with detail but with no fixed point of interest.

I've seen artists do similar since - Stephen Shore with his Scottish landscapes of the 1980s, Jeff Wall with his pictures of Sicily - but I think Sommer did it first (1940s).
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