There are many different way to approach the question what relevance photography has in the world of art. Of course, you could simply deny that photography is art. However, I yet have to hear a single argument advancing the idea that photography is not art that makes any kind of sense; and usually arguing with someone who denies that photography is art is a bit like arguing with someone who claims that Earth is constantly being visited by UFOs or that angels are real. However, talking about why photography is art, what photography does (or at least can do), and how it does it is actually very interesting.
Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before by Michael Fried addresses exactly that question - as you could probably easily guess from the title of the book. Taking a variety of contemporary photography’s “heaviest hitters” (most prominently Jeff Wall), Michael Fried, art critic and art historian, discusses the relation between photography and art, in particular by talking about what photography is aiming to achieve and how it is doing that. Those interested in in-depth theoretical discussions of contemporary photography will be unable to walk past this book, it’s a must read for them.
Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before relies heavily on some of Fried’s earlier writings, which the reader might not be familiar with (this reviewer wasn’t). This poses a bit of a problem - which Fried acknowledges. At times, it makes reading the book a bit more tedious than it should be, especially since - provided my understanding of Fried’s earlier works, based on the short descriptions in the book, is correct - the explanation of what Jeff Wall is achieving with his work is extremely interesting.
Unfortunately, Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before also heavily relies on various philosophical texts, which, as far as I can tell, lead to a serious problem: If you like your art theory heavy, Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before will leave you in a state of utter bliss, especially if you’re a fan of German philosopher Heidegger. If, however, you like to talk about art without referencing German philosophers (or if you think that Heidegger’s writing is a bunch of baloney) then your enjoyment of Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before will be vastly reduced. I will have to be honest and say that I belong into the latter camp.
So I am a bit torn about Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before, and if after reading this review you’re not sure whether you’ll enjoy it or not you better take a look at it by having a visit to a well-stocked book store. I do think, though, that as a serious attempt to explore contemporary photography in its relation to art Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before is an important mile stone, and despite my problems with some of its contents it’s a book I’ll be coming back to regularly in the future.
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