Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Outsider Photography?

It seems inevitable that in the process of Christmas shopping, I end up finding a few things that are just right as gifts... for myself. Somehow it feels easier to justify indulging myself while I am buying stuff for other people. These are the type of objects that I would love receiving as a present from someone else. It's just that the chances of getting something that I would purchase spontaneously approach zero in likelihood. That's not to say that my tastes are too oblique for others to determine- but rather that they are rather widespread, and there's no way for anyone else to figure out whether or not I already have a particular item in my collection. Anyway, when I stopped by Half Priced Books the other day, I had an idea I'd be taking home some choice items to keep.

I was impressed to discover that someone (Chronicle Books in San Francisco) saw fit to publish a volume of "outsider photography". I've always been drawn to artwork that originates from outside of the art school pantheon. That's likely because I didn't attend art school, and have very little formal education in anything having to do with art. So whether it's the work of the insane, the incarcerated, the reclusive, or the addled- I'd like to see it. Whatever it actually is- it generally falls under one of a few different classifications tagged with words including visionary, outsider, folk, primitive, naive, or "Art Brut". There are already numerous collections of painters and sculptors who fit within this broad category, and the conventional art world has taken notice. Within certain cultural circles, the names Howard Finster, Henry Darger, Adolf Wolfli and Charles Benefiel are quite well-known.

But what about C.T. McCluskey, Alexandre Lobanov, Morton Bartlett, and Joe "40,000" Murphy? Do any of those names ring a bell? Most likely not, because all of them used components of photography in their work... and that is one medium that is still too often overlooked within the art community. Perhaps it's because the materials of photography have always been so readily available. Everyone has snapshots lying around their house- one need not consider themselves an "artist" to grab the camera and take some shots. There's a certain intentionality implicit in painting and sculpture that suggests that the perpetrator of such activities knows what they are getting themselves into. On the other hand we simply take it for granted that anyone can take some pictures. Very seldom do we see it as the proper business of "the artist".

Create and Be Photographed: Photography on the Edge (edited by John Turner and Deborah Klochko) presents the work of seventeen "largely self-taught artists who have used photographs or photographic elements in their creation." This study has broad enough parameters that include photo montage, collage, manipulation, and tableau methodologies. Whether the artist is setting up a fantastic scene, gluing cut-out photos into a work, or painting over the top of a photograph- he/she is employing non-conventional means to express a wildly idiosyncratic and personalized vision. Few of the artists in this book ever had any intention to engage the world of exhibition and commerce. Like their painting and sculptural kin, they are driven by inner obsessions to express themselves through their artwork. For them photography isn't necessarily about documenting "what is"- but rather "what would never be", without their own mediation.

I think the editors are on to something when they declare that this sub-field of art appreciation is largely unrealized. Who knows what unseen gems are going to see the light of exposure in the near future? For decades people have been defining their relationships with the external world through the eyes of cameras. With digital technology increasingly replacing film processes that limited the scope of participation, we are bound to see a further expansion in the numbers and variety of "outsider photography". Who knows what we'll find on vast photo-sharing sites such as Flickr? This most democratic of platforms is bound to stimulate a new renaissance in photography. For those engaging the world of the lens (and whatever side of it that they find themsleves on) there is an array of adventures to be discovered*.

* Check out this and this...

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Anonymous jefg said...

Never thought I'd ever be linked to anything or anywhere by anybody. I truly take this as a sign of flattery, no matter how it was actually intended. I'm having fun modifying my photos, though I don't plan to do anything with them beyond that.

Oh, did I tell you I'll be the treasurer of the our area's new photography club? It looks like we'll kick it off in January with about 20-25 members. This should be very interesting (the club, not necessarily my being treasurer). I'll keep you informed.

10:48 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I don't know why you'd take it as anything other than complimentary.

You did tell me about your club, and your position. Congratulations. That should be a lot of fun.

5:17 PM  
Anonymous fred ressler said...

Thanks for mentioning "Create and be Recognized." (p.15 fred ressler)

fred ressler

7:34 AM  

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