boring images

The vast majority of photographic images on Flickr, the photo sharing site,  tend to be predictable, conservative and repetitive in both form and content. As a consequence they do not fit easily in the standard art historical narrative that is still focused, however anxiously and insecurely, on modernism's Romantic ideas of originality, innovation and individualism.

So they are routinely excluded by the art institution as the detritus  or junk of mass culture--- the antithesis of romantic originality and creativity that is so prized by art history. The Romantic idea is one of  the artist as an independent creator rather than a skilled craftsperson; one who creates an art work that is original and exclusive, which the modernist art institution exhibited in a white cube gallery, which is then experienced in terms  of  a specific aesthetic judgment along Kantian lines.     

Boring images are not just amateur snapshots---or tourist snaps--- many  documentary pictures are boring, especially when they are a part of a series.  Even when they do  more than illustrate, documentary photographs are seen to be visual cliches, that is they are trite, hackneyed and formulaic.  They deny individuality. 

It is true that photographs typically remain secondary as we continue to enact a hierarchy that places words above pictures and locates the written word at the centre of our critical thinking about our visual culture. 

Could we not think with photos when they are a  picturing of place? Think with photos in terms of what goes around the photograph as well as what takes place within it, even when they are commonplaces.  After all our  visual commonplaces or pictorial conventions are often containers of memory and embody history.

Though I have lived in many cities in both New Zealand and Australia Adelaide is my home and it has been so for severl decades. It is a place I know even though I have not known  it from childhood  like Christchurch in New Zealand. I knew Christchurch  in a bodily way, where my tacit  knowledge and understanding was built up slowly from an accretion of bodily memories over time. 

 I  know Adelaide differently  to  Melbourne.  I know Melbourne from working on the trams for several years --my body has a sense of the urban  rhythms of the  inner city. Adelaide is different. It's more a sense of fragmented memories of different sounds, the way the light shaped a building during the different seasons, the intensity of the summer heat, walking the dogs and so on.  

conceptual documentary

Melissa Miles in The Drive to Archive Conceptual documentary photobook design  in Photographies (Volume 3, Issue 1, 2010)  says that there is an international trend in contemporary photography that is known as Conceptual Documentary. This is characterized by a desire to explore a single, often banal idea from many different angles and it seeks out and frames its subject according to a pre-determined idea or scheme.

Conceptual documentary can be understood as a symptom of the larger “archival impulse” that pervades contemporary culture. Conceptual Documentary’s emphasis upon seriality and its framing of documentary photographs according to a pre-determined scheme attest to a rejection of the decisive moment that is spontaneously “captured” by the documentary photographer, and a comparable distrust in the notion of singular, authentic or original photographic meanings.

Miles says that  this appreciation for the contingency of photographic meaning owes a great debt to 1960s conceptual photography, and in particular to the use of seriality as a means of undermining the fetishization of the singular or discrete photograph. However,

Miles says that:

there is an important difference between 1960s conceptual photography and contemporary Conceptual Documentary. Like postmodernism, conceptual photography has been accused of treating the camera as a discursively neutral aperture through which the subject enters language. The conceptual artists Ed Ruscha and Robert Rooney both describe the camera as simply a tool for recording their serial photographs. Rooney famously described the camera as a “dumb recording device”.... In 1981, Ruscha similarly said of Twenty-six Gasoline Stations that: “The photography by itself doesn’t mean anything to me; it’s the gas stations, that’s the important thing.

Miles goes onto say that conceptual documentary is importantly distinguished from these earlier traditions because it is centred on a new self- awareness about the limits and possibilities of photographic technologies and their impact upon Conceptual Documentary projects.

The latter's emphasis on the viewer or receiving subject in Conceptual Documentary also counters conceptual art’s tendency towards emphasizing the power of institutions and systems of global capitalism in shaping mean ing, and points to another important distinction between 1960s conceptual photography with its asssumption of  the photographer as an expressive source of meaning  and contemporary Conceptual Documentary photography.