20. Abigail Solomon-Godeau, “Photography After Art Photography,” in Photography at the Dock: Essays on Photographic History, Institutions, and Practices (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), pp. 103-23.
In his essay on photography for the 1995 Conceptualism exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, photographer Jeff Wall takes the position of a critic. He states that Conceptualism did, in fact, explore the medium specificity of photography and that the movement contributed to the acceptance of photography as fine art. He asserts: “Conceptual art played an important role in the transformation of the terms and conditions within which art-photography defined itself and its relationships with the other arts, a transformation which established photography as an institutionalized modernist form evolving explicitly through the dynamics of its auto-critique.”(13) Wall attributes this transformation to two factors. First, he sees photographic Conceptualism as having undermined the kinds of artistic subjectivity represented by photojournalism by offering a parodic reportage without event. Second, he argues that the work negated the technique and imagination of traditional fine art photography by substituting a pose of amateurism. As he describes it, the resulting photographs are so visually banal that they demand to be viewed with a new kind of intellectual seriousness. While Wall’s overarching point about the impact of Conceptualism on photography is valid, his assessment of the status of the medium in the 1960s is debatable. Characteristics that he describes as unique to Conceptual Art were in fact much more pervasive in photography. Fine art photographers, as well as and perhaps more than conceptualists, defined their project against the professional mode of journalism. Many art photographers resisted the narrative legibility and compositional resolution of journalistic work and instead explored modes familiar to amateur photography.
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