Introducing Critical Theory

How to make critical theory relevant to my own practice? Can encompass anything that provides a framework in order to talk about a piece of work. Danger of being full of overblown ideas; esoteric language and inaccessible & exclusive with fanciful elitist statements to accompany the work. How can critical theory help us to enrich our consumption of the image and engage with different perspectives?

Looking At Photographs

The difference between consciously viewing & passively consuming an image. Decisions made on composition & aesthetic arrangement that make up a picture. Consider photographers ideas as well as historical & cultural contexts. Even more important today to unpick & unravel their complex meanings within today’s image saturated world. Eric Kessel’s installation of all the images uploaded to Flikr in one day. Able to peer into a life that was once held private (the family album). Does this intensify or devalue the image. Francis Hodgson – when it matters people are happy to concentrate on receiving it & when it doesn’t matter it is passed-over as trivial.

Responding To Photographs

“…need to spend more effort” (Francis Hodgson) – but isn’t this a vain task to ask of the viewers in particular. Especially in this contemporary culture where the attention span seems to exist in milliseconds.
The peculiar transparency of the photographic medium means we look through it straight to the subject matter and we forget it’s constructed nature & the aesthetic choices that are being made – as Barthes says; we do not actually see the photograph – it’s physicality is ignored & we go straight to what it is portraying & start read it’s meaning. Only when a photographers image enters the arena does it become culturally coded and this may be outside of the photographers control with the potential issues of it being read with differing meanings.
Regarding Sally Mann – children’s sexual knowingness which seems apparent as well as the question of informed consent when it comes to minors. And the question of the protective nature of the Mother when it comes to shielding her children from inappropriate ‘gaze’ which she seemed to deliberately ignore.
Tierney Gearon accused of “perversion under the guise of art”. Both bring the Family Album from the hidden privacy to the public gaze of the gallery wall although using vastly different aesthetics. Sally Mann’s dreamy ethereal quality suggesting metaphorical meaning of timelessness. Gearon is more visually jarring with lurid colour palette and vernacular framing.
Difference between naked & nude – Mann’s aesthetic portrays a fiction, an idealisation of childhood whereas Gearon’s aesthetic is far more ‘real’ (like our own family album) and therefore less likeable. Is Mann more gallery worthy than Gearon? Is the problem with us as the viewer?

Talking About Photographs

Letinsky “Other theorists included Mary Anne Doane and Teresa de Lauretis. I was interested in how they dealt with the whole issue of the gaze, and how, in Mulvey’s view, “looking” is reduced to the looker–the person with power and agency–and the looked-at, the subject who is without agency or power. I was interested in looking, and being looked at, as places of pleasure, albeit wrapped within power issues. So I started trying to make pictures that asked some of those questions about who gets looked at, who looks, what these positions entail, and so on.”
“I kept choosing objects that seemed to have some kind of meaning and trying to make pictures of them, and they were just dumb–because I actually don’t believe that we use symbols, or that symbols have value in our culture. We’re such a mixed culture that things don’t gain the kind of meaning they did when you lived in a small town in the 17th century, and everyone knew that a lap dog meant fidelity, a pomegranate meant fecundity, and an orange meant whatever. We just don’t have that same kind of commonality right now,”
” how light is used to obscure and reveal.”


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