I spent Sunday evening up in the Catskills at an “arts party”, a two-part event that began with physical theater and dance performances and then, after a short break, had a Q & A with photographers whose “Interactive Landscape” show opened that night (and will be in the gallery until October 14th).
The most interesting part of the evening for me was the Q & A discussion with four of the photographers whose pieces are part of the gallery show that opened that evening. (You can see several of the photos from the show here.) Several audience members wanted to discuss the difference between what a photographer who was clearly exhibiting work as fine arts rather than as photojournalism owed/didn’t owe viewers in terms of realism. People said that they had different responses to Mathew Porter’s strong piece “Crash” after Porter explained how he had created the piece in his gallery by combining a previous nature photograph with a miniature car hung from a string. And there was a clear response to the fact that in both Amy Stein’s works displayed, the animals in the photos turned out to have been stuffed rather than alive. The discussion moved in the direction of a “Wag the Dog” type situation and raised the issue of whether we expect (and/or have the right to expect) something different in terms of a photograph’s presenting things “as they are” than we do in a painting. The more I thought about it, the more I realized photos (unless they are obviously changed to be surreal) feel “closer to reality” than a painting does. And that remains the case even though I can rationally ask what, in a postmodern world, does reality even mean in such a context?