January 17 – 21, 2013.

by: Zach Houston |

Why it is important to take notes and not photographs

Photo Los Angeles 2013 was a curious perusal of fashion palate, social inebriation, gallery swag, hollywood/rock icon, excuses for nudity, and historic moments, all of the majestic uses the high-content industry has found for cameras. There are details that emerge, stuck in the mind, entombed to note not negative.

I was very careful, through an inchoate simulacrumized (sic) fear of redundancy to not bring a camera to the camera convention. We weren’t going to fight this fire with water. Rather, a more natural, obvious antidote, the poets first and last frontier and enemy, watery depths of language and memory.

I was there to participate in a panel called “New Technology and Social Media”, a curious task for a writer who clings pathetically to the typewriter in public as a primary practice though perhaps that rupture had sourced my call. I was to be, as they say in theater, the foil. A categorical babel in the cinema shop. Not even cinema! still photography! In the 21st century! offered at extroverted prices.

In a world where Trillions upon trillions of images accumulate and circulate freely to scheme and conspire to charge those prices for a picture is cruel farce, noble monopoly and perhaps a more genuine and indicative example of why the art world is a shallow cesspool underneath a very generous gild.

He who had invited me, knew my tendencies. I dislike images, flunking photography first in a steady string of art school ignominy that has only been offset by a modicum of success in art life, away from the shelter of professor and assignment, where only the genuinely mad or madly rational have any hope of success.

Peter Combe at Smith Anderson

Peter Combe at Smith Anderson

I was very careful, through an inchoate simulacrumized (sic) fear of redundancy to not bring a camera to the camera convention.”

And then the request from the Editor as I call her for this review. Between my outspoken inclusion in this panel and now a request for coherent expression, it seemed 2013 was indeed coalescing towards my becoming what “he” called “a public thinker”.

Opinions are hard pin down, especially if one has them. Further, if one really feels what they believe vigorously, it can be downright impossible to decide what one likes. This isn’t true at all.

I don’t like photographs but I appreciate the people who make them even if it seems to be a bit overrun with thinly veiled excuses for pornography, a particular cloying habit of artists. Yes, I cede the human body is beautiful and studios are fun places to get naked and hang out not to mention the beach, nature, cities, camera lenses, pictures, Photo LA 2013.

But wherever you see this influx of naked people be suspicious of the art. Art is not an excuse even if they are really pretty.

There is an odd relationship between naked and the camera. Perhaps that’s the charm. The sharpness that the camera drove into everyday life. Modernism solidified and then realized it could actually make the world sharper if it shattered that image and splashed consequences of what happens after all over the unplanned spontaneity of gesture. Speaking of, back to the naked people, I sought ought more interesting works of art than portraiture.

It’s all fun but lets not pretend these pictures are profound for the delicate transitions from gray to white and black again. It is because the people are naked. My first point therefore stands, as a body abolitionist, cyborg advocate, linguistic predictor and generally kind of shy fellow, that Photographers like to take pictures of naked people a bit to much for my taste.

My taste, by the way, tends toward density of information with a particular penchant for text, geometric, technologic, or monumental. Note there is not much room for figure drawing in there and overall there was just too many pictures of people (yuck) in the convention.

Chris McCaw, Sunburned

Chris McCaw, Sunburned

What was good?

I suppose Peter Combe at Smith Anderson North was a “picture of a person” that I enjoyed despite my conceptualized curmudgeaon but his process was hardly photographic. Using paint samples he meticulously shaped pixellated visages at 45 degrees angles to the picture plane creating a granular image that shifted satisfyingly as one passed. Nothing like a moving prism of colors and shape to get attention.

Bypassing the camera is a surefire way to photographic success as seen in Chris McCaw, Sunburn series are thoroughgoing successes as art piece, as alchemical exploration, as whiskey obliteration leading to happy accident all of the above nothing is better than burning a whole in the negative with the sun and giant telescope lenses and just letting the giant ball of fire do its thing because; let’s be fair, the first and really maybe only thing that anyone has ever photographed is the SUN.

Bypass or rebuild as Jay Mark Johnson has done with his breathtakingly hacked horizontal timelapse-sque scanner camera object passing lapse too complex to parse look it up masterpiece was there and its all kinds of amazing, flaunting possibilities overlooked by standardized traditions and art dealers stagnated to the market despite its decadent inauthenticity.

Let’s be fair, the first and really maybe only thing that anyone has ever photographed is the SUN.”

Then there’s the old go blind, bypass sight, rebuild artistic practice, use it for healing. And so was it with the Bruce Hall and the Blind Photographers Guild project, a startling introspection and provocative commentary on just what the hell everyone is doing with cameras which brings me to the fundamental question of how the dealers fetishize themselves so much that they refuse to see the hundreds of if not every person in the fair taking a picture of pictures of pictures of pictures of pictures and its pictures all the way day down a wormhole until we get to turtles but they are just photographs really so it actually is pictures all the way down and thats fine with me but I think the art world needs to get out of the way.

Accept the monopoly has been broken. Image is no longer valuable. Aura is not a price tag. Nor is it an image. It is a document. A document that combines and holds aura, value, and history in one small secret place, its presence.

Bill Eppridge, whose print of a recently assassinated RFK, you know the one, with the stunned bellboy holding a bleeding head, was on display. History soaked the room in front of it. The only original print, still bearing airbrush marks had survived a house fire and bore crisp blackened edges, portions of it destroyed, reflective of what it depicted, a life extinguished as quick as lenses snaps shut and thats that. But the tragedy is therein for the lens opens again. Or is it vice versa. Doesn’t matter. Either or. Dilate and don’t die. The picture hid from itself until being recovered in the ashes of a broken dream. O that the phoenix of a photograph was as resurrectable upon the fallen prince it depicts as its own material proved to be.

That the world stops somewhere and saves itself is perhaps exactly what cameras are good for. They induce a prayer for stasis and then provide it. Unfortunately, stasis is a lie so we feel bereft, cheapened of experience yet richer in memory that isn’t ours.

Bruce Hall and the Blind Photographers Guild Project

Bruce Hall and the Blind Photographers Guild Project

All successful photographs depend on time, not just Cartier-Bressons moment, but also an infinite patience.”

Quicker is smaller, stillness immense. Landscape shaped by consciousness, a foreground of space behind the times. All successful photographs depend on time, not just Cartier-Bressons moment, but also an infinite patience. It takes a special being to allow science to become an artistic process. To photograph light is the only possible highest calling. The glut of sensors has made traditional photography passe and the best work at the Santa Monica Convention Center proved it.

The camera achieves a strange status as object and tool with its metastasis into everyday life. Perhaps the clearest example of medium as message, the camera/picture dialectic is a significant issue that deserves perhaps a more thorough exploration.

However, Photo LA 2013 was largely clinging to a traditionalist perspective. Perhaps its a poet hating pictures and poverty but the entire experience left me wanting a job in Los Angeles.

Almost every picture from the show is online for free.

Yet I still want a job.

To buy the pictures with. Even though I don’t want any pictures. But the whole affair worked on me. I am susceptible to what I find alien. That’s the theory of immunology. Fire with fire.

And while a large colorful print at $20,000 is nice for the artist if they’re alive I sure am glad I got in for free and can afford to buy things I want and need. Instead of pictures which are free for the taking.

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